You could call Sharmadean Reid a beauty-industry trailblazer, but that just scratches the surface. The stylist-turned-nail-salon-owner has seen great success since she opened WAH Nails—London’s culty nail-art mecca—but the accolades don’t stop there. She’s also the founder of Future Girl Corp, a workshop whose mission is to inspire the next generation of female CEOs, and recently launched Beautystack, an invitation-only booking and networking platform for beauty pros. Sharmadean is a passionate marketer brimming with ideas and advice—and we had the opportunity to pick her brain on the latter. Here, she talks business, from turning a dream into a reality to how to lead a team.
Photo courtesy of SHARMADEAN REID
Photo courtesy of SHARMADEAN REID
Tell us a little bit about your professional journey? What were your earliest career aspirations and interests and how did they change and develop from then to now?
I’m originally from Wolverhampton, but I always knew I wanted to move to London and work in fashion. When I was 12, I found the Fashion Communications degree at Central St Martins and I knew that’s what I wanted to do, so I got the prospectus every year from the age of 12 to 18. I called them up every year and asked if the course was still available. I graduated with a First, but I worked in fashion before I even started the course because I was just so hungry. When I graduated, I worked as a stylist under Nicola Formichetti for a few years. I then set up WAH Nails in 2009 and Beautystack in 2017. I haven’t always known I wanted to be an entrepreneur, but when I was really young I used to rake leaves from gardens with my little brother for money. We also would pick up peacock feathers from a nearby farm and sell them!.
At what point in your career path did you decide to break off and start your own business? What did that process look like?
I never started WAH with the intention of becoming the entrepreneur I am now. WAH began as a fanzine about girls in hip hop that I started in order to practice my skills on InDesign and Photoshop. If I ever saw a girl who I thought was cool I would give her a copy of the magazine. I wasn’t trying to get as many fans as possible, I was rather targeting girls that would be into the same things that I was into. Slowly, people started knowing me as the WAH girl. I had graduated from Central St Martins, was still doing the fanzine, was working at Arena Homme Plus with amazing photographers and living my dream life. I would always get my nails done and I thought that no one was making it as cool as it could be. So, I thought I should do it. I thought I would be the only one who could do it right, because of all of my different networks. I researched the hell out of the salon business and knew it wouldn’t be scalable, but that it wouldn’t lose money. We found a spot two minutes from my house on Kingsland Road and set up shop. I had no idea what I was doing, I thought I just want to open a nail salon for the girl crew I’d collected. It wasn’t about running a business, it was about having a physical space to connect with my online friends in real life.
What skills or character traits have you found to be beneficial in the world of business and entrepreneurship?
I think you have to have a very specific vision. I don’t think I would be successful if my own personal taste and style wasn’t so strong and specific, that’s the key. I also like to live by the quote ‘If you’re not growing, you’re dying’ – I value progress, learning and new ideas. I’m always trying to improve myself and my company, so that we’re always better than we were yesterday.
What advice would you give young women with their own big ideas?
Do as much research as you can – take courses, read books, journals and articles on your subject until you’re an expert in your field. Being armed with all the information is the most empowering thing you can do. Then, plan a roadmap – start with your 5 year goal and work backwards to map out how you’re going to achieve it.
WAH had such a clear and unique point of view. How do you make sure your brands and businesses stand out in a competitive industry?
WAH is not like any other salon brand. One day we might be doing a celebrity’s nails, the next day hosting a female empowerment event in our space and the next week flying around the world creating a pop up nail bar for a corporate client. Everything is recorded for our social channels. We are a fast-paced company and are constantly striving to be the best. WAH Girls are like Special Forces, not the regular Army! With our salons, from day one, every element from the interior design to the way we displayed nails was done differently and for that we received instant recognition, being featured in global magazines and gaining a huge international social following. I’m always about being community-first. WAH has always been a cultural space for people to come and hang out, come to events, meet like-minded people (and get their nails done!). It’s never just been about nails, it’s been about the community. How can we best serve our audience? What are they into? What do they care about? Whether that’s allowing young creatives to use our space in the evenings to launch their latest project, or hosting free talks and workshops on self-love and business, we’re always trying to think of ways to make WAH that cultural community hub.
How did social media play a role in the building of your business?
