Shaa Wasmund: Log on for shopping nirvana

Shaa Wasmund turned down the mighty social networking website Bebo to set up a new shopping website. Ian Burrell hears why
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The Independent Online

What crazy woman is it who, having been burned in the first boom, gets the chance to run the social networking phenomenon that is Bebo – but turns it down because she thinks she's got a better idea? The extraordinary Shaa Wasmund, that's who. Someone who has packed enough adventures into her 35 years that she could publish a "Girl's Own Paper" detailing her ripping yarns.

While still a student she was jumping into limousines to work for boxer Chris Eubank, promoting multi-million pound bouts. She became a boxing manager, negotiating world title fights with Don King. Then she helped James Dyson make his vacuum cleaners famous before working with Sir Bob Geldof on an online travel business. She dreamed up the idea for an internet playground for British teenage girls (, which has since been subsumed into Rupert Murdoch's web empire.

Wasmund's British mother, with her hippie ideals and job on a Native American reservation in California, may have had this type of unconventional existence in mind when she named her daughter with the Navajo word meaning "sunshine". Things didn't turn out brightly at first, as Wasmund's parents divorced and she came to London at the age of 11 with her mother and her baby brother to live in a hostel. But her mother advised her to "not allow myself to be judged by other people's limitations", a rule she has always followed.

She turned down the CEO's role at Bebo in order to offer women "shopping nirvana", by setting up, which goes live next month.

"When women go shopping they pick up the phone to call their friends and say 'Oh my God, I've just seen this great handbag, I can't really afford it, it's £600 and I'm overdrawn but I'm going to get my bonus next month.' All your friends tell you to go and buy it. Because when their turn comes next month they want you to tell them to go and buy it. The way technology has now developed you can replicate that online."

So will allow users to create virtual high streets, including all their favourite shops, then "drag and drop" their coveted bags and shoes and accessories on to their own profile page, ready for their next spending splurge. "If you found something you really can't afford, a Marc Jacobs bag for £800, you can email it out to the wider community: 'I love this bag but can't afford it – has anyone seen anything similar?' It's how women shop, but until now technology didn't allow it online."

The idea was partly inspired by the way women read magazines, she says. "When women read a magazine you'd rip something out about a new bag or a piece of make up, ask any woman, we've all done this."

The website is staffed by 11 women and one man. Wasmund has recruited Dawn Bebe, former managing director of Emap Elan and a founder of Grazia, to run it. But the team do admit to mistakes.

"We initially came up with But when we started testing the name amongst a younger audience they associated that with Chantelle [Houghton] from Celebrity Big Brother."

For an internet entre-preneur Wasmund is highly experienced, having learnt lessons running travel site "I learnt a hell of a lot – I used a lot of those lessons for Mykindaplace." That enterprise, founded in 2000, is still going strong after being sold in totality to BSkyB last year.

Her entrepreneurial instincts are too strong for her to work for someone else. "Most people thought I was crazy to turn down a company with that evaluation, and a sizeable equity stake, to go and do something we hadn't quite figured out yet...but I went with my gut instinct."

So she finds herself working with business partner Dan Wagner, running Bright Station Ventures and having some £50m to invest in "life-changing websites". You wouldn't back against her. When her mother found work as a personal assistant to Lord Mishcon, the young Wasmund would come to the office and do her drawings under the famous lawyer's desk. She won a scholarship to the exclusive City of London School for Girls and went on to the London School of Economics, where she won a competition with Cosmopolitan magazine that allowed her to meet and interview Eubank.

"I have been one of the most fortunate people and have had the incredible opportunity of working with some of the best business people in this country who have given me opportunities way beyond what on paper it appeared I was capable of," she says. "Now I feel a desire to do the same for other people."