Last night we welcomed entrepreneur Sharmadean Reid to the YCN Library to share some books, stories and lessons in boldly building businesses.
Sharmadean has built her beauty brand WAH Nails from the ground up. Starting as a fanzine in 2006 when she was studying at Central Saint Martins, WAH evolved into a blog before becoming a nail salon in Dalston in 2009. From there things happened quickly. A pop-up salon in department store Selfridges lead to the takeover of the nail concession in Topshop's flagship store, the launch of a product collection with Boots, and the opening up at three storey salon in the middle of Soho.
And with fast growth came quick lessons, which Sharmadean has been candid and open in sharing; posting openly on Medium on her reasons for pulling out of Topshop ("the initial core values of WAH began to weaken. Its like pouring water on cordial to make a bigger drink. Yeah you get loads more, but its nowhere near as sweet") and setting up and running FutureGirlCorp – a platform to coach and inspire a new generation of female CEOs. In 2015 she was awarded an MBE for services to beauty.
Sharmadean is a big believer in learning by doing. "If you have an idea, just go for it – start doing it. If you talk about it more than three times you should be getting on with it already" — and her latest venture is all about building a new way to book beauty online.
In keeping with our popular reading lists series, Sharmadean kindly visited the Library at YCN to introduce a selection of books that have inspired her work.
Here's what we learned:
Sharmadean began the evening by explaining to us what books and libraries mean to her: ever since she was a child, she has had a passion for reading, and knowing things that other people do not. In fact, making the time to learn is an absolute priority for her, as it gives her a competitive edge. “People can’t replicate what I do, it keeps me ahead of the game.”
And in addition to books, it comes as no surprise that from the age of 12 she was also devoted to reading fashion magazines. However, when WAH nails took off, these became the only thing she had time to read.
At this point she became slightly overwhelmed by the pace in which her life was going, and so in 2013 made the decision to move back to her hometown of Wolverhampton for two years. It was here that she made the time to pick up books again, but instead “swatting up” on business, strategy and innovation literature to inspire her, encourage her to work out what exactly it was she wanted to do with her life, and discover in what direction she would take WAH next.
Sharmadean kickstarted her reading list with the two books that played a key part of her university studies, before introducing two inspiring business books recognised as legendary within Silicon Valley – then rounding off with what she believes is a fictional summary of them all. They are as follows:
The Collected Dorothy Parker by Dorothy Parker
Beginning with the two key books from her university studies, Sharmadean referred to The Collected Dorothy Parker as “her ultimate”, and something she re-reads often. Alongside articles and interviews, the book covers poems and stories by the 1930s writer Dorothy Parker that expose the dazzle and darkness of the Jazz Age in New York. These short splices of life and snapshots of people helps Sharmadean to build images of what society was like in different times – something which she believes to be very important.
“The reason I love it and other books like it, any book that is a snapshot of society at the time, describing something so complete, helps me to build up a picture that is almost like watching a time-warp of a TV show. I just love this book for those little details of interpersonal relationships.”
History of Western Philosophy by Bertrand Russell
Having studied Fashion Communication at Central St Martins, Sharmadean began learning a lot about cultural studies and cultural theory. But going into her masters at Goldsmiths, she felt at a disadvantage to her peers, and for that reason picked up this book which became her “cheat guide to philosophy and its major players.”
“Unlike other books at the time, this one put in all context. No thought is an island - nothing exists by itself. There are so many influences on the theories that change the world” and to Sharmadean, it is those details that matter.
This book is subdivided into 31 chapters, which each deal with a single philosopher or period of time, so she suggests reading one chapter a day for a month’s meaningful reading.
Crossing The Chasm by Geoffrey Moore
During her period of time back home in 2013, this was one of the business books that had the greatest impact on Sharmadean. “This was one of the books I read that was so influential – it packaged the ideas I already had into a theory, and so it validated them. It made me feel good inside”.
And despite being about tech, its principles can be applied to any “lifecycle of a ‘thing’”. She personally used WAH as a lens, and for this reason it educated her in “how to jump the gap in which many products die”.
And while business books may seem daunting to a few, she commented on Geoffrey Moore’s tone of voice, which makes the book an easy read. “It's not like other business books,” she said, referring to “writing as an art”; which is something she considers when picking up a book.
Good Strategy/Bad Strategy by Richard P. Rumelt
Sharmadean found this book on a trip to Waterstones. Having been confused by some of the trends and businesses surrounding her, it taught her that in business “you never know what’s going on behind closed doors”.
“Strategy is everything”, she continued. “But businesses never outright say what their strategies are, they only put out signals.” For Sharmadean this book was a “mastery” to figuring out these signals put out by her competitors, from all levels of business. Sharmadean found this book particularly interesting for the reason that Rumelt continually looks to case studies to contextualise his theories.
Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut
Cat’s Cradle is, to this day, one of her favourite books that she has ever read. Addressing science, technology, philosophy and human behaviour, this book preys on our deepest fears, and it “explores the little everyday details you don't think about”, which Sharmadean found captivating. Yet it was a serendipitous encounter, and happened to be a fictional summary of her entire reading list. “I read it in three hours, it was just amazing.”
Taking a number of questions from the audience, Sharmadean also covered various other learning resources. While she tends to avoid audiobooks, for Sharmadean podcasts are an excellent way of learning – and actively listens to them just as often as she reads. And if she finds herself distracted by social media (which she refers to as “time wasted, not learnt”) she will instead switch to a podcast.
Her favourites include Radical Candor, as well as the intelligent, indepth a16z podcast, which has recently featured an enjoyable interview with Clayton M. Christensen, the author of the book she is currently reading – Competing Against Luck. Sharmadean also recommended the app Blinkist, which she reads and listens to for key insights into scientific research.
At this point, Sharmadean also touched on her role as a leader – something she struggled finding a business at the age of 24. Reading came in handy for her at this point, giving her an entirely different view of management. Her focus shifted on finding ways to maximise her employees productivity while working for her, “a concept which changed everything”.
Members can pick up copies of Sharmadean’s book choices from the YCN Lending Library, and listen to her recommended podcasts on Can now.
Location:72 Rivington Street,
London, EC2A 3AY,
Start:10th January, 2018 at 6:30pm
End:10th January, 2018 at 8:00pm