Are fintechs carving out the lion’s share of African product managers?

“Everything people interact with is a product. If I go on stage to sing and you end up liking my sound, then I’ve made you a happy user of the product.

Busayo Oladejo, Chief Product Officer (PM) at Big Cabal Media, made the statement during the just-concluded TC Live event, where we explored conversations about building successful products for the African market. The session discussed the intricacies of product management in the particular market of Africa, with a focus on the dominance of fintech PMs in the space.

As the tech saying goes, product managers are the CEOs of any product. With fintech products populating the tech market, it’s no surprise that product managers – or product CEOs – in the fintech space outnumber their counterparts in other areas like healthcare, edtech or technology media.

M-KOPA Group Product Manager Makera Kigaraba, Brass Product and Design Manager Tolulope Saba, and Cowrywise Senior Product Manager Yarmirama Ashama also spoke at the events.

By the way, who is a product manager?

Product management gets a lot of publicity as a rewarding technical role 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 customer requirements and interfaces with business and software development teams to build strong products. “He’s the starter team quarterback or midfielder,” he says.

Product management is expected to create 22 million new jobs globally by 2027. In Africa, a continent experiencing a radical rise in technology, this projection presents many opportunities for the abundant workforce of the continent. However, PM Technician roles are mostly non-traditional, and for many this results in a daunting process of navigating.

How to Get a Product Manager Role

Experience, they say, is the best teacher. Kigaraba, Ashama, Saba and Oladejo shared personal career experiences that led them to their current roles as product managers at some of Africa’s most successful tech companies. Let’s go diving.

Ashama: After studying adult education and political science at the University of Benin, Ashama dabbled in social media roles like digital marketing and social media management. Later, she got into website design with WordPress, which marked her entry into product design. When she joined Cowrywise, her ability to combine design with meeting customer needs gradually shaped her career path into a full-fledged product manager for the technology company.

Kigaraba: Kigaraba studied economics and international relations at the University of Sussex with the aim of pursuing a career in finance. However, his first role in finance brought him into contact with design, software development and corporate management teams. This experience showed him that he wanted to work in similar central roles, just like product management.

Saba: Saba moved 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 grew and the CEO became busier, they needed someone who understood the product and its evolution. That’s how he came into the PM role: out of necessity.

Oladejo: Oladejo had a career trajectory similar to that of Ashama. After graduating from Federal University of Technology Akure, she dabbled in CRM and WordPress website design, eventually landing in entry-level project management roles.

Peculiarities of the construction of an African product

Product management, at its core, is the art of designing systems that fit into users’ lives. This definition implies that users all over the world need products adapted to their specific needs and local cultures. In Africa, these particularities can determine the success or failure of products in the market.

In covering these specifics, some key points raised by guest speakers include:

  • Search is important, but search needs to be contextualized for the ideal users.
  • PMs need to understand users deeply by leveraging data.
  • It’s great practice for PMs to measure and track signals and progress.
  • MPs must make room 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 many and project managers need to do more research on them.
  • Founders can take on the role of product managers at first, but the role needs to be adjusted as the startup grows.
  • Business objectives and key results (OKRs) are a great guide to developing KPIs for a product management team.
  • Product management is not an isolated role. Other roles such as business analysis and product design can serve as pivots for product management.

Creating successful products for Africans is key to the adoption of technology on the continent. With a population of nearly a billion young people, Africa is well placed to harbor some of the greatest technological advancements of the future. However, standard commodity management practices are not yet commonplace on the continent, hence the need for proper sensitization on the dynamics of building commodities for Africans.

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