A lot has changed for Jamal Edwards in the decade since he began his YouTube music channel, SBTV. He started it when he was still at school and within four years he was a celebrity – one of the faces of the YouTube generation, a new breed of do-it-yourself broadcasters who had built huge global audiences seemingly out of thin air.
I first met him around the time he became famous, in 2011 – he and his fledgling team were squished into a modest shared workspace scattered with brightly coloured beanbags in Camden. Today we meet in the pristine white boardroom of a swanky Fitzrovia office, which SBTV shares with a private equity firm. The contrast between then and now could not be more telling. Edwards is no longer the new kid on the block, he’s a mogul, a veteran, the CEO. He is 26 years old.
His look is still more high street than Bond Street. He sports his signature baseball cap, but is otherwise dressed casually all in black, with silver skull rings on his fingers (another Edwards trademark). In person he is an intriguing mix of laser-sharp digital pioneer and endlessly distracted millennial with a constantly buzzing iPhone. “Mate, two seconds…” he says, checking its screen and I plead with him to turn it off, which he does. When he engages, his mien is businesslike and direct – like many time-poor CEOs he doesn’t tend to regale or embellish unless coaxed; though he rarely ducks a question.