Shaper: Dominic Smales

Show aired on 28th November 2015

Transcript

Elliot Moss
One of my favourite tracks ever, I think, that’s Ray Charles with Mess Around. Hello, this is me, Elliot Moss and we are on Jazz FM with Jazz Shapers. And Jazz Shapers, I hope you will know, is the place you can hear the very best of those people who are shaping the world of jazz, blues and soul, alongside their equivalents in the world of business, a Business Shaper. My Business Shaper today is Dominic Smales, he is the founder and managing director of Gleam Futures. They are a talent business with a difference. They look after and introduce people into the world of social media and all things happen from there. You are going to hear some extraordinary stuff, things that you didn’t even know were going on. In addition to hearing from Dom you will be hearing from our programme partners at Mishcon de Reya, some words of advice for your business and on top of all of that, of course, some great music from the shapers of jazz, blues and soul including Gregory Porter, German singer Lisa Bassenge and this from Gil Scott-Heron.

Phenomenally funky sound of Gil Scott-Heron with Lady Day and John Coltrane. Dominic Smales, as I said earlier, is my Business Shaper today. He is the founder and managing director of Gleam Futures. Your words please, thank you so much for joining me, tell me what you do because many people will be amazed by the end of this programme about what is actually going on in the subterranean world of the web.

Dominic Smales
So, we manage talent, essentially. But the talent we manage is slightly different to any traditional talent that you might think of in the entertainment world, like TV, film, radio etc. We manage talent that have started their careers on social media platforms, so, they’ve built huge audiences on YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and Twitter. And then we’re shaping long, illustrious careers from that start.

Elliot Moss
Now, I don’t think of myself as old Dominic but when I started doing a little bit of research into the kind of talent that you are talking about, names like Caspar Lee, Marcus Butler, Jim Chapman, I realised that I was actually middle-aged because these are names that I hadn’t heard of that have got millions and millions and millions of people looking at them in the new way that people consume media, the new way that people consume programmes, which is not through your television set, it’s through your computer. It may sound obvious but we are not talking about just a small phenomena here we are talking about proper connectivity with a new artist who has got 5 million people subscribed to their YouTube channel. Just tell me about what gave you the idea to create this business five/six years ago? Because at that point I don’t think you know, many people knew what a social media phenomenon was.

Dominic Smales
Well it didn’t exist and I didn’t know what a social media phenomenon was either so, I was working at a production company and fascinated, at the time by social media; Facebook it had just really started to kick off and I had noticed the young’uns in the office beginning to spend more and more time checking Facebook out rather than actually doing any work and I too got sucked in and YouTube was the thing that fascinated me. And I noticed on the home page of YouTube these two girls keep popping up who were doing make-up tutorials, essentially, teaching people how to put make-up on. And they were on the home page of YouTube globally alongside animals on skateboards, naked men walking into plate glass windows, people falling out of trees, all the kind of viral stuff that you expect to find achieving massive views on YouTube, and these girls were popping up every week on the home page and I thought, what is that they are doing that is engaging people so much they can drive hundreds of thousands of views of videos of them just talking. I thought perhaps they’re big TV celebs that I’ve missed or movie stars or anything like that but on getting to know them better; they weren’t, they were a couple of sisters who were professional make-up artists, in their spare time they loved making videos and uploading them to YouTube to help teach people how to put make-up on properly and I dropped them a line, they came into the office, we got on well, they started asking questions me about commercial issues that were facing them and people that had tried to have them sign specific contracts and bits and bobs and I just gave them some advice from my experience in media and entertainment so far. And we became friends and I ended up representing them and they recommended me to their friends, and their friends to their friends, and all these people were just at the beginning of starting to build their channels on YouTube. No-one was really doing it for a living, everyone was doing it out of pure passion but that was almost six years ago now and now, of course, with the velocity of growth that has run through that entire platform has been so incredible that these guys now are sitting on audiences of you know, 5, 10 million subscribers at a time and just are like Top Ten talent on our roster of only 27, probably going to drive now, this year, in the region of 4 billion views just on YouTube alone. That’s not counting Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook etc.

Elliot Moss
Wow. You are going to find out a lot more about how Dominic saw this opportunity and has created a business around it. Time for some music though, in the meantime, this is Gregory Porter with Wind Song.

Mr Gregory Porter with Wind Song. Dominic Smales is my Business Shaper today, he is the founder and managing director of Gleam Future. If you were listening earlier you will know that he looks after emerging talent who start their world of fame and making a living in, and on, social media. So, this is six years ago and you said, you know, I had some experience of the media world. Just going back a little bit, you had worked for Chrysalis Radio, I think, before USP.

Dominic Smales
Yep.

