Charlie Sloth: From Homeless, To Fire In The Booth, To An £800 Million Business! | E199 | Transcription
Transcription for the video titled "Charlie Sloth: From Homeless, To Fire In The Booth, To An £800 Million Business! | E199".
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Stormzy. Fire in the booth. The minute he left that studio, I rang everyone and said, "This guy is a superstar." But then three years ago, I've never told anyone this story. Three years ago... Shaboy and Tylist, you know, BBC Radio, one extra. We're the biggest raps on the planet. Just when you fought, A.U. Bunka were done for the year. My favourite part of the show. I was raised in an environment where not many people ever amounted to anything. It's not our fault, it's society's fault. Fuck society. So it was tough. We were living in a shed. My son had just been born. I couldn't afford nappies. And we had no toilet. That was the sacrifice that I had to make in order for me to become the person I needed to become. Fire in the booth. The only everything right. Branding has always been so integral for me. The Fire in the Booth brand became a monster within the culture. There's not many people like me that understand culture and understand business in the same way I do. A.U. Bunka is a great reflection of that. We outsold twigus twice over. Three times as many bottles as a rock. Turn over £18 million this year. You joking? No. How much do you think this is valued at now? £800 million. Jesus Christ. We actually have a Bible to do's and don't. Everyone wants to know what's in that Bible. What kind of things are in there? I mean, it goes from... Before this episode starts, I have a small favour to ask from you. Two months ago, 74% of people that watch this channel didn't subscribe. We're now down to 69%. My goal is 50%. So if you've ever liked any of the videos we've posted, if you like this channel, can you do me a quick favour and hit the subscribe button? It helps this channel more than you know and the bigger the channel gets, as you've seen, the bigger the guests get. Thank you and enjoy this episode. Charlie.
Charlie Sloth'S Personal And Career Journey
How my environment shaped me (01:53)
I'm a big believer on this podcast that our earliest years end up defining who we become and shaping who we are from a character standpoint, our perspective on the world, what we think matters, our values and all of those things, and really decides which way we go off into the world and how we go off into the world. When I was reading about your early years, that felt more evident in this case than in the case of most guests I sit here with. So can you tell me in those earliest years, when you look back as an adult now, what were the things, what was the context that ended up shaping you and who you went on to become in your life? I think for me, coming from the humble beginnings that I did, I feel like I was raised in an environment where not many people ever amounted to anything. So there was no one for me growing up who I looked up to as a role model, per se. It was more family members for me that gave me the confidence and inspiration to do better in life. But I feel at the same time, me coming from that environment coloured me and toughened me to become almost, I felt like growing up invincible because growing up seeing friends get killed, go to prison. When you survive that, it almost makes you feel like, wow, I'm indestructible, especially at a young age. And I've always been very confident and had loads of self-belief, but I feel like it set me up to, A, prove people wrong because I felt like I was never given any opportunities or chances to better myself or be the person I am today. When I was 17, I didn't even know what university was. I had no idea what university was. When you think about that now and put that in perspective, that's crazy. I had no idea what university was. When I was younger, I wanted to be a director. I wanted to make movies. And I never had no insight into how to make that happen. My teachers were like, you'll be a plumber, electrician or a chippy at best if you do well. So for me, I was kind of like, huh, there's got to be more to life than that. And I was always very inquisitive. I always wanted to know how things worked or why things didn't work or how you do this and how you do that. I was always very up on self-education. So I feel like those early years of my life really shaped who I am today, how I treat other people. Because obviously my mum was the cleaner. So when I'm in a corporate building or wherever I am in the world, I always treat that person with the same respect that I would treat the CEO that I meet in that day or that I'm doing business with that day because that cleaner was my mum. So I have a different view and perspective on life and on people. And I think that's put me in a great position in life, especially with my people skills and how to treat people, which I feel is a massive part of why I am where I am. What about your father? My father was an electrician, very strict, very, very strict man, very disciplined. And as a young kid, we didn't always see eye to eye. And I always felt like he failed my sisters and he would always make comments to me, "You will never be as successful as I am." And as a kid, I'm like, "Whoa, like, what are you talking about, Dad?" And he's mad. This is a funny story. My dad used to always say that to me, "You will never be as successful as I am." And as a child, I always thought that he meant in terms of monetary success. That's what I viewed as success. But then three years ago, I've never told anyone this story. Three years ago, I took my family away, my whole family, for Christmas. And me and my dad had a drink. And I'm like, "Dad, just look around you, Dad. Look at everything that I've got and everything that I've achieved. You said I'll never be as successful as you." And he said to me, "Son, I was never talking about money. Money's never been a thing for me. I've never chased money in the same way you chase money. I was talking about you and your sisters and your mother." I had to stop and I'm like, "What are you talking about, Dad?" And he said, "Look at the man you've become. Look at the women your sisters have become. I am successful as a father. You're all winners." And it's true, me and my sisters were all winners. Like, my sisters got an incredible job. My younger sisters got an incredible job, incredible business. I can't help but think you beat him to the goalposts. Maybe. Maybe. Maybe. Maybe. But that's pretty good at that, to be fair. It made me think. It made me stop because I've always, to be fair, I've always used that as motivation without even knowing it. And to that point, I never really assessed the situation in a way that I should have because I've always used that to drive me on to be like, "Come on, Dad. I'm light years ahead," without having that conversation, having that conversation with myself in my head. And so I had that conversation. I didn't really sit down and read deep why I was thinking like that. And I think it almost -- there was a weight that lifted from my shoulders once I'd had that conversation. I think likewise from my dad, you know? I think it changed the dynamics of our relationship somewhat. But when I do look back at the things that he would say and the things that he would do, he was like a coach, like the ultimate coach. You know, like he would inspire and motivate me without pampering me, without making me soft. He would say things that he knew was harsh, or he would discipline me in ways that he knew were harsh. And he probably felt bad about the time. But he had a plan for how he wanted me to turn out. And, you know, look at me now. And he played a big part of that. What about money? When people come from backgrounds -- I mean, you grew up in a council estate, right? Yeah. When people come from those backgrounds and money is a center point of like the relationships in the household. It's the cause of the argument. It's everything, right? It's always there in a conversation. When we become adults, we can sometimes have like an unhealthy pursuit or relationship with money. It can control our decision-making a little bit too much. So as it relates to your relationship with money, at that point, growing up and how that kind of orientated you as you became a young man, what was your relationship with money? I think, for me, money was a necessity. If we didn't have money, or if I didn't make money, additional money from my family home, we never had gas. We never had electric. We never had food. And growing up, for me, I was like, this can't happen. I need to change this. I need to make effort myself, not relying on my parents or my sisters, to get out of my way and change this. And from a young age, I was always about, you know, from when I was 12 to up until I was 17, I was always about making money. And that, for me, was the drive. How do I make money? I need to make more money. You know, it started with me sending sandwiches because I couldn't afford lunch dinners. I weren't getting free dinners at the time. So my mum used to make me a packed lunch. And I remember going to school, sending the sandwiches, sending the crisps, sending the drink, making a fiver. And I was like, wait a minute, I could just replicate this. So then I started buying a loaf of bread, salami, some salad cream, some lettuce. And I started making 10 sandwiches, sending all the sandwiches. And then throughout a two-year period, it extended to me buying cigarettes, buying 20 cigarettes and selling the cigarettes for a pound each. Sometimes five pound, depending on how desperate the person who was was trying to buy the cigarette from me. And I would always save the money that I'd make and reinvest it to make more money. And then by the time I was, I'd say 21, my idea of chasing money had changed somewhat. It became very apparent for me that I weren't happy chasing money. I weren't about chasing the money. I still understood the value of money and knew how important it was for me to make money. But I made a decision around 2021 that I was going to focus on something that I loved and that I was very passionate about and allow the financial rewards to follow that. Rather than doing it the other way around, chasing the money by doing things that I'm not so passionate about and I don't really care about, and I can't see it ever making me happy. Before that point, I was reading about your running with the law.
