How 3 Women Used Instagram to Build Empires

And you thought it was just for selfies and brunch shots.

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Inspiring Woman No. 1: Sharmadean Reid

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Founder, Wah Nails, @wahnails

HQ: London

On Instagram Since: 2012

Followers: 427K

During a trip to NYC in 2014, Reid created WAH Nails's Instagram account. Three days later, @wahnails, the account, reached 4,000 followers owing to WAH's impressive nail art. Instagram featured WAH—short for "We Ain't Hoes," the name of Reid's 2005 hip-hop fanzine—on its Popular page daily until it reached 400K followers.

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Now Reid works with Instagram representatives in London to brainstorm posting strategies. "Our office is actually below theirs in the same building, so it's great to be physically close to our biggest marketing channel," she says. The company's salon provides most of its revenue, but Reid plans to launch a new product line (WAH currently sells polish and nail-art pens) later this year.

Inspiring Woman No. 2: Usha Bora

Founder, Jamini, @jaminidesign

HQ: Paris

On Instagram Since: 2014

Followers: 28K

Bora's lifestyle line, which features Indian- and Parisian-inspired home decor and jewelry, took off when she posted a photo of some pillows nearly three years ago. A reporter from Marie Claire Maison saw the picture, thanks to Bora's hashtag (#maisonetobjet), and interviewed Bora, causing an influx of demand for Jamini's designs. She credits Instagram for at least half of the traffic in her two Parisian shops—and the Instagram team often connects Bora with influencers who post about her brand.

"It's not so important to have so many followers, but to be connected to them," she says. "I integrate my travels in all the posts. I show my followers so many new places and things." This month, the company went international, with a pop-up shop in New York.

Inspiring Woman No. 3: Jess Hatzis

Cofounder + Director, Frank Body, @frank_bod

HQ: Melbourne, Australia

On Instagram Since: 2013

Followers: 697K

Shortly after launching Frank Body, which featured a coffee-based body scrub, in 2013, Hatzis and her four co-founders immediately turned to Instagram to promote their company. "We had a very aggressive posting strategy. It was sort of like 10 times a day," she says. "I actually snuck off to the bathroom on a Valentine's Day date to post."

The platform helped them compete with behemoth global beauty brands (with big marketing budgets), and Frank Body has sold 2 million products—online and through retailer partnerships—to date. Hatzis recently connected with Instagram COO Marne Levine at a conference in Australia: "She still writes back to every email. She made it really easy to reach out to her and ask her advice."

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