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Lessons Learnt

Talk About Been There Done That: From Advertising To The T-Shirt Business

Here are 9 tips for turning a dying business into a profitable one.

Ben Wren




You didn’t think an ad agency could run a t-shirt company.

But, as a veteran of the communications industry, I’m now the part-owner of Been There Done That, a B2B supplier of t-shirts with eye-catching designs. Until we took over, Been There Done That was running at a loss. In 3 months, it’s turning over a healthy profit.

We handle the design, manufacture the t-shirts and then deliver them to our clients: Boutique retailers with nationwide reach.

Been There Done That has broadened my education. It’s forced me to understand the value chain of a good company. The business is as far removed from the communications landscape as you can get – and yet it’s not.

To transform the business, we’ve kept it simple, cut the fat and employed elementary business practices that should be reinforced for every entrepreneur.

Related: 7 Business Tips From The 3 Way Marketing Group Founders

Here’s what I’ve learnt.

Reduce overheads


Overheads throttle you. Before we took over, Been There Done That was paying through the roof for salaries, rented space, parking and non-essential amenities.

We cut non-essential staff and dropped the rent by moving to the Inner City Ideas Cartel in the Cape Town CBD. The space looks good to clients, but it’s also cost-effective, and bundles all your amenities together in one attractive package.

Concentrate on what you’re good at

It’s tempting to try and do everything yourself, but that makes you lose focus and slow down. Plus, we’re only really good at one or two things. Stick to them.

Running Been There Done That, I knew I’d be wasting my time if I tried to do everything. We plugged in talent from Area 213 (my advertising agency) and our trusted partners. New talent filled the gaps.

Keep it simple

Our dream is to one day launch Been There Done That as a brand. But we realised very quickly that the company was fulfilling a niche as a B2B entity. As a B2C brand, it was going to struggle.

So we focused on the B2B business, growing it as best we can, and shelved the B2C dream until we knew we could dedicate the resources to make a success of it. The upshot? Diversifying a business too quickly can kill it.

Related: Make A Distinctive Impression With House Of Janine

Build up relationships


I realised right away that the suppliers and the clients hadn’t been serviced properly, and a lot of them were dropping us because our designs got stale.

I corrected that by simply picking up the phone and rebuilding a rapport with them. I brought a new designer on board, and made sure that we fed a steady stream of new designs weekly to our retailers.

Good people are crucial in any business

Get the right people on board, and give them a key stake in the business.

With Been There Done That, our designer boasts extensive experience. We can’t afford to pay him a salary he deserves, so we’ve given him equity in the company instead.

Incentivising people properly is crucial in getting the best out of them. Find a way to make it work.

Sort out the supply chain

No matter what industry you’re in, speed is everything. When we took charge, t-shirts were taking 4 weeks to be produced. One client told us he would increase the quantities he ordered tenfold if we could deliver in 5 days. We now deliver in 5 days.

Get financial terms right

Sometimes, you need to the confidence to raise your price. Been There Done That was losing massive amounts of margin because the price of t-shirts hadn’t gone up in years – all because no one had the confidence to raise it.

Worse, the company was being held to ransom by unreasonable financial demands and being squeezed by both the clients and the suppliers. All the risk was sitting with us. Payment to suppliers was made in cash and clients had us on 30 days plus. I negotiated better credit terms with our suppliers, rose our quantities, secured discounts and raised our price.

Related: Never Go Out Of Style

Do your market research

One of the reasons I had the confidence to hike up the price was because market research demonstrated that we were far cheaper than the competition. Even with our price increase we are extremely competitive.

Do your research properly and you’ll secure yourself a proper bargaining position.

Grow slowly but methodically

Down the line, the dream is to launch the brand as an online retailer for high-end t-shirts with eye-catching designs. But we’re not there yet, and it’d be a mistake to try and scale it too quickly. We’ve been focusing on sorting out all the operational stuff first – and that’s key.