Tower Block Dreams (11:22)
And it's pretty severe. Yeah, I mean, where I grew up, you know, like I said, it was tough. And I made a lot of bad decisions as a kid. I was watching Tableau Juice. Yeah, a lot of that was bravado. And that show, a lot of that was bravado at a time where I felt like I had to portray a certain image to be accepted in a community that I felt like that was the cool thing to do and the cool way to act. A lot of that was bravado. Was there any truth to any of that? I mean, there was some elements of truth to some of the things that I got caught up in as a kid that, you know, I regret. And I live with that regret every day of my life. But again, you know, I was a product of my environment. And I'm lucky enough that I was able to escape that environment to become the man I am today. And going back to what I was saying before, all of these incidents have shaped me to become the person I am today. So, of course, I regret a lot of the things that I got caught up in as a child. And I was a child. I wasn't a man at any point. When you look back at that kid in that documentary, Tableau Juice. I'm embarrassed. Really? Yeah, I cringe. I can't watch it. I cringe. But at the same time, there's a certain amount of warmth that I feel just watching how much I've progressed and grown as a man. And to look back at that now, for me, it's just like, wow. Wow. But at the same time, I feel like, you know, the amount of messages that I get every day about how inspiring that is to people that are living in certain circumstances, very familiar to those that I was living in back then. And I feel like it shows a generation for me that right now seems very lost, very scared, very confused, that it's possible that if you believe in yourself and you apply yourself and you put everything that's expected of you to decide and just do what feels right for you, anything's possible. And I'm living proof of that. I'm here today, you know, one of the most successful hip-hop DJs in Europe. I own multiple brands and I'm still doing what I love when I was told that that wasn't possible. When I watched those videos, outside of the bravado, which you described there, what I did see was a young man that was incredibly hungry.
Self-belief & hard times (13:56)
As you say, it's someone that was trying to change their life. In fact, I went to a prison the other day and spent like five or six hours in the prison talking to the inmates and I saw the same kind of like ambitious kind of desperation to get out of that situation and to turn things around. And that's what I saw in that young man was outside of all that stuff, there was a man there that really, really wanted to be successful and really wanted to get on. And it's so funny because you say like, "You didn't have the ideas. Nobody had given you the ideas. Your environment hadn't given you the ideas. You didn't even know what university was." I had no idea. At that point, I had no idea. And when you think about that, that's bizarre. How does a 17-year-old young man not know what university is? And that's because nobody had told me. And none of my friends were going to university. I didn't know one person that had gone to university at that age. Goes to show how much information is a privilege. Oh, of course. Information is everything. And of course, at that time, there was no internet. So for me to self-educate in the way I do now, it wasn't possible back then. But yeah, you're right. My hunger and passion was there. And I feel like that's what set me apart. You know, there's times when I've sat there and I'm always my own worst critic. I'll always review myself and I'll sit there and I wouldn't say I meditate, but I like to reflect. I like to look within to find out what I'm doing right, what I'm not doing so well, and just where I'm at in life in terms of perspective. And there was a time maybe three years ago when I was sat there and I'm questioning myself almost. I'm like, you know, what is it that's made me become the person I am? Like, why have I been so successful? Is it luck? Have I just been lucky? I'm asking myself these questions. And then, you know, I'm thinking about my old friendship groups and where a lot of those are in terms of life and some of my new friendship groups. And after reflecting for several hours and sitting there and questioning myself, the one thing that was very clear that separated me from everyone that I'd met throughout life and had been part of my journey was my self-belief. I've always believed that impossible is nothing. I can do it. As long as I've had that mindset about things, I've been able to accomplish it. And part of that same, you know, analysis on myself was going back to the imagery that I'd put up around in my studio and how I went about achieving those certain goals and targets that I'd set myself. And it was almost like I had achieved those things subconsciously for me. Like, I had set myself a target and there was all around my room. But I wouldn't sit there every day thinking, "I want an orange Porsche. I want a massive detached house with land." I didn't sit there and think every day about those things, but they were around me. And they were part of my environment. And in the same way, when I was younger, my environment had a huge influence on who I was and how I behaved. Once I stepped out of that and created my own environment, my own universe, if you like, which was surrounded by all of these things that I wanted to achieve, I started achieving them subconsciously, unknowingly, without having a real formula to how I'd achieve them. So I was sitting there thinking, "Wait a minute. So how did I actually do that?" And then it always comes back to the self-belief. Because the moment I believe in something, if I can visualise what I'm trying to achieve, I know it's possible. The analogy that I've come to really believe in, based on having these conversations with people who have all, to some degree, subconsciously, because you're saying that I didn't consciously sit there every day and think about it and make a plan. It was just in my subconscious. I drove towards it. It's this analogy of the car, the sat-nav and the pedal. You've got to set the sat-nav and you've got to push the pedal. If you do one of them, if you just push the pedal, you'll get lost. I love that. That's a great analogy. If you set the sat-nav but don't push the pedal, you're going to be in your garage all day. I love that. And you did both, clearly. You had the drive to push the pedal, but you also knew the direction of travel you wanted to go in. In those early years, though, I was watching a talk you did. I think it was on the BBC's channel to a group of what looked like students about living in a shed and then your manager giving you some advice. Take me back to that period of your life. Was that the toughest moment of your journey? I'd say so. It was a period of my life where I just become a father. And my partner was from a very different world to me. A family where, you know, you could say middle class. And I was at a transitioning period in my life where I got to that point where I was like, "I'm going to do something that I love and something that I'm passionate about." And if I'm as good as I believe I am, the success will follow. And for me, it was the success that I was chasing rather than the money at that time. I just wanted to be the best. I just wanted to win. I knew that if I won, the money would come. And I'm not going to sit here and say, "I was nervous about the money." Because of course, it's always about the money. Anyone who says that, you should never trust them. But for me, it wasn't primary. It wasn't what was driving me forward. It was the win that was driving me forward. And I knew the money would follow. And I couldn't wait for the money to follow. But I knew it would as long as I focused on being the best. But at that time, we were living in a shed that had no sanitation. My son had just been born. And there were times when I couldn't afford nappies and milk. And I was kind of doing what I could to get by. And at that time, because I self-educated on all aspects of new media, I really went in. I was editing. I was editing content for JumpOff TV. And that was kind of tying me over and giving me enough money to get by. We still had to go elsewhere to shower and use the toilet. Which is crazy. When I think about it now, it's crazy. But I look back at those moments now, and that was sacrifice for me. That was the sacrifice that I had to make. And I had to put my family through in order for me to become the person I needed to become. How are you feeling every day when you look over at your family in that shed? What's going on in your head? I'm embarrassed. I'm scared. Anxiety was a big thing for me. A lot of self-doubt that I'm questioning myself, "Can I really do this?" Am I really the person that I think I am? Am I being selfish? Should I just go and get a job? Should I just give in and go and get a 9-5? And just submit to being part of the 98%? And for me, I just couldn't. There was something inside me that wouldn't let me. It was almost like a voice in my head when I look back. "You can do this, man. You've got this." And I'd be like, "I can't. I can't." I almost felt a pressure. And the moment my son was born, that pressure intensified like something I had never felt before. Something I didn't even know was possible. The drive and the ambition. I was like, "It's not about letting me down. All my parents down. I can't let my son down. And there's no way in a million years that I'm going to let this young man down. No way." And at that point, I was working 18, sometimes 20 hours a day. Every day, seven days a week. I had to spend time with my family because I was just so engrossed, so obsessed with becoming the best and creating something that moved the needle. And in my head, I always knew I'd never move the needle unless I was willing to move the needle.
