Building Your Own Table: Smashing Glass Ceilings
A Thought Leader is someone who smashes through glass ceilings and is not afraid to challenge norms. They are full of self-belief, have the ability of knowing when to switch lanes, and have the desire to help others navigate their own journeys to the top.
Shaa Wasmund MBE has done just that. Shaa is a serial entrepreneur and has been named one of the UK’s Top 20 Most Influential Entrepreneurs by The Sunday Times and one of the ‘Most Influential Women in the UK' by the Institute of Directors. Having started her path as the only licensed female boxing promoter in the world at the time when she worked with the legendary Super Middle Weight Champion Chris Eubank, Shaa went on to found her own PR firm which managed the launch of Dyson vacuum cleaners. In a move to digital business in 1997 she became a founding director of the travel website Deckchair. She then went on to launch lifestyle website "My kinda place" in 2000, and seven years later, the site was sold to BSkyB.
In 2007, Shaa established Bright Station Ventures, an investment vehicle with $100million of capital. In January 2009 Shaa launched Smarta, a site dedicated to supporting entrepreneurs and small business owners. More recently Shaa has created an incredible online community named ‘The 6 Figure Club’ and has taught thousands of like-minded entrepreneurs how to build successful online businesses, and she has shifted her aim to giving women the tools and the confidence to create profitable sustainable businesses
Liv: One of the recurring themes throughout your career, Shaa, is that you've consistently broken glass ceilings for women, and your first job was no different. How was that experience being part of a male dominated industry such as boxing promotion? What sort of challenges did you face?
Shaa: I've been a mad boxing fan since I was 18, and I got the opportunity to interview Chris Eubank while I was a 21 year old studying economics at the London School of Economics.
I come from a single parent family and grew up in a council estate; I was the first one in my family to ever go to university. I had an incredible mum and incredible nan, so I come from a strong matriarchal support group and family.
Going into boxing as a young woman, I wasn't afraid of anything because I didn't know why I should be afraid. Truthfully, I have to say that both Chris and his promoter at the time they treated me with such respect that I never felt like I was in the wrong place. I never felt that I shouldn't be there.
Maybe there were ways that I was being discriminated against, although I definitely didn't feel like that and I didn't see it. What that did for me was instil in an incredible inner confidence. I just cracked on with it and I would often work 16 hour days, because if I didn't feel like I've got something right, there was no way that I was going to stop. This guy had put so much faith and trust in this person who had no experience that I needed to make sure that I exceeded his expectations.
Liv: How did you land that role?
Shaa: I'd won a competition at LSE to write for Cosmopolitan magazine, and I was sitting in the editor's office one day waiting for them to come back in when I saw a pile of letterhead paper on her desk. I was just thinking, wow, I wonder what would happen if I took some of that letterhead paper, and I wrote Chris Eubank a letter and asked him for an interview.
I say I absconded because it's a posh word for stole, but I basically stole five sheets of paper and I went home, and I wrote the letter.
To cut a long story short, his promoter came back thinking that I was interviewing him for Cosmopolitan magazine. I set up the interview and then I was thinking 'Oh shit, what am I gonna to do?,' so, I had to go back to the office again to confess to what I'd done.
The editor was one of those rare women who wanted to support everyone that she possibly could.
She was also very straight. She sat down in front of me and she said:
'I'm literally blown away by your actions. I can't think of anything else that has happened in my career that has had this impact on me. You're in my office after you stole my letterhead paper, and you now have an interview with Chris Eubank... and you've told him that he's going into Cosmopolitan Magazine. The audacity is pretty amazing.'
She said to me that she hadn't seen anyone with a sparkle like me before. Before long she asked me how much my student loan was, and within minutes she had sold the interview to The News of the World and paid off my debt for me.
Liv: We've spoken a lot about how having the right people in your corner can make all the difference, but how do you connect with the right people?
Shaa: If you look back at my career it would seem like I'm just an incredibly well connected person. Truthfully at this point in my life, I am, but it all started somewhere.
My first break was getting the job with Chris Eubank and when I got that break it opened up all these doors, but it was up to me to keep those doors open. So many of my friendships have been based over the last 20 years. It's not a coincidence.
A rising tide lifts all ships, so instead of worrying about all your connections being rich and famous, ask yourself some of the following questions. Are these people going to bat for me? Are they going to go to war for me? Are they going to come and pick me up from Scotland at three o'clock in the morning? Are they going to share in my lows as well as my highs? Are they going to lift my energy even when I'm depleted?
It's about finding people who fan your flames and making sure that you surround yourself with people who do so. I like to take it one step further. I think you need to find people who, when there are no flames to fan, they show up with the fire starters and ignite the flames for you. They're the people that count. They're your people.
Liv: How important is it for women to collaborate instead of compete?
Shaa: It is the single most important thing that you can do. Originally we could blame men, we could blame social media and we can blame the media in general for pitching us all up against each other for and making us feel like there was only enough for one of us in the room.
In reality as grown women, we need to wake the f*** up and realise we are responsible for our own behaviour. We do not need to and we will no longer be swayed by public opinion or what anybody else is trying to tell us.
If there is not enough room at the table, build your own f****** table. You do not need to ask for permission to take a seat at the table anymore. If there's no seat there, don't ask for one. Just go and build your own one and ask other women to come and build it with you.
Liv: You have your own PR company and you helped build the Dyson brand sitting around a kitchen table. Did you have any idea of how big the company could be?
Shaa: Not at all. I felt like I was just incredibly blessed as I have been at many points in my career to meet the right person at the right time, but equally, I will take an opportunity and I will run with it.
I genuinely believe that everything is possible for me, as I believe everything is possible for you. Another thing that women historically have been told is that if you haven't had kids by the time you're 30, there's something wrong with you. Women somehow have to do things by a certain sell by date. Men, however, they're good to go until they end up six feet under.
We need to come together as women. It's about women who have more experience supporting the women who are coming through, and the women who are coming through looking up to the women who have got more experience and actually, all of us collaborating and working together. I have just as much to learn from a 20 year old who's just coming up as they do from me. There's no question that we'll learn different things, but we'll both learn from the experience in the conversation.
Liv: You've created an incredible online community, The Six Figure Club, and you've taught thousands of young entrepreneurs. What is it that you enjoy about helping others?
Shaa: I have a massive free Facebook group that has roughly 12,000 entrepreneurs and small businesses in there, while I have a smaller paid membership. It's a bit like a gym for your business, so you go there and I do weekly q&a's about the tools you need to build an online business.
I'm really passionate about teaching people how to build an online business because that's what I know, and also because it's scalable. I want to see the numbers shift particularly with women who are able to create and sustain six figure businesses. I also want to bring some reality into that space, which is, that making six figure and taking six figures home into your own pocket are two different things. So it's been really interesting.
There is not a single woman reading this right now who wants to start her own business, that couldn't within three years build a six figure business. I believe that there will be at least 25% of the women who are reading this right now who could do it in 12 months. It's not that complicated. We live in a time where technology is cheap.
What are you passionate about? What do you love? What do people come to you and ask you about? It could be what you do for a job right now. It could be what you do in your own business right now. It could be something entirely different that you do outside of work that you are just passionate about it. There are people running seven figure businesses teaching 20 year olds how to knit. My point is that it doesn't need to be a complicated business. Keep it simple and execute.
Liv: Your first book 'Stop Talking, Start Doing' launched in 2012. The book was incredibly the number one best selling book in WH Smith for 14 months in a row. What inspired you to write that book and share your experience?
Shaa: It was years and years of conversations with my friends, who I love dearly, who would tell me that they wanted to get married, get divorced, move to the south of France, start a business etc. I'd have the same conversation with them a year later, and nothing would change. I'm not saying I'm perfect, far from it, but taking action is something I do really well.
I thought, okay, I'm going to write a book to help people stop procrastinating. I think procrastination is 100% one of the biggest things alongside perfectionism that holds most people back from even starting, but you've just got to go and do it.