“I love WAH Nails, but now I’m ready to build a billion dollar business”

Sharmadean Reid, 34, is one of the most exciting and innovative beauty entrepreneurs working in the UK today. After studying at Central St Martins, she went on to consult for NIKE and ASOS. She opened her first nail salon, WAH Nails aged 25, almost single-handedly bringing nail art into the mainstream. She was awarded an MBE aged 30 for her services to the nail and beauty industry. She is now launching ‘Beauty Stack,’ an online beauty platform and marketplace which allows independent beauty professionals to connect. Is there anything this woman can’t do? She talks to Deborah Joseph about her billion dollar ambitions.

WAH started out as a university magazine.
“My Fashion Communications course at Central St Martins wasn’t that challenging, so I wanted to teach myself Indesign and Photoshop as an extra skill. I set myself a project; a zine called WAH. I would Google ‘make image wider’ and then I designed a whole magazine myself in two months.”

My passion was more for fashion than beauty.
“At the age of twelve, I decided I wanted to go to St Martins and work in fashion as a magazine stylist. I loved fashion because it’s cyclical and finite. You start with a new team, you make magic together and then it’s done. When I opened WAH salons, the shock to me was the long-term commitment. It’s forever. I had to shift my working and motivation methods.”

My career in beauty was completely accidental.
“I never wanted to be a nail salon owner. I just wanted to own a space where women could hang out and connect. I’d never painted nails but when I’m into something I become obsessed, so I became obsessed with everything nails. I always knew I had to earn my own money, I never wanted to rely on a man. I did a business plan, I found a location and figured out how much it would cost. A friend had inherited 17k which she gave me as a loan. I paid her back in 2 years.”

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I’m Self Taught
“I thought, if I’m going to open a nail salon and I’m going to be a boss I need to know how to do everything that my staff are doing, otherwise I can’t empathise. I did a really short nail course and I learned a lot from reading Marian Newman’s book ‘The Complete Nail Technician’. The landscape at the time for nail art involved about ten blogs and a couple of books. I devoured it all. I thought I’m going to take all this info and open the sickest nail salon ever. I am learning every minute. No business course can teach you the reality of business.”

Instagram played a huge part in our early success.
“I think the reason WAH Nails has so many Instagram followers (469k) is because we were early adopters. I came across Instagram by accident. I was just using it for the filters to take photos of my pregnancy bump. Then a year later in 2012 we got hired by British Airways to do a nails pop up in NYC. Instagram was big in the US and people were coming to get their nails done and tagging WAH. By the time we returned to the UK we had over 4k followers. After that, we were gaining 1k followers a day. It was driving people into the salon – so many of our customers are tourists who’ve said were on their London bucket list because of Instagram.”

In 2013 I closed all my WAH nail salons down (I had pop-ups in Topshop) and moved to Wolverhampton to be with my family.
“I realised my calling isn’t to run nail salons, it’s to help women all over the world who are doing beauty on the side who don’t realise they can make a really healthy living from it. I thought, Noone’s building software to facilitate women who want to beauty hussle. I wanted to build the best high tech salon ever and then take its software system and grow that into a global billion dollar business.”

Within a year I’d moved back to London and opened a new WAH salon.
“It’s in Soho and has VR at heart of it. I’ve made it a blueprint for the salon of the future. What I realised was that a lot of the retail technologies were gimmicky. I wanted to do VR for beauty. To create a system that was a foundation for booking beauty. I looked at Instagram, Uber, Air B’n’B. What do they have that make them work? Supply and demand. They’ve created entirely new industries of work.”

I found getting investment for Beauty Stack quite easy
“Pre-seed is fairly easy. You’re selling a dream and an idea. It’s harder now that we have metrics to prove. I researched every investor I wanted to meet and tailored my pitch, then I went for people who were into marketplaces and data companies. I know the intricacies of how beauty industries operate, I just need help on how marketplaces operate. The key is how do you build people around you who can give you the knowledge to build your company?”

I’m partnering with NatWest to help guide YOUR small business to success.
“When I was starting my own business, I wanted advice from someone who had been there, done that and really understood my world. From my experience, I know that it can be hard to plan effectively for the future and think about how to tackle key issues such as productivity. I’m partnering with NatWest to create the Productivity Blueprint so to outline a series of simple steps that any small business owner can consider taking to help their business be the best that it can be.”

I was awarded an MBE but I never collected my medal.
“I have no idea who nominated me. I don’t really don’t care for accolades. I don’t care about being on the cover of a magazine. I care about having the financial freedom to follow other ideas I want to do.”

Sharmadean Reid has partnered with NatWest on the Productivity Blueprint, providing practical tips and advice to help small businesses improve productivity and performance. Download the Blueprint at natwestbusinesshub.com.

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