Product Management

October 19, 2022

Being a Product Manager in Africa

Chat with Precious Karibo, Senior PM at Kwara

Transcript

Ayush

Hey everyone.

Today we have with us Precious Karibo who is a product manager based in Kenya. He works at a company called Kwara. 

So, we're going to be talking to him about everything;  about being a product manager in Africa and also how he started his journey and some tips for you guys as you start building your product management career.

So, Precious, welcome to Entrylevel. 

Precious

Thank you. Thank you for having me.

Ayush

Awesome.

Let's kick off by just learning a little bit more about what you do; what is your role at Kwara and what does the company do as well?

Precious

Okay, currently I am the product lead for the Quora new bank application. 

So, basically what we do at Quora is; first things first, we believe that the best way to drive financial wealth is through credit unions.

For the context of Kenya, they are called circles. And then, because we strongly believe that we are in a business or basically, we are technology partners for credit unions, we serve about 800 credit unions in this space.

We provide a core banking solution that allows them to bank their customers digitally in-branch and take a step further beyond allowing these circles or credit unions to bank the customers in-branch. We take a step further to allow their customers to interact and enjoy or consume their credit union offerings through a member or user-facing application, which is what I manage, basically.

So our member-facing applications cut across mobile apps (iOS, Android), web apps and USSD.

So that's basically what we do in our shop. So we basically sell the credit union space end to end, providing value to the credit unions all the way to young members. 

Ayush

Awesome. That's very exciting.

And fintech is a growing field all over the world, in Africa specifically speaking as well, so that's very exciting.

We would love to hear a little bit more about your personal story. So, how did you get started in this role and what were you doing before as well before you started as a product manager?

Precious

The funny thing is that I actually started my professional career as product manager.

I was a co-founder of a startup in Nigeria where we are trying to solve the problem of very expensive digital outdoor advertising. So, in the process of founding this company where I wore like a million and one hats, one of the hats I wore was the hat of a product manager. Unfortunately, like most startups, she died quickly.

I did a few other startups post-that; they died also. Then I went over to the so-called tax-side and joined a bank in Nigeria where I grew into a product management role at that bank.

So, that was how my journey basically started from me trying to fix problems that I felt were very important to going to join much bigger institutions, traditional banks to become a product manager and the rest is history.

Ayush

Awesome.

So you've been a founder as well?

Precious

Yeah. 

Ayush

I guess that part of the role of founders, especially in the startup world, is also similar to product managers because they work with product managers. Or if it's an early startup, they act as product managers to decide what's going to be on the product; what features to build and how to proceed with the roadmap.

Precious

Yeah, actually that's super accurate because in the end, the product manager is err… I'm sure what most people who will watch this video see online; the product manager is the intersection between everything.

Basically he's the voice of the business in the midst of the entire engineering team and a;; the other stakeholders. 

Actually, they are the voice of the business/the customer.

Your job is to be the custodian of the business goals and the customer's goals at the same time while you manage every single stakeholder to help you achieve those goals.

So, yeah it's very similar to a startup CEO or whatever role you have at the early stages of the startup.

Ayush

That's a great point.

Product managers are the voice of the business plus also the voice of the customer. I think I'm going to write that down.

Awesome.

I'd like to hear more about what a day in your life looks like as a product manager.

So on average, what do you do?

Precious

Where do I start? Um, so basically…

Ayush

A day is maybe too simple for a product manager. What are the days in the week like?

Over the week on average, what are the different things that you might be doing?

Precious

That sounds good.

That's what I can actually think about. Right.

For me, it would be obsessing about the roadmap, obsessing about what's currently being built, obsessing about the business objective, obsessing about how users are currently using the product.

I'll give you an example.

A perfect day for me would be, I guess, when I wake up in the morning and get to the office, the first thing I do is I pull up my dashboard and look at all the metrics.

That's usually the first thing I do. It gives me information, it tells me what's happening.

Are they using floaters well? 

Is it going up?

Is it going down?

Why's it going down? 

Maybe I don’t get the insights on that particular day, but look at it long enough, you begin to see trends.Begin to ask yourself why things are going up or things are going down.

And then you obviously go into the typical rituals with your engineering team, your stand ups; make sure that the sprint goals that you have set are still on track.

For me, for my role it’s a bit of both of them in the sense that I am with the engineering team every single day, helping them, giving them clarity on what they need to build.

Also I'm with the business team every single day making sure that I’m able to translate business problems to customer solutions; e.g., we want to reduce, say, we want to increase retention. That's a business objective. But what does it mean for the customer? Right?

Or we want to drive revenue. That's a business objective, but what does it mean for the customer?

So I need to always be in the middle of engineering, the business, all the business operations and functions, just to make sure that I have a rounded view of my product and I can properly stay the way it needs to get to.

Ayush

Exciting.

Precious

So, in a nutshell, a million and one meetings, speaking to everybody from external stakeholders to the users, to all internal stakeholders using your product.

Ayush

Thank you for sharing that.

And in your journey with Kwara and your previous roles as well, what are some of your favorite features or products that you worked on

Precious

It’s like… I guess it’s like asking a father, “which is your favorite child”.

Every product I’ve worked on is unique in its own very special way. I can start from my experience working at Access Bank. Some people might recognize that name in this video. 

I worked with Access Bank; I was a product manager for our credit card. 

So as a product manager for the credit card, we had built a first of its kind… I don’t think anybody has built that till date. It was basically a withdrawal card; basically a card that allows a customer to have a debit card and a credit card in one classic card.

That was a very unique solution that we had to build, so, that's a very special thing to me because blood and sweat went into building that product. And I could literally also see real lives that were changed because of the fact that we put in all that effort and energy to get that product.

Then I moved over to FairMoney, which is a Digital Bank in Nigeria and also India, where I was product manager for debit cards. So, at the time I joined FairMoney, we had no payment solution whatsoever, especially for card payment solutions.

At Access Bank, I was managing one of the largest card portfolios.So our building and managing one of the largest card portfolios. Meanwhile, at Family we had nothing, so I had to build it from scratch. Building that from scratch, that's a very special thing to me, right.

I had managed the big guys, but now I built the small guys from the ground up.

And then moving over to Kwara where I’m the product lead for the new bank; for the credit union where what you're trying to solve particularly is creating seamless access to credit unions and seamless access for every single body that wants to grow their financial health in… grow financially in a very healthy way through credit unions.

So basically creating the gateway that anybody can join the Kwara application, find any credit union, and begin to see it almost immediately, right?

That's a very special project to me.

I also believe that—I stand corrected—nobody in this market has done or is doing (or I think will be doing anytime soon) what we are about to achieve.

So every single product comes with its own unique issues that are problems that you have to solve. And then in the process of solving problems, it makes each one special, so I don't think I can say everything, right? Because I mentioned three different companies I've worked in and for every single product that we built, there were special features in every single product.

And there will always be that thing that seems impossible for you to figure out some very crazy solution that allows you to pull things together and get it done. And then when you get it done and you cross that bridge, you’re like * gasp*! You wonder how you built that thing.

A lot of people don’t take a peek under the hood to see all the moving parts, that brings those things to life, right?

I feel like that’s what makes the product special, not what we see or what we experience. It's those tiny things under the hood that we never get to see.

Ayush

Right. Seems like your previous products and the features that you work on; everything is all related to fintech and finance.

What excites you about this space? What do you enjoy about working in the fintech space?

Precious

I mean, Money. I just like seeing money.

Yeah, I’d say it was an acquired taste. I wouldn't say it's something that I always thought about, that I wanted to do. I found myself in the bank and I was a product manager in the bank, so I had to do banking solutions and then you just go from there.

But what really, for me, is an acquired taste now I have a strong rapport for this space. What I'd say excites me the most about this space (especially the African space) is the endless possibilities.

There are so many solutions that haven't been built, so many problems to fix. In the end, also, there is never always a very complicated solution. Sometimes it's just this very simple-looking solution that gets the jobs done. So what excites me in this space is that I can actually see the products I build and how it directly impacts the lives of people financially. I have stories for this but yeah, this is what excites me about it, aside the money.

Ayush

So when you're launching new features or products and there are a lot of things involved in the product management, the process to launch either a feature or a product; it can be quite long depending on how intricate the feature is. And product managers work closely with a lot of different departments. They could be the design department, they could be the developers and also like working with the management of the company. 

What skills help you collaborate well with colleagues from different departments?

And what would you suggest the skills that people should build to be able to work collaboratively with others?

Precious

If I just put everything in a nutshell, it’ll be just two things; 

One piece is communication; to be very good at communicating, communicating goodwill;  passing information that people understand exactly the way you want it to be understood and hearing exactly what the stakeholders are saying in the exact same way it was to be understood with maybe subtle differences. You need to be able to properly communicate both ways. 

That’s one.

The second thing would be a very in-depth business acumen, right?