The beginnings of Charlie Sloth (23:15)
And that's what it was for me. So I'd wake up every day, 5 a.m. And in my head, I've got a four-hour head start. Before anyone's even started work, I'm four hours up on you, where I've got no distractions, no emails, no phone calls, no texts. Four hours just focusing, doing what I needed to do. And then I had the rest of the day for everyone to play catch-up. And that's what I was doing in my head. And there were times over a two-year period, this was, there were times when, you know, people are sitting down and saying, "This ain't never going to happen, Charlie. It's just not going to happen. Like, you need to be a realist." And their doubt almost made me doubt myself even more. But I knew that if I kept putting in the effort and the work that I was putting in at that period in my life, something was going to give. And it did. Now, this is, you know, when YouTube first started, very fresh, people were doing the vlogs. And my manager at the time was saying, "You've got to do a vlog. Let everyone see your personality. People fall in love with you." And I'm like, "No way." That is so corny. Everyone's doing it. Everyone's doing it. And from a young age, my thing was always be, be disruptive. Be as noisy and as loud and as different as you can possibly be. And I still, to this very day, apply that to everything that I'm doing. So I was like, "No, no, I can't do a vlog. Everyone's doing it. I'm just going to be like everyone else. I need to do something different." So we came up with "Bein' Charlie Slough," where at the time, I played like seven, eight different characters in a show. All wore different outfits, different uniforms, all had their own personality. So you had the cameraman, the editor, the manager, the street team, the artist, the web designer. And they each played on stereotypes of what I felt those people were. And I made the first episode and I spent ages on it. So long because I wrote it myself. I filmed it myself. I edited it myself. And we put it out on YouTube. And it done a few thousand views. I was... I remember the feeling. I can almost feel the feeling of disappointment that I felt 24 hours after that going live on YouTube, thinking like, "Wow, I've just spent all that time making this." After the first episode, it was like 40 minutes long. And it's genius. I'm thinking, "No one's ever done anything like this." And nobody's watching it. And I thought, "You know what? This may be the sign I needed to actually call it a day." I was so disheartened. And the next thing you know, we get a message from worldstarhipop.com saying that they wanted to take it on exclusively. And that was a huge, huge defining moment in my life and in my career. Because not only did it give me the break that I needed within the industry, but it also gave me this new lease of life in terms of self-belief and made me understand that the work and self-belief that I'd had in myself was in a waste of time. And that there are people paying attention around the world. Even when you think people ain't looking, they are. And for me, I feel like that really changed my outlook on life and on myself. And from there, there was no looking back. Like beast mode was fully activated. And there was nothing and no one that was going to stop me. What's really interesting is when we think about self-belief, the self-belief you had, we almost assume that it can't exist in the same place as doubt. But it completely rang true for me that I was such a self-believing person. I think the most self-believing person I'd met when I was in the early stages of my career. But at the same time, when I look at my diary, because we all recount these stories in hindsight, to say I had so much self-belief, I was there, I knew exactly where I was going, boom, boom, boom, and it happened. Whereas when I look at my diary, I could see the self-doubt. And it was, it come from other people, they're like, maybe they're right. That voice of like, maybe they're right. A lot of people that are successful, I speak to, I think it's hard for a lot of people to admit that they doubted themselves at some point on their journey. I still doubt myself today. There's still times when, even though I've achieved some incredible things throughout my career, I still doubt myself. But that's the pessimist in me that gives me balance. I feel like if I never had that, I feel like that self-belief could almost turn into arrogance. And that's something that I've never wanted to happen. So I feel like when I chat to people, especially people that are grounded, it feels like that's a safety mechanism that we instill in ourselves and program in our minds to keep ourselves grounded and humble. Because anytime I spoke to people that don't really have that, or don't really want to admit self-doubt, they're the ones that are bordering on the line of arrogance. Those people typically tend to come from a slightly different background to yours as well.
The lack of role models (29:04)
I think because, you know, if you're growing up in a family where everyone was a billionaire, you saying that you want to do this or this, people would be like, "Easy Charlie, I'll connect you to the guy now." But growing up in that background, you're constantly, nobody's doing what you want to do. You're confronted with that negative pessimism, because that's what people feel about themselves around you. Why could you do that? How can you become that person? You know, they don't live around here. When I came up, Jamal, for me, was the black guy that had become successful in business. I stalked that kid on Skype. I told him years later when we became friends, like, "You were the bridge. And when kids come from your background, they don't have that bridge." I think it's a shame. It's a massive shame. And you still see it today. I mean, but that's, again, that's being from that environment. You know, no one wants the working class to be inspired. No one wants the working class to believe that they don't have to be working class. This is a choice. You know, like, from a young age, it's programmed in us from our parents. You know, that this is what you have to do to have a good life. You have to go to school. Then you go to college. If you're lucky, you can go to university. Then you get a job. Then you find a partner. Then you get a mortgage. Then you're trapped. And then that's it. The moment you enter that agreement with the bank is the moment you're trapped, in my opinion. There's no – you can't really escape at that point, because you have commitments. You now have to go to work to pay that mortgage every month. And it's at that point where you become a part of the system. And the sad thing is most of the working class youth of today don't know any better. And that's why you find a lot of the kids from that environment looking up to the drug dealers, the Ford guys, because they're the only guys that have ever seen financial success in those communities. So they're not going to look up to a doctor or a lawyer or a dentist, because there are none. The moment that shifts is the moment the mentality of our kids, of this generation, will change. And I think it's changed slightly now because obviously the internet has given everyone a much broader vision in terms of what's possible. But there's still a lot of the youth that don't really use the internet in that way. And when you think about that, that's insane. There's still a lot of families that haven't got a computer or a tablet at home. And this is a real thing, because I spend a lot of time doing things with the youth and trying to give back and trying to inspire and encourage the next generation. And some of the conversations that I have, I'm just like, whoa, how did... Gotta buy this kid an iPad. I'm just saying, gotta get him an iPad right now. It's mind blowing. It's mind blowing. On that point of seeds, planted seeds, I think your story is the most perfect examples of how seeds you plant can end up changing your life, not just for you, but all the seeds that were planted on your platform that changed lives.
Fire In The Booth (32:22)
And I see it here so often with people who tell you, you know, gold medal Olympians or they've got a bit hundred billion dollar company, whatever it is. And you see at some point they planted some seed without really knowing what the consequence would be. And maybe three years later, maybe five minutes later, that seed unexpectedly changes their life. That day when you started making "Been Charlie Sloth" and it went on Worldstar Hip Hop, for anybody that doesn't know Worldstar Hip Hop because maybe you're so young or you just, you're not been watching Worldstar was the cultural hip hop website of my whole childhood. Yeah. The biggest in the world. Yeah. It was like YouTube. It was like YouTube. Yeah. It was like YouTube for the rap market. And they picked the videos that went on there so you couldn't just upload it yourself. It was the biggest. Millions and millions of views. You were getting a week on that platform when you eventually, when they found you. But that idea of planting seeds, you must have seen that over and over again. Oh, for sure. And firing the booth. For sure. For sure. I mean, like, you know, initially, you know, that was a massive crossroad in my career. Do I go back into what my passion was, you know, music, producing DJing, or do I stay on this road of being Charlie Sloth, which is ultimately acting, stroke, comedy, if you like. And it was because I could see the potential in the platform at BBC One Extra that I made that decision. And it wasn't so much about me. And I went a little back at that now. I was very selfless because I could have taken a big check at the time. But this goes back to again, what I was saying, why and about the money. I could have taken that check. And I don't know where I'd be now. But being the man that I was with money, I've always been very good with money. I would have made that money into more money. But I was like, it's not about that. This is about the next 10 years. And what can I do, not only for me, but for the community? The BBC see the Worldstar videos. They saw the Worldstar. So it was actually DJ Sentex. Great friend of mine. One of my peers, someone who I've always looked up to and respected. He was going on tour with Dizzy Rascal on World Tour and needed someone to cover his show. So he got me and Wretch Free 2 to come and cover the show. So me and Wretch covered, I believe it was five or six shows. And then the response was insane that they offered me and Wretch Free 2 our own show. So they offered a show to me and Wretch Free 2. And me and Wretch spoke about it and was like, it's a no brainer, let's do it. So we agreed terms with the BBC. And the night before they was going to ano it, Wretch called me early hours in the morning. He's like, Charlie, I've been thinking about this nonstop. I'm like, what's that? He's like, I'm not going to do the radio show, bro. I'm like, what? He's like, bro, I hope this don't mess things up for you. But I really believe that I can crack this music thing. So I was like, bro, I wish you were the best. Look, man, I'm just going to go and do the LA thing, the Ben Chysloff thing. Bro, kill the music. So he's like, oh, thanks, bro. It means a lot. So the next day, BBC ran me, they're like, ah, you know, Wretch don't want to do it. Probably won't work with just you on your own. So I was like, cool. For me, there's no skin off my back. I'm like, I'm doing this Ben Chysloff stuff. I'm getting millions of views. All the American rappers know me. They all want to do stuff. I'm kind of like, cool. BBC is cool. Even at the time, in my head, I was like, I can do so much here. I can really move the needle. Like, no one has. You'd already started dreaming. I had started putting things in place in my head and planning. So I was like, it's cool. Don't worry. And then a few days later, Rebecca Frank ran me back. She's like, listen. I've had a chat with a management and I've convinced them that you can do it. Do you still want to do it? And in my mind, I'm like, yeah, I do. So bad. But obviously my team at the time, we're all set on going to stateside. It's just got my O1 visa ready to go. And I said, yeah, you know what? Let's do it. But I didn't tell my team. And it went into the-- I know when that. They were like, how are you going to do this? It's impossible. And I was like, well, I'm actually going to do the radio thing and I'm not going to do the being Charlie Slough thing. And obviously they're like, you are insane. Have you lost your marbles? At the time when I first joined the BBC, I was getting 140 pound, I believe, a show. So I was only earning 140 pound a week working for the BBC. So when you think about that, even when I think about that now, there's this huge perception and illusion that DJs earn ridiculous amounts of money. Now they do. I mean, let's be fair. I've done all right and there's other DJs that trump me. But at the time, you know, going and accepting a contract, a year contract at a time for 140 pound a week, you know, to go and be on the BBC rather than a six figure deal in LA. I think most people, especially, you know, managers in general are very straight thinking. Yeah. Right? Yeah. How do you sort of balance the money? It's very straight thinking. It's better you do that because there's more money involved. But for me, I'm looking at the big picture and I knew what I was capable of bringing to the table. And in my mind, I'm sat there and I'm thinking, before I even started, I'm looking at what components of a radio show live within a radio show and make people come to the radio show to listen, but also have a life outside of the radio show and continue living and continue bringing new listeners to the show while growing outside. I was like, freestyle. So I was like, well, I'm just going to brand all really what has been happening within the culture for years, but make it a brand. But it has to be a brand that stands and lives within the community, which solves a problem, which gives artists from the UK from a street level a platform to showcase their talent, but also means something to the culture, something to look up to, something to inspire them, something to work towards if you're an artist. And that's where finally Booth came from. And I feel like understanding the power of branding is what put that in a position that is still is today. Of course, it's not the brand that has carried find a booth. It's the talent. The final booth brand is just a conduit, but a conduit that's trusted. A conduit that you know is not going to peddle you artists because the brand's being paid to a product that is positioned within the community to serve the community. I think the integrity of find a booth can never be questioned. You know, I still I see people now finally booth done is finished. And I read those comments and I laughed myself because I've been through that find a booth is done. Find a booth is finished three or four times. Understanding the cycles and understanding what's happening and repositioning the brand. So it never dies. And the final booth brand will be around as long as I'm here or there's someone else who cares as much as me about the culture. So, you know, there was times when a new freestyle platform will come up and be doing more traffic, more views. Find a booth done a year later, a moment that we've been planning for 18 months will happen. Find a booth is the best that no one else can get these guys on Friday booth. Like Drake. Like Drake. And it's been, you know, Juice WRLD, Lil Baby. You know, there's been so many moments where we've had moments with artists that were special moments, Pop Smoke, that you don't really get anywhere else that are just very unique and raw, unpolished. So, yeah, I feel like the Find a booth brand became like a monster within the culture. And, you know, we have never, ever, ever taken a penny of any artist to perform on there. I've never taken a check from a label to make sure that artist is positioned right or never. And because for me, that's what makes Find a booth so special.
