Warning: This post is rated PG 14+ for strong language!
In our last interview we talked to Shannon from Ubuntu Baba about the inception/conception of her idea, the birth of her baby wearing carrier business, its growth, milestones, challenges, and proudest moments. This month we talk about knowing your business, knowing your customers, trying what’s best for your business, the new way of doing things with eCommerce, knowing what suits your business/baby best (hint: it’s WooCommerce!).
Shannon also offers her advice for entrepreneurs starting out on their own journey “to a happy now”.
Ali: In the first part to our interview, you mentioned you were initially working as a web developer. How did you decide to use eCommerce rather than putting your baby carriers into a store? And a related question: what brought you to WooCommerce?
Shannon: Yeah, I was a web designer and I discovered WordPress about seven, eight years ago and obviously that completely changed my world. I was a graphic designer and I was using web developers to build custom systems. Coming from a designer background, I was in heaven because WordPress was so user friendly. It was like Facebook basically and I could create a website without having to use a developer who took forever, and all the problems that come with that.
I loved studying how people interacted online and made decisions and got into the page flow. I liked looking at the Google analytics, seeing whether people dropped off and how they flowed through the website. As the years went by and the clients changed and people wanted to be online, I just discovered WooCommerce. I tried a few other eCommerce solutions but they weren’t very user friendly for my clients and then I stumbled upon WooCommerce, and that was obviously a game changer, and so simple to use.
I could do such an easy training video for a client. They could do their own thing after I had set it all up and it was just so empowering for the client. My goal when I learnt about WordPress and WooCommerce together was to design a solution for an entrepreneur or a startup and say, This is it. Here’s your training. On your way. I don’t have to give them monthly management or anything like that, as long as they keep up on top of their updates.
From seeing the potential with WooCommerce, I started delving into doing digital products myself and I did a couple of courses. I created something where I made a few videos using ScreenFlow and taught people how to create their own WordPress sites.
I’m a major serial entrepreneur. I’ve had like 100 domain names with all my crazy ideas that I’ve trashed within six weeks, and I’ve done some ridiculous things. Nothing ever really took off, but I got to experience how to customise WooCommerce and how it all worked. Until now, I never had my own physical product. I just got to log in to client’s websites who were running an online store and think Ooh, look at this stat. That’s so cool, so pretty, but it doesn’t really mean anything until you have your own thing that’s working.
When I made the carrier and I could feel that I’d created something awesome, it was a no brainer for me. I was just like, I’m going to do it on WooCommerce. I set up a store in two days and did everything. Website, online: two days. I didn’t even think about retail to start, and then eventually retailers did start approaching me. You can’t even begin to make the same amount of profits on retail. There’s so much admin and logistics that goes into it. By the time you’ve sold ten carriers, you’ve made the same profits that you have made with one online. Not to say that you’re overpricing, but you’re making a decent margin online. You’re basically making the most minimal margin you could possibly make by going into retail.
Ali: Exactly, and there’s much less overhead involved online.
Shannon: Yeah. No rents. When you’re in somebody else’s shop, you often have to pay for your branding and your stand. It’s everything. The packaging has to be really amazing. It has to look beautiful and that’s really expensive.
For us, the person buys online, we have a little shoebox, we write a little customised note, we put some washi tape around it – that’s the packaging. They love it. It’s all personalised and it’s beautiful and it feels like they’re opening a present when they get it. But that’s something that you couldn’t put in a retail store, because once that box is opened, it’s basically ruined. It would triple our cost in packaging to even think about going retail.
Ali: It’s so good to hear your positive experience with WooCommerce, not only because it represents the goal of democratising entrepreneurship through open source software, but it also demonstrates the potential of eCommerce more broadly. That’s really cool.
Shannon: Sometimes I just laugh when I see how easy it is to take a credit card payment online. It’s safe and the mom can be lying in her bed freaking out because her baby’s screaming. She can go on her cell phone and use her credit card, purchase the carrier, and it can be at her door the next day.
I remember trying to get a baby carrier for my son. It meant going to the shop, I didn’t know which one to buy, I couldn’t research it. This way, you can research it, you can look on Facebook, you can look at the reviews and basically do all the research you need to do. We offer a 30 day money back guarantee as well, so if she tries it out and she doesn’t like it, she’s welcome to return it, but obviously we’ll try and help her to find out what the problem is.
Ali: What’s your favourite part of using WooCommerce? Do you have any favourite plugins?
