Tom Cruise told me once that I was level-headed.
Rubbing shoulders with movie legends like him is one of the perks of being an actor but it’s never gone to me head.
I’m probably best known for playing the part of Denzil Kelly in the BBC drama Waterloo Road.
I didn’t appreciate how many people watched it until I changed trains one day in Preston. Suddenly a student shouted out: ‘That’s the guy off Waterloo Road’. Before I knew a hoard of people surrounded me to the extent the station staff were worried I’d become a health and safety concern! It was surreal and quite scary if I’m honest.
I wonder what those same people would think if they knew I was now the CEO of my own tech business Social Plug!
So why have I swapped the glamour of acting for the hard graft of running a tech startup?
At the outset I should say I am still an actor; but unless you’re in a soap, the work is never guaranteed – which means I have the time to pursue my other passion of business.
Before I talk about Social Plug I’ll start by setting the record straight about acting.
Contrary to popular belief most actors haven’t earned enough money to retire – I certainly haven’t!
Me and Tom Cruise
After Waterloo Road, I did the rounds by appearing on shows like Casualty, Doctors and Holby City.
I also had the privilege of flying to Columbia to film Banged Up Abroad in 2020 and recently filmed a new ITV drama called Ridley working alongside the likes of Adrian Dunbar, who is best known for playing Superintendent Ted Hastings in BBC’s Line of Duty.
I also had a lead role in a film name Cleft Lip that is now on Netflix and most recently I filmed a post apocalyptic film called Walking Against The Rain, where I had the honour of rubbing shoulders with Tom Cruise.
When you’re in the public eye you tend to attract a lot of attention.
I have always had a healthy relationship with social media but the turning point was when I realised that sharing materialistic things I had purchased or only showing my ‘best life’ was negatively impacting my audience. As a result I only share my experiences, failures and learning now.
Saying ‘no’ to Love Island
In 2020 I was asked to appear on Love Island and blankly refused. I followed up with a personal video on YouTube explaining why I said no. I’d rather spend years building a small following than having hundreds of thousands of followers based on vanity instead of providing valuable knowledge.
The idea for Social Plug actually came from my experiences on social media.
As I grew my following on social media I had brands of all shapes and sizes asking to send me products – including a premium coat company called Canada Goose who gifted £4,000 worth of products.
It was shortly after this collaboration I started to feel deceitful. Little did they know 80% of my audience were females, which wasn’t their target market. This is where my early inspiration of Social Plug came from.
So what does an actor know about technology? Not much, if I’m honest – and I still can’t write a line of code. However what I did have was a great idea and built an understanding of how to create wireframes to help developers understand the scope of work on how to bring my vision into a reality.
When I launched Social Plug I stopped thinking of myself as an actor. I’ve always put 100% into things I’m passionate about and I’d like to think I have developed the people skills to understand what room I need to be in to offer a strong proposition to the right people. It’s how I managed to develop our current technology.
Becoming a tech entrepreneur
The origins of my business career date back to 2016 when running an influencer agency was a logistical nightmare.
Collaborating with micro-influencers at scale was extremely time consuming and I didn’t have crucial insights to see what influencers were a suitable fit for the brands I was working with.
Who were their audience? What age or gender were they? Where are their audience based? Without these insights it was a ‘spray and pray’ solution and as a start-up I couldn’t take these risks long-term.
I decided that the only scalable solution was to transform my service into a tech offering and began to look for solutions.
I found a tech hub called Tech Manchester that helped match founders with a mentor to give them the advice and resources needed to achieve your goals.
I worked in this space for several years, attending every workshop I could to learn everything from developing a minimum viable product right though to investment advice.
I then leveraged all my knowledge, continued producing case studies and then managed to find a tech partner called thestartupfactory.tech at Manchester Technology Centre.
We continued discussing the idea for a further 12 months before an agreement was reached and tech development finally started in 2021.
To pay for the work I did various modelling roles, social media consultancy jobs and I even received a hand-out from my parents to keep my head above.
I remember I spent £1,500 on a single motion video just to showcase exactly how the platform would look and feel. It was this video that played a huge part in thestartupfactory.tech selecting Social Plug to work with despite much interest from other companies.
Social Plug launch
Social Plug officially launched in 2021 and I’ll explain more about what it does in future columns.
I do still act but my most recent role on ITV’s Ridley was only two days on set and I reinvest most of what I’m paid back into the business.
I was asked recently if I would describe myself as an actor or tech CEO. For me it’s a binary question that puts me in a box (excuse the pun). I truly believe by having the right operations and team in place there’s no reason why both can’t work together. After all, I became an influencer and started Social Plug from acting!