Your brand's integrity and deleting episodes (41:42)
When it comes to building a brand that has integrity. What matters? You know, this is a brand. It has integrity. But I think because you have integrity, I think because you have integrity, you instill your morals into the brand. And this brand is a reflection of you. I think like pretty much everything you do speaks about you as a person because I feel like I'm the same. I feel like if it challenged my morals, I wouldn't want to do it because I'd be like, well, that's not a real reflection of me. Why am I going to invest my time or my money, my energy into something that doesn't represent me? And I feel like my team, you know, I have an amazing team, do an incredible job of managing the expectations of all of the brands that I'm involved with. And I don't even have to say it no more. If I feel like something's wrong or it's not going to work, it doesn't look right for the brand, they know before it's even come to me because they know what my morals are. They know what I stand for, what I don't stand for, what I feel is right. So it's got to the point where I don't even have to have those conversations because I have such a great team who have those conversations for me and they protect the brand. I feel like if something goes wrong with one of the brands, it's a reflection on me. And something that I've always believed is one of my biggest assets is my reputation. I feel like you may not like me, you may hate me, you might find me annoying, but one thing you can't challenge is my reputation. I've never done anyone dirty, ever. I've never backstabbed anyone. I've never said I'm going to do something and not done it. And my brands have to hold up that same ethos. In order for your team to know what decisions you'd make before, you know, it even comes to you as it relates to the branding, the positioning of it and all those things. That must first start with you being really, really clear. And what I've got from all of that is because you're so clear in your head and non-negotiable about what this brand is, you've been able to kind of like install that in all of the people around you. So now they are like disciples of the values. For sure. We actually have a Bible. Oh, really? We actually have a Fire in the Booth Bible, a handbook to do's and don'ts. And especially now because, you know, the vision of Fire in the Booth has gone from being a feature on a radio show to being a global brand. You know, obviously now we're of Apple, you know, one of the biggest companies in the world who I believe share the same ethos as we do in terms of vision, in terms of content consumption. And I feel like now the brand really is going global. Everyone wants to know what's in that Bible. What kind of things are in there? I mean, it's, you know, it goes from camera set up to edits, colors to use, right through to how artists are treated once they arrive, communication with teams. One of the things I found really interesting is I read that you deleted potentially hundreds of episodes of Fire in the Booth that just didn't cut it. Yeah. Which I think a lot of people would be surprised by because, you know, a rapper, an artist comes down, they perform, they might think it's gone off, they might think that, you know, they killed it. And then you're sat there thinking, this doesn't meet the standard. Yeah. I feel like, you know, I feel there's times when I've not really to Fire in the Booth and an artist later on has gone on to thank me because, you know, it's a big moment in an artist's career. And I feel like if it doesn't do you justice, it's not about me. It's not about why I think this is going to do well for the Fire in the Booth brand. Like, any time I have a conversation with an artist and they say to me, do you think it's good? I can't sit there and lie to the artist's face and say, yes, it's okay. I'm going to be like, you could do better. If you want to come back and go again, we can. If not, let's just park it off for now and come back to it at a later date. And there's been so many that have not gone out. But that's because I felt it's not a good reflection on them, not on the brand because no one's going to, you know, attack the brand as much as they would the artist. There's one of the biggest artists in the world right now, Stephen, one of the biggest globally, right, who come in to do a Fire in the Booth. And I can't tell you how excited I was for this moment. Even though it was a few years ago, there was still a big artist then, but they weren't because they are now. And they came in and done their Fire in the Booth. And, you know, everyone was excited and we were prepared for it. And they came in and it was possibly one of the worst Fire in the Booths I've ever recorded. And I could see that the artist was quite excited by their performance. And, you know, they was like, oh, when we going to release it? And in my mind, I'm thinking, is this just me? Is it because I expected here and they delivered here that I'm judging this and they're talking to me and the man's just moving and I'm processing all this information in my head because I'm like, I don't want to lie to the artist. I don't want to be disrespectful to the artist. All this information is swirling in my head. And I was like, I want to go back and listen to the Fire in the Booth. Give me 10 minutes. So I went back into the studio, we played it. This is garbage. This is garbage. So I checked to the producer at the time and I was like, how's best to handle the situation? I don't want to go out and say that this is not going to go out. But at the same time, I want to give them the opportunity to redo it while they're here, while they're in the country. And regretfully, I didn't do that. I didn't go out and give the artist the opportunity to do it again. I was like, you know what, I'm just going to say that it's not going out. And for me, that was a bad decision. I look back at that now and it was a bad decision. But it just weren't good enough. It weren't good enough. And there's so many artists that I've come through and not performed. But again, like I said, some that have called me and said, you know what, I appreciate you not putting that Fire in the Booth out. Let's go again. Why do you regret that decision? Because in hindsight, I could have given them the opportunity to record that again there and then. But because I had no faith in the situation, I was like, I'm not going to waste their time and I'm not going to waste my team's time. I just think it's best that we kind of keep it moving. But now, on reflection, I should have given them the opportunity to do it again. And his comments all the time, I've spoke about this before, where people are like, release it. Release the Fire in the Booth. This person is huge right now. We've got sign off on it. We can release it. But I just wouldn't. You know, I don't do things for that reason. I'm not going to shit on the artist now. We put something out that I thought was shit back then. I put it out now for views. It's counterproductive. It goes against everything that I say and stand for. So it will never come out. I probably wouldn't even say the person's name. I'll tell you off camera. I have a slightly similar story that I record an episode of The Diary of a Seer with the person who's currently, if there's three biggest YouTubers in the world, he's definitely one of them. And I just never put it out because the conversation is so dead. Are you serious? It's so dead. It just doesn't go anywhere. And I blame myself in part for not being able to get anything from them. And in the same situation, they weren't as big then as they are now. They're one of the biggest. But I reflect on the conversation. I say, how do I stop that happening in the future? Because I play a role in the content, whereas in Fire in the Booth, you play a role, but it's you creating a platform for them to show them their talent. Whereas I feel like you want to lead it. Yeah. I feel like I could have done a better job. I was so inspired watching your conversation with Adam, where you say about that board meeting with the BBC at the start, where you lay out to them what you're going to do as a DJ.
Doubting myself (49:56)
Did anybody believe you? What did you say? No, definitely not. I think I feel like I got laughed at the room at the time. So it was the two bosses at the time. And I'd gone in to do my paperwork and, you know, I was like, so, you know, what are your aspirations? What are you trying to achieve? Why are you at the BBC? I said, well, within a month, I'll create the biggest online freestyle platform that will do millions of views. Like, huh, great. Yeah, it's not radio. That's not radio, Charles. I'm just glad you know that's not radio. That's YouTube. I'm like, I hate me. And then I said, secondly, I'll replace Westwood. I'll take all of Westwood shows within five years. And one of the guys actually laughed in my face. I said, excuse me, why are you laughing? He said, do you know how many times I've heard that? And I said, well, you've never heard it from me. And he's like, good luck with that chap. Good luck. So I was like, OK. So it actually took me three years of being at the BBC to replace Westwood on all of these shows. So that was six radio shows a week. And I said it would take me five. So I remember, this is a great story. I actually saw the guy a few weeks back. We laughed over it. You know, I got the call to say where there's going to be an Anno going out today announcing all staff that you're replacing Westwood on all shows as of set day. It would be going out at midday today. So I was like, perfect. So I left my house nice and early, went into the BBC building, and went around to this guy's desk at-- it must have been 11.55-- sat on the edge of his desk and just waited for that inbox to light up with an all staff from the boss. 12 o'clock, it drops in. He opens it, looks at me, says, fair play. He did it. Fair play. What can I say? And I was like, thank you. I said, I'll do it in five. I did it in three. It reminds me of what your dad was saying to you in the decade as well. Yeah, for sure. And those things, you know, until you unwrap it and unravel it, you don't really understand what impact it's had on your life, I feel. But those small moments that drive you on and give you that fuel to keep pushing through, they're sat at the back of your mind. And then once you've achieved that goal or, you know, something's happened around that conversation when you can really dissect it and really get into the nitty gritty of the words that were presented to you that have inspired and motivated you to become better, you're like, wow, OK. It's bizarre. But yeah, it was a big moment for me, that. The interpretation going on there is the key thing, right? Because your dad's words, that guy's words, any words of self-doubt can be interpreted in many ways, depending on the mind that's interpreting them. So with your dad's comments, that could have made someone go, fuck, I'm not good enough. I'll just, I'll just. Yeah, I'm going to crash and chill. I'm going to crash and chill. Whereas you, you almost interpret it as like, you still probably interpret it as like, I'm not good enough, but I'm going to prove to you that I am. Yeah. And I think that's such an interesting thing because from this podcast, I used to think people that were driven or successful, which is these people that are like super motivated and whatever else who have come to learn the more episodes we've done, is that nearly all of them start with this complex they're fighting against, which is you're not good enough. Dude, you know what? For a long time, I lived with that. And especially when I started stepping into board meetings and meeting corporate folk, I felt like I was dismissed because of how I spoke, how I dressed. But for me, I always thought, you know what? You're no better than me because of your background or where you are in life. So why would you judge me for being who I am, even though I've worked hard enough to sit at the same table as you? And that would eat me up for a long time. And I'd never speak about it. It was, you know, it was, I guess, a class complex, if anything. I felt like a lot of people judged me on the way I spoke and the way I dressed without actually getting to know me or picking my brain. And to be totally honest, I think it wasn't until maybe five years ago where I got past that, where I was like, you know what? I deserve to be at this table. And you should be humbled and grateful that I'm sat at this table willing to give you some of the information that I have. Because if you had the information that I have, I wouldn't be sat at this table. You wouldn't need me to be sat at this table. And you probably wouldn't want me to be sat at this table. And that's how I think. I think I understand the value that I bring to every situation that I'm in now. And that self-doubt has been totally removed. Still self-doubt in my life. But in terms of who I am and what I bring to the table and what I'm capable of achieving, I feel like I'm in a very unique lane in life. There's not many people like me that understand culture and understand business in the same way I do. It's so funny because being Charlie Sloth in more ways than one, not just the documentary you started, but throughout your career and being your authentic self in situations where you might not have fit the status quo is so clearly to me one of the key reasons why you're successful. Like being yourself. So it's interesting to hear that someone who, from the outside, everyone would go, "Well, Charlie Sloth is Charlie Sloth because he's Charlie Sloth." I had those moments walking into rooms where I thought, "Fuck, I don't belong." Or, "Are they judging me?" Yeah, for sure. I felt inferior. I felt like, "Should I really be at this table?" "Should I be speaking differently?" "Dressing differently?" Yeah, and there was times in my life when I'd go into a meeting and my phone voice would pop out. And I'd leave the meeting and I'd be so mad at myself. I'm like, "What are you doing? What are you doing? Why did you do that?" Because you felt like you had to speak a certain way around a certain type of person. No way. And I feel like a lot of people appreciate and respect me for being unapologetically me. You've had all these artists come on your platforms over the years and with Fire in the Booth, you've really, without a shadow of a doubt, made people's careers.
What make a great artist (56:34)
And I've always wondered, what is it that makes one of them actually go the full distance and become a star? Because there's not many seats at that top table, especially in the UK. So, from your perspective, which is a unique perspective, what is it that's separating them? I think it's a concoction of things. I think the first thing, of course, is always talent. You've got to have talent, or some degree of talent, even though I'm a strong believer in hard work, always beats talent. But talent, especially with music, is always one of the key ingredients. Vision is the second thing. And I say the first thing is work ethic, how much you're willing to work, how hard you're willing to go. And then the fourth, and I think someone who encapsulates this is Stormzy, is personality morals and a sense of vulnerability, I think. I think when you look at all of the most successful artists, for me, they allow themselves to become vulnerable. They allow themselves to be judged. They allow themselves to talk about things that a rapper wouldn't necessarily feel comfortable talking about. I feel like Stormzy, he's got the talent, he's got incredible talent, you know, in terms of vision and his work rate unmatched. I remember doing sessions with Stormzy, maybe eight, nine years ago, recording sessions in the studio. And I'd call him and say, and this was before, like he was massive. I'd call him and say, "Dude, I want to get you on a project that I'm working on. Can you come to the studio?" He's like, "What time do you need me there?" I said, "If you get there for 4pm, it'd be amazing." Now, I didn't need him there to six, but with me spending as much time as I have with rappers, I'd always say two hours earlier. So it was five to four he turned up. I'm like, "You're early." He's like, "Only five minutes." In my head, I'm like, "It's two hours and five minutes." So he comes in the studio, he's like, "What do you need me to do?" I was like, "Do a verse on this song, do a verse on this song, do a chorus on this song." Normally an artist would be in there maybe four, five hours. He was in there for like 40 minutes, done the two verses, done the hook, and was like, "Is there anything else you want me to do?" I'm like, "Whoa, uh, nah, man." - With that attitude. - With that attitude. And the minute he left that studio, I rang everyone and said, "This guy is a superstar. He is going to be a juggernaut." Because his mindset was just, he was so focused. He weren't in there gossiping, drinking, smoking. He was like, "I'm here to do a job. I'm going to do the job to the best of my ability, and then I'm going to move on to do my next job." And to see that in such a young man, I was like, "Wow, this guy's gone." And I remember after that, there was a few moments that happened, and he was just out of here. I just knew it. There's a few artists like that that have been on the show or that have met personally, and I've said straight away, even to labels, friends within the labels, I'm like, "If you want to play it a bit, that's the guy to play the bit on." You can just feel it. You've either got it or you haven't. Some of the things that these artists have that make them superstars are unteachable. - And they're hard to see. - Yeah, very. Because no one would have said that, but from my external perspective, when I think about why Stormzy made it, I'm thinking, "Oh, he did that thing in the park with the freestyle, and then he worked with you, and he's a great rapper." But even then, there's a reason why he became a great rapper, and it's dedication. Dedication. So focused. No distractions. - Wretches is the same. - Wretches is. And you know what? When you look at these artists, they're the most incredible human beings. Set aside everything else, they're the most incredible human beings. Geeks. One of the biggest rappers in this country. One of the most incredible human beings that I know. And if you're looking at it from an entertainment perspective, you're like, "These guys are gangsters." They're not. They're human beings. And their personality, their morals, their integrity is a big part of why they've been so successful, because everybody wants to work with them. Everybody likes them. Nobody ever wants to say no, because they're such good people. And for me, Stormzy is super talented. Incredible artist. But a huge part of people wanting to do so for him is because he's such a great person. But you represent all of those things that you've just described. The hard work, the vision, the vulnerability, the openness. Even the body language point you said. Like, "I could turn off the volume on a fire in the booth and just watch you." I get carried away. That's because I genuinely care. And a lot of that goes back to how many "Find the Booze" have not come out. If you saw my reaction, I know it's "Find the Booze." He'd be like, "Well, he's definitely not feeding that." Maybe that's where they flocked. Yeah, maybe. Maybe. I don't know. I can't. I can't just... I'm a showman. I DJ all over the world. I put a show on. But in that environment, that is how I feel. The energy is what makes me become the person I become in the studio at that moment in time. They say 80% of communication has gone verbal, don't they? 100%. And I believe that. I mean, yeah, you can see. Even K. Koch, if I didn't speak English, I'd still be like... Yeah, it's like, "Oh, he's the passion." The pain in his voice. It was a real moment. He'd just come out of jail. He'd just come out of jail. Yeah, yeah. Just being shot at. So he's like, "This is my opportunity. I am not letting this slip." And he didn't. I mean, what a huge moment that was for him as an artist. First time I'd ever heard of him. Huge. And ons be signed by Jay-Z off the Friday booth. -Mad. -Insane. I had a few words to say about one of my sponsors on this podcast. My girlfriend came upstairs yesterday when I was having a shower, and she said to me that she tried the heal protein shake, which lives on my fridge over there. And she said, "It's amazing. Low calories. You get your 20-odd grams of protein. You get your 26 vitamins and minerals, and it's nutritionally complete. In the protein space, there's lots of things, but it's hard to find something that is nice, especially when consumed just with water. If you haven't tried the heal protein product, do give it a try. The salted caramel one, if you put some ice cubes in it, and you put it in a blender, and you try it, is as good as pretty much any milkshake on the market, just mixed with water. It's been a game changer for me because I'm trying to drop my calorie intake and I'm trying to be a little bit more healthy with my diet. So this is where heal fits in my life. Thank you, Heal, for making a product that I actually like. 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Let me know what you think, because I genuinely believe, I know this is an advert and I'm supposed to say this, but I genuinely believe it's the best tool I've seen for doing really immersive, simple but high-quality production virtual events. At some point, you're going to call from Apple.
