When it was announced in August 2020 that Social Chain’s co-founders were exiting the business, Steven Bartlett and Dominic McGregor’s lives seemed to go in very different directions.
The duo had been aged just 20 and 21 respectively when they launched the Manchester-based social media marketing agency and helped grow it to a $200m turnover business with 750 staff in offices all around the world.
During the company’s meteoric rise, CEO and podcast host Bartlett had been the very public face of Social Chain while McGregor had been the low-profile COO of the business that had a reach of more than two billion views per month by the time they left.
While Bartlett has remained in the public eye – recently announcing details of his forthcoming book ‘Happy Sexy Millionaire’ – 27-year-old McGregor has opted for the quiet life, choosing to embark on a history degree at Oxford University, investing in a number of tech firms and tweeting about his ongoing sobriety.
He’s avoided doing any interviews – until now – but he’s planning his life after Social Chain.
McGregor’s six years at Social Chain arguably contained the happiest and darkest periods of his life.
In public he was at the helm of one of UK’s highest profile agencies but behind the scenes he was drinking up to two bottles of wine a night and battling his mental health demons.
He stopped short of calling himself an alcoholic but admitted to having been ‘alcohol dependent’.
His story started in 2014 when he and fellow university drop-out Steven Bartlett came together to create Social Chain.
They recognised the potential of operating multiple social channels and became a leader in the industry, working with clients like Amazon, Coca Cola and TikTok.
“Being involved with Social Chain was one of my happiest memories,” he said. “One of the best things about founding a company is you get to choose who you work with.”
The dynamic between the co-founders was at the core of the company’s success.
“We suit each other so well,” he said. “We have complementary traits to each other. We push each other and we have fun together.
“It’s still like a marriage at times. The great thing was if something landed on your desk, you’d know who was going to deal with it. We knew each other’s strengths and we knew each other’s weaknesses as well.
“Two Steves or two Doms wouldn’t have made that business success. It needed the balance between both of us.”
At this point, I ask: “Did you ever resent all the attention Steve received?”
McGregor shakes his head emphatically. “I’m his biggest fan and always will be,” he said. “To see the heights he’s gone to makes me incredibly proud. I’m 100 per cent over the moon for everything he has received and will achieve in the future. I still consider him my best friend.”
For the all good things about Social Chain, it was also the period that coincided with McGregor nearly imploding as he turned to alcohol to deal with the company’s growth.
“We had a great culture and we celebrated all the time,” he recalled. “We had so many great things happening in the business. We built this association between success and celebrating.
“I remember one day winning Amazon as a client. My view changed on that to being apprehensive. Us winning business became a negative. I was thinking ‘we’ll have to fulfil them now’.
“I’d be the person in the room not celebrating but drinking because of the anxiety about the future in my mind.
“That would continue to happen week after week. It became habitual. I’d have a bottle of wine a night.
“I’d have a binge at the weekend. Then it started to impact my life. I’d physically hurt myself. One weekend I fell over on my driveway and broke my ankle.”
His drinking escalated to two bottles of wine a night and the year of 2015 disappeared in a blur.
“My drinking changed relationships with people,” he said. “I pushed people away. It came to a crux when I started hurting other people. I almost got a bit of pleasure out of hurting myself but hurting other people was when I knew I had to draw the line.”
McGregor, who stopped drinking completely in 2016, described his mental health during this period as ‘terrible’.
“I had to stop drinking to deal with my mental health issues,” he said. “Once I’d dealt with the mental health issues I wouldn’t need to drink again.
“That period in my life was horrible but I think it was the most important thing for me to go through. I wouldn’t change anything because I know I needed to go through it to develop as a person.”
In October 2019, Social Chain merged with German-based Lumaland AG to form The Social Chain AG and list on XETRA and the Düsseldorf Stock Exchange.
Less than a year later the announcement came out that Bartlett and McGregor were exiting the business completely.
McGregor may have left the business, but he admitted the business hasn’t left him.
“I still say ‘we’ when talking about Social Chain,” he confessed. “I think it will always be part of my identity.”
Today McGregor has never looked healthier and happier.
Based in Alderley Edge, Cheshire, the entrepreneur can most likely to be found running or walking his Cockapoo Bonnie.
“Bonnie has been the best addition to my life,” he enthused. “Steve told me for four or five years to get a dog, but I kept putting it off. The love you get from a dog is amazing.”
His hiatus has given him time to review his relationship with social media.
“I think I’ve got a healthy relationship with social media,” he said. “I don’t do things for people to see.”
However, he does believe people on social media shouldn’t be able to hide behind anonymity.
“I don’t see any reason why you can’t give basic information like your name and birthday,” he said.
McGregor is now ready for his next challenge – although he’s coy about what that might be.
However, at the tender age of 27, he conceded his biggest business success might already have happened.
“When you’re an entrepreneur you don’t know when you’re launching a new idea or a new venture if you’re holding a golden ticket,” he said.
“Statistically, I’d hope that Social Chain isn’t the only success I’ll have in my life; but I’m humble enough to know that Social Chain was a great business and I might not have the same success again on the same level.”