I’ve always been an early adopter of technology, and WAH was one of the first nail accounts on Instagram. It played a huge role in building our community and platforming WAH as a changemaker in the industry. We use it to chat to our clients, promote the work of our artists and communicate about our events and campaigns. We use each channel differently – Instagram is our biggest platform and is where our nail art pictures do best, Twitter on the other hand, is where we can have some banter with our audience, sharing memes and engaging in conversation
How do you go about building a dream team of awesome people to help along the way?
I’m always on the hunt for people who get the vibe! I find my team members on social media, through events and through recommendations. My team work really hard and I need people who are on board with our vision and our mission - this is a winning team! I always ask potential recruits to take the Myers Briggs Personality Test to see how they will fit into our team and their role – this can be really insightful! For some roles, we need introverts, where for community-facing roles, extroversion is obviously important. It’s also great to understand how people work best and how they communicate within a team.
Tell us about your latest project—Beautystack! What do we need to know about the app?
Beautystack is a social network and marketplace for beauty. Think tumblr or Instagram, but instead of a reblog or like, you get a booking! With a client account, you can follow your friends and favourite influencers, save their styles and book their looks – with the exact beauty pro who did it. You’ll be able to see the beauty pros’ live availability and the price, and the booking will go straight to your calendar. If you upload your look and someone else books it, you’ll also be able to earn rewards too! With a beauty pro account, you can upload your work and generate bookings! Clients will be able to search you by location or style, and book with you straight from your image. You can set your prices and availability, and your appointments will be organized into your calendar, with the reference image and client notes attached! Beautystack is for any visual service – from tattoos, to makeup, hair, nails, facials, etc.!
Why is Beautystack important and revolutionary, especially now, in such a socially driven world? What gap in the market does it fill?
I had the idea for a long time. It arose from a few different issues I saw within the beauty service industry. The first is that the salon software systems currently available to beauty professionals don’t meet their needs, we’d have so many issues at WAH trying to do the simplest of tasks, because the software just wasn’t intuitive. Plus, it was ugly! I didn’t feel comfortable sending my customer to a bookings page that I couldn’t customise as a business owner. Beauty is so visual – and currently, beauty booking systems don’t cater to that. You book from a list of options, like ‘hair cut’ or ‘nail art’, but that’s not how beauty works! There isn’t just one hair cut or style of manicure! We used to get clients coming in to WAH every day with screenshots saved to their phone of the look they wanted, and sometimes, we’d be left in a dilemma, having to switch the nail artist or change the appointment, because we weren’t prepared in advance with the images. Beautystack solves all of these problems. Plus, it’s a social platform that provides attainable goals. If you see a hairstyle you love, you don’t have to sit and wish it was you, you can book it there and then!
How did you leverage the skills you learned from WAH to start a new business, but also, what are some of the lessons you learned running WAH that made things go smoother this time around?
As I got older and started a family, I started to think about the next chapter in my life. How could I take all the skills I’d learned from my first business and apply it to the next big thing? I care deeply about helping women gain financial independence and I had gained so much knowledge about the beauty industry. I spend time thinking about macro social trends and how Beautystack can play a part. The end goal, is to provide economic empowerment for beauty professionals, the majority of whom happen to be female. Beautystack will allow them to make money from their skillset and their social posts. We want to give power to the professionals, as the next generation of beauty influencers.
Do you have any tips on how to manage multiple projects at the same time while taking care of your physical and mental well-being?
I track everything to maximize productivity and really understand myself! From the time I wake up and how this affects my workflow throughout the day, to the foods I eat and the people I surround myself with, and how they make me feel. I make spreadsheets, use apps such as Moody and Daylio and write notes about my feelings. I find that waking up at 6am gives me more energy during the day and I get so much more done. In the moment, I hate it, but I force myself up, jump in the shower and scrub myself until I’m fully awake. I prefer to work at my desk in short bursts with maximum output. I also value my time spent thinking and daydreaming as highly as I value my time in the office. This is when I have my best ideas.
You are a huge voice in the beauty industry right now. How did you find that inner confidence?
My quickest confidence boosting hack is a facial. It’s such a boring answer, but beauty is almost like a magic wand. When your hair, make up, nails and lashes are done, you just feel like you can do anything.