Sharmadean Reid

Sharmadean Reid is the founder of globally renowned brand WAH Nails and breakthrough beauty booking startup Beautystack.

Entrepreneurial from the start, Reid first launched WAH (We Ain’t Hoes) as a fanzine about girls in hip-hop while she was still at university. Reid later worked as a stylist and opened the WAH Nails salon in London as a place for the WAH community to gather.

Over the next decade, Reid expanded WAH Nails into a product line, with nail polishes and nail art tools stocked in Topshop and Boots. They created pop up nail bars for brands such as Marc Jacobs and Nike and celebrity fans including tennis champion Serena Williams and film star Margot Robbie.

Keen to empower other women through knowledge, Reid also is an advisor to charity Art Against Knives (to train women from disadvantaged backgrounds to be professional nail artists) and published her own nail tutorial books (with some 70,000 copies sold). In 2016 the entrepreneur cofounded Future Girl Corp, an online platform with advice, events, and information for future female CEOs and published an online course.

Today, Reid is bringing beauty booking software into the social media age with Beautystack, an image-led network for beauty professionals. Founded in 2017, this has raised $6.1 million to date and closed its latest £4 million round from Index Ventures this spring.

A recipient of numerous awards, Reid was presented with an MBE in 2015.

Tell us a bit about yourself, background and your current role.

I come from Wolverhampton but moved to London in 2003 when I was 19 to do a degree in Fashion Communication at Central Saint Martins.

The best way to learn is through real projects, so I started making a  fanzine to learn how to use software like Adobe InDesign, Photoshop and Illustrator.

WAH helped me communicate what I was feeling at the time: that hip-hop music was becoming a big deal and that the women within it were being marginalised. I didn’t really know what feminism was at the time, I just knew that it felt weird and I wanted to change that.

After I graduated, I was travelling around for styling and decided to open a nail salon because getting your nails done was very much part of hip hop culture and I thought it would be an amazing physical space for all the girls who read the magazine.

It was through this I realised the services in the beauty industry were so old school. I felt compelled to solve those problems with Beautystack. Before we raised earlier this year, we had a very basic MVP. Our goal this year is to finish our development.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

I never had a grand master plan. Although, before Beautystack, I did a lot of thinking.

Putting the plan together requires you to step away from your day-to-day stuff, and I don’t think I would have had that clarity if I hadn’t spent 18 months back in Wolverhampton.

As a founder, it’s critical to work through what you’re passionate about—to ask yourself what do you know, what you can win in, and where you can build a business model.

I knew I loved beauty services, being in that environment where you’re with (usually) another woman, for at least an hour, that’s a rare 1:1 customer interaction. I knew I loved building technology—I’d already built a VR app for nails and a chatbot for our booking systems. So I decided to do services and technology and a business model that allows women to be economically empowered.

Going back home gave me the freedom to go deep. I did a lot of writing about my thesis for the future of work and the future of beauty services. That cemented my thoughts and meant the business has a theoretical unpinning to it, it wasn’t just an idea that sounded cool.

Have you faced any career challenges along the way and how did you overcome these?

Definitely the biggest challenge I’ve had has been finding and hiring the right team.

If I  don’t understand how to build a strong team, I can’t build a business. It’s really easy to be a CEO who doesn’t delegate, but the reality is you can’t build a long-lasting business alone.

Today I read a lot of books and ask people for their advice. I surround myself with people who’ve done it before and get their perspective. If I’m not good at something I try and find all the experts who are good at it and learn how they did it, and what will work for me.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

The thing that’s made me proudest has been working with Art Against Knives to help bring women from disadvantaged backgrounds together to run a nail bar. The charity has trained over 500 young women with my books and my nail products.

People shouldn’t think of charity as a tag-on to their business activities, they should think about how their business could do good for everybody. It’s good business sense.

What Art Against Knives are doing means everybody wins: the girls get training, they’re working towards economic empowerment, from a community point of view they’re not in crime and I have a future pipeline of supply for the Beautystack app.

