Business

My experience at the #WeAreSME event

Have you ever found yourself in a situation where once you got there, you thought to yourself, “what the actual f**k am I doing here and how do I get out of this?” Well that’s how I felt sitting in the front row of the Montecasino movie theatre in JHB, as they opened the doors to the #WeAreSME event and allowed 600 people to follow in and grab their seats behind me.

First up on the stage was… me. I’d be talking to Marnus Broodryk, that guy from Shark Tank South Africa, about my recent adventure with Woolworths. Just 6 weeks had passed and here I was about to share the experience with 600 people.

It all kind of felt like a dream. People sitting next to me in the front row tried to talk to me before I went up, like “How are you feeling? Are you nervous?” “Nah I’m good…” I replied, as I stuck my back into the (very comfy) chair and crouched down lower so that I could pretend their was no-one else behind us, let alone 600 people. 

In comes Musa Kalenga, Dawn Nathan Jones and Pepe Marais… just some really cool and famous people who were up to speak after me. Oh dear. WHY am I here again? I should totally be one row back taking photos, using the hashtags, posting photos to Instagram trying to win their books. I’m so out of my league.

But there’s my name, on the big screen, and I’m not joking it was one large screen. Like the biggest one you’ve ever seen in your life.


And wait for it… there’s my face, about a million times larger than life. Holy shit kill me now, and there he said it on the microphone and now I have to make my body physically move off this chair and walk up on stage. And go.

Marnus Broodryk, that guy from Shark Tank, welcomes me on stage with a big hug and a smile and all of a sudden I realize that it’s actually okay and that I’ve got this. Behind all the labels and famous titles, we’re all just human beings, having human conversations about life and some stuff that went down.

And what’s the point of all of this? To perhaps help one of the other humans sitting in the audience to not have to go through the same experience that I did. Well that’s cool. That’s actually very comforting to know that these humans are here to learn and grow and I am able to maybe help them.


Musa Kalenga on being human. ❤️

Our chat was short and sweet and as the minutes rolled by and my time was up, I got super comfortable up there and thought, I could totally get used to this! Maybe it was the fact that the lights were on us and I couldn’t actually see the audience, maybe it was the fact that it felt like the closing of 6 weeks of high anxiety and lack of sleep, or maybe and more likely, it was the energy that was being held in that room. 


“There is power in coming together” is something that Marnus always says and you could truly feel it at this event. This was a room full of positivity, drive, passion and support for one another.


Dawn Nathan Jones on coming together.

Everyone wanting everyone else to succeed and move forward, along with amazing speakers who were so authentic and willing to share their most profound discoveries with the audience. They all stayed behind afterwards and had no problem chatting one on one with anyone and everyone and it made them seem so real and approachable, human like you and I.


Pepe Marais, author of Growing Greatness

I think we add so much stuff to people and things in our minds, to put them on pedestals and make them unapproachable, when really they aren’t like that at all.

That’s why I found it kind of un-intimidating going up against this ‘big retail giant’. Because I used to put them on a pedestal, when I loved and respected them for their good business journey, but then, they messed up. I gave them an opportunity to get human with me, and they chose not to.

And that was the theme throughout the #WeAreSME event – “act like a human, think like a brand.” And the best part, was that it was totally co-incidental. None of the speakers had collaborated on that topic, it just happened naturally. Because that’s where we’re at today in 2019.


Musa Kalenga

It’s okay to make mistakes, it’s okay to screw up, badly even, but it’s not okay to not be human about it. Not anymore.


The chat between Marnus and I will soon be available as a podcast on his new show ‘Making SMEs matter‘ on iTunes, so make sure to subscribe! As our time on stage was short and I couldn’t answer all the questions that came through, I’ve requested them from the sme.africa team and answered some of them here for you below, you can scroll down to read.


A very special thanks to Marnus for supporting me all the way and for creating the #WeAreSME event – we’re really looking forward to the Cape Town chapter!

Your ability to track the original orders placed and have all those details are really impressive. What advice do you have for SMEs on record keeping and specifically customers info?

Make sure to use a decent e-commerce platform and that should take care of all of that for you. We use WooCommerce which I love, and I’ve heard Shopify is very cool too.

Was there ever a time where you thought it would be a lost cause to take on Woolworths?

No. I knew how specifically they would have had to study my product and brand to do what they did, and I knew the public would see that when they saw my blog post. You know when something is intentional and when it’s an honest mistake.

How long did it take to get where you wanted to be in your business?

That’s a difficult question because I never really set out with a specific end goal in mind. I can’t say that today I’m ‘where I want to be’ with my business, but I’m happy with our growth and trajectory thus far. The fun is in the journey, the day to day tasks, dealing with your team and customers – if I can enjoy that stuff, then that’s where I want to be. Setting and trying to reach BIG goals, often lead to BIG disappointments. Not that goals aren’t important, but I prefer to look at them as desires and leave space to pivot if different opportunities arise. A great book for further reading on this is The Desire Map by Danielle LaPorte.

How long did you take in preparing the initial letter you published online?

I did answer this on stage, but wanted to elaborate here. In total it took me about 8 hours of iterations before pressing publish. I wrote it over a 3 week period with many ups and downs between my lawyers reading the post and giving their thoughts, and then me making my changes. I got friends and family to read it, watched their reactions and listened to their feedback, much like creating a product really 🙂

What are you plans for the future of the business now that the Woolworths saga is behind you and where would you like the business to be in the short to medium term?

I’m going to go back to what I originally had planned for this year, which is to turn my business into a well oiled machine, get processes and systems setup that will help us to automate more procedures and protect the business in the long term. My ongoing goal is to continue to create a sustainable business that grows positively year on year and continues to serve our customers with as much authenticity and love as possible, while being able to give back and use some of our profits to improve the lives of those less fortunate.

I was wondering if Woolies was a sponsor because of the Woolies packet on the table, the Woolies banner in the photo where Marnus shows the message “don’t kill SME’s” 😉

Haha, well like I said I’m not boycotting… there are many things that Woolies get right, we’re all human, and we all make mistakes, hopefully this is one they can learn from. Third time lucky 😉

Do you think that this situation has made other retailers weary of trying something similar in their own industries?

I’m sure this happens all over the show, but I’ve never heard of another retailer that has created such a repetitive trail. I’m sure that many lessons have been learned by big corporates realizing that social media can have a powerful voice, and as well by SMEs – that they do have a choice to stand up and be heard.

6 Comments

  • Jason

    Thank you for sharing, Shannon.

    My friend and I also attended the event and quite enjoyed your engagement at the event, and naturally the event as a whole! 🙂 thank you for your contribution.

    A conversation that sparked between us, following your segment, was centred around “how soon” one should have legal representation “on retainer” and the sort…

    We were wondering whether you’d care to share your insights on:
    1. When did you get your lawyers involved/since when have you had “lawyers on retainer”?
    2. When should an SME consider having their own dedicated lawyer on retainer?

    Wishing you well and thanking you for your contribution to the community 🙂

    • Shannon Mary Mac

      Oh cool so glad you enjoyed it Jason. So I don’t have lawyers on a retainer, that would probably be really expensive for a small business. I didn’t have any legal representation before the Woolworths event, so as soon as I was fully aware of the situation, I went looking for the right lawyers, and landed on Kisch IP as the attorneys who I worked with. I will keep them as my IP lawyers now and call on them when necessary but won’t have them on a retainer as I assume that would be unnecessary at this point in my business and really expensive.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *