It all started at age 15 when his parents gave him a video camera for Christmas. From filming foxes in his West London council estate garden, he soon had his entrepreneurial moment: solving a problem by making the grime music videos he and his friends couldn’t find and posting them on YouTube. Fast forward 10 years to a multi-media, multi-country, multi-million pound media empire – and at 25 years old, the talented young creative entrepreneur Jamal Edwards is just getting started.
Jamal is the owner of SBTV, a broadcasting company that makes videos – typically music videos featuring rap and pop music stars – and puts them on YouTube. Now attracting over 300 million hits, SBTV’s business model is based on taking a percentage of YouTube’s advertising revenues for adverts linked to its videos.
Not bad for a young man who by his own admission has no formal training. And having recently been awarded an MBE for his services to music as well as a gig inside Buckingham Palace guiding Princes William and Harry through their first Google hangout and Twitter mirror selfie that went viral, it’s fair to call him the millennials’ hero of DIY entrepreneurship.
Jamal says it is just a question of believing in yourself, and finding your talent, which for him is making videos. “Try anything, don’t be scared of failure, that is my advice,” he says. “The only failure is not trying. And when you find your niche, what you are really good at, hit it so hard.”
“You can say my videos had mixed reviews to begin with, some people didn’t get them, but others thought they were sick [good], so I started to put them up on YouTube so everyone could see them, and it just grew from there.”
Leaving school after GCSE’s and getting a job in clothing company Topman, Jamal continued to make videos avidly in his spare time. Building up a reputation for the quality of his work, he would film up-and-coming rappers and singers, while also targeting more established stars outside nightclubs, hotels and dance music radio station Kiss 100.
As word of mouth spread, his videos on YouTube, put up under the name SBTV (the SB stands for SmokeyBarz, Jamal’s own rapping nickname) started to get hundreds of thousands of hits, predominantly from 13 to 30 year olds.
And so Jamal contacted YouTube to see if he was eligible for a share of advertising revenues.
YouTube, owned by Google, turned him down three times, but Jamal persisted. YouTube ultimately agreed after he was able to prove that all the videos he was uploading were original content that he had made himself.
“My first YouTube cheque was for a couple of hundred pounds. So I said, “Look mum, I have earned money from YouTube.’’ “But my parents were like, “That’s not sustainable income, that’s not steady.” But the cheques have just got bigger and bigger. The more effort I put in, the more views the videos get, and the more advertising revenues I get back.”
Soon Jamal was able to quit Topman and run SBTV on a full-time basis. Today he has a growing staff and SBTV also has its own website that carries news and features and has branched into sport, comedy, fashion and games.
In 2013 Jamal published a self-help e-book called Self Belief: The Vision. The business so impressed Sir Richard Branson that in 2012 Jamal won a best new start-up award from Virgin Media. And the two have stayed in touch ever since.
Others who have seen SBTV’s potential include technology and music investment specialists Miroma Ventures, which last month bought a share in the business for an undisclosed sum.
Jamal was also chosen to become an ambassador for the Prince’s Trust, the youth charity run by Prince Charles which supports young people setting up their own companies.
After such meteoric growth, Jamal says he often has to remind himself to slow down.
“I still get bad anxiety at times, if I have too many things going on. I have to sit down and tell myself to take a breather,” he says. “I think this is one of the most important things for any entrepreneur to remember – that you can’t go 100% all of the time. “I have crashed and burned about three times over the years because I was just working, working, working. Now I’m more planned, more organised.”
But has all this success changed him?
“Honestly no, I come from a humble background, I’m from a council estate. It is nice to be comfortable, and be able to buy things for friends and family, but I’m not motivated by the money.
“I don’t want to be treated any different, I’m still the same person, I’m well grounded. And if I wasn’t, my friends and family would soon knock me down to size.”
Read more about Jamal
1. This self-made YouTube millionaire is expanding his empire, by Oscar Williams-Grut, Business Insider, 19 June 2015
2. How to become a YouTube entrepreneur, by Jamal Edwards, The Telegraph, 31 December 2014
3. The Jamal Edwards effect, by Ian Burrell, The Independent, 27 September 2013