Joining Apple Music (01:04:46)
Yep. Tell me about that. I mean, Apple, for me, you know, it was a massive moment in my life and my career. So prior to me leaving the BBC, I had had offers for a few years before. People were just trying to start conversation about what it would look like with me leaving the BBC. And, you know, I've got so many great memories and made so many great friends at the BBC, and it was such a huge part of my career and my growth as Charlie Slough and, of course, the Fire and the Booth brand. But I got to the point in the building where I'd achieved every single last thing that I had set out to achieve. And every time I'd achieve a goal in there, I set myself a new target. But I'd run out of targets in terms of where I could go and what more I could do. And, you know, at this time, I was doing an average of 200 DJ shows a year. I was doing five radio shows a week. I felt a little bit trapped. And for me, what I quickly identified as my next mission was, I felt not as easy to achieve while being fixed at the BBC. So I was like, all right, what's next? And, you know, of course, I took into consideration at the time how people were consuming content, the age group of the listeners that were listening to radio, the demographic of people that was listening to radio, I felt like it changed. And the way we consume content, it changed forever. And I felt like listening to radio was no longer an appointment. I used to wait every night till this end, this ain't low. I used to wait everywhere, weekend, to listen to Westwood. It was an appointment. I wouldn't miss it. I felt like those days had moved on and people were listening at their leisure. You know, there was no fixed time for you to have to listen. You should listen back anytime you want on the iPlayer. So for me, I'd reached this point in my life where I was a bit like, what's next? I'd always knew what was next. I'd always find something that was next throughout my journey at the BBC. I'd say, all right, I've achieved this. This is next. Let's work towards that. I couldn't find one. I really couldn't find one. And this was just after the Drake fire in the booth because that was something that I worked towards for years. And I finally achieved it. And I'm kind of like, what's next, man? And I couldn't find something that was next. I'd never want to do breakfast. It's not really for me. I couldn't see anywhere else that I fitted within the schedule. So I thought, you know what, let me call Zane Lo because he's the first person from the broadcast world, traditional broadcast world, that's made that jump. And he's done an incredible job of doing so. So I've called him and I've been running through my thoughts with him and how I'm feeling and doubts that I'd had. He was like, dude, I'd love you to be over here. I'd love it. If you've got any doubts or any concerns, go and speak to Oliver. Oliver's the big boss at Apple Music. He's like, just have a sit down with Oliver. I know you. I know what you stand for. I know what you believe in. Just spend an hour talking to him. So I was like, okay. He's like, I'll set the meeting up. So he set the meeting up with Oliver. I sat down with Oliver. He's like, you know, okay, so what are you trying to achieve? I said, I want to be part of the story for the first British rap artist to become a global brand. So in the same way, you know, Drake did for Canada, which people 20 years ago would have laughed at you for, would have laughed at you. The biggest rapper in the world is Canadian. No way. And I feel like that's how people have thought about a British rapper becoming a global brand. And for me, being a part of that story, helping that British artist, to whatever capacity that I could, but having a platform and a network that would enable me to do that was so important, just to be a part of the story. And he was like, whatever you need, I can help you. You know, he spoke about his passion and his belief and what motivated him and inspired him. And like we had a very similar outlook. And for me, I was like, you just get it. But I left that room and I was like, I know Apple is where I want to be. I don't care who's offering what. There was better offers on the table. I'm like, no, he's the guy. I will follow this guy on his journey and make his journey a part of mine and vice versa. I know that he gets this. He understands what's happening in the world of content and I'm willing to jump on this train. And that was it. And then from there, you know, we've achieved some incredible things, I feel. I feel like that we've been doing things that nobody's ever done. Firing a booth being an asset that lives on a DSP, on Apple Music, that people can stream, the the the legals that we had to get around to create this template of how that looks. Now, everyone's trying to do it. Everyone's trying to do it. And everyone's trying to work out exactly how we got around all of the hurdles that we had to get over. A lot of people will ask because it seems quite amazing that you managed to take Firing the Booth from the BBC to Apple. You'd think that that would be like their intellectual property or something. Yeah. So I owned Firing the Booth before I even went into the BBC. And luckily for me, because the BBC didn't have the same faith in the brand as I did, they didn't invest any money into the brand whatsoever, which would have made things a little bit more messy. I feel like on my exit, if they'd invested into the brand. You're right that if they didn't put money into it, then it becomes a lot messier. But there wasn't a contract, but it was just they had invested. So you could. Yeah. So basically, there was no side deal per se for Firing the Booth. It was something that I just did within the show. They didn't pay me extra for Firing the Booth. They didn't provide me any stuff. You were in the copyright? I did. So I've always been up on stuff like that. Okay, good. Before I went in there, I owned the full copyright. And then all the trademarks. So I was up on it and there was nothing they could do. So when I did decide to leave, it was like, "Cheers. Thanks." I mean, I know that probably burned him. Yeah. I still have good relations with a lot of the people in there. And they're like, "Fair play." You're one of a few that have got out of the building with their IP. And then you took that to Apple. I took it to Apple. So now I licensed the brand. You licensed it, okay. Yeah, to Apple. Makes sense. Smart. It's important conversations because again, we talked about information. And people not having information. Yeah, people talk about ownership. And I feel like the conversation around ownership sometimes gets a little bit cloudy and a lot of people take the wrong information out of the importance of ownership. I feel like, you know, it's like any business. You can own 100% of a business and it'd be worth zil poi. You know, or you can own 2% of a business that's worth a billion pounds. Like I know what I'd rather own. So the understanding of ownership, a lot of people think when you say, "Make sure you own everything," they think you're talking about you owning 100% of everything rather than actually owning the brand. You know, like Finer booth. I own 100% of Finer booth. But I feel like the conversation generally just gets a bit cloudy because people don't understand what the importance of ownership is. On the point of ownership, there's a bottle sat behind me on the shelf.