What that means is that as a product manager, it's not enough to just know your space, your own product or your features, whatever, depending on the company. You usually have that feature you’re building that does anything, but you don't know any other thing about the company. Knowing every single business unit and how it impacts your product allows you to properly scope all the stakeholders that will be impacted by the product in order for you to… 

From the beginning, right…There's a problem you’ve been tasked to solve. As you craft the solution to this problem (because obviously it solves the business need and as the user’s need), because you know every single stakeholder needs to be involved in this project (or this product or this feature), you can carry everybody along from the moment the solution is being born to the time it's ready to ship.

So that way everybody is aware, everybody is carried along, everybody knows how to pass their own arm of the business. Everybody is ready to accommodate that product when it’s finally launched. So those two things; communication (two ways) and proper business acumen in the sense that you understand your company enough to know how your product impacts the entire company and how the entire company impacts your product. 

Ayush

Right. Communication, and listening as well, which is part of communication? 

Precious

Yes.

Ayush

What about having technical knowledge as a product manager? Does that… It's of course good to have technical knowledge, but if someone is getting started in the field and transitioning from, let's say more of a business side or a marketing site to product manager, how important is it to have strong technical knowledge? So, like about coding and development and all those things, and how should one emphasize this?

Precious

How important is it to have technical skills as a product manager? Honestly, I would say it’s a 3. Maybe a 4. And my reason for saying it’s a 4 is because a product manager is an engineer. You're supposed to have a clear understanding of the how so that you can help the engineers execute exactly the way it's meant to be executed.

But your job is the ‘why’ we solve the business end of things. Your job is more the ‘why’ for the business and the user. 

So I would say it’s a 3 because in the end… maybe leave it at a 4 because in the end you need to really know your product and then if it means diving into the code and looking at every single line of code then you need to do that.

But I don't think it's a requirement for you to become a product manager. Why I say that is also because what you need as a product manager, more than technical skills, is hunger.. You need to be hungry enough to want to learn. If you have the business acumen, you understand the business and how your product impacts the business or how your product can help the business grow, every other thing can be learned.

You can learn all the technical languages, you can learn APIs, endpoints, you can learn all those things. It doesn't take so much to learn it.

Ayush

Alright. 

Since you're talking about technical knowledge, let's talk a little bit about the tools that the product manager might use in their day-to-day lives. There’s so many softwares out there these days. What are some tools that you use on a daily basis to collaborate with your team or to manage your roadmaps and to check your metrics?

What are some tools that you use?

Precious

Honestly, I’ve never been a big fan of putting progress in a box as regards tools; saying you must use Jira or you must use a specific tool. I’ve never been a fan of that because in the end, it's the outcome, not the process.

Normal promises that are focused on the process, not the outcome. The process could… not could, it should evolve depending on your team and what you want to achieve.

That's a different conversation altogether. But with regards to what tools; for documentation, I personally prefer Notion; it’s a personal preference. You could use any tool of your choice. I use Notion for documenting everything inclusive of my roadmap, right?

And then when it gets to the point where I have that feature or that ethic is evolving to different features that needs to be estimated and prepared to go into the sprint, then I moved— in Kwara we use Shortcut, we don't use Jira—it to Shortcut.

I have used Jira also in a previous company, but here I use Jira (*Shortcut). Like I said, the tool is not important, you just get to figure out what tool they use in that company and then you adapt to that.

So we use Shortcut to manage engineering tickets and development sites.Whereas I use Notion for all things documentation. Now, for analytics, right now I use Tableau, Metabiz, for static data and then I use Mixpanel for dynamic data because with Mixpanel I can map things like user journey. Basically map user journey, I can see real time events as they happen. You could still see them on Metabis, but it’s more real-time with Mixpane.

There are some things you want to see as they happen real-time; especially if we launch a new product, you want to monitor it live, you want to see everything happening. You don't want 1 hour or 2 hours lag; you want it happening.

And then after a while, you can evolve to maybe 6 hours lag or the lag depending on your expenses on the analytics website.

For wireframing, I’m not so particular. I use Whimsical, I use Google Flow, I've used Figma. So, I’m not particular about the specific tool I use for wireframing.

Ayush

Awesome. We use Notion a lot as well. 

I think I spend most of my time working on Notion, just documenting stuff and creating new stuff. 

Precious

Notion is the best. I don't think I can go to any company and not tell them—force them, actuallyto use Notion.

Ayush

Yeah, and the shortcut, I mean, you can automate a lot of things with Notion as well and connect it  with Slack. So, it makes a lot of processes very easy. A lot of our students start with a couple of things.

