Having spent the better part of her career working as a freelance web designer, Shannon McLaughlin played a behind the scenes role in many South Africans entrepreneurial journeys. Most people wouldn't dream of creating a startup just after having their first child, but Shannon is clearly not your average person. This is the story of a new mom's entrepreneurial journey, born out of the joy of discovering a product that changed her experience as a mom.
Welcome to Motherhood
As a hopeful new mom, Shannon was eager to start adapting to her new normal. Just one problem - that whole necessity we call sleep. Shannon was trying to get back to work on all things digital but her sweet little dude would not sleep. Things were beginning to escalate and spiral; it got so bad at one point in week 3 that a friend bluntly told her, "you look rough." Luckily the blow was softened by this friends suggestion/solution for Shannon to try baby-wearing.
As soon as she strapped her baby to her body, it was clear he was comfortable and he slept for 3 hours straight. She couldn't believe the impact baby-wearing had and it wasn't long before she became the world'd biggest baby-wearing detective slash fan girl slash budding product developer.
Ubuntu Baba: Crafting the perfect solution
In the pursuit of finding the right carrier for her growing baby she bought 6 different carriers to see if she could achieve the comfort of that stretchy wrap that she enjoyed at the start. Each product had their own advantages but the carriers purchased either had rough fabric or they weren't breathable enough. During this time the idea of creating her own baby carrier started becoming an obsession for Shannon. Fortunately for Shannon her father has a factory where he'd manufactured backpacks and hiking gear for years. She brought the product to her Dad and thus began the challenging, yet exciting process of going to the factory daily for 3 months to get a prototype that was just right. She'd head home each night determined to find the right balance of comfort, durability and strength. She knew exactly what she wanted: a baby carrier that is super easy to use, simple, breathable and comfortable.
Family ties to her father's factory and expertise helped Ubuntu Baba get off the ground in smaller batches without committing to huge capital expenses. For the first batch of 10 Ubuntu Baba carriers Shannon used her own savings, buying 10 metres of fabric. Once she was more confident in the quality of the product and her ability to scale the business she took a personal loan of R100k and used it to help scale up the packaging and operational side of packaging and delivering orders.
Choosing an eCommerce Platform
Shannon isn't just a WordPress fan - she's part of the community. So going with WooCommerce was an easy choice. The site has gone through a few iterations most of which the team has done in house. At one stage they hired a local freelance developer to help with creating a custom referral plugin.
Ubuntu Baba uses a customised version of the theme Salient but is currently in the process of revamping the site so the theme may change in the near future.
What do you like the most about WordPress + WooCommerce?
The WordPress community. There's so much to learn from all the people in the Cape Town WP community online and offline. There's something about the ethos around WordPress that lends itself to people helping each other. It feels like you can make just about anything for WordPress and given its popularity there's always answers thanks to YouTube and Google.
What Apps and Services do you find most useful?
They've used it since the start and it gets the job done for mail marketing and marketing automation.
Mailmunch has been useful to create custom pop-up and embedded forms.
How has Covid-19 impacted business?
The time leading up to lockdown was incredibly stressful time for Ubuntu Baba. They were holding hundreds of units and rely on the ability to make online sales to keep the team employed. Just before lockdown they did a big 30% off sale which helped keep them going but things got quiet just after. Much of the marketing and community building they do requires in person meetings with moms.
Two weeks into the lockdown baby items became essential and they almost ran out of stock because they weren't able to manufacture. Once staff got back to work from mid April they were able to ramp up production and also decided to create masks which ended up selling really well.
"This Covid-19 pandemic has been a bit of a blessing in disguise for our business, it forced us to go through one of the toughest periods we've ever gone through, and in turn we have had to re-evaluate the way we do business and it taught us how quickly things can be turned upside down. We've learnt a lot from it and have done deep thinking work around our brand and what the most important things are that we need to have in place to adjust quickly in a bit of a wreckless environment, but also how to continue to serve our customers in an authentic way that makes them want to continue supporting us as we do them." - Shannon
The Team at Ubuntu Baba.
One of the best pieces of advice Shannon received came from a business friend of hers who told her that she was pricing her product way too low based on the analysing the costs associated with production and sales volumes. She realised that in order to grow the business she wanted to that she needed more margin to hire people, build a team, have space to run discounts, handle unforeseen expenses and of course in today’s world, giving back. To date Ubuntu Baba has given back just over R80,000 . None of what they were aspiring in terms of manufacturing locally with high quality fabrics would be possible if they priced their products too low.
Much of her early investment was used to hire models and to get high quality photos of her products. Once the business was growing she was able to bring on her first full time teammate Megan and immediately they experienced 50% growth (month on month). Making the right hire suddenly freed Shannon up and they were able to spend more time brand building. The 16 months that would follow were a whirlwind as Ubuntu Baba continued to grow like crazy.
Growing the Business via Community and User Generated Content
Shannon was late to the Facebook world, joining in 2015 to create an Ubuntu Baba page. In the early days they would hire a photographer and offer free photoshoots to moms who bought their products. Mom's tend to talk to other mom's and they quickly found that they had organically developed brand ambassadors before the days of influencer mayhem.
The role Ubuntu Baba plays in the lives of mothers is inspiring and their commitment to their customers extends way beyond their amazing product. They've managed to create a space that welcomes moms into a safe space with other women during a time that can be incredibly challenging and isolating.
Finding the right Courier.
it was challenging to find the right courier company at the start. Their customers have just had a new baby, so she generally they will have their phones on silent, or their doorbell unplugged. They needed to find a courier company that was diligent enough to arrange deliveries with our customers and not just drive away after the first ring.
They settled on going with one courier Primetime Express which has been the most reliable for coordinating timing of pickups and deliveries.
Ubuntu Baba is tackling payments through Yoco and SnapScan .
Advice for other Entrepreneurs getting started?
"Treat every customer like they are your only customer - make them feel like they truly matter to your business. These days it’s easy to create an online shop, but making the sale is a different story. Get the user journey right, before, during and after the sale and consider how you want your customer to feel when shopping online with you and experiencing your brand. And of course, have a really great product / service as your starting point."