With a career spanning over twenty years, starting in London and now in Cape Town, Ben Wren has been fortunate enough to work with some of the best clients in world. These include: Nike (W+K London), Microsoft (Euro RSCG London), Coco Cola (60 Layers of Cake South Africa), Windhoek Lager (The Jupiter Drawing Room Cape Town) and Diageo (Isobar South Africa). Last year, he put his experience to good use by embracing entrepreneurship and starting his own venture: Area 213 Communications & Area 213 International.

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Lessons Learnt

7 Cannabis Industry Millionaires Making It Big In The Marijuana Business

These entrepreneurs have capitalised on a new market set to continue to grow rapidly as more countries legalise marijuana across the world.

Catherine Bristow



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1. Brendan Kennedy


Brendan Kennedy worked on job sites as a carpenter to pay his way through university, with his eyes set firmly on becoming an architect, until the allure of Silicon Valley changed the course of his direction. While working at technology start-ups Kennedy began thinking about the possibilities that medical marijuana provided.

“I was really sceptical of medical cannabis,” he says. “It took a year of having conversations with patients and physicians and hearing the same story, repackaged but essentially the same, over and over and over again, where my scepticism eroded and I became a believer.”

In 2013, Kennedy and his partners applied for a licence from Health Canada and launched Lafitte Ventures, which was later renamed Tilray. Today, the company is a global leader in medical cannabis research, cultivation, processing and distribution.

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Lessons Learnt

Scaleup Learnings From Our Top Clients – What The Most Successful Entrepreneurs Do Right

So, how do our successful clients move through these constraints to scaling up? We see four key drivers of success, and they are: people, strategy, flawless execution and finance.

Louw Barnardt




You’re out of your start-up boots, staff is increasing, your client base is growing, revenue is up and you’ve proven your case to the market. Now it’s time to scale up. The challenges of this vital growth phase are different and it’s a time that demands different mindsets and different actions. In a world littered with small business failures, it helps to be well-prepared for scaling up using a proven methodology. At Outsourced CFO, we get an inside look at the success factors of our clients who are mastering the transition.

On the one hand, scaling up is a really exciting phase; this is what moves you into real job creation and making an impactful contribution to economic growth. On the other hand, it is really hard to scale up successfully. We see three major constraints that limit companies’ transition from start-up to scale-up:


The business has to have the leadership that can take it to the next level. When you start scaling up, especially rapidly, the founders can no longer do everything themselves. The team must grow and include new leadership talent that can take charge and execute so that the founders are working on the business instead of in the business.


The processes, procedures, networks, systems and workflows of the business all need to be scalable. This is imperative when it comes to your infrastructure for the financial management of your business. You’re only ready for growth when your infrastructure can seamlessly keep pace.

Market access

Scaling up demands more innovative marketing and storytelling so that you can more easily connect and engage with the new employees, clients, network partners, investors and mentors that need to come along with you on your scale-up journey.

Businesses that build a market conversation and a compelling brand narrative during their start-up phase are better positioned to have this kind of market access when they need to scale up.


It is critical to have the right people on your team. Our successful entrepreneurs have what it takes to attract, inspire and retain top talent. A strong team of smart, ambitious and purpose-driven people who love the company and want to see it succeed contribute greatly to a world class company culture. They are adept at communicating a compelling vision and establishing core values that people can take on. These entrepreneurs are tuned into the aspirations of their people and focus on developing leaders in their teams who can in turn develop more leaders.


It is planning that ensures that the right things are happening at the right times. At successful scale-ups strategies and action plans are devised to ensure that the most important thing always remains the most important thing.

Strategy includes input from all team members and setting of good priorities for the short, medium and long term. Goals are clear and everyone always knows what they are working towards. The needle is continuously moved because 90-day action plans are implemented each quarter to achieve targets and goals that are over and above people doing their daily jobs.

