Jamal Edwards sits down in the glass-paneled boardroom and immediately checks his phone. He stares at it intently, watching a few seconds of a new music video on the website of the company he founded and runs, SB.TV. Edwards, 24, isn’t being rude — YouTube and online music videos are the lifeblood of his business, and he needs to keep on top of the latest music clips if he’s going to keep SB.TV a major player in the digital world. The business community seems to believe he’s up to the task. The swish boardroom? It belongs to Miroma Ventures, a London-based private-equity firm that last year took a stake in SB.TV for an undisclosed sum.
Edwards has built SB.TV into the U.K.’s leading online youth-content provider. It began in November 2006 as a YouTube channel showcasing both up-and-coming musicians and established stars. Three years later Edwards created a separate website to host the videos as well as audio, and written interviews and articles on fashion, music and sports. SB.TV makes most of its money from YouTube’s advertising revenue, of which it gets a percentage, though the website also sells merchandise. Right now SB.TV has close to half a million YouTube subscribers. Edwards, with Miroma’s help, plans to take SB.TV to the U.S. and South Africa while also expanding its coverage of fashion and sports. “I still think there’s so much more to do,” he says.
But Edwards is not just an entrepreneur who’s in it to win it. He wants to help other young people with good business ideas and the sort of entrepreneurial energy he exudes. To that end, Edwards volunteers for three British organizations that focus on nurturing youths, including the Prince’s Trust, a charity established by Prince Charles. “People look up to me,” he says. “It gives me more buzz to keep on going.”
Michael Maynard, a media-studies student at Northenden College in Manchester, met Edwards last summer at a music festival in the northern English city. Maynard, who was launching a clothing brand, gave Edwards a T-shirt as a gift. “He thanked me and told me I’d see him wearing it in the next few days,” Maynard says. “A few days later he wore the T-shirt in an interview with Miley Cyrus. Since then I have looked up to him even more.”
Edwards’ journey to becoming an impresario began at age 15, when his parents gave him a video camera for Christmas. He began filming wild foxes roaming in his backyard in West London before expanding to shooting family and friends. Eager to share his videos, particularly those of his friends rapping or singing, he started uploading his content to YouTube, then in its infancy, under the name SB.TV—the SB stands for SmokeyBarz, Edwards’ rap name—and was amazed to see the videos get thousands of views. Edwards soon began filming interviews or impromptu performances by well-known musicians outside clubs and hotels. SB.TV’s online traffic grew rapidly.
Another music entrepreneur who started young, Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin Group, says he has seen strong leadership qualities in Edwards, whom he has advised. “I was impressed by his confidence the first time I met him,” Branson says. “I saw firsthand just how keen young people were to look to him for inspiration.” Edwards may have some way to go before he reaches Branson’s level of success — but with endorsements like that, it would be unwise to bet against him.