Shannon: I love the reporting of WooCommerce. It has been so beneficial to have that. We can compare what product, what colour, match it if we’ve done a sale or a marketing campaign on Facebook, and see the spikes. It’s so interesting. I love that kind of reporting. The one thing that I also use a lot which I haven’t mentioned at all is Campaign Monitor for the email newsletters. That is huge. We use the mailing list a lot. We tie everything up. The main goal behind everything we do is to get the client to sign up to our newsletter and then take them on a little educational journey about baby wearing before they actually make a purchase. We tie that into WooCommerce as well: when they check out, they get an option to subscribe to the newsletter. There’s a little plugin that we use for that, so that’s quite cool; the campaign monitor and WooCommerce work together.
Ali: I really like how you’ve put all those things together. And I really like how you’re getting a lot of organic traffic through word of mouth. You even have organic marketing through people willingly leaving reviews because they just love the product.
Shannon: Yeah. It’s been crazy. I used WooCommerce Reviews to start, but I found it’s quite limiting because it works off the same framework as Comments. A review basically behaves like a comment does when you allow reviews on products and it’s very difficult to customise to make it look how you want. I found the shortcuts kind of glitchy sometimes and so now we’re actually using a testimonials plugin for the website which is very beautiful looking and we don’t even put it on the product page. We currently pull the Facebook reviews directly from Facebook to our website – we have over 250 five star reviews!
Ali: Do you have any advice for entrepreneurs who are starting out? Any words of wisdom? Especially as you are a serial entrepreneur – you have lots of experience!
Shannon: Go with what you feel. Whatever feels right in that time and that moment is what you should go for. I’ve done things that I look back on and I cringe at. I’m like, Oh my God. How embarrassing. I can’t believe I did that.
Most of the things that I did were complete failures but you can’t say “failures” because they were all such learning experiences and big stepping stones. When people say, Oh it looks like you started Ubuntu Baba in February 2015; look at what you’ve created. For me, I actually started doing this when I learned WordPress. That was seven, eight years ago. That’s when Ubuntu Baba started because that’s when I started my whole learning process. I was creating websites for other people and seeing other businesses, seeing what they did and learning from that, taking all the bits and pieces and then trying everything that I wanted to try for myself.
That whole journey for entrepreneurs is such a hectic journey. All the different things that you go through! I think my advice would be just completely trust your gut and don’t think of anything as a failure. You’ve got to just keep on going and just pat yourself on the back because no one else is going to. You get so excited: you’re like, Yes, I made a sale, and you tell someone and they’re like, Okay, cool.
I know what kind of business I want to run. I know how many people I want to have working for me and working with me, and I don’t think there is any business model that you actually have to follow anymore. There’s so much opportunity online to do things how you want to do it. I think the most important thing is to have an awesome product. That’s what I’ve worked out from this whole journey: whether my online shop was crappy or not, or whether it was the greatest online shop in the world, I would still be making sales, because the product is awesome and the product is what’s selling. I think it’s really important to just be 100% confident in your products and if you’re not, then keep working on it until you believe in it whole-heartedly, because you have to believe in it or you can’t sell it.
Ali: I really agree with you, especially the part about the experimental mindset. Rather than categorise something as a failure or success, it’s more helpful to see it as an experiment. That way, what might otherwise be a failure is just information and is not actually a disaster.
Shannon: Exactly. Like Steve Jobs said: you connect the dots backwards, you can’t connect the dots forwards. You have to do the journey, and when you get somewhere and you’re like, Ohh, that’s why I made that huge fuck up. Now I know. In the moment you don’t realise it, when you’re on the floor, freaking out crying because everything has gone to shit, but later on it all counts.
Shannon’s experience as a serial entrepreneur gives her a great perspective. She’s faced things turning out worse than expected, and has recently found things turning out better than expected. If you’d like to read more about the earlier stages of Shannon’s journey with Ubuntu Baba, check out this 2016 feature from the WooCommerce blog.
The crucial advice Shannon offers for other entrepreneurs is to just keep doing what your heart tells you, and what feels right at the time. From a practical point of view, Shannon discovered that it’s important to find the mix of plugins that suits you, and find the sales channel/outlet that suits your product. Retail isn’t for everyone, and the promise and potential of eCommerce means lower overheads and higher margins. And it’s often necessary to learn and build your skills for years in order to become an overnight success.
From a philosophical perspective, there’s one thing we definitely agree on: at the end of the day, there are no failures, only experiments. And if the experiment wasn’t a success, that’s still not a failure because it’s just information about what didn’t work. Of course it’s hard to remember that when everything has gone to shit, but at some point after we stop sobbing and pick ourselves up off the floor, we can realise the learning in retrospect. Just keep connecting those dots to a happy now.