Elliot Moss
What did you learn about business from those media worlds? What was it that they saw in you that they liked? What do you think they bought into in those early days before kind of it got established and now people go, ‘oh yeah he’s the guy you go to’. What was it then?

Dominic Smales
I think I spent a long time, fifteen years, in marketing and media helping brands build profiles across all kinds of platforms and I kind of knew what it took and I knew what their sensitivities were in terms of protecting a brand, and when it came to talent, per se, I think the fact that I cared about them and their interests, first and foremost, but with a commercial instinct, as it were, so I knew the value of what they were creating on line because I had dealt with media owners and advertisers for the last fifteen years. I could apply that to their careers, making sure that they got, you know, that their value wasn’t taken for granted because it was immediately obvious to me when I saw Sam and Nic Chapman, who are called Pixiwoo on YouTube, who are the make-up artist sisters that I mentioned previously, that what they were achieving was incredibly rare and unique. To be able to drive that kind of engagement on a social media platform, not only once which occasionally and maybe with a bit of media spend and a fair wind behind you of some luck, a brand can have a viral video but these guys are doing it consistently, every week, every single video, it was a hit on YouTube and that’s proper engagement, it’s the equivalent of a radio presenter garnering an audience that really likes the way that they present and the music that they play and their personality and all of those kind of things that make a presenter really popular to a loyal audience. The same thing was happening here but on a social media platform that didn’t have any gatekeepers between the talent and the audience so there’s no editor, there’s no commissioner, there’s no studio boss saying, ‘Ooh I don’t think they’re right in that slot, I’m going to put them in that slot’, or even worse ‘I’m going to bin them off the network’.

Elliot Moss
There is no schedule.

Dominic Smales
There is no schedule.

Elliot Moss
Tell me about your own… So, so that makes perfect sense. In terms of you having set up your first business because you had worked for other companies before, and in senior roles and all that, did you find that tough or was it just part of what you had to do in the early days? You know, incorporating your own company, ooh I need office space, I need to hire people, I need… I mean the basics, you know, these sometimes can be pretty overwhelming. How, briefly, did you cope with that?

Dominic Smales
Yeah, it’s really tough and there’s that moment, I think, that you realise that all your dreams as a kid of like, ‘ooh I’m just gonna discover something really amazing and it’s gonna be easy, I’ll be rich the next week’. The realisation that the only way to be successful at something is a huge amount of really hard work and that dawned on me when I thought about paying my mortgage through having to earn every single penny from something that I had actually, physically had to do myself, in the early days, and I started off by being really, really small but trying to act much bigger than I was so I started in a coffee shop with a laptop and just kind of worked hard until I could afford to have someone help me, and then afford to have two people help me and just do it really organically like that. I think that that’s one way of doing it, I don’t know if it’s the harder or easier way, it’s certainly the way I felt most comfortable doing it, making sure that it was all completely organic and I was in control of everything to start with, all output, rather than taking on, you know, hundreds of thousands of pounds worth of debt and all of that kind of thing in order to grow faster.

Elliot Moss
Stay with me for more from my Business Shaper today, Dominic Smales. Latest travel in a couple of minutes and before that some words of wisdom for your business from our programme partners at Mishcon de Reya.

You are listening to Jazz Shapers. If you’ve missed any of the previous programmes then FT.com or CityAM.com or even iTunes are your destinations, you will find many, many programmes there featuring some of the fantastic guests that I have had over the last few years. My fantastic guest today, I am pleased to say, is Dominic Smales, founder and managing director of Gleam Futures. He is managing talent which is making a huge impact in the world of social media. The business itself is predicated on you, essentially, representing young talent, ensuring that they, if you are then brokering deals with big brands, ensuring that they get the right amount of money and then you take a percentage of that. Why are those brands spending money on connecting themselves with these young people who have got millions of, you know, in their audiences? How are they seeing the value of that connection?

Dominic Smales
So, first of all it’s now just about brands, this is, the business is built on representing the holistic careers of these guys. At the end of the day they are entertainers, they are creative people, it just so happens that the platform that they entertain on is, primarily been, a social media platform like YouTube. But the business is built on, yes there are select brand endorsements and brands are interested in working with this talent because the talent has an authentic relationship with their audience. Our talent won’t work with any brand that they don’t like, believe in, believe 100% in the quality of it and all of those kind of things and would use anywhere and anyway in their everyday life. But there is also publishing and TV and movies and licensing and creating stuff that the talent are passionate about but also it can help them earn a living from doing what they love which is making content.

Elliot Moss
Now, the people I checked out in researching this, there’s a young boy called Joe Sugg, is that right? I really feel like a grandfather as I’m saying, ‘Joe Sugg? Is that the name of the young whippersnapper?’

