Back in June 2016 we spoke with Jamal Edwards, founder of online entertainment platform SB.TV, following his role as a judge at VOOM – which Real Business also played a part in. Fast-forward almost a year and we’re at the Sage Summit London, where Edwards took to the stage for a chat with Sage UK & Ireland MD Alan Laing. He spoke about diversifying his company early on, having been guided by his mother to look outside of filming videos of emerging rap stars to seek singers – the first of which happened to be Ed Sheeran. He also said that in the beginning he spent four years working in Topman while running the business, using his retail income for outgoings so that revenue generated on social media could grow steadily and remain untouched. A decade on since starting SB.TV and the company has grown significantly from its humble beginnings recording artists on London’s streets to amass over half a billion views on YouTube – and Edwards has no intentions of slowing down. In fact, he told Real Business he’s hungrier than ever to achieve more after reaching that milestone. Discussing what he’s been up to since we last spoke, Edwards added eagerly: “We’ve just hit half a billion views and now I’m on the way to one billion views ASAP – I’ve got to get there quicker than the half billion.” His goal shouldn’t be a problem. SB.TV is working with Sky Atlantic on a social media campaign with “12 Years a Slave” writer John Ridley and actors Freida Pinto and Idris Elba, while Elba is also involved with the business in a BBC Three initiative. Edwards was also keen to talk about the launch of SB.TV 10, a celebration that marks a decade of SB.TV with exclusive videos – the first of which came courtesy of Ed Sheeran. “There’s loads of conversations with different brands that we’re having pitches with at the moment,” he continued. “This is Q2 – at the end of Q2 to beginning of Q3, people will hopefully see more developments. I’ve hit my targets, but now I want to hit even more. Content will be a key driver and we’re working on lots of content at the moment, upping the levels of it.” Edwards mentioned a US ambition last summer and the first step to get the ball rolling was with a presence at the SXSW festival in Texas. And at the end of last year, he brought in senior team member to help build on that overseas expansion. “Another key driver of getting the views up is going to the States. We have a pitch at the moment to do a tour with a football club touring the whole of the US, which will be huge, so that will be an accelerator – hopefully we’ll win,” Edwards detailed. The senior hire has since been building the foundation to help Edwards visualise the SB.TV US plan and how to move forward and deliver it. On the difference between the US and UK, he said there are bigger budgets and more freedom. “If you think about the fact I’ve been here for ten years, the next step is to where I can scale up,” the SB.TV founder detailed. “And that’s when you’re a real business – when you can scale up in an entire different place to where you’ve been born. We’re doing a bit of Europe as well, because that’s important.” Building on his own personal brand as Jamal Edwards outside of SB.TV, he’s also been enlisted as executive producer on films for grime artists Skepta and Wiley, as well as a documentary on the early Jamaican influence in the UK – all of which are set for cinematic release. “They’re going to be UK-released nationwide and maybe Netflix, but we’re going to aim big. We’re working with quite big production partners and directors, so it’s exciting,” said Edwards. Impressively though, there are still just six people in the business. “We’re lean and mean,” he told us. With that in mind, what does it take to get in the good books of the SB.TV boss? “I look for someone passionate, young. An 18 year-old came in last week and I think I’m going to take him on. He sent me a whole pitch and in his email he was very articulate and very driven and I’m working with him at the moment,” Edwards revealed. “He’s 18, he’s the new blood – I’m 26 so I need to bring in the new guns, and there’s so many of them. I’m excited to bring them in, teaching them what I’ve got and them bringing in their new flavours.” On stage, Edwards opened up that his mum was taken ill last year – but has happily recovered since. However, that time resulted in him having to hand over a lot of responsibility and control for the first time. “It was difficult, but you’ve got to do it. I do still check everything that goes on the channel. But when I check talent, I then go to people in my team and say ‘what do you think?’ I do that loads of times to see if they agree and then I move on, saying ‘I trust your musical judgment.’ It’s building a programme into their heads to build it up.” Looking ahead to the future of the business, Edwards said that he stays focused by thinking of his dream of providing for his loved ones. “Enjoying fun times with my close ones around me, that will keep me focused because I want that to happen,” he said. With the weather heating up – sort of, this is England after all – Edwards is planning for the second SB.TV Summer Cookout outdoor event, which had a few thousand people attend last year. “It went really well. This year it’ll get a bit bigger and now hopefully build it into a full scale festival in the next three to five years, and build it year-on-year.” Wrapping up on his ambition for the business on the whole over that period, he added: “I always come up with new ideas, but it’s about staying on top of your game and not getting complacent. People say I am already there, but there are so many things I want to do. I want to take SB.TV to America and increase my profile a little bit more.” Revealing a plan to give something back to those less fortunate, Edwards continued: “I also want to set up a foundation. I can help young people, and go back to St Vincent where I’m originally born – help build stuff there. “I need to get over this next year or so and solidify certain things, and that’s my legacy of next steps after that.”
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