One is understanding how to build MVPs, especially when they're doing projects, like doing the portfolio tasks. When they don't work for a company, but they're trying to build a portfolio, maybe do some passion projects.

Can you just talk a little bit about your experience working and building MVPs and what they help you achieve?

Precious

Yeah, a few.

This is a very interesting topic because the concept of MVPs has been skewed a bit over a while. Also programming is a very relatively new space, so a lot of things are a little bit too shaky. 

For MVP. the way I see MVP is (of course, you know it as Minimum Viable Product)... I mostly see it as, “What's the problem you're trying to solve?” Then, what's the fastest, most reliable, most usable, most achievable thing you can build to solve that problem? Right?

That's how I see MVP.

It could be, for example, let's imagine you want to… There are lots of examples, but basically what is the smallest thing you can build to allow you to solve that problem. It doesn't have to be fancy because the goal of an MVP is; you have a problem—you think you have a solution—in the end you never know.

You think you have a solution, you have two choices; 

You can spend three months building a solution, four months building a solution, and find out that it's just not the right solution to have

Or you could find… what version can you have in the next, say, maybe one month, max, that will allow you to put it in the hands of a user.

It doesn't have to be pretty. Putting it in the hands of a user allows them to test and give you immediate feedback. The sooner you get feedback, the sooner you can iterate, the sooner you put the product in the right direction, so you know whether you're on the right track or not.

Another example would be; you want to move from point A to point B, right? An MVP would not be building a car (like a vehicle), right? An MVP could be a skateboard. Maybe not even a skateboard…. Yeah, a skateboard, flat board; four wheels, stand on it, move. Once you start moving, you can ask yourself how comfortable it is.

Maybe I want to go a little bit faster. Okay, what do I do?

Maybe I want a bit of comfort. What do I do?

Then you begin to evolve it to whatever it gets to. Right? A product manager kinda never knows where… You might know, but a lot of times you don't know where the product would end up.

The MVP allows you to give that product life so it can grow and have a life of its own and tell you what it wants to be.

Ayush

Amazing. I remember… I think I saw a graphic somewhere about that skateboard example where err… I'm just trying to find this.

One second. Maybe I'll share my screen so people can have a vision.

It's this one, right? 

Precious

Yes.

Ayush

Like thinking, having this mindset. You don't have to build the tires and get the car first, but going step-by-step from a skateboard to a scooter to a cycle and then moving there; it's just an example which can be used for software products.

Precious

I wouldn't even say it can, I would say it should always be used for software products just to make sure that… because I personally believe that failure is a huge part of our process.

The sooner you feel, the sooner you learn, the sooner you can evolve and move; course-correct. 

If you spend more time trying not to fail and you eventually still fail, you just wasted your time.

Ayush

Yeah, absolutely.

Learn to deal with failure and not get bogged down by failure, instead of using it as motivation to make better progress.

Great. So, next I'd like to hear your thoughts on the sort of prioritization that product managers use because it's considered as a key skill for PMs, especially because sometimes what can happen is; there can be a lot of features for a new product or a lot of ideas that the team has and trying to build everything can lead to scope creep since you're just trying to do a lot.

So it is important to prioritize things. What are your tips on prioritization and what should some people keep in mind when they are choosing, planning the roadmap and prioritizing their list?

Precious

So depending on what stage of the product you're in (the product cycle you’re in), if you are in the phase where you haven't built anything at all, you're trying to introduce something new and obviously MVP is the marker you're using to print as the benchmark of prioritization.

So the question you’re asking yourself at that point is; what are the set of features that I need to have for you to have an MVP obviously, right?

So first things first, we’ll use an analogy that we just explained earlier which is, you want to have the simplest question that solves the problem so you can begin to collect feedback.

So if you have that in your mind, what the simplest solution should look like then from all the things you need to have as an MVP. Now you've all begun that, now you've launched that, you've launched that MVP and that's beginning to mature.The product is beginning  to mature, you’ve gotten feedback and you’re evolving the product and you’re at the point where the product is now ripe. It's ripe for quarterly, say,  for example the company has a quarterly or happy year or full-year goal and, say, this year we want to grow user engagement by X or we want to grow revenue by X. 

As a product manager of that particular product, you begin to ask yourself… for example, if it is revenue, you begin to ask yourself what can you do, what problems can you solve for users? (Because in the end it has to be business and users) 

What problem can we solve for the users to allow us for the company's objective? You ask yourself that question hard enough with your team—it has to be with your team, you can’t do that alone.

