A story of Product team growth and development

By Caroline Gezon

I moