Shaper: Dominic Smales encore

Show aired on 11th August 2018

Transcript

Elliot Moss
Welcome to the Jazz Shapers podcast from Mishcon de Reya. What you are about to hear was originally broadcast on Jazz FM however music has been cut or shortened due to rights issues.

Good morning this is Jazz Shapers but it is a special it is the Encore Edition – more of which later. Hello, I am Elliot Moss and welcome to the programme. This programme of course is all about the music from the Shapers of jazz, blues and soul as well as a Business Shaper, someone new shaping the world of business and today we have an Encore Edition as I said, and it is a previous guest and his name is Dominic Smales. He is a CEO and Founder of Gleam Futures a talent agency for the social media stars of YouTube and the like. If you have heard of Jack Maynard and Pixiwoo, who of course you have, then you will know the sort of people I mean. Dom was last on Jazz Shapers in 2015 and we are going to find out what he and his business has achieved since then. Hello.

Dominic Smales
Hello there.

Elliot Moss
It’s really nice to have you here again, I think we met, well we met a long, long time ago, but we chatted officially about two and a bit years ago. My sources tell me it was November 2015. There you go.

Dominic Smales
What, that is when we first talked about the future…

Elliot Moss
Talked about you yeah. Now, tell me what has been going on since the end of 2015. What’s happened in the world, and actually it would be really good just to remind those people who listened last time, but also those people who don’t know, just tell me a little bit about what Gleam does from your perspective and why you set the thing up in the first place.

Dominic Smales
Okay, so my background and because it was 2015 I can’t remember a word of what I said.

Elliot Moss
Good, we’ll remind you in a bit don’t worry about that.

Dominic Smales
Excellent. So I’ll probably be trotting out the same things…

Elliot Moss
I won’t let you.

Dominic Smales
…but my background has been in media and the entertainment business. I started my career working in advertising and marketing and that kind of thing, I worked for a local newspaper selling the ads at the side of the pages, and then eventually got on to working for a Production Company, which primarily did radio and TV, made radio and TV and did quite a lot of commercial work though as well, like promotions for AMTV, that was kind of like gave me a great footing, i.e. in a smaller business and I used to work for an enormous media owners and then I worked for a smaller business, so I got much closer to the nuts and bolts of how a business works in that business, which I found fascinating and immensely challenging, and it was actually, I probably mentioned it last time, it was a health scare that gave me the kind of kick up the bum to change my life and start my own business and all that kind of stuff.

Elliot Moss
And again, if people weren’t listening a few years ago, and that is okay if you weren’t, I’ll let you off, it was life threatening, wasn’t it, pretty much?

Dominic Smales
Yeah, it was, it absolutely made me consider everything because I thought that I was going to be exiting this earth basically and I had two very small kids at the time, I had literally just had my second child, Ruby, and she was a babe in arms and Daisy was eighteen months/two years old, our first child and that is when this health condition hit and it was hydrocephalus, so water on the brain basically.

Elliot Moss
But you recovered.

Dominic Smales
But I recovered yeah.

Elliot Moss
And the other side of it was that when you then stated hold on a minute what I am really going to do now.

Dominic Smales
Yeah, basically because I thought, because the symptoms of hydrocephalus were double vision, blinding headaches, I kind of was like collapsing and stuff like that, I thought that I had a brain tumour basically and this was it. But it was quickly diagnosed and in the end I had to have emergency brain surgery like the same week that it was diagnosed and I came out that brain surgery having had like a six month recovery period where I considered life itself and it sounds a bit cheesy but it really made me think about my existence on the planet and what made me happy and what I wanted to spend my time doing and all that kind of thing and the absolute distillation of it all was I want to do something I am really interested and passionate about. It wasn’t about, I want to make loads of money, I want to build an enormous business, I want to do this, that and the other, it was about I want to just work with something that I am really interested in and passionate about, on my own terms and I am going to give it a bash now, because if I don’t give it a bash now then I am not going to be able to give it a bash any other time.

Elliott Moss
And the headline sentence, before we go to Jose James, that business – tell me what Gleam is, in your one sentence, that’s all you’ve got.

Dominic Smales
Gleam Futures manages the careers of digital first talent.

Elliot Moss
Dominic Smales is my Business Shaper today here on this Jazz Shapers Encore special and he was setting out why he got to the decision he got to, which is to set up his own business, post being seriously ill and making a life changing decision which was to run your own show and to do something that you were really passionate about and you talk about digital first talent. Give me the names of the top vloggers and digital first talent that you now look after because for those people half my age including my lovely friends in businesses I work with, who will know and follow these people, tell me who they are?

Dominic Smales
So, they’re all top, amazing talent and if I could do it straight off the top of my head now I would list every single name on our roster.

Elliot Moss
Just a few, without offending anyone else who doesn’t get their name mentioned.

Dominic Smales
We have 45/46 odd talent on the roster globally across the three offices that we have open at the moment in Los Angeles, Sydney and London, names you might know would be Zoella, Sam and Nick Chapman who are Pixiwoo, Tanya Burr, Jim Chapman, Marcus Butler, Caroline Hirons, Nadine Baggot, Louise Pentland, Jack Maynard. I could go on.

Elliot Moss
Now these people, are millions, and millions and millions of people that watch regularly, I believe you have got over a billion views of all of these different, all the different artists that you’ve looked after over the years. Essentially though, this was a new invention, it is a new category, digital first talent didn’t exist because there was you know, no seriously powerful impactful digital platform until the web in its growth, in its maturity moved into YouTube and so on. What has it been like creating a new business which, as many entrepreneurs do, but in a new world. What have been those challenges over the last few years for you?

Dominic Smales
Well essentially, it’s hard as anyone that has done this will tell you, because you not only have to set out a successful business commercially in terms of being able to pay the bills, but you also spend an enormous amount of your time convincing people that it is worth listening to you and it’s worth getting involved in the business that you are starting. Not only customers and people that are going to help the business become financially viable but also people that will take the leap and work for you, to help you grow the business.

Elliot Moss
And of course, the talent, and I just want to remind you of some that you said a couple of years ago, and tell me whether this has panned out the way you thought it would, have a listen to this?

This is a totally different type of talent and different types of rules have got to be applied and that means that the people dealing with this talent have to act differently and we approach all of the relationships that we have with any third party other than the talent from a 100% a talent’s prospective we are interested in doing different things with this talent and the rules of the past won’t be applied to your relationship with this talent.

Elliot Moss
Now the rules of the past won’t be applied to the relationships with this talent, true? Still true?

Dominic Smales
Still true, yeah absolutely, so the world has evolved though since I said that, in terms of there is a lot more people from the old world that understand how the new world works, so we are getting this kind of blend of both worlds that is throwing up some new and very interesting opportunities, which is what I am excited about for the next few years.

Elliot Moss
And challenges I imagine as well?

Dominic Smales
Absolutely, yeah because …

Elliot Moss
But you’ve got competition now?

Dominic Smales
Yeah, there is competition. When I sat down with you in 2015 I probably had 98% less competition than I have right now, because within about a square mile of where we sit now there is probably one hundred companies, agencies, departments in PR agencies that do what we do, or attempt to do what we do.

Elliot Moss
And that will affect also the way that the talent views, how they are being managed, which I want to come on to in a little bit when we come back to my Jazz Shapers Encore guest, Dominic Smales. Before that though we have got some words of advice from our programme partners at Mishcon de Reya for your business.

There are so many more ways to hear this very programme plus hundreds of former guests on the show. You can ask Alexa to play Jazz Shapers and there you can hear many of the recent programmes including today’s after 10.00am today, or if you pop Jazz Shapers into iTunes you will get the full archive of programmes to enjoy as well. But back to today, our special Encore Edition of Jazz Shapers where we invite a former guest back in to find out what they have been up to since we last spoke, and that person, that very person is right here, it’s Dominic Smales founder of social media talent agency called Gleam Futures, and Dom we played the track, the clip of you talking a couple of years ago saying those rules have changed and they continue to change there is 98% more competition. What impact has that had on your business from a talent perspective, because if one reads the papers, a couple of the big names have gone off and done their own thing, which sounds like a sort of natural progression in a way, in a very young industry?

Dominic Smales
Yeah absolutely, so this is an evolutionary path that has accelerated immensely over the last few years. If you think about the entire history of Gleam Futures it’s eight years long, and that goes from me with the laptop in a coffee shop, right up today with three offices, X many people, and an interest from newspapers to write stuff about us etcetera, etcetera. So, it’s a very different business than it was eight years ago, but it is a very different industry than it was eight years ago and all of the talent that we have worked with through that evolution has evolved with us in that industry so there are loads more opportunities available and also the talent has matured and some of them have had aspirations to do other stuff, explore managing themselves, all of those kind of things. I think an important point to make is that this talent, or some of this type of talent, aren’t out and out entertainers, they are content creators who are also really savvy digital media entrepreneurs, and this is a space that is changing all the time and they are excited and want to kind of like test themselves and experiment in directions that they need to take some risks to experiment in, and you know a few of them have gone off to do that, with my complete support and blessing.

Elliot Moss
Now in terms of testing themselves, experimenting, you are eight years into your own business are you still that guy who wants to keep re-inventing what Gleam stands for and what Dominic Smales stands for, you know how have you re-invented what you are doing right now? As an aside, you know, we are of the same generation, you have got a lot of people following you on Twitter, he says, he looks up and he goes that’s a lot of people, but the serious point is, you thought about a person in your industry and what needs to happen, and that is just one, silly, it sounds superficial but you need to be thinking about your own brand, you need to be thinking about evolving that. But in terms of the business what have you done since we last met, I believe you have set up a couple of arms beyond the main core, is that right?

Dominic Smales
Yes so, this business changes all the time. One of the things I love about working at Gleam Futures is that there are new challenges every week and every six months there are different business challenges to get our heads round and we have to change and change to take advantage of that, and to survive as well. Since I last saw you, we have taken on investment from a large media corporation, that is to fuel the growth we need to have globally, because these are global audiences so we are planning to open in other markets in the world, we are already in London, Sydney and Los Angeles, but very interested in opening in Europe and the Middle East and South America and places like that, because of course, what has happened to the talent that we looked after in 2011 onwards is happening to talent all over the world, that are finding an audience and finding their voice and finding an outlet for their creativity in Brazil and in Germany and in Dubai and all over the place. So, that has happened. We have started to try and resource the really interesting opportunities in this space, with more expertise, so an example of that is publishing. Since we last met…

Elliot Moss
Yeah, I think it’s called Gleam Titles which has just been launched last year, which we obviously….

Dominic Smales
That’s right, so we set up a specialist publishing arm and we have recruited a publishing expert from Simon & Schuster a kind of an old name in publishing, she actually was the Editor on Louise Pentland’s first book, Life with a Sprinkle of Glitter, and she is called Abigail Bergstrom and she has come over to Gleam to found Gleam Titles and grow a list of authors who are digitally minded. They don’t have to have enormous internet platforms, with which to sell books on, but they have to be digitally minded and we are talking about subject matter that is highly relevant for a digital day and age, and it’s fascinating seeing that talent come forward and evolve as well and seeing that kind of IP being built. So, we have started pulling titles, we have invested in working with brands in a much more frictionless way, so we did the very first deal between a talent of this nature and a brand in this country back in 2011 and we continue to completely lead the way when it comes to brands wanting to work with digital first talent. Influences as they are known now, in marketing terms.

Elliot Moss
I’ve got to hold you there because what is apparent very quickly, is just how much you have been doing and I want to come back to a few points that you have raised, after a bit more music here on Jazz Shapers it’s Ray Charles, the one and only, with Hit The Road Jack.

Ray Charles with the brilliant Hit The Road Jack, one of my all-time favourites. Dominic Smales is here, Business Shaper back from 2015 when we last spoke here on the Encore special. You mentioned a number of things in the growth and the development of the business, one specific thing which I am interested in is investment. I talk to many people who have taken on external investment, sometimes it is pretty and sometimes it ain’t pretty. Has it been a good story, how did you ensure that the partners who have invested in your business are the right partners for you, and for them?

Dominic Smales
So, I took an approach of looking for partners that would compliment the business, not people that did the same thing as we already did but on a bigger scale, but people that understood what we did, and the value of it, but had something new to bring to the table in terms of enhancing the business. So, we also, there were two other things, one was global infrastructure because it is a global audience that we are talking to, and the second thing was that they were just nice people. Because I am a big believer in wanting to do business with people that you get on with, and like and share the same values as you and have the same vision as you have.

Elliot Moss
And I am assuming they came looking for you, or did you start putting some feelers out?

Dominic Smales
Yeah, we wanted the investment so this was a crucial stage of the business in order to move on to the next step, so there was a bit of both, I had spent years with people approaching, asking about getting involved and it just wasn’t right, wasn’t the right time, because it was quite well documented ascension in terms of how the business grew over the previous years, people were coming out of the woodwork all the time. But, this was a proactive and controlled process that we went through in order to find the right fit.

Elliot Moss
And you are still in control of the business, it is still your show with healthy investment and good partners to do that with?

Dominic Smales
Yeah absolutely, I’m in the hot seat for some years to come.

Elliot Moss
And in terms of your enjoyment, because you said you know when you got ill, you wanted to find something that you were passionate about, are you Dom eight years in, still passionate about what you do?

Dominic Smales
Yeah, more so than ever because the scale of the opportunity now, because more people understand what it is that we do, and I am also very proud of the fact that Gleam Futures has set out its store in 2010 to be the best in class, it was the only in class at the time to be fair, so it was an easy task then, but throughout these years we have focused hard on making sure we are always associated with quality. This through an evolutionary process for the business where enormous volume has come to the table, like if you think about this as a platform for talent, the internet, it is available to anybody with an internet connection and a webcam and that is very different to television and radio in that if you want to have a radio show you have got to be of a certain standard and background and consistency, all those kind of things that you have to do in order to be sitting in your chair, doesn’t apply if you want to broadcast on the internet. You have just got to connect yourself and put a mike up. Same with television, you have gatekeepers like production companies, studio bosses, commissioners, an agent, all of those kind of things, but you don’t have that on the internet, now I love that and I think that is the democratisation of content creation is a really good thing for the future and it brings talent out of the woodwork that has something to say and it gives them a platform, and I love that. But, I think the world at large needs to understand that in amongst that melee there is a place for everybody in terms of the A list down to the B, C and so on and so forth, it is the same as the traditional talent world, and we’ve always tried to be a brand that stands for quality and that means the product that the talent make, that means the partners that the talent partner with, and also the experience the partners have when they work with Gleam and Gleam’s roster.

Elliot Moss
And I want to talk about specifically the responsibility that the talent has also with these big audiences to those audiences, as well as themselves, because you have raised a lot of important points just then. Final chat coming up with Dominic plus we will be playing some music from Stan Getz.

That was Stan Getz with One Note Samba. I am here just for a few more minutes with Dominic Smales, it has gone very fast, because he has got lots of really interesting things to say about a very big and changing and fast changing part of real estate on-line. I am going to call it real estate for a moment, and Dom if you haven’t heard earlier and are just catching the last few minutes, is the CEO and Founder at Gleam Futures, you can always listen and catch-up if you want to after 10.00 o’clock. Dom, a lot of people worry about the very influence that these guys have got that you represent, millions and I have got teenage kids now, it is very hard for me to stop them watching entertainment on-line, I can do my best but in reality, every parent goes ‘whoa this is tricky’. Do you feel that responsibility as a parent, does your talent for that responsibility, and if so, how do you kind of keep that in check, how do you ensure that they are not saying stuff that might be, you know just unhealthy for a fourteen year old girl to hear or a silly thing for a fifteen year old boy to do, because they are impressionable, it is a young audience?

Dominic Smales
Yeah absolutely and the answer to the responsibility question, is yes, I feel a huge amount of responsibility as does everybody on my team at Gleam, all over the world feel a responsibility towards not only the talent, who we represent first and foremost, but also their audience who are the most important people in this entire space, but also the people partnering with us. So…

Elliot Moss
Yes, because Brands are going to be worried about this, if I am a big Brand I am going to worry that person X says something inappropriate and then what, what happens to my Brand, it is no longer just the talent, you then have affected the credibility of the Brand itself obviously?

Dominic Smales
Absolutely, and it goes back to that quality point that I made a few minutes ago, in terms you come to Gleam Futures for a 100% the best practice and best quality that you can get, and we’ve got all the experience in the world at this now literally. So, we have been through all of those, we have witnessed all of those risks and problems and crisis and navigated through them and now have steps in place and processes in place to try and guard against anything like that happening again.

Elliot Moss
And let me ask you just to jump a little bit, do you think that this industry needs more regulation? Because the traditional media that is regulated by Ofcom and all those other things around the world, is subject to a lot of checks, is subject to a lot of tight review, is it ready now, is your part of the world ready now for regulation or is that a ridiculous thing to say in the context of the internet?

Dominic Smales
I think compliance and safety is a very good thing and I think we should all be working towards the internet becoming a safer and more responsible place, but I also think that the internet something and social media particularly, is somewhere where there is a lot more freedom to be creative in different ways and it doesn’t need to have the kind of levels of regulation that are available in some broadcast medias for example. But I think people can apply that safety by using reputable suppliers and working with reputable talent, and making sure that steps have been taken, that the talent and the suppliers are of good standing and are being responsible. But we feel a huge amount of responsibility, we now for example, we make sure that every talent that we take on goes through like an airlock process, where we get to know them a lot better, we have personal relationships with every talent on our roster. This is not a broadcast media buy, it is about human beings and I am really trying to encourage any Brands or commercial partners that get involved with us to have a real relationship with the talent and with us, and I think we are going to do much better work off the back of that. We physically, actually check every single social media post of any talent we work with has ever done, now, not send an algorithm searching across key words in their Twitter past etcetera, now it’s got to the point where we physically read every single tweet and every Instagram page, you can imagine the workload involved in that.

Elliot Moss
I can imagine but I am just going to jump to the final question because we are going to run out of time, beyond sitting there or your team sitting there going through every post, what are you plotting, I mean you have talked about the last few years which has been dramatic investment, opening up arms, going global, I mean literally world domination, it sounds to me like it is going to happen very shortly. If we were having this conversation in five years’ time, two things that Dom would be telling me would have happened, what would they be?

Dominic Smales
I think we are going to discover a space in which the best minds of TV and movies and radio and the best minds and talent on the digital side of things, have actually come together and made stuff that sits in the middle of that Venn diagram, that is both for want of being able to explain it in a better way.

Elliot Moss
And I am going to jump in with one more thing, and you, what about you Dom, will you still be in the hot seat?

Dominic Smales
What me personally?

Elliot Moss
Yes.

Dominic Smales
Yes, I really hope that I am sat here telling you about some really incredible creative projects that I have been lucky enough to be a part of with big talent.

Elliot Moss
I hope that’s true, I have a feeling it might be.

Dominic Smales
The other thing is that this is about now we started talking about competition and the world is such a much more complicated place when it comes to this type of talent, is that we are throughout all of this noise and clutter, in the marketplace, we are and still are the very best place to come if you are talent, that is serious about building a great career on-line and in the entertainment industry that is digitally focussed, we are the best place to come and be guided and managed in the world.

Elliot Moss
And of course, you are not bias. It has been brilliant talking to you today, thank you, I hope to see you again in a few years when there literally are eighty four offices, four billion impressions or whatever it is, and we will go, thank you very much and you have retired. Dom thank you so much, take care.

Dominic Smales
Thank you Elliot.

Elliot Moss
Bye, bye.

Dominic Smales
Bye, Bye.

Elliot Moss
We hope you enjoyed that edition of Jazz Shapers, You will find hundreds of more guests available to listen to in our archive. To find out more just search Jazz Shapers in iTunes or head over to mishcondereya.com/jazzshapers.

Dominic Smales

After spending 15 years in media, production and advertising Dominic Smales set up Gleam Futures initially to help online communities connect for mutual benefit. This has evolved now into purely managing ‘Social Talent’, a term coined by Gleam to describe a group of individuals who have achieved the kind of reach and influence on social media platforms usually associated with traditional celebrity or media ownership. Gleam look after the very top tier of online super influence in the UK primarily in the entertainment and lifestyle area. The joint reach of the top 10 talent on Gleam Futures Roster delivers over 21m subscribers on YouTube and have clocked up over 1.1 billion views  so far.

Follow Dominic on Twitter @domsmales.

“Starting the business…was about wanting to just work with something that I am really interested in and passionate about, on my own terms.”

“It’s a very different business than it was eight years ago, but it is a very different industry than it was eight years ago.”

“I think an important point to make is that this talent, or some of this type of talent, aren’t out and out entertainers, they are content creators who are also really savvy digital media entrepreneurs.”

“There are new challenges every week and every six months there are different business challenges to get our heads round and we have to change and change to take advantage of that, and to survive as well.”

“I took an approach of looking for partners that would complement the business, not people that did the same thing as we already did but on a bigger scale, but people that understood what we did, and the value of it, but had something new to bring to the table in terms of enhancing the business.”

“I am a big believer in wanting to do business with people that you get on with, and like and share the same values as you and have the same vision as you have.”

“I am very proud of the fact that Gleam Futures has set out in 2010 to be the best in class, and throughout these years we have focused hard on making sure we are always associated with quality.”

“You come to Gleam Futures for the best practice and best quality that you can get.”

“We have witnessed all of those risks and problems and crisis and navigated through them and now have steps in place and processes in place to try and guard against anything like that happening again.”

“I think compliance and safety is a very good thing and I think we should all be working towards the internet becoming a safer and more responsible place, but I also think that the internet, is somewhere where there is a lot more freedom to be creative in different ways and it doesn’t need to have the kind of levels of regulation that are available in some broadcast medias for example.”