Flawless execution

Top entrepreneurs are not just focused on what operations need to achieve, but how the business operates. They have the right procedures, processes and tools in place so that everyone can deliver along the line on the company’s brand promise. Frequent, quick successive meetings ensure the rapid flow of effective communication. Problems are solved without drama. There is no chaos in the office environment. Everyone is empowered to execute flawlessly to an array of consistently happy clients.


Everyone knows that growth burns cash. A rapidly scaling business faces the challenge of needing a scalable financial infrastructure to keep the company healthy. Our successful entrepreneurs pay close attention to finance as the heartbeat of the business, ensuring that everything else functions. They look at the tech they are using for financial management and for the ways that their financial systems can be automated so that they can be brought rapidly to scale. The capital to grow is another vital finance issue.

The best way to finance a business is through paying clients on the shortest possible cash flow cycle. However, when you are scaling up and making heavier investments in the resources you need for growth, it is likely that you will need a workable plan for raising capital. Our scale-up clients know the value of accessing innovative financial management that provides high level services to drive their business growth.

Navigating the scale-up journey of a growing private company is one of the hardest but most rewarding of careers to pursue. Having people in your corner who have been through this journey before helps take a lot of pain out of the process. No growth journey looks the same, but there are tried and tested methods that will – if applied diligently – lead to definite success. Happy scaling!

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Lessons Learnt

That Time Jeff Bezos Was The Stupidest Person In The Room

Everyone can benefit from simple advice, no matter who they are.

Gene Marks




When you think of Jeff Bezos, a lot of things probably come to your mind.

You likely think of, a company he founded more than twenty years ago, that’s completely disrupted retail and online commerce as we know it. You probably also think of his entrepreneurial genius. Or the immense wealth that he’s built for himself and others. You may also think of drones, Alexa and same-day delivery. Bezos is a visionary, an entrepreneur, a cutthroat competitor and a game changer. He’s unquestionably a very, very smart man. But sometimes, he can be…well…stupid, too.

Like that time back in 1995.

That was when Amazon was just a startup operating from a 2,000 square foot basement in Seattle. During that period, Bezos and most of the handful of employees working for him had other day jobs. They gathered in the office after hours to print and pack up the orders that their fast-growing bookselling site was receiving each day from around the world. It was tough, grueling work.

The company at the time, according to a speech Bezos gave, had no real organisation or distribution. Worse yet, the process of filling orders was physically demanding.

“We were packing on our hands and knees on a hard concrete floor,” Bezos recalled. “I said to the person next to me ‘this packing is killing me! My back hurts, it’s killing my knees’ and the person said ‘yeah, I know what you mean.'”

Related: Jeff Bezos: 9 Remarkable Choices That Shaped The Richest Man In The World

Bezos, our hero, the entrepreneurial genius, the CEO of a now 600,000-employee company that’s worth around a trillion dollars and one of the richest men in the world today then came up with what he thought was a brilliant idea. “You know what we need,” he said to the employee as they packed boxes together. “What we need is…kneepads!”

The employee (Nicholas Lovejoy, who worked at Amazon for three years before founding his own philanthropic organisation financed by the millions he made from the company’s stock) looked at Bezos like he was — in Bezos’ words — the “stupidest guy in the room.”

“What we need, Jeff,” Lovejoy said, “are a few packing tables.” Duh.

So the next day Bezos – after acknowledging Lovejoy’s brilliance – bought a few inexpensive packing tables. The result? An almost immediate doubling in productivity. In his speech, Bezos said that the story is just one of many examples how Amazon built its customer-centered service culture from the company’s very early days. Perhaps that’s true. Then again, it could mean something else.

It could mean that sometimes, just sometimes, those successful, smart, wealthy and powerful people may not be as brilliant as you may think. Nor do they always have the right answers. Sometimes, just sometimes, they may actually be the stupidest guy in the room. So keep that in mind the next time you’re doing business with an intimidating customer, supplier or partner who appears to know it all. You might be the one with the brilliant idea.

This article was originally posted here on

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