Where does Future Girl Corp fit in?

If I’m learning, I always feel compelled to share it. With Future Girl Corp, I was inspired by the Harvard i-lab and wanted to build something like that for me and my friends.

The whole point is to essentially help women 10x their businesses: if you have a passion for flowers, rather than just have one flower shop on the corner, could you run a flower marketplace?

There’s a need for places like us that are non-BS. I won’t ever get someone on a panel and say, ‘Tell me your inspirational story’. You can Google that.

I will say, ‘You’re a food business and you had a partnership with Waitrose, how did you do that?’ It’s about providing step-by-step actionable advice on how people actually achieve things.

What one thing do you believe has been a major factor in you achieving success?  

I’ve learned that I am incredibly resilient. If something’s hard, I’ll wake up the next day, and think today is a new day. If there are bumps in the road , it doesn’t stop me, I’m just like, ‘Oh well, I’ll figure this out.’

I don’t know where it comes from, I don’t even know if you can train it. Sometimes on the rare occasion I feel things are never going to get better, I almost feel it’s a chemical imbalance, like it’s not natural to me

I’ve just got this strong instinct to survive. No matter what, I’m always going to figure out how to survive.

What top tips would you give to an individual who is trying to excel in their career in technology? 

People assume that to be in technology, you have to have a tech background when actually that’s the biggest problem. Technology is for everybody, we’re all consuming it, so why shouldn’t we all be building it?

More people who study humanities, who study philosophy, and art and design should be involved in tech because it has the same type of feedback loop and criticism process.

We need different voices, especially female voices.

So be curious. I went to every single workshop that was related to what I was interested in.
If you want to work in tech and you’re interested in it, you should find faults in things that satisfy your interests.

Do you believe there are still barriers for success for women working in tech, if so, how can these barriers be overcome?

There are so many different barriers to success, not just for women.

If you’re introverted, you’re less likely to like climb to the top of the ladder than someone who’s brash and wants to be powerful, but introverts are just as important to your business environment as anyone else.

We have to think about creating work environments that welcome people who don’t fit the stereotype mould of an ambitious, young man.

At Beautystack we do lots of personality testing to make sure that no one personality type is dominant, otherwise you become an echo chamber. But unless you’re going to start your own business, it’s up to leadership teams to make this change. All parties have to come together to acknowledge the old way hasn’t been working and create a new future.

What do you think companies can do to support to progress the careers of women working in technology?

I would like to see companies having better transparency on how you can progress in your career.

At Beautystack we do continuous feedback loops, not just an annual performance review or a six-month performance review. We talk a lot, but we also listen. When we do our Org Chart, we also write under someone’s role their future scope.

You have to make sure you’re building a good working environment for all types of people and what they need, whether that’s better parental leave, flexible working or anything else.

There is currently on 15% of women working in tech, if you could wave a magic wand, what is the one thing you would do to accelerate the pace of change for women in the industry? 

Make government subsidised childcare available full-time from age one.

Right now, you get a couple of days a week from age three. That means that until children go to school age five, the caregiving of the child is always an issue that sadly often falls  on the woman to take care of.

How can women possibly go and work in a startup environment, which is typically long hours with a frantic pace, knowing that? Instead, they’re forced to have this five-year gap where they get out of the loop.

I’m a parent who’s coparented 50-50 since my son was one. But even then I never really stopped having anxiety about childcare until our son started full-time school. That means for five years, my head wasn’t able to fully focus because I was always thinking about childcare.

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech, eg Podcasts, networking events, books, conferences, websites etc? 

You should look at Future Girl Corp obviously. I would also recommend that anyone building a business in tech read The Lean Startup by Eric Ries. Even if you’re not in tech, it will help you understand how to iterate, how to build things with speed and how to test.

I actually have a whole list of book recommendations on my website so you can see everything there!