Dominic Smales
ThatcherJoe on YouTube.

Elliot Moss
Okay. So, and then his little compatriot, what’s his name the other fellow?

Dominic Smales
Caspar Lee?

Elliot Moss
Caspar Lee, right.

Dominic Smales
He’s taller than Joe actually.

Elliot Moss
Caspar is tall, yes.

Dominic Smales
He is yeah.

Elliot Moss
He’s tall and Joe is small but these guys are making a movie?

Dominic Smales
They’ve made a movie.

Elliot Moss
They have made a movie. What else have they done? Have they, they’ve written a book?

Dominic Smales
Er, Joe has published a book this year, called…

Elliot Moss
Graphic novel?

Dominic Smales
…’Username: Evie’ which is a graphic novel and it ended up being the fastest selling graphic novel, globally, in history when it came out. And it’s an amazing piece of work and the reason it’s so successful is because it’s from Joe and Joe has millions of followers on YouTube that think Joe’s great.

Elliot Moss
So, is it that or are these, do you think these people that you are representing are super talented and they just happen to have started on YouTube? Is it just that’s just the way that talent is now found? Is that really what’s going on?

Dominic Smales
Absolutely. Absolutely I think they are, all of them, are absolute talents, they have a unique talent, it’s not easy to connect with millions of people, globally, across cultural boundaries, across language barriers and continue to grow and be successful and engage people. You try it. You know, anyone out there who’s thinking about, sounds easy, I’m going to go and start my own YouTube channel. Just give it a bash and see how many views you get, you know, in the next two years. It’s an incredibly difficult thing to do and not only is it the way that they can express their personalities, it’s technical skills like making sure the thing looks good, the audio’s good. There’s lots of equipment in this studio that none of our talent have access to but they have to make good enough product to be able to engage millions of people the world over. So I’m quite passionate about defending them when people suggest that what talent do these guys have because they all have a really unique talent. We are approached all the time by people wanting to get on the roster and be YouTube stars and there is a very small percentage of people that can actually do it.

Elliot Moss
Not easy. So if you want to try, go for it but Dom’s advice is you may not quite hit gold straight away and my two boys who try this the whole time would testify to that. Time for some music, this is Lisa Bassenge with her take on Riders on the Storm which of course was a Doors classic.

A natty version there of Riders on the Storm there from Lisa Bassenge. Dom, you have talked about defending the talent of your roster as it were. You have now got, you said, around 25/30 people on the roster.

Dominic Smales
Twenty eight, yeah.

Elliot Moss
Twenty eight people on the roster. What do you see over the next few years happening? Is your business going to be, is going to get bigger or are you going to go deeper with the kind of talent that you’ve got? Have you got a Jerry Maguire, you know, ‘never have too many clients’ mantra or is it just ‘bring ‘em on, if they’re good I’ll take ‘em’?

Dominic Smales
I love Jerry Maguire.

Elliot Moss
I like him too. I like the film I must say.

Dominic Smales
I love that film, yeah. We are absolutely dedicated to making sure we represent the very best talent in the world. The best and brightest talent in the world. Not the most and we will only take people on that we are 100% sure have the potential to be incredible either now or in the future. So the idea is that we will develop the roster that we have to its full potential. If someone incredible comes across my desk then, of course, we’ll look to sign them but the model isn’t to sign another four hundred talent over the six months coming up. We’re looking for quality not quantity, definitely.

Elliot Moss
Did you, when you were younger, think that you would run your own shop, your own business in some form?

Dominic Smales
I always wanted to, yeah, I always wanted to right from my first job really.

Elliot Moss
And did it matter to you what it would be? Did you kind of have an idea? Did you think you would end up being, you know, to your kids or whatever, the Jerry Maguire of the house? You know the person that’s an agent? Because you are not the typical stereotype of an agent are you? You don’t seem like that and having known you over the years, that’s not you and yet you are doing superbly well, you are doing fantastically. Is that because actually you take a very commercial view? Is that actually because you are a media guy? I mean what is the secret of why your business is working?

Dominic Smales
I think it’s because it’s not born out of seeing something that is specifically commercial and this is what I can earn a living at. It was a pure passion to start with and I think that’s really important in starting any business is that you’ve got to be honest and passionate about what you do and success will kind of like follow on after that. I did, at one stage, I wanted to open a chain of barber shops, for example, because I thought I saw a massive gap in the market there for male grooming but I didn’t know how to cut hair, I hadn’t been passionate about barber shops in the past and there was no momentum created by that. This is something that happened really organically and naturally. I was fascinated by it and I had the knowledge and experience to be able to do a good job. I think that your comment about me not being a typical agent is…

Elliot Moss
He’s not a typical agent this Dom. He’s a nice bloke. I mean, you know what I mean though don’t you.

