LBC logo outside the conference room

Steven Bartlett at the London Blockchain Conference 2024: The value in blockchain and rules for business success

On May 22, British entrepreneur, podcaster, and ‘TV dragon’ Steven Bartlett told the London Blockchain Conference 2024 (LBC 2024) of his tips for business success and his passion for industries that create confusion and dissonance in consumers and CEOs alike.

Initially billed as the conference’s ‘Secret Speaker,’ in the dramatic fashion betting a television personality and ‘visionary’ business mogul, Bartlett was unmasked on the first day of the conference as the following morning’s opener, and he didn’t disappoint.

The main auditorium of the conference hall, hosted in the huge ExCel centre on the banks of London’s River Thames, was packed with budding tech innovators, investors, and possibly groupies for a fireside keynote chat between Bartlett and moderator Mark Lobel (freelance/BBC broadcaster BBC) that ushered in day two of the London Blockchain Conference 2024.

Bartlett is perhaps best known as the co-founder and co-CEO of media agency Social Chain, as well as for appearing as an investor on the BBC One show Dragons’ Den—before performing the unheard—of metamorphosis of becoming a Dragon himself.

He also created the podcast series ‘The Diary of a CEO,’ which was ranked in the top 10 most popular podcasts globally in 2023 by Spotify Wrapped.

Bartlett brought his wealth of expertise in a range of industries at the forefront of technology to the conference, including leveraging digital platforms to drive business growth and engagement, sharing with the blockchain enthusiast of the London Blockchain Conference his perspectives on how B2B enterprises can adapt, thrive, and stay ahead in a fast-paced marketplace.

“I’m passionate about the industry but also about entrepreneurship in general,” said Bartlett, when asked why he deemed to grace the London Blockchain Conference with his presence before his usual morning ‘do not disturb’ time of 10 a.m.

He explained his interest in the blockchain sector, comparing the industry’s current state to the early days of social media, a period he knows intimately through his early work setting up Social Chain.

“My career started in social media…blockchain felt a lot like social media did several years ago,” said Bartlett. “All you need to ask yourself is what is better, faster, and cheaper.”

He gave the example of his social media company when he proved over and over that he could make anything the number one trend on Twitter (now X) in just a couple of hours if needed. Something not many people, if anyone, was offering at the time.

Bartlett has since more than dipped his toes into the blockchain space, having founded a multi-million-dollar software company for Web3 developers, Thirdweb, based in San Francisco, which counts the likes of Coinbase (NASDAQ: COIN) and Shopify amongst its investors.

It’s an area he sees much promise in, and if he only had one word with which to describe Web3, it would be “opportunity.”

Bartlett told the hall of bright-eyed attendees—half of whom were phones out above their heads, Taylor Swift concert style—that part of his interest in blockchain is that he likes to position himself in “disruptive” industries and sectors that don’t make sense to most people.

This is the ‘visionary’ aspect of his entrepreneurial journey. Bartlett is clearly a guy who thinks ahead—by way of example, he’s also calculated that he has about 17,031 days left to live.

But when it comes to investments and innovation, it’s these uncomfortable, or even unpopular, areas and industries that appeal to him.

“When you’re confronted with something new and confusing, like when I was confronted with the blockchain, your brain is going to lean in or out,” Bartlett said. He explained that you must dismiss this dissonance and “lean into the new.”

“I remember the day I heard about the blockchain, people selling NFT monkeys, my first reaction was that they were degenerate weirdos, but this was how people reacted to my social media company, so instead, I leaned in.”

His way of leaning in was to buy an NFT for $200k, which he explained is now worth nothing. However, the act of leaning in led him to found a Web3 company that is now worth millions of dollars.

In terms of Thirdweb, Bartlett also mysteriously hinted at “a big announcement” coming in the next three months, clearly being careful not to reveal too much—keen investors, keep you ears to the ground.

Naturally, the question on a lot of the audience’s lips was, where does this forward-thinking trend setter think the value in blockchain lies?

Gaming will be the killer use case,” predicted Bartlett, who suggested that gaming is a “no brainer” in terms of where Web3 can find value.

But the ultimate aim of blockchain, as Bartlett described it, is that “eventually the technology becomes invisible when it reaches mass adoption like the internet…you want to get to a point where people have no idea they’re interacting with the blockchain.”

On how enterprise should focus on Web3, he had the following thoughts:

“The first step is what most of you are doing now, which is education, basically what happens when you lean in… the thing that disrupts you isn’t the obvious thing, it’s not what your customers are asking for, it’s the thing that you currently know nothing about… that’s why you have to bring in outside help.”

This latter point relates to another of Bartlett’s key mantras, which is hiring the right people.

In response to an audience question about blockchain companies’ poor publicity, he responded, “the most fundamental, the furthest upstream thing, is hiring… the actual game of business is hiring people. If you have this problem [in publicity], it’s because you didn’t hire the right people.”

But it wasn’t just blockchain that Bartlett had some compelling thoughts on. Another principal focus of London Blockchain Conference 2024 is artificial intelligence technology, a topic on which Britain’s favorite young tech entrepreneurs were keen to give their two cents.

AI and programming

One of the more controversial predictions Bartlett shared with his frantically note-taking crowd was that eventually, AI would be able to program for developers, and thus, the work of computer programming by humans would become obsolete in many sectors.

“How we interact with programming is going to become through voice and typing,” suggested Bartlett. By which he meant feeding instructions to an AI that will program for you.

While this may scare some, Bartlett is not concerned, saying that he’s not romantic about the human element. If he loses his job to an AI podcaster who does it better than him, he won’t be upset:

“In fact, I’m trying to lose my job as a podcaster,” he said. “I’ve set up a team in my company headed by a computer scientist whose job is to make AI podcasts.”

Moving on from specific technologies, Lobel steered the discussion to more general principles for a successful business, another area in which Bartlett has no shortage of expertise.

Rules to work by

Essentially, Bartlett suggested that if you want to be happy in your work and you want your employees to be happy you need five things: forward motion, or a feeling of progress; feeling challenged; meaningful goal; controlling autonomy; and “the most important,” working with a group of people you like.

On the first point, he gave the example of David Brailsford, director of sports at Ineos, who told Bartlett on his podcast that the famous Sky Cyling/Ineos’ margin gains’ method, moving forward by one percents, made people feel that they they’re making progress.

With this and the other points in place, there is no reason, within your control, that as an employer, you would ever lose your best people or any people.

On an Ineos tangent, he also revealed that he spent time recently at Manchester United with the team, management and behind the scenes— clearly not one to swerve an opportunity for namedropping (Simon Cowell was apparently hanging out at his house the previous evening). Fans of Manchester United will be relieved to hear that Bartlett believes the Ineos leadership are “good people.”

The big picture

The chat/keynote finished up by zooming out to get Bartlett’s take on a big-picture issue around blockchain. There are a few more big-picture topics than ‘Democracy and Saving the World.’

Asked how can blockchain can better serve democracy and people, Bartlett said:

“I think the most important thing, the furthest upstream thing, is representing the opinion of the electorate. Right now, that’s not happening. With the blockchain we can get the next generation voting on their future.”

This, he suggested, could be done through applications that utilize ID tracking and recording, including eye scanning technology. With this you could “destroy every polling stating and enable millennials and GenZ to vote on mass…we’d have a completely different society if we could get the younger generations to vote.”

What exactly that society would look like is a different question, but in Bartlett’s spirit of leaning into uncomfortable ideas, perhaps it’s an idea worth considering.

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