Au vodka & the strategy to make it succesful (01:13:35)
I'm going to go grab it. I mean, first of all, you've engraved this with the Diarrho of a CEO. Of course, just for you. It's never getting open. I'm hoping I'll get one of those diaries. Yes. Trade off. One of these ones here. We have one here. A lot of people that get involved in the music industry don't end up starting companies like this, especially companies that are truly legitimately successful. What is the story of AU Vodka and why did you start this business? And also, let's start this by just giving me an idea of how successful this has been so far. Wow. So last year we outsold Grey Goose twice over. You're joking. No. Grey Goose in the UK twice over. Three times as many bottles as Siroc. We're on schedule to turn over £80 million this year. Jesus Christ. Yeah. So I mean, yeah, you know, we're the top set in premium Vodka in the UK and we've recently started to really focus on export. We sold out in the States. We just launched an Estates last week. We decided to go state by state. We sold out in two days in the States. We sold out a significant amount of bottles in the States. So yeah, I mean, the story with AU Vodka, interesting story actually. So I had just come off the back of having this massive vape business that I set up years ago. Vapes. So I remember being in a club and everyone was smoking vapes. And I was like, what is everyone smoking? Long story short, investing in a company made a significant amount of money selling these vapes. Sold the business. Very quick, very quick transaction. And I was like, what's next? So I was like, no one's got their own vodka business. And I'm looking at Siroc. I'm looking what Diddy's doing over there. I'm like, these guys are so ahead of the game. The Americans in terms of branding, in terms of creating businesses in the culture and lifestyle and understanding how to navigate that brand and target a certain demographic. The hard to reach demographic. The demographic that marketeers all over the world spend significant amounts of money trying to penetrate every year. I have access to that market. And I understand how to position things in the marketplace. So I need to find a vodka. So I ended up spending, I spent way over £100,000 developing this brand. And I just wasn't happy with it. I was like, the bar's not right. The name's not right. The liquor's okay. I was like, it's not right. So I was like, all right, cool. I kind of put that on the back burner for a couple of months. I need to focus on some other stuff. Two days after me having that thought, I'll put that in the back burner. I'll get a DM on Instagram. And it's from AUVodka. And, you know, they're a few months old. Just not really finding their foot. They're like, Charlie, can we send you some bottles of AUVodka? And I never respond to messages like that. I just don't. I'm not in it for that. I don't want gifting. I'm not into that stuff. So I was looking at the page. I was like, let me just check these guys' page out of vodka. I've been trying to do my own thing. I go on the page and I see the bottle. I'm like, whoa, these guys have hit the nail on their head. So I had the DM back. I was like, hey, you guys got a number? They're like, yeah, cool. Send me a number of them. I called them. I was like, hey, what's up, man? Bottle's incredible. I was like, what's the story? And they start speaking to me. I, you know, two friends from Swansview have just kind of set it up. It's pretty new. I was like, do you guys need investment? And I was like, nah, we don't. And I'm like, you don't need any money. And they're like, nah, we're good. So I was like, all right, cool. I was like, well, if that changes, this is my number. I'm more than open to a conversation. I'd love to take you guys for dinner. So, all right, cool. Thanks, Charlie. Hopefully we'll speak again soon. So two weeks later, I'm at the BBC. I get a call. I always just finished a meeting in town. Would you be up for grabbing a coffee? That's not, of course. So I meet the two lads, Charlie and Jackson. We go for a coffee at Nero's Coffee just under the BBC. And of course, because I've been working on this project of my own in the background, I've already got my five-year plan. I've got it written out step by step to a T. So I sit with these guys and I'm like, what's the story? So they start talking to me and telling me about their backgrounds and how they got into it and why they got into it. And I was like, look, I've got a five-year plan. I know we will destroy with this product. We'll make this the biggest thing since sliced bread. And I feel like they believed in me in the same way I believed in them. Now, when I invested into the business, of course, the product was incredible. And I believe that we could do so much with this product, especially within the urban community, which I feel is the community that drives pretty much everything in terms of lifestyle these days. And when you understand that, I feel like it gives you a different view on why things work and why things don't. So spending time with them, getting to know them, I was like, these guys are so hungry and so switched on. I would be honored to be their partner. So we've done a deal. We had the five-year plan. The plan was very simple, yet very well thought out. Like, step by step, we went through that plan and we achieved every single last thing that was on the plan. Now, when we set out on this journey, we had all agreed that within five years, we'd sell the business for £100 million. I mean, like, great bit of business. You know, three years in, four years in, we're like, "Sell it for £100 million?" But what? You know, like, our vision changed somewhat. And the success that we achieved from this plan that we put in place, we all believed together that we would achieve this. And all of us brought something different to the table. How much do you think this is valued at now, this company? I think by the end of this year, realistically, if we was doing a ten times multiply, you'd be looking at £800 million. I think with some of the activations that we have going on at the moment, I'd like to think by this time next year, we'll be a unicorn. For anyone that doesn't know what a unicorn is. Yeah, a business that's valued over a billion. And I feel like we're on the right track to achieve that by this time next year. Everyone listening to this idea of a plan is going to say, "Charlie, listen, I want to pop off too. I want to build a business. What are some of the key things that I need to know about that particular plan?" When you look back in hindsight and go, "That's why this worked out." I think, for me, the most important thing for selling anything is understanding your audience. Even firing the booth, right? Yeah, even firing the booth. And this goes back to branding and my understanding of branding and my interest and fascination in branding. I've always understood the power of branding. I've always understood that in order for you to sell something, you have to understand who you're trying to sell it to. It seems much easier for you because you've always been the audience. Yeah, I think that's why I'm in a privy position in life, especially with the brands that I involve myself in. I understand the culture. I understand what's acceptable, what's not acceptable, what's cool, what's not cool. I understand how to speak to that audience. And I also understand that that audience speaks to everybody else. And people try and pivot away from it. No, it doesn't work like that. It does work like that. The hard-to-reach, young, black audiences around the world set trends as simple as that. Whether it be fashion, lifestyle, they're the trends that are cool. If you might wear a jacket, a rapper might wear a jacket in a video that no one's ever seen, could be a brand. I mean, everything that I'm wearing, maybe the exception being for the top, which has real heritage and people have worked with different things, but people in my world know this because a rapper's wearing it. And the same for my trainers or the jeans. Like, even the indie kids or the dance kids will be inspired by fashion from the urban space. So I think understanding your audience, for me, is one of the most important things. And I feel like we understood who we were trying to set it to. So it made it a lot easier sending it to the audience. Now, for me, a big thing was making it feel like it was organic, natural, and not forced. Like, the worst thing for me was for it to feel corporate or to feel like it was part of the old guard. So for me, it had to be as disruptive as possible. Like, one of the things that I did, which at the time, you know, a lot of people would have been like, "What's the point of that?" But I understood the implications that it would have two, three years down the line. I shouldn't really give this as a gem away, but I'm going to give it away because it's done now. We've done it. So I wanted to align the brand with success. It's a gold bottle. It's a trophy. I wanted people to feel like that. I wanted people to hold the bottle and feel like they was holding a trophy. So we sat down, me and my partners, and we was like, "How do we do this? How can we achieve that?" We don't have much money to spend. We have to make this feel natural and organic. So what we did is we partnered up with GRM, and I said, "Every time you give away a plaque to one of these artists who's achieved something incredible on your channel, can you give them a bottle of AU?" Yeah, cool. So every time these artists were getting a plaque, they would hold their plaque and hold a bottle of AU. Now, for everyone else who's watching this content, straight away the information that they're getting every time they watch these videos or see these photos is that their favorite artist who's just won or had the massive achievement is holding a bottle of AU every time it's happening. So straight away, you're aligning that bottle with success. Now, that didn't cost us hardly anything. It cost us a bottle each and every time it happened. Jesus. But the implications that that had on people subconsciously aligning the bottle with success, I mean, priceless. Absolutely priceless. And I feel like a lot of the things that we did, the most significant things that we did, were all shadow marketing, doing things that people are not really even paying attention to. Something. Yeah, if you go back five years ago and you look at some of our marketing strategies and how we went about implementing these strategies, it's like, wow, okay. Like, you can see it. I could tell you the whole story and then you can go back and actually see how we applied these strategies to make us generate the interest and desire in the bottle that we have today. You know, like we've had huge people do it now, like in your face. Oh, AU, I love this. But I don't feel like those things are half as impactful as the things that we'd done earlier on in the brand's lifespan. Planting those seeds. Planting those seeds. Yeah. That's all it is, is planting those seeds. You know, when I started this podcast, it was to hear stories like this about businesses and successful people and how they'd risen and stuff. And I think the reason why I called it the diary of a CEO as well was because I don't feel like we spend enough time talking about the other side of the coin, which is like, some of it we've talked about already today, which is the self-doubt piece, the struggle piece.