You, everybody within your team ask that question; what are the things we can solve?

We dive into data, you ask/speak to your users, look at data, look at past experience and you ask yourself, “what are the things?”

You list them out and then at that point there are a bunch of two-by-two analyses you can do:

You can do SWOT; you can do Impact versus Effort; you could even go more advanced and begin to do things like Potter’s Law to allow you to understand that “these are the features that I want to have”, “what are the impacts of these features to my objective?”

And also the timeliness is also very important, so you ask yourself, “how much effort would I need to give this thing versus the impact it will have on my deliverables as it is tied to the company's deliverables.”

So that's how I look at prioritization. It feeds from what objectives are and it allows you to have a much clearer view on how the project is.

Ayush

Right. Thank you.

I'm sure it's going to help our students when they're working on the projects; when they come to the prioritization module.

Awesome, thanks so much, Precious, for all your answers. 

Now to start wrapping up, I would like to hear what tips you would have for someone…We have a lot of students from Africa, a lot of students from Nigeria and Africa as well. So, especially specific to this part of the world (continent), what tips would you have for someone who's trying to break into this field? 

Maybe what skills should they focus on or if it's their first entry into product management, how should they approach their job search and what should they do before?

Precious

This may sound very conventional, but it works for me…It worked for me at some point in my career.

Simplest advice, right? What space do you want to go into? X Space.

Maybe it’s the Fintech space, maybe it’s not. Your choice.

Say, for example, it’s the Fintech space, who are all the founders of every single startup in the fintech space you want to be in?

Find them and pitch them. Go into their DM on LinkedIn, go into their DM on Twitter.

Tell them, “Hey, this is me. I may not have all the experience in the world, but I have so much passion and if you give me an opportunity, I will blow your mind.”

Figure out your pitch, and then be willing to take a lot of no’s and be happy for the fact that they actually spend time to tell you “No”. And then, learn and evolve from that process.

But that's like one of the ways I suggest that a newbie should give it a try.

Another option would be just that you look for internship groups. Start from an intern and climb up the ladder. 

But if I was to advise, personally, I would vote for the idea of hunting them yourself. There are two kinds of people; the folks that wait for things to happen to them and the folks that happen to things rather than the other folks.

And as a product manager, you also need that kind of mentality. You don't have to wait for things to come to you, you move the market, you move the space, you move your products, you move your features, you move your team. And you can start practicing by selling yourself to every single founder in the space you want to be.

Ayush

That's amazing advice. And I was smiling because you said it's conventional, but I would say it's not like a lot of conventional advice. Not a lot of people do this, but if like whoever is watching this video, I think this is a great takeaway.

If you are looking for a new role, figure out what industry you want to be in and just like, listen to Precious. Reach out to people, reach out to product managers, reach out to founders and just talk to them and sell yourself. At most, if you don't get a job, you'll still make a connection which you can have for life and probably learn a lot of things from that conversation and that person will remember you because you reached out to them. And if they have an opportunity in the future, they'll think of you first. Then maybe advertising that role because you already reached out and were proactive.

Precious

I would even add to that; from my own experience. I actually went as far as—I wasn't a new product manager; I really had some experience—I went as far as telling these founders that, “Hey, you may not have the budget to hire me, but I'm willing to work Pro Bono, just to make sure that I prove myself to you. Then you can decide whether to hire me or not.”

So it depends on how aggressive you want to be.

Ayush

That's awesome. Amazing.

Thanks for closing us off with this great tip and sharing all about your wonderful journey and everyone who's watching this.

Where can people find you if they like to get in touch?

Precious

I'm on LinkedIn. My name is Precious Karibo. Precious is a very girly name, I know. And my name is also Precious Karibo on Twitter. Those are the two main places where I spend my time; Twitter and LinkedIn.

Ayush

Okay, perfect.

Find him on LinkedIn and follow Kwara as well.

And, yeah. Thanks once again, Precious.

Precious

Thank you for having me.

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Learn all about being a product manager in Africa and what to expect from a Senior Product Manager, Precious Karibo.

Precious Karibo is the Senior Product Manager of Kwara, a digital banking fintech company in Kenya. In his previous roles, he has worked with various fintech companies as a product manager.

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Precious Karibo

Senior Product Manager at Kwara

Precious Karibo is the Senior Product Manager of Kwara, a digital banking fintech company in Kenya. In his previous roles, he has worked with various fintech companies as a product manager.

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