Shannon McLaughlin, the founder of Ubuntu Baba, describes herself as “open to all possibilities” and true to form, she was kind enough to answer some of our questions and share more about her life and her journey to entrepreneurial success.
Shannon was a self-employed web designer before launching Ubuntu Baba in February 2015. Six months after the birth of her son, she stepped into the world of designing and producing safe baby carriers and has since transformed her passion into a reputable brand.
What did you want to be when you were growing up?
I never really thought about what job I would have, to be honest. I remember being quite impressed with my aunt’s life; she had a super cool apartment with a view, wore funky clothing and had nice stuff. I enjoyed the idea of having a life like hers! She seemed free and in control!
Did you have capital to start your business or was it water and rusks in the early days?
Totally water and rusks! We made a carrier, sold a carrier, made a carrier, sold a carrier, and then slowly built up momentum to be able to keep some stock on hand.
What was the turning point in your business?
I think this business has been the turning point for me. I’ve had so many other entrepreneurial ventures that I’ve explored over the years, that when I decided to launch Ubuntu Baba, I kind of knew what I was doing, more than before at least. There hasn’t been a memorable turning point as to what helped us get to here, but rather more momentum building as we go along. Word of mouth has definitely been our biggest growth factor.
Do you actually know how to read financial statements? How, or who taught you?
I don’t think anyone knows how to read a financial statement without being taught. It’s imperative to understand how the money side of your business runs if you want to make any money or understand where you need to cut costs or increase margins. I had a general understanding to start with, but as the business grows and things become more complex, I lean heavily on my accountant and have strategy meetings once a month to talk about where we’re at and what we should be doing going forward. If you put your mind to understanding how it works, it’s really not that complicated.
How do you motivate your team?
When you’ve got a great product that’s changing people’s lives, and you create an enjoyable working environment and culture, there’s not much motivating to be done. I don’t have people lying around not wanting to work. They all love what they do and have fun doing it – that’s how life and work should be. But if they’re having a bad day, or week – then we drink champagne!
How do you handle business disappointments?
I try to take a more solution-based approach. I don’t see disappointments as problems, but rather opportunities to do things better. Disappointments are a healthy part of business and life and there is always something to learn from every experience.
At what stage did you decide to employ staff?
The business was seven months old when I realised that I was spending all my time just packing boxes, dealing with couriers and doing admin duties, and not actually spending any time on growing the business anymore – that’s when I decided to employ an assistant and Megan came on board. This was the best decision ever, as from the first month she was with me, I had so much more time on my hands and we did 25% more sales than the month before.
What’s the best business advice you have been given?
I’d say I was given to two pieces of advice. The first one was from a mentor, Rob. When I first chatted to him about my idea for Ubuntu Baba, he asked me if I was also going to make jam. I was very confused by his question and I said, “no – why?” And he replied, “Well this is clearly a hobby business because how on earth do you plan on making any money here. Your pricing is all wrong and this whole setup is too complicated. You should be able show me how your business plans to make money on this serviette right here.” And he was right!
“I don’t see disappointments as problems, but rather opportunities to do things better.”
The second piece of advice comes from my father, who has lots of little golden nuggets to share after being in the manufacturing industry his whole life. He told me to ignore my competition completely and focus on my own goals, and to grow at the pace I was comfortable with, not what everyone else was demanding of me.
How do you balance being a mom and working?
As a mom, I’d say the hardest part is balancing your time. When your child is awake, you need to be there for them, but you also need to be there for your clients and your team when they need you. So, I’ve had to learn to integrate my son into my working life – to start I was trying to separate the two, working-mom life, and mom life, but it’s impossible.
I just gave up on trying to achieve a perfect ‘life balance’ and now it’s easier. He knows that Mommy’s got to work and he respects that when I need him to, as long as I’ve given him what he needs from me in terms of attention, love and play time together, then he’s generally cool to play Lego or Transformers (his favourite!) in the same room as me while I get some work done. Not that it’s not mixed with a whole lot of ‘Mommy…mommy mommy….” while I’m working, but you get used to it. Us mamas can multitask like you cannot believe!
What’s more important to your business at this stage: to have constant cash flow or to have more clients?
