Ubuntu Baba vs Woolworths

How I went viral.

She had the perfect storm. The features that were taken, the company who took them – while promoting responsible sourcing, the safety features for infants. It was the perfect storm from every angle, you can’t replicate that afterwards.

Andrew Papadopoulos, KISCH IP on The Money Show with Bruce Whitfield (ffwd to 60 mins in to listen)

The same thing has happened to us, how did you manage to go viral?

This has been the biggest question I’ve received since “the Woolworths thing.” Andrew said it perfectly above. I really did have the perfect storm.

I have told about 50 people that I’d be writing about this topic over the past few months – because they have written to me seeking advice on the same problem I had – copycats! I cannot believe how often this kind of thing is happening. I’ve been feeling so bad for not writing this yet but quite honestly it’s been the hardest blog post to write. And I only realized why after trying to write this post a few times and getting nowhere. 

To me it feels like I’ve been put on a pedestal, that I should now somehow be an expert on this topic because I “won against the giants” and in order for me to have done that I must have some secret wisdom that makes me different to everyone else, because no ordinary person could have done this. 

But I do not believe this is true. Perhaps the only advantage I have is that I’ve come far enough on my journey to not be afraid of failing, to not be scared to look like a fool and to very honestly not give a fk what anyone thinks of me. And that really helps when taking risks, because it removes a lot of the fear factor – “But what will people think of me if I fail?” – this isn’t part of the equation anymore.

I’m not afraid to be in an uncomfortable place, because being in that discomfort and really living it – those moments are so good for us. Being put in the public eye was actually a massive fear for me. But what was the alternative? Let my business die a slow death?

If I told you that during my school days I was so embarrassed to stand up in front of the class to do an oral, or even raise my hand to speak to a teacher, but then you heard me being assertive and calm on live radio / tv interviews during the Woolies ordeal – you would not think it’s the same person. That doesn’t mean I wasn’t scared as hell at the time, I was shaking – I just wasn’t scared to be scared. Because ‘scared’ is just a feeling and a moment in time and it will pass and you will be okay. 

The difference between that school girl and me today, is that today I don’t let fear paralyze me as it used to. So how do you do that?

How do you stop fear from paralyzing you?

By realizing that a situation is bigger than just you. It’s much easier to stand up for others than it is to stand up for yourself. I don’t actually NEED Ubuntu Baba. Yes I made it and I love it with all my heart, but I could make something else and start again – I’ve done it many times before. But what about the people who work for me? It would not be anywhere near as easy for them.

This fight had nothing to do with me – and that’s what made it easier to fight. I was also doing it for all the other entrepreneurs who have been scared to stand up against these corporate bullies, because I realized how many of them there were.

You can do it too, and you don’t need to follow any step-by-step formula or any rules on how to do it (all you need to know is – be kind, and don’t be a dick – coz that always backfires).

I managed to do things the way I did with Woolworths, because I had nothing to fear, except fear. I did not view them as “a corporate”, I viewed them as other people, because that is all they are – the same as you and me.

Some tips for letting go of fear

I think this is really the essence of what I want to share with you. I don’t know why we separate business into a different category from life, because business is life, but this is how I’ve learnt to start letting go of my fears in life and business:

  • By saying sorry when sorry was needed.
  • By saying NO when people treated me or others unfairly.
  • By telling the truth about what I did and didn’t know and not being afraid to look stupid.
  • By not faking it ’til I made it but by saying give me a chance and I’ll show you.
  • By saying thank you and giving hugs.
  • By having massive gratitude.
  • By being my own biggest supporter when nobody else believed in me.
  • By doing stupid things.
  • By asking dumb questions.
  • By working late nights.
  • By being depressed and not working for months.
  • By going for walks and clearing my head.
  • By being unapologetically me and then realizing that we are all human and sometimes we get it right and sometimes we get it wrong. (note to whoever copied me at Woolworths – you got it wrong, but that’s okay, thank you for bringing me to here.)

We are living in an epidemic of unethical behaviour, and we have to take risks and stand up for what we feel is right and wrong if we’re going to get anywhere as human beings on this planet.


Advice for when you get it right

But when you get it right – be ready, because others will raise you to pedestal level, because being right means you’re different and they need to hear your story to acquire your knowledge. And the pressure to tell that story is immense because now you need to tell them something groundbreaking and help them – and… can you feel your fear?

Standing up for what you believe in is scary, but you won’t die. I mean I even feel a bit dumb putting this blog post out there – because it feels like I’m giving you nothing at all.

But once I hit publish, it’s the internet’s to do with what it will (like your own story) and I release all the fear because I have a life to live outside of this little backlit screen. If someone finds it interesting they’ll read it and hopefully share it, if they don’t they’ll move on, if they’re a troll, they’ll leave a rude comment – either way, I’m okay with it, and if you’re going to put yourself out there, you need to be too.

You don’t need my step by step formula or permission – you need to be willing to take a risk and trust yourself for your next move.

You need to be willing to know that you might lose everything and they might be able to continue stealing your product legally and there might be nothing you can do about it, or maybe there is – because millennials, and Twitter and Facebook and good energy surrounding your good business, and as Seth Godin says “people like us to do things like this”. And maybe – just maybe, the tables will turn on them.

But… it doesn’t matter, what matters is that if you do it, you will learn something.

Because something painful can teach you something beautiful and the contrast of that experience could elevate you onto a path you could never could have imagined – and that dear friend, could be so great. (if you’ve got this far I consider you a friend, coz you’re clearly interested in the steam train of thoughts that go on inside my head!)

So here’s a little formula anyway, I hope it helps you! xx

  1. Write it all down. Everything. In order of events, to help get your timeline and facts correct.
  2. Send it all to a lawyer for their professional advice.
  3. Be open to all the infinite possibilities that lie ahead…

PS: It’s much more fun on this side of fear I promise, if you haven’t tried it yet, you totally should.

PPS: I seem to have developed a reputation as “the Woolworths lady”… I’d like to politely request to be referred to as “the Ubuntu Baba lady” from now on 😉

6 Comments

  • Lee

    Dear Shannon
    Don’t underestimate how important a role model you are! Thank you for your very clear thoughts and vision on your blog. As a social entrepreneur taking my first baby steps I’ve learnt a fortune from witnessing your journey and have been inspired to meet with your IP lawyers….who our enterprise can’t yet afford, but with whom I hope we’ll end up having a long and fruitful relationship. You might be interested to know that you’ve always been The Ubuntu Baba lady for us – Woolies is a big impersonal corporate and just one of many which knowingly or unknowingly tread on small businesses. The essence of your business is what shines through!

  • Andeline Williams-Pretorius

    Thank you so much for this, Shannon. I am one of those who asked how you did it – go viral; and you were kind enough to respond to my email.
    I guess I need to buckle up for my journey ahead. Your blog post is indeed very helpful. Will share on my FB-wall.

    Thanks again – God bless you.

    Andeline.

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