Meet the Startup Angels: Sharmadean Reid

Starting up

9 June 2022

In 2021, AXA launched the AXA Startup Angel competition to give worthy businesses the funding and support they need to get the best possible start in their new business ventures.

And alongside £25,000 funding to get their business off the ground and business insurance in their first year from AXA, the competition offered mentoring from the AXA Startup Angels business experts including Sharmadean Reid MBE, founder and CEO of The Stack World.

Here, Sharmadean shares her insight into what she’s looking for from the entries to Startup Angel 2022.

Can you give our readers a quick overview of what The Stack World is?

I originally launched a booking platform called Beautystack during the pandemic, but we found it really difficult to continue working at that time, so we pivoted to The Stack World, which is a community of thousands of mission driven women who we support in their journey to achieve their goals. Members can access events, content and connections to build their new power network.

What’s the best piece of business advice that you’ve ever received?

The best advice I ever received is to get out of the weeds. I think I’m the kind of person who is really able to be very detailed, and I can get drawn into the detail too much. So somebody said ‘get out of the weeds’, see the bigger picture.

Is that the same type of advice you give to others, now that you're in a mentoring position? 

When I speak to businesses today I always ask them: what are the actions you’re taking today that will unlock the next level of growth? You might sit there answering 20 emails just to get through them, or you could work on one document which will get you your next round of funding. That’s how I see it. With business you have certain gates to get through, so what’s going to get you through the next gate.

How can a small business know that they’re working on that one thing that will unlock the growth?

You get that from mentorship, from someone looking at your business from an outside perspective. It can be very difficult to see the wood from the trees if you’re involved in the business every single day. What a mentor or a friend or colleague can do is ask ‘have you thought about X, Y, Z?

What gets you through the tough days of being a business owner?

I have a document which is my personal mission principles. It’s a document which outlines what my life’s work is, what I’m doing in the next few years to get there, and the principles that I operate by and that I want to use to move through the world. Whenever I’m feeling out of balance I’ll read this document and I’ll be reminded of why I’m doing this and why it’s important.

What do you think is the biggest challenge facing small businesses today? How do you think they can overcome it?

I think the biggest challenge is to not get distracted by what’s happening all around them. Even for me now it’s hard to not get distracted, but once you’ve identified what’s right for you, keep doing it.

Do you think it’s more difficult to start a business now than it was maybe five or ten years ago?

I don’t think starting a business has ever been difficult, it’s scaling and longevity that is tough! If you’re entrepreneurial, you will start a business. It’s in your nature. What I think is difficult is to build a business, sustain it and grow it organically and cheaply.

So it might be easy to start a business, but can you grow and scale one? That’s the question.

What are you looking for in entries to the AXA Startup Angel competition? What would stand out for you in a submission?

We're looking for problem solvers, people who really thought about the need. I'm looking for people who aren't just solving problems for themselves or a really small group. If you’re only solving a problem for yourself or a small group of people then it's not very scalable. So definitely problem solving, definitely market research, and something that is scalable.

To me, it’s the combination of creativity and commercialism. So having the creative thought, having the idea to put something out in the world, but at the end of the day, this is a business competition. It should be commercially viable. So that mix of creativity, and commercialism.

When it comes to being a mentor to the winners, what kind of mentor will you be? Tough love or supportive or something else? 

I’m really good at understanding the customer. So helping entrants think about user personas. I love working on branding and identity and storytelling. I love helping people create their vision, mission and principles and create a story out of these things that their customers will resonate with.

Any key advice for someone who is thinking about applying? 

People should enter because doing competitions like this and pitching your business forces you to refine your idea. It'll be presenting in front of other people, not just your friends and family. I think that if you keep your idea too close to your chest then you've not stressed tested it. And it's absolutely imperative in the beginning of stress testing with as many people as possible. So entering the competition forces you to hone your idea for one. And secondly allows you to get critical feedback that's only going to improve your business.

Business funding made easier with AXA Startup Angel

At AXA, we're committed to helping small businesses achieve their full potential. That's why we created the AXA Startup Angel competition, which helps support two new businesses every year with £25,000 funding, mentoring from business experts and business insurance too, so we can help set you up for success.