One of my favorite movies (not that I have many) is one by Chris Rock called Top Five. By the end of the movie, Chris Rock and Rosario Dawson (one of my favorite actors!)list their top five rappers. Of course, there is a lot more that happens in the movie but I found the selection of the title and how it is interwoven in the movie quite brilliant. I first met my business partner Mutugi M’narobi about three years ago. With Heath Arensen, we then conceived the idea of starting a product design and development consulting firm. Three years later, I am transitioning away from an active role at Made by People. I will continue to support the firm strategically as a non-executive director.
First, why am I leaving?
It is not very common for founders to leave organizations they started especially this early. MADE is just three years but 2020 brought a lot of clarity both to me as an individual and as the CEO. We realized that we had to completely restructure the company to adjust to the new reality. Our model and cost structure were thoroughly exposed during the pandemic. However, it also helped us solidify our vision and strategy. In a shorter window, we understood what we should focus on. To help make this happen, I took the difficult decision of stepping away from an active role in the company and continuing to support it from the outside. The decision was also influenced by my desire to focus more on product and design roles. It is very hard to do this in a young company.
To sign out, I thought it would be a good idea to share my top five projects over the last three years. I had the opportunity to work with some amazing clients on interesting projects so choosing the top five was very very difficult. I chose to omit ongoing projects for now but, I will highlight them at end of this post. Let us dive in then!
#1. Takwimu as an Experience Designer
This was one of the first projects we took on at MADE and probably the one I was the most involved as an individual contributor. In collaboration with iHub and Africa Practice, we designed and implemented a new digital information service seeking to provide contextualized insights and visuals to storytellers allowing them to use data to tell stories better.
What I loved about this project was that it allowed us to use the ideal design process to conceptualize and implement it. I had the opportunity to conduct design research in Lagos and Abuja in Nigeria, Dakar (Senegal), and Dar es Salaam (Tanzania). Conducting research in Dakar was particularly interesting due to the language barrier and I won’t have pulled it off were it not with the support from YUX. From the design research exercise, I planned and ran a 5-day design sprint. It was one of the most intense design workshops I have run but it went really well. From there, I continued working with talented teams from Africa Practice and Code for Africa to take the platform to market. Takwimu is still looking to find a product/market fit. What we started out with has evolved significantly demonstrating the fact that design is not a linear process.
#2. Prosper as a Team Lead & Product Strategist
The thing I will miss the most about MADE is that I got the chance to work with brilliant entrepreneurs to bring their ideas to life. No one embodies this more than Topy Muga. I first met Topy in 2019 and her passion for mentorship and providing advice in an accessible and affordable manner was infectious. With a couple of friends, she had been running a paid in-person program allowing anyone to reach out to them for advice on different topics. Topy was then looking to leverage tech to scale the offering and make a bigger impact. The platform would allow advisors to sign up and be vetted and for anyone looking for advice to identify an advisor on the platform and book the session.
A lot of my work on this project was in the background. I was involved in the scoping phase, staffing, and providing product guidance during the implementation phase. Most of these activities don’t sound exciting but they are critical to project success. This role allowed me to take a step back and watch the project team work with limited support from me. The outcome truly speaks for itself! You can check out the project by going to the Prosper platform.
#3. ICRC as a Design Sprint Facilitator
If you have had the chance to interact with me you know how passionate I am about design. In March 2020, MADE had the chance to work with the ICRC Coms team to design an interaction model that would help them work better. I was the lead design sprint facilitator and planned and executed the workshop with Ngaira Brian, Liz Kagimbi, and Joy Wambui. The workshop was held in Nairobi and involved 50 participants drawn from different countries the organization operates. Over two days, we worked on the challenges the team faced and identified promising solutions. I then supported the team to pilot two of the solutions from the workshop. What I loved most about this engagement is that we went beyond the workshop into the implementation phase. It is very common for organizations to get excited about design workshops and less common for them to implement what was discussed. We were able to do this even with the challenge that was COVID.
#4. Epic Africa as a Product Designer and Team Lead
I vividly remember where I met Rose Maruru the first time. She reached out to me based on a referral (I can’t remember by whom) at the beginning of 2018. At that point, she was in Kenya for a short period before heading back to Senegal where she is based. We met at Ankole Grill and had a long chat about the impact they are trying to make with Epic Africa. Rose and her business partner Adwoa had worked in the impact sector for a while. They founded Epic Africa to increase philanthropic impact by filling critical data and capacity gaps in the philanthropic market infrastructure in Africa. To do this, they were going to shine the spotlight on the great work a lot of indigenous CSOs were doing by running a Pan African award program dubbed the African CSO Excellence Awards. When we met, they already had the first version of the platform but were not confident it would work for the breadth of users they were targeting. We planned three sets of usability studies to capture the different segments and before the end, the Epic Africa team knew they had to redesign the platform. They engaged MADE on this and in about two months we had the new version ready. We again planned three usability studies; one in Nairobi, another in Johannesburg, and the last in Dakar (YUX were our on-ground partner for Dakar). From the study, we made a few tweaks and went live.
So how did it all go after the platform went live? This is the most impressive part to me and speaks a lot to how strategic the team at Epic Africa is. Organizations primarily used the platform to evaluate themselves. In total, there were 972 registrations, 389 completed the first round, and 49 were shortlisted to the final round. Quite impressive for the first run and even better considering there was no cash price!
#5. Raise as a Team Lead & Product Strategist
I have known Eugene Mutai for a couple of years now. He was part of my team during the iHub Consulting days. A lot of the people I worked with then are now founders or in senior positions in some of the most promising startups in the continent. Eugene teamed up with Marvin Coleby to build Raise. Raise simplifies the fundraising process for founders, investors, and law firms across Africa. The long-term goal is to be Africa’s NASDAQ and knowing the team at Raise I am confident they will achieve this. Being a product in the financial space, the team at Raise had to make sure that it was intuitive and easy to use. Finance is a complex issue even for finance experts so for Raise the challenge was even harder because a lot of people without a financial background would be using the platform. We worked with the team at Raise to conceptualize and implement the first version of the platform. I loved the synergy between the two teams and how we were able to pull in one direction. Working with Marvin and Eugene on the strategic components of the product was an immense pleasure. Identified the right team members and managing resourcing was an interesting task for me but we pulled it off. The vision of the team at Raise is coming in place now and I can’t wait to see what they will achieve!
In the pipeline
It was a difficult task choosing what I consider my top five and I believe I have left out a lot of interesting work I did the last three years. I hope I will get the chance to talk more about this a bit later. I intentionally didn’t include ongoing projects but I am sure I will talk about them at some point down the line.