Are fintechs taking the lion’s share of Africa’s product managers?
“Everything that people interact with is a product. If I get on stage to sing and you end up liking my sound, I’ve made you a satisfied product user.”
Busayo Oladejo, the Chief Product Officer (PM) of Big Cabal Media, made this statement at the just concluded TC Live event where we explored conversations about creating successful products for the African market. The session discussed the intricacies of product management in Africa’s peculiar market, focusing 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 market, it’s no surprise that product managers (or CEOs) in the fintech space are outperforming their counterparts in other fields such as health tech, edtech, or the technological means.
Other speakers at the events included Makera Kigaraba, Group Head of Product at M-KOPA, Tolulope Saba, Head of Product and Design at Brass, and Yarmirama Ashama, Senior Product Manager at Cowrywise.
Who is a product manager, really?
Product management gets a lot of publicity as a rewarding technology function that doesn’t 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’s requirements and interfaces with the business and software development teams to build strong products. “He’s the quarterback or middle of the starting team,” he says.
Product management is expected to add 22 million new jobs worldwide by 2027. In Africa, a continent experiencing a radical rise in technology, this projection presents numerous opportunities for the force of work on the continent. However, PM’s technology features are mostly non-traditional, and for many this results in a daunting navigation process.
How to get a product manager position
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 at some of Africa’s most successful technology companies. Let’s take a dive.
Ashama: After studying adult education and political science at the University of Benin, Ashama delved into roles related to social media, such as digital marketing and social media management. He later dabbled in website design using WordPress, and this marked his entry into product design. When he joined Cowrywise, his ability to combine design with meeting customer needs shaped his career path as a full product manager for the technology company.
It’s clear: Kigaraba studied economics and international relations at the University of Sussex with the aim of building a career in finance. However, his first finance role brought him into contact with design teams, software development and corporate leadership. This experience showed him that he wanted to work in equally central roles, such as product management.
You know: Saba moved into product management from product design. When Brass started, the CEO did most of the work related to the product management function. But as they got older and the CEO got busier, they needed someone who understood the product and its evolution. That’s how he got into the role of prime minister: out of necessity.
I wave: Oladejo had a similar career path to Ashama. After graduating from the Federal University of Technology, Akure, he engaged in customer relationship management and WordPress website design, eventually moving into core project management roles.
Peculiarities of the construction of an African product
Product management, at its core, is the art of designing systems that adapt to users’ lives. What this definition implies is that users around the world need products that fit their specific needs and local cultures. In Africa, these peculiarities can determine the success or failure of products in the market.
In covering these quirks, some of the key points from the guest speakers include:
- Research is important, but research must be contextualized for your ideal users.
- PMs should deeply understand users by leveraging data.
- It is good practice for PMs to measure and track signals and progress.
- Prime Ministers should establish space for cultural differences. For example, Africans may prefer technology products with simpler interfaces.
- The fact that there are more PM roles in fintech can be attributed to the strong investment in the sector and the pre-existing infrastructure in the space.
- Regulations in the fintech space are numerous and PMs need to do more research on this.
- Founders may double as product managers at first, but the role should adjust as the startup grows.
- Business objectives and key results (OKRs) are a great guide for developing KPIs for a product management team.
- Product management is not an isolated function. Other functions such as business analysis and product design can serve as pivot points for product management.
Building successful products for Africans is critical to technology adoption on the continent. With a population of nearly one billion young people, Africa is positioned to be home to some of the best technological advances in the future. However, standard product management practices are still not common on the continent, hence the need for proper sensitization on the dynamics of product creation for Africans.