Inspiration Category Gifts Occasion Designer

Motley Meets: Entrepreneur and MBE Sharmadean Reid

by Ilana Lever on

I have the fondest memories from childhood.

Growing up in Wolverhampton, I come from a very big Jamaican family, super warm and loving and fun – I’ve got eight aunties and five uncles, and they’re all hilarious. There was always food on the stove, and people in the house. I went to such a wonderful primary school. I moved to London when I was 19. But I loved being in Wolverhampton, I still do. Life is very green, the roundabouts have huge trees on them, there are flowers everywhere. When I go back, the minute I get out of the taxi, I can smell grass again, and I just love that.

Everyone came to Wolverhampton if you were a musician.

When I was a teenager, I went to a lot of gigs and music. I remember seeing Skunk Anansie, General Levy, everyone from Jungle MCs to weird grunge. Everyone’s parents – even the geeky ones - had a great record collection. I think it was the 60s / 70s dancing vibe, the Northern soul record collection. There wasn’t much to do so you went to a lot of gigs. It’s not like that now. I think the internet has destroyed so much of that.

I always knew I wanted to study fashion.

I’ve always had a general curiosity about why people do what they do, with clothing being one visual element of that.  Fashion is how we use clothing, hair, and makeup to construct our social identity. People who consciously use what they wear to say “this is who I am.” Consciously or unconsciously, actually. I really love Grayson Perry’s documentary, because I love dissecting these trends. It’s anthropological, modern ethnography, it’s how you study a tribe – but people don’t study social or urban tribes in the West in the same way they study indigenous tribes.

At hip hop gigs, I’d be one of five women in the room.

In Wolverhampton, although we had a lot of club culture, it tended to be indie, punk rock, or Garage, and hip hop wasn’t mainstream like it is now. It was all about the Libertines; hip hop wasn’t cool. So I would go to these hip-hop gigs, where all the guys would try and hit on you. I was still trying to figure out my identity, I couldn’t figure out if was gonna come here and dress slutty or be like a backpacker girl, in baggy trousers. I was 20 years old, trying to figure out who I was. So I founded WAH. The magazine was essentially saying I love music, it doesn’t mean that I’m a ho and it was just a very teenagery way of working through my identity. That’s what fanzines are.

I think there’s space for any kind of publication if you have an audience

You will always have an audience that likes physical things. But it is all about modes of production and how many people you can impact, and at what speed can you impact them with the internet. When I issued the magazine, I started a blog, almost immediately afterwards in 2006, because it took so long to make the magazine. I carried on producing one magazine a year though.

I had the idea for the nail salon in 2009.

The role of the salon is about providing a space where people can connect and share ideas. The nails aspect is the excuse to get them in there, but really we had such a strong feminist stance, even before I really knew what feminism was. It was girls talking about what they wanted out of life. The idea was the girls would meet their business partners there, and start their business. We actually closed the salon earlier this year, and we got so many amazingly positive messages about how it changed peoples’ lives. It just was not a normal salon.

Starting a second business is not that different to a first.

You have the same problems. Convincing people, building something, launching something, building a team. The difference is I am now trying to do it x1000. The big vision for Beautystack really is to allow anyone to book a core beauty treatment anywhere in the world.

I did a huge amount of work in preparation for fundraising.

I had spent so long thinking about the long term business model, the market, researching the investors I wanted. I was really prepared.

I think with fundraising, sometimes you just get introduced to loads of different people and you pitch to them, and they aren’t even right for you. You don’t know enough about them, to tweak your pitch to match them.  asked me the other day how my pitch evolved over time. I would say it never evolved - I just choose which side of my business model to emphasize dependent on which investor I was sitting across the table from.

My first investor was female.

I was introduced to Grace Gold at a party, was telling her about my business, and she introduced me to Suzanne Ashman at Local Globe. Two women. A very closed white male Etonian probably wouldn’t even come to us now. It’s not to say I didn’t pitch to those dudes ever; you just need to find your tribe. I think I have been so strong about what we stand for.  If you are authentic about what you are doing, if you state your position, you attract the right people. It’s funny because on one hand I can be very prepared and strategic but on the other hand I am not very calculated and quite blasé.. If I write my one year plan I will write it, then close it, and not look at it again. I don’t write to do lists or goalsetting.

Beautystack stands for economic empowerment of women through beauty treatments.

That means being able to help a girl start her business and increase her income. We are very selective about the beauty pros we want on our platform. We look for people who have incredible potential, and they just need support getting them that extra way. We still are in such early stages we want to build the best product for our type of user, who’s very specific. Networking is core to the platform. With other booking platforms, you can’t follow me, see what I booked, share it, or see images as menu items. Every other platform has the word “blowdry” but the word “blow dry” for me is very different than the word “blowdry” for you.

For me, feminism is part of a wider vocabulary

When I started work there was no talk of feminism, or girl boss, or anything like that. To me feminism is about equality. Nothing more. But I worry that we don’t work hard to change the underlying messages and key systems on inequality, because that’s what feminism is about. Women mainly being responsible for paid domestic labour. The gender pay gap. Although I find trying to solve the gender pay gap problem completely pointless unless you solve the servitude at home problem first. Because how could anyone try to work hard and be in power if they are still doing that type of work?

And even if you don’t have a family, as a woman you are often laboured with other responsibilities that men just don’t have. When more families have shared responsibility in the home, everything else will click into place.

At Beautystack, we provide childminders during school holidays.

It just seems pretty normal to me. It can become very difficult to find any sort of childcare at all ages, but especially the first three years of life is really hard, because you have to pay for nursery on top of it. I am the only woman in the company that has a child. I have 4 male team members with kids, we do four weeks’ paternity leave that they can take at anytime in the baby’s first year of life, I would love to increase that to more as we grow. But really it is just nice to be able to bring your kid here and let them run around.

Never underestimate your business model.

I just think it is something people don’t talk about enough. In other words – break down to me exactly how you are going to make money for this, and what the unit economics are. The marketing, branding and community building come incredibly natural to me and to most women, because it’s what we do on a daily basis. But I felt like I’ve been on a journey discovering this whole other side which was a business model and growth plan. And I thought, why has no one ever told me this. I thought it was important to share what I learned.

If you come to me with a problem, I am not very good at being empathetic.

My natural disposition is to problem solve. I just thrive on natural advice. I think there are so many inspirational things out there, but not a lot that says this is actually how you do things. Anything that you see me do, I only do it if I feel there is a need for it, and feel as if I am suitably qualified to talk about it. I get advice from various people, my partner, my investors. I have a really strong peer group of female founders.

I read a lot.

When I am stuck on a problem I turn to magazines, books, and articles. Right now I’m reading “Trillion Dollar Coach” right now. It’s about how to be a good leader, how to be a good coach. His name’s Bill Camble, he coached the Google founders, he’s a really amazing coach. And I’m about to start the Messy Middle. But I’ve also have read loads of fiction lately. I usually tweet the books I’m reading.

My biggest weakness is relentlessness.

It might sound like a strength, but it’s really hard on myself and everyone else around me. My pace is exhausting for people, so it is a weakness. And I say what I think too quickly, rather than letting it settle.

I would like to be remembered for social reform.

Tagged with: In Conversation With

Other posts