Well more clients = constant cash flow, so they two go hand in hand. The most important thing for my business is to make sure our customers get their product on time, and then that they know how to use the product properly and are happy with their purchase.
I don’t want people sitting with baby carriers in their cupboard – like I did before I started this business. That’s why we offer a 30-day money back guarantee on our product, because a good baby carrier is an investment and if it doesn’t work for you, then you shouldn’t have to pay for it – like any other product really.
What is the next step for your business and what do you need to take it? Money, staff, etc.?
To continue growing at a sustainable pace and implement more systems to simplify the business as a whole.
Do you have a budget for your business and, if so, who taught you how to create and manage it?
We do have a budget and it’s super simple. You should be able to easily write down the maths of your business and understand where you make your money and where you spend your money. It doesn’t have to be a complicated exercise.
What are a few of the business challenges you have faced and how did you overcome them?
The biggest challenge we faced was finding a reliable courier company to deliver our product. If you think about our customer, she is generally at home with her new baby; however, her phone is on silent, her doorbell is unplugged, but she wants her delivery NOW! So, we had to find a partner who could be sensitive to those challenges and work with around them.
Family / personal life
How many kids do you have (genders and ages)?
I have a son who is four years old.
How do you define motherhood?
The most challenging part of being a woman is becoming a mother. The reality of it comes as a slap in the face, no matter how prepared you think you may be. It’s a beautiful journey, but can be incredibly lonely too. I think it’s so important that we’re honest about how we’re feeling and that our family and friends are there to support us through this period, without judging us or offering too much advice, unless we ask for it. It’s just a messy transition period of life and eventually we make it through the other side and find the light again – as a brand-new woman. I think it takes most of us a while to settle into our role of being a mother.
What is the biggest lie you have told your children?
I don’t lie to my child at all. Not even about Father Christmas. He knows it’s a made-up story, just like all the other stories we read, and I told him he can choose to pretend if he wants to and we’ll all pretend with him, which is what he chose. And Christmas is exactly the same for him as it would’ve been if I pretended Santa was real. Kids have an amazing imagination and I don’t believe there is anything that I would ever need to lie to him about.
How would you rate your marriage on a scale of 1-5 (1 being I want out and 5 being madly in love just like the early days)?
I’m not married. I just celebrated my 10-year anniversary with the father of my child and I’d rate our relationship 5+ because if your relationship can make it through having a baby then I think that means you’re a good match and can make it through anything together!
What has been your biggest personal challenge?
Becoming comfortable in my own skin as a woman, and not being afraid to ask for what I want and stand up to bullies.
What has been your biggest regret both personally and in business to date?
I don’t have any regrets. Without my history I wouldn’t be me.
“I’ve had to learn to integrate my son into my working life – to start I was trying to separate the two, working-mom life, and mom life, but it’s impossible.”
Where is your favourite place? What do you do to escape?
The beach is my favourite place. I go there to relax and enjoy the fresh air. I don’t often feel the need to escape from anything – I love my life!
Have you ever wanted to shut the doors and run away from everything, and how did you get over it?
During my first year of motherhood I was in a very dark place. I suffered from post-traumatic stress and anxiety and it took me a long time to feel like ‘me’ again. What I realised was that I had to completely let the old version of ‘me’ die, along with my old life, after having a baby.
It’s never the same again, after I accepted that and just surrendered to the reality of motherhood, I started to see the light again. I started practicing kundalini meditation every day, and that is what helped me to get back to myself again and I still meditate daily today, it’s really changed my life in so many ways.
What’s the best parenting advice you have been given?
Don’t listen to advice, trust your intuition.
How long after you had your child did you start feel like you were getting your life back into a manageable routine, if ever?
I’ve never been much of a routine-driven person to start with, but it’s definitely been challenging to just ‘go with the flow’ with a little one now. I think the key is just to take each day as it comes and be present for each moment, then everything just feels more manageable.
What is your vice? E.g. sex, drugs, coffee, wine, binge-watching?
I don’t like the word ‘vice’ because that sounds like it’s a bad habit! I enjoy drinking wine, hanging with my friends and watching our children play and grow up together.
Is it harder being a stay-at-home mom or a working mom?
That’s quite a loaded question. Both roles come with their challenges, so I don’t think either one is harder than the other. They’re just different – all moms are working moms.
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