Sharon Wyness

I came from a recruitment background.

Becoming a single mum at 40, I retrained in ‘homestyling’. I joined QVC in 2012 as freelance guest & met James (business partner in AliveLab) whilst in the guest lounge pondering over the many millions that we were making for vendors by selling their product for them on air.

We decided to find their own product range that we could sell (though they didn’t know what)

I was still getting the trade press from various suppliers in styling and a magazine dropped on my doorstep with an article about – bringing a sofa to life in your room to see if it was a ‘fit’.

I didn’t know or understand the technology (it was 2014) but James (geek and techie) did and we knew that Augmented Reality was what they wanted to do.

Several months of planning, sourcing UK suppliers, registering trademarks etc followed and Mardles was born & launched on QVC within six months of the first idea. We had a small order to go to air with and by the time we were off air that had increased by 1000 per cent!

QVC USA and Canada followed. We went back to development for ideas – next came colouring, then dress up masks and finally stories.

After our first airing at London Toy Fair, Aardman & ITV came to us for Licensed product.

We were voted Top Five toys in The Sun, made Metro’s Lust List, were featured on the Gadget Show and picked up by the DiT to follow a Passport to Export programme.

Up until 2017, we were totally self-funded until we went to equity raise with Seedrs and drew attention from all over Europe with investors from 32 countries and made target in 48 business hours.

In January 2019, we were one of only three companies in London to receive the Board of Trade award for Outstanding Contribution to International Trade & Investment presented by Dr Liam Fox at the Foreign Office.

We are partnering with companies all over the globe looking at adding AR to their promotions, products or experiences. We won a tender with a major Scottish Council to bring a tourism trail to life worth over £90k.

And throughout all of it – even though big business mentors have tried to steer us differently, we remain true to our morals.

Our app is what we call 100 per cent parent friendly:

  • No in-app purchases
  • No data capture – you don’t have to register to use it
  • And once downloaded you don’t need wi-fi or data to use it so no huge bills

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

Not at all, there was a point mid in the mid 80’s, I was working in estate agency I  was told  that I couldn’t have a company car or move up through the ranks, even though I had successfully turned around three failing branches. The reasoning? ‘I’d only go and get pregnant’.  There and then, I made a conscious decision to move into a female dominated industry – which is why I made the move into recruitment.

I gave a talk at my old school recently to Year 12 – I worked out that I’d had 37 different job titles in my career to date! That would take some planning….

Have you faced any challenges along the way?

Yes, but don’t we all?!  My challenges have been mainly personal though – marriage/divorce/being a single parent/medical issues. When I encounter career challenges and set-backs, it just made me come out fighting and more determined than ever to succeed.

What has been your biggest achievement to date?

Rather than picking one particular achievement (although I was very pleased to receive the export award in January) I would say that it’s my ability to re-invent myself and to be able to channel my skillset into any new challenge and to make it work.

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

I would say that it’s my almost unlimited determination, and unmitigated desire to succeed, win and be the best I can.

How do you feel about mentoring? Have you mentored anyone or are you someone’s mentee?

It makes perfect sense that when you have succeeded and worked through challenges, that you would want to share that knowledge – I would love to help someone.  I used to have a mentor myself – an older woman who was with me through some women’s health issues, marriage, divorce and then a very difficult pregnancy. She was an enormous help professionally & spiritually, Anji could adjust her focus onto me when I needed extra support and she could also help me deal with my team of 25 girls that in their early 20’s, had their own struggles to work around in a busy stressful sales environment.  I am a big fan of mentoring – both giving and receiving!

If you could change one thing to accelerate the pace of change for Gender Parity, what would it be?

Girls having the confidence to find their voice and use it.  Too often women keep quiet and don’t push to have their views heard – I think they are worried about being branded bossy or pushy (which they can be), but the more we speak out, confidence grows. Once it becomes the norm for women to be an integral part of senior management teams, girls will have more to aspire to and women in business will have natural mentors to learn from.

If you could give one piece of advice to your younger self what would it be?

Men don’t have to fall into one of these categories: Father, brother, boss or boyfriend! (I went to an all girls school)

What is your next challenge and what are you hoping to achieve in the future?

I am busy growing our business to the next level and developing new markets around the world – working with people internationally is deeply interesting and there is always something new to learn from the different ways that business is done culturally. I want to change the shape and future of play and help children engage with technology through experience and fun