The London tech scene can be split into two camps: those who love Sharmadean and those who are yet to meet Sharmadean — there can surely be no middle ground; once you’ve met her, it’s practically impossible to avoid being consumed by Sharma’s commitment to empowering female entrepreneurs, obsession with her craft, and passion for beauty.
My first meeting with Sharma ran to three hours — we only stopped when the waiter at The Hoxton removed us for the dinner service. We talked about her first company WAH, which started as a hip hop magazine for girls while she was a student in Fashion Communications at St Martins. Out of it came WAH Nails in 2009. WAH reshaped the beauty landscape with its millennial voice and feminist attitude. They created the world’s most-wanted nails — 450K followers; were a magnet for global brands, including Nike, Marc Jacobs and Diesel; and, created a product line with Walgreen Boots Alliance.
At WAH Sharma was surrounded by beauty professionals. Her mission for her next company would to help more beauty professionals — largely, but not exclusively women — achieve economic empowerment, turning these creative micro-entrepreneurs into small business owners. An avid follower of tech trends and voracious reader, she’d been closely following the growing group of companies that allowed people to monetise their own skills and assets — from Airbnb to Etsy and Uber.
Enter Beautystack: a marketplace for visual beauty booking. Sharma describes it as digitising the centuries old question of “Where did you get your hair done?”.
The product created seems obvious in retrospect: women book beauty treatments based on pictures, not written menus. Who hasn’t turned up to the hairdresser with a Instagram/Pinterest/Googled photo of a haircut and said “Can I have this please?” It’s like asking a developer to reverse engineer a product from a single screenshot. The creator has no idea of the starting point or the tools used; the result is often underwhelming.
We love founders who bring a unique insight and understand the hooks their product will need. Sharma’s insight came from watching hundreds of beauty pros keep their appointment book full using social media, then using a clunky combination of Instagram DMs, Whatsapp, and often pen & paper to complete the booking process. Today, she’s given those creatives the tools they needed to build their businesses and to focus on their craft. Through providing these tools, Beautystack acquires an inventory of unique supply and makes it available and bookable online.
But these two sided marketplaces are not easy to build. There’s market risk: at the outset, they face a chicken and egg problem when it comes to supply and demand; customers need suppliers, and vice versa. There’s product risk: ensuring content that keeps customers engaged, while also building a raft of features for beauty pros from payments to power-seller perks. What was clear, was that there was no founder risk. Sharma has quickly become one of the most active and influential members of the LocalGlobe founder community. She’s a magnet for high quality talent; she’s built her team as a heterogeneous community rather than an identikit cult. Exactly the kind of beauty community she wants to see with Beautystack.
Check out the pop-up at Kings Cross it opens on October 26th 2018