Meet Team Kwara: Stephen, Product Manager

Lewis Kang'ethe Ngugi

Team Kwara

Much of the work that goes into building the delightful SACCO management platform happens behind the scenes. At Kwara, being a ruthless prioritizer while balancing the needs of customers and stakeholders, continually gathering and analyzing data and business intelligence from all different internal and external sources to inform the product roadmap —is largely the role of the product manager.

Meet Stephen Njuguna, Product Manager of Kwara. He's an alumnus of the Mandela Washington Fellowship program and a fitness enthusiast. His personal experiences with running his startup and having worked in teams ranging from Google to Transparency International influenced his career trajectory. We sat down with him to hear the full story.

How would someone describe you?

Friends describe me as a straightforward and flexible person, with a good sense of humor. They’d also probably warn you that I’m overly competitive when it comes to any group challenges.

So you’ve been a Co-founder? What was your experience with it?

My experience as Co-founder of MARAMOJA transport, was both empowering and challenging. Challenging because I co-founded the company just after I had completed Kenyatta University, meaning I did not have experience and foreknowledge of the huge task that lay ahead of us. 

The experience was also empowering because in the end my co-founders and I were able to raise the required funding and develop the platform that continues to serve users till this day.

What came next?

After my experience with my startup, I took a short sabbatical then later joined a startup in the adult education space, Spire Education (Acquired by shortlist.net) as their Head of Technology before transitioning to the Product Manager role. I ended up staying at the company for 2 years eventually leaving after the organisation was acquired by an international company, Shortlist.

How did you come to work in the fintech space?

The opportunity came to me through my personal network, where a former work colleague (who was then working at Kwara) reached out and told me about the exciting work Kwara was doing with their cutting edge digital banking platform for SACCOs. 

Kwara was working to improve the informal and formal financial sectors, something that I was passionate about, by enabling the world's 3 billion underserved customers to access the formal banking infrastructure. When an opportunity eventually came about that was a great fit for me, I jumped on it!

Stpehen K. Njuguna in the Kwara Officers

Tell me more about a day in the life of a Product Manager. What does it look like?

To provide you with a glimpse of my product management role, here’s how I kick off my day: 

8.30 am

I start by reviewing the status of the different tickets that are being worked on by the engineers. I provide feedback where needed and help QA tickets that have been completed.

I then look at my priorities for the day and focus on the work needed to move other ideas along.

11.30 am - 1:00 pm

I join the daily morning Product & Engineering standup call to get an update of the work in progress. We also use this time to discuss any blockers or issues that might have arisen.

After the standup I continue with my product work for the day.

1:00 pm - 2:00pm

Grab a quick lunch with co-workers before the Coronavirus epidemic.

The Second Half of the Day

Mostly composed of meetings and follow-ups with different stakeholders (internal & external). I respond to queries from current customers while providing updates to the rest of the departments on any pertinent issues. 

6:30 pm

Run through my personal work checklist one more time and end the day.

What do you like best about working at Kwara?

I get to work with a great team to improve the lives of hundreds of millions of people worldwide using technology.

What’s your proudest achievement since joining?

I helped transition an enterprise client to the most modern online SACCO portal on the market i.e from the presentation stage of the sales cycle till onboarding them with very short and tight deadlines.

What inspires you to keep going?

The legacy that I want to leave behind, based on the positive impact the solutions I helped to build bring to the world.

When you look at the product trends in the fintech industry, what excites you the most?

The drive to make financial services more accessible to the previously financially excluded. This is powered by the fact that more people have access to the internet through affordable smartphones. This means more and more fintech providers are seeing the need and the opportunities around availing their services online through native apps and web applications.

Are there any leaders in tech that you are particularly inspired by?

Paul Graham - Cofounder of YC

Ken Norton - Partner at GV

Victor Cheng - Founder of CaseInterview

Andrew Chen - GP at a16z

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