It’s not the best of times for the media industry — and it’s close to the worst of times for the in-person beauty sector — yet this is the moment serial founder Sharmadean Reid has chosen to launch her most innovative venture yet.
Reid is founder and chief executive of Beautystack, the London-based LinkedIn-meets-Instagram beauty ecommerce company backed by VC heavyweights LocalGlobe and Index Ventures. She’s also cofounder of entrepreneurial bootcamp Future Girl Corp and nail salon chain WAH Nails.
But her next step combines her previous ventures and a lifelong love for media into one business: The Stack World.
The startup is an online platform with a content arm, The Stack and a jam-packed events schedule — all designed for “city-based women with a desire for change”. Down the line, it will also add on ecommerce with The Stack Marketplace, enabling readers to book external services relevant to The Stack’s articles or events — whether that’s facial treatments, coaching or legal advice.
We have content, conversations and commerce
“Our tagline is that we have content, conversations and commerce,” Reid tells Sifted. The latter is where beauty booking platform Beautystack will fit in — making up just "one category within an entire ecosystem of Stack services.”
Women’s media is changing as it goes digital. Just 23% of top editors and 40% of reporters are women, but online, women-led and women-focused multimedia organisations are on the rise.
So far The Stack has published a variety of features: from how air pollution exacerbates poor mental health to why neurodiverse people transform the workplace. The platform doesn’t shy away from the political, either — recently covering how the UK’s new government budget affects women, as well as an interview with Alastair Campbell, former British prime minister Tony Blair’s spin doctor. It’s churning them out at pace, publishing around seven to 10 pieces per week with just two in-house writers and a roster of freelancers.
The goal, Reid tells Sifted, “is always to be mainstream" — but on her own terms.
Unsurprisingly, The Stack will cover beauty and wellness, but also business (“actionable insights on how a young entrepreneur can level up”) and law. "I made a hell of a lot of mistakes [when I started my first business] because I had no formal structure around me,” says Reid: she wants to help the next generation of women entrepreneurs avoid making the same ones.
We’re creating content that we hope helps women level up their lives
"We're not just creating frivolous content," she adds — she’s recently commissioned a series focused on the first three years of childcare. "We’re creating content that we hope helps women level up their lives. Our ultimate vision is to move towards gender equality."
Reid is also keen to share this content with her readers in numerous formats — including podcasts that investigate global policies around the issues, and films that spotlight the stories of previous interviewees. "From a neurodiversity point of view, not everyone wants to sit and read a 5k word article.”
Women’s empowerment, alongside occasional political commentary, is definitely the theme of Reid’s online presence. "If you know what someone stands for, it's easier to decide if you want to join that mission or not.”
It's paying off. The Stack World’s Instagram account — which was formerly that of WAH Nails and Beautystack — has 426k followers (though the account was used for WAH Nails and the Beautystack community page previously, it’s an indicator of the community Reid has cultivated over the years.) Reid herself has 75k.
Articles on The Stack are free (for now) — but for £14.99 a month members will receive access to events and an exclusive members’ newsletter. Founding members can also attend private events, including dinner parties and fireside chats, as well as first access to The Stack World’s upcoming line of merchandise. They'll be "the first port of call" for any new product releases, providing the company with feedback.
Reid tells Sifted that The Stack World’s membership programme has seen 50% growth in signups week-on-week since its launch in mid-February.
The Stack Marketplace
Next on Reid’s agenda is developing and launching The Stack Marketplace, an ecommerce platform integrated into the content platform.
The idea is to recommend relevant services (and events) to readers at the point where they’re most interested in them, creating low to zero cost conversions.
"We could write an article on intellectual property, how to protect your name and your business. At the bottom of the article, we can [advertise] an event about it where people can talk about experiences they’ve had where people have stolen their intellectual property,” explains Reid.
“And then at the bottom of that, we can say: [using The Stack Marketplace] 'book this consultant for a free one-to-one 30 minute call to talk about your case' — it could be an associate or a lawyer. That's how the flow of information is going to happen...so we own the whole transaction, end-to-end.”
The idea is similar to that of Beautystack, which connects salon owners with consumers, but broadens the span of services which could be recommended beyond beauty.
Connecting content and commerce also means the team can make better recommendations. “When we build features like commenting, liking, saving, booking within, it’s all with the same user,” says Reid. "Owning the entire journey has always been very important for us. What drives someone to purchase or book something? It’s usually content and recommendations.”
Like many in-person industries, the beauty industry, worth £27bn in 2018, was knocked sideways by the pandemic. "It's a very female-led sector, a very low-paid work sector, and it's a sector that the government outright said could not operate from day one."
While hairdressers and barbers were reopened in July 2020, beauty salons were sidelined — the industry was even laughed at by male MPs in Prime Minister's Questions at the time. With no sector-specific support infrastructure, yet hygiene practices already in place given the nature of the industry, "it just became apparent that there weren't the right people in the room who understood our sector,” she explains.
Reid promptly launched #BringBeautyBack, a campaign that voiced the concerns of salon owners and pressured the government to open the industry back up — and in full. It partially succeeded in reopening some categories, but despite men's grooming being permitted, treatments for the face were not — excluding facials, lash lifts and brow treatments, amongst others.
“For the first time...I felt like our users were politicised,” says Reid. Remarkably, despite being unable to facilitate bookings, since the pandemic began 1.8k beauty professionals have registered accounts with Beautystack. “They became part of a political conversation that they'd never thought about before that we discuss all the time in the company: about how policies, law and the government essentially impact and affect women's lives.”
The whole thing was a really good example of how women's lives are controlled by a government that doesn't quite understand women's lives
“The whole thing was a really good example of how women's lives are controlled by a government that doesn't quite understand women's lives," she says. "There are still more things that need to be sorted, such as VAT cuts. Owners have been paying rent on buildings that they haven’t been able to occupy.”
Beautystack’s bank balance was also looking less healthy —and so Reid decided to accelerate plans to launch The Stack, with 10 months' cash runway left. “By the time we got to December, we'd [the industry] been closed for nine months. You know, we're burning through cash. I just felt like my hands were tied, and I never sit on my hands.”
The UK government has since announced that beauty services are set to reopen on April 12, and until then, Reid's focused on launching The Stack Marketplace in time.
Taking on The World
Aside from the ecommerce integration, Reid's next stage is raising a Series A to start marketing it out and growing its audience — and she's looking out for new, media-focused investors too.
She’ll also recruit an editor after the fundraise, and has already established a permanent editorial advisory board (to “maintain our editorial standards and show where we have knowledge gaps in the experience of all women”) which includes the likes of Laura Weir, previously editor at Evening Standard Magazine.
At present, Reid is working closely with previous investors Danny Rimer and Suzanne Ashman to scale the new project. Both have "been incredibly supportive of this transition."
"Ultimately, they understand that the industry we’re in has been heavily hit by the pandemic. Because both of those investors have experience in media, they can see the opportunity for a media-driven marketplace — and that’s what we’re excited about.”