“Anything that people interact with is a product. If I climb on a stage to sing and you end up liking my sound, then I’ve made a satisfied product user out of you.”
Busayo Oladejo, the product manager (PM) at Big Cabal Media, made this statement in the just concluded TC live event, where we explored conversations around building successful products for the African market. The session discussed the subtleties of managing products in Africa’s peculiar market, with a focus on fintech PMs’ dominance in the space.
As the tech adage goes, product managers are the CEOs of any product. With fintech products populating the tech marketplace, it is no surprise that product managers—or product CEOs— in the fintech space are outnumbering their counterparts in other fields like healthtech, edtech, or tech media.
Other speakers at the events were Makera Kigaraba, M-KOPA’s group product manager, Tolulope Saba, head of product & design at Brass, and Yarmirama Ashama, senior product manager at Cowrywise.
Really, who is a product manager?
Product management gets a lot of publicity as the rewarding tech role that does not require grueling hours on a programming interface. But really, who is a product manager?
According to Kigaraba, a product manager is the voice of the customer: the person who coagulates the customer requirements and interfaces with the commercial and software development teams to build solid products. “It is the quarterback or midfield of the startup team,” he says.
Product management is projected to add 22 million new jobs around the world by 2027. In Africa, a continent that is seeing technology on a radical rise, this projection presents numerous opportunities for the continent’s teeming labour force. However, PM tech roles are mostly non-traditional, and for many, this results in a daunting navigation process.
How to get a product manager role
Experience, they say, is the best teacher. Kigaraba, Ashama, Saba, and Oladejo shared some personal career experiences that led them to their current roles as product managers in some of Africa’s successful tech companies. Let’s take a dive.
Ashama: After studying adult education and political science at the University of Benin, Ashama delved into social media-related roles like digital marketing and social media management. She later forayed into designing websites with WordPress, and that marked her entry into product design. When she got into Cowrywise, her ability to combine design with satisfying the needs of customers gradually shaped her career path into a full-fledged product manager for the tech firm.
Kigaraba: Kigaraba studied economics and international relations at the University of Sussex with the goal of building a career in finance. However, his first finance role brought him in contact with teams from design, software development, and corporate leadership. This experience showed him that he desired to work in similarly central roles, just like product management.
Saba: Saba transitioned into product management from product design. When Brass started, the CEO did most of the work related to the product management role. But as they got bigger, and the CEO got busier, they needed someone who understood the product and its evolution. That was how he stepped into the PM role: out of necessity.
Oladejo: Oladejo had a career trajectory similar to Ashama’s. After she graduated from the Federal University of Technology, Akure, she dabbled into client relationship management and WordPress website design, then finally landed in core project management roles.
Peculiarities of building an African product
Product management, at its core, is the art of designing systems that fit into the lives of the users. What this definition implies is that users all over the world require products that are tailored to their specific needs and local cultures. In Africa, these peculiarities can determine the success or failure of products in the market.
In covering these peculiarities, some key points made by the invited speakers include:
- Research is important, but research has to be contextualised for ideal users.
- PMs should understand the users deeply by leveraging data.
- It is a great practice for PMs to measure and track signals and progress.
- PMs ought to establish room for cultural differences. For example, Africans may prefer tech products with simpler interfaces.
- The fact that there are more PM roles in fintech can be traced to the robust investment into the sector and the pre-existing infrastructure in the space.
- Regulations in the fintech space are numerous, and PMs need to research more on this.
- Founders may double as product managers in the beginning, but the role should be adjusted as the startup grows.
- Companies’ objectives and key results (OKRs) are a great guide to developing the KPIs for a product management team.
- Product management is not an isolated role. Other roles like business analysis and product design can serve as pivot points for product management.
Building successful products for Africans is central to the adoption of technology on the continent. With a population of almost a billion young people, Africa is positioned to be home to some of the finest technological advancements in the future. However, standard product management practices are yet to be commonplace on the continent, hence the need for proper sensitisation on the dynamics of product building for Africans.