“He set up his first media business at the age of 16; he discovered Ed Sheeran, Emeli Sandé and Rita Ora; he got William and Harry to do their first ever selfie; he had an MBE by the age of 24; and he’s even got his own marketing term named after him” exclaimed Deborah Joseph (Editor in Chief, Glamour Magazine) as she welcomed founder of SBTV, Jamal Edwards to the stage this past Tuesday at AdWeek Europe for a candid interview.
Diving straight in, Joseph went back to the beginning of Edwards career asking, “is it true that it all began with a camera and a fox?” The answer being yes, Joseph exclaimed his start in media as beginning when he got a basic camcorder for his birthday as a teenager. A huge fan of Steve Erwin, his first videos were about wildlife—well, as wild as life can get in the back garden of his family home in London; “I used to go out in my back garden and film all the animals and I realized that I couldn’t really run a wildlife channel so I started filming the artists that were in my area instead because they weren’t able to really get on to any major platforms”. Making the jump from filming foxes to capturing new artists, Edwards published his videos on a number of different sites but eventually landed his loyalty with YouTube. At this point the streaming site was only about one year old, but Edwards saw that the content posted to the site had a certain gap in it, YouTube only really had humorous and viral videos—not original music videos, really, whatsoever. This gap, Edwards pronounced to Joseph, positioned YouTube as the perfect site for him to roll out the content he was producing.
Initially, these music videos were largely of talent in Edwards’ immediate social circle but he soon realized that, after a period of everything he was filming began to be repetitive so he took to the internet for finding and getting in touch with new artists. While these artists were mostly up-and-comers, Edwards realized he wanted to scale up his content even more and began reaching out to more established musicians and talent. His early days involved standing outside hotels and nightclubs waiting for artists but eventually opted for more direct routes of communication, as he was anything but a paparazzi.
Joseph asked Edwards about a number of his accomplishments from the obvious—creating SBTV and discovering some major music talent—to those which perhaps do not get as much attention but are equally important—his involvement in raising up mental health issues in young men and his charity work. However, with each answer to Joseph’s questions about these achievements the common thread amongst them is that with everything he does, Edwards always does it just a little bit different. Take the publication of his book, Self-Belief of Vision, which was the first digital book to be distributed in chapters; on these types of things Edwards proclaimed, “everything that I try and do, I try and be disruptive”. That kind of disruption and ability to appreciate difference is exactly what led him to discover Ed Sheeran amongst other artists and afford him the ability to keep his finger on the pulse and remain so successful.
Despite this success and a net worth estimated at around 8 million pounds, Edwards remains down to earth and connected with his fan base. When Joseph asked about his characteristic humility, Edwards summed up his logic quite candidly: “I’ve always tried to play it in terms of its not all about the money because people think they want to start a job or start their own business, and need a lot of money to do it, and that’s what I felt like my audience used to get so I just made it about the passion and about the idea. And that works much more than however much money you could get”.
At the age of 27, Edwards has done more than most manage to do in a lifetime but, when anyone asks where he could possibly go from here, his answer is characteristic of this relentless drive and passion—“I’m only just getting started”.