Your personal life & work-life balance (01:26:22)
Like if I was to look in Charlie's diary and I could read some of those days where he had written in their things and he was being completely honest because he didn't think anyone would see it, you talked about self-doubt. You talked about anxiety playing a role in your career from the jump. What are the things that I would see in that diary that it's not typical for a boss, a CEO, a successful person to be talking about? There would be a lot of conversation with myself about balance. I think that's one thing that I've always struggled with in life. Balance between my personal life, which I keep very personal for a reason. I don't ever want people interfering in my personal life or passing judgment on my personal life because it's my personal life and I keep it personal for that reason. But obviously, I've spent a lot of my adult life working and travelling the world, which means I haven't got to spend time with my loved ones in the way that I'd like to. And I've got a lot better at it. Over recent years, I've got a lot better at it. But I feel like that's always something throughout my career that I've questioned myself over, balance. Have I spent enough time being a father? Have I been the best father that I could possibly be? Am I being a good example to my children? And I feel like I said, I've got a lot better at recent years. Recent years of being a father and spending more time and finding that balance. I've always been a good father. I've always been there for my children. I've never missed one of my kids' birthdays or big moments of school or what have you, but I just feel like I could have spent more time being a father. And I've balanced that out with myself, knowing that everything I do ultimately is for them. When I'm not here, I think there's a misconception of me that I'm always spending money. I'm quite loud with what I do, but I don't really spend money. At all. Very little. And everything that I do earn, it goes into a trust for my family. So when it all is said and done, they won't ever have to experience some of the things that I've experienced in life. And they've got a head start. And knowing my children and how grounded they are and such beautiful children, never ask for anything. I think that's one of my proudest achievements. But yeah, I question myself a lot about balance. It rings very true to me because it's the number one thing I go back and forth on. I've said it a couple of times and hear that. I almost worry that I'll regret in hindsight getting that wrong. And sometimes I don't want hindsight to tell me because it'll be the hard way, won't it? Same thing for me. And I fight myself over it a lot. Like, am I going to get to 60, be a billionaire, but live in regret that I didn't spend as much time with my loved ones as I potentially could have? All cards on the table here as well. I know, I don't have kids yet, but I'm in a relationship, I'm committed to the next natural thing that we both want in our lives. I know that when I have kids, if I don't change something, I will say, "Well, all of this stuff is helping them." Yeah, that's an excuse, I'm a hic to myself. I think most people do. You know, like, I genuinely believe that. And a big part of my motivation from the moment my son was born was that he will never have to experience the things that I've experienced. And of course, when he was living in the shed, he was way too young. He don't remember that. When I say it to him now, he's like, "What are you talking about, Dad?" I don't know. I drive and pass sometimes. You used to live in there. Well, this goes to a point that someone said on this podcast to me when they said, "Kids don't care about that stuff. They just care about quality time." Of course, they do. They do. And that is the biggest fight of my career. Balance. Finding balance. Finding time to spend quality time with my loved ones. And I think that ultimately I tell myself I do this for. Do you think your career is validating you, making you feel accepted in a way that you might not have when you were younger? I used to constantly seek validation. Constantly. Like, I feel like, especially growing up where I did, you know, even going back to the comments that I made on that show, being bravado and talking about stuff that I didn't actually do, but I'm trying to be, trying to fit in. I'm trying to be cool. I think I shed that, you know, at the same time I did when I felt inferior at times, in those board meetings, when I was worried about people looking down at me. I feel like I don't feel like that anymore. I'm not trying to fit in. A test here then. This is what I said to my assistant literally this weekend when we were chatting. We were chatting in the kitchen because I was saying, you know, "I think I'm a workaholic and then I sat here with this trauma expert and I think you helped me figure out why. I'm a workaholic." If I said to you now, "All your goals are complete. You've done your to-do list. Your goals are complete. You've done it." I'd say, "Charlie, it's Pinot Colada time. The aircraft's waiting. You're going to the beach to relax. No work." How would you feel? Do you know what? This is funny because during the first lockdown, when it was like, "Stay at home. Can't leave. No work." It was the first time in over 10 years that I had stopped. That I had literally stopped. And for me, I can't explain the anxiety, the fear, the confusion. I was like, "So what? I just stay here and do nothing?" "Yep." "You just sit in your house and do nothing." I mean, I don't understand that. And for the first two weeks, I enjoyed it so much. I was just with my family. We were doing cool things. I was like, "This is amazing. This is what life's about." Week three, I was sat there tapping my fingers. I'm like, "Right. This ain't life. I'm not ready for this life yet." So we ended up traveling, me and my family, around the world, going to different places that hadn't fully locked down yet, finding things to do, creating an adventure to keep me occupied, and making the fun part of what we was doing, finding a place where we're not restricted. We did that for several months and ended up in Dubai, where I could work, where I could DJ, and where I could operate and do business deals freely. We're not spending seven months there. So, answering your question, if I was presented with that opportunity now, and you said to me, "Everything's done. We're going to sell AU for a billion. We're going to sell Findaboo for 50 million. Your portfolio of other things, we'll just keep it there ticking over. We're going to manage that, throw it all into the trust." No. How would you feel? I couldn't do it. But how would you feel? Give me a word. How you'd feel. Just a word. Lost. And I guess that. What's the opposite of lost? I guess found. Found. Yeah. So, that's kind of what I was talking to my assistant about, is like my work addiction, which I think I clearly have, is making me feel found. It's validating me. It's making me feel important, accepted, and whatever else. And I tend to see that often, when people have, not always, but often when people have an early experience where maybe they're insecure, maybe they had shame because of where they came from, maybe they had a chip on their shoulder. They have this unhealthy relationship where their self-esteem and their work are so closely linked that they're not really driven. They're being dragged. And I'm being dragged. I can say it, because I've sat here with so many smart people to understand myself. I feel like at times I'm being dragged too much, and I need to start driving the car, not being pulled by it. Dude, that just hit me. That hit me. That's a dude, yeah. Fair. This is quite a deep conversation. Well, fair. What do you think we do? Wow. Making me reflect on everything that I thought I knew. Well, this is the privilege of sitting with smart people. They shine a polar mirror up to me every day. And I sit here fucking like with goosebumps, sometimes thinking this guy needs to @ me. He's like, "Oh no." How do you reflect on all of that? I mean, yeah. I feel like it's been a great conversation, but you've definitely made me leave in here thinking more. Even some of the comments you just made there, that ring so true within my personal life, the insecure Steve. The insecure Charles is still there. And sometimes I'm probably guilty of doing that still to this day.
Our last guest’s questions (01:36:27)
I am. Yeah. We have a closing tradition on this podcast, where the last guest asks a question for the next guest. And I don't know what the question is until I open this book. Who was the person who first believed in you? And what do you want to say to them now? I'd say my granddad was the first person who really believed in me. And I guess I just say, "Thank you. Thank you for believing in me." He had like 32 grandchildren. And I was the one, I feel like he saw something, like an energy or just a hunger and a desire to be better. I feel like, you know, yeah, his belief in me made me who I am today. And then I'll say away from my family group, it'd probably be a guy who's still part of my team to this day, Ara, calling the coach, you know, at a time in my life when no one believed in me, really. Everyone just saw me as a street kid who didn't really have any prospects or... And I feel like he was someone that saw past that. And I could see that for the first time. And I felt that in my life. He was the first person who saw past the way I dressed and the way I spoke. And saw me for me. And helped me develop to become a better person. And focus the energy, hunger and desire that I had in the right direction. And to him, you know, he's still a very dear friend of mine today. Still a part of my team, has been for 16 years. And again, just thank you. And I always have these thoughts in my head of what it looks like when this ends and how I reward everyone because I do have an incredible team. Some of you met earlier. And I wouldn't be able to operate the way I do without my team. I wouldn't. They make sure that I'm enabled to deliver the best version of myself. And I sit down and think when this is all said and done, how do I reward my team? And that's something that I think of more and more lately. You know, as I'm getting older in life. And I feel like there's a few chapters in my life which will shift in the next five years. And I think how do I reward them and show them that I am grateful for the time they've dedicated to me? Which they have, you know, dedicated to me and believing in my vision and helping me make my visions a reality. And that's one of the hardest things, had you reward these people that have enabled you to achieve the things you have. Because I'm under no illusion that without my team, I wouldn't be who I am today. And I wouldn't have achieved half of the things that I've achieved. Delegation was one of my weakest points because I just wanted to do everything. And I believed I could do everything. And that's where the whole being shy stuff comes from because I did everything. And then as you grow, you need to understand that you can't do everything. You need to stick at what you're good at. And allow other people who are better at you, at those other things, to come in and take some of the pressure away. And that's what my team have done and have allowed me to become who I am. So, wow, I felt deep, felt a speech. Honestly, it's beautiful to hear. And again, it shows where you're at in your life. That's the, those are the reflections you're having about paying it forward. Your career has been that though. Your career has been enabling people. It has been pushing forward the UK, hip-hop, rap scene in a way like very few that I could ever name have done. Getting rappers who didn't have a platform, didn't have a voice from areas where they were probably counted out. Giving them a chance for their talent to matter above everything else. And that is something that I don't think you'll ever fully get the credit for. Like, even though you've got loads and loads of credit, you'll never fully get the credit for the impact that you've had in that way. When I was in Plymouth, a kid, I was watching all of those videos. When I went up to Manchester, I watched all of those videos. That's where you can name one, you know, whether it's all of the Red Fire and I've seen them all. Yeah, I could see your reaction. Yeah, because I know them. I know that I know all of them. And I was there and I had my friends go on Fire in the Booth and it was the, and it still is the platform. Now it's a global platform, but in the UK, it was the UK platform at the time to get your, to get your brand out there. And it's truly amazing. You'll never see that. You'll never see. I'm sure Karma will pay you back in pleasant ways, but I just wanted to say that to your face while I have you here. Thank you. And thank you for your honesty and your vulnerability and your openness. Thank you, Stephen. I appreciate it, man. It's incredible. And it will help more people than I think you realise all of it. All of it. Thank you. Thank you.