Dominic Smales
…yeah, because I don’t think typical agents will succeed in this world. 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 100% the talent’s perspective. 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. And we have to hold fast on that and we are lucky enough to be in a position whereby we’ve got a great roster, the best talent in the world I think and we’ve got to protect that vehemently and make sure that we don’t succumb to how big business and the entertainment industry of the past dictates that we should be doing stuff, stick to our guns and make it better for the talent going forward.

Elliot Moss
Final chat coming up with Dom and we will be playing a track from Billy Taylor. That’s after the latest traffic and travel.

The iconic sound of Billy Taylor with I Wish I Knew How it Would Feel To Be Free and that’s the original, I’m sure you knew that but I’m just confirming. Dominic Smales is my Business Shaper, just for a few more precious minutes and we’ve rapidly cantered through the world of social media that kind of didn’t exist in the sense of, you know, people being stars through it back in 2010; it absolutely does now, the talent that you represent, as you have said, from the age 21 up to the age of 37 or so. It isn’t just money being made through number of clicks and number of views it’s also money being made outside of the world of social media, the films and the books and so on and so forth. I imagine that your business plan will sort of say sky’s the limit? Is that right?

Dominic Smales
Absolutely, yeah, I think the, our business is developing the potential of the talent that we’ve got on our roster and I don’t think any of them have reached anywhere near their potential yet. I think there is a long way to go. It is important to say that this talent, a 100% on our roster, has started on their own, from scratch, out of the passion from making videos; in their case, in most of their cases, on YouTube. But essentially they are not just social media talent, I think in the next of couple years they’ll just be talent and I think that the talent of the future has to have a relationship with a real audience on social media platforms rather than through gatekeepers like commissioners and studio bosses.

Elliot Moss
Well look, continue to fiercely guard your clients because that’s what you seem to be doing, and that’s a good thing to do. It’s been great talking to you, thank you Dom, and I think people will now be going ‘Ooh I’d better go and check out this sub-world’, if indeed it is, and if it isn’t well, well done you were there before I was. Just before I let you go, what’s your song choice and why have you chosen it?

Dominic Smales
So, I have chosen Otis Reading, Sitting on the Dock of the Bay because it was always one of those tracks that whenever I listened to it, it made me think of a very chilled out situation, someone that’s just enjoying the sun going down, sitting on a dock, no particular place to go, nothing to think about really, and that never happens.

Elliot Moss
I was going to say that is the opposite of your life.

Dominic Smales
Exactly, so I enjoy listening to it for that moment of escapism.

Elliot Moss
Fantastic, here it is just for you, thanks very much.

That was Otis Reading with Sitting on the Dock of the Bay. The song choice of my Business Shaper today, Dominic Smales, a true pioneer, someone who saw the gap five/six years ago in the world of social media and talent and has exploited it very successfully. Predicated on his passion, his a very passionate man when it comes to this world and boy does that show, and yet, conversely, unbelievably level headed, he has been building his business quietly, now he’s got over thirty people working for him and his talent, I am sure, are very, very happy for that. Great stuff. Join me again, same time, same place, that’s next Saturday, 9.00am sharp her on Jazz FM. In the meantime stay with us because coming up next, it’s Nigel Williams.

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 looks 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.

Listen live at 9am Saturday.

We manage talent who have started their careers on social media platforms. We shape long, illustrious careers from that start.

I noticed the young’uns in the office spending more time checking Facebook out rather than doing any work and I too got sucked in. YouTube was the thing that fascinated me.

I noticed these two girls doing make-up tutorials on the homepage of Youtube. I gave them some advice from my experience and ended up representing them. They recommended me to their friends, and their friends to their friends.

These guys now are sitting on audiences of you know, 5, 10 million subscribers at a time.

I started off being really small but trying to act much bigger than I was. I worked hard until I could afford to have someone help me, and then until I could afford to have two people help me.

I cared about the talent and their interests, first and foremost, but with a commercial instinct. I knew the value of what they were creating because I had dealt with media owners and advertisers for the last fifteen years.

There’s no editor, there’s no commissioner, there’s no studio boss saying, ‘Ooh I don’t think they’re right in that slot’.

It’s not easy to connect with millions of people, globally, across cultural boundaries, across language barriers and continue to grow and be successful and engage people.  You try it.

In starting any business you’ve got to be honest and passionate about what you do. Success will follow.

The tipping point for success is the realisation that it’s about the talent rather than the platform. If the talent has a great relationship with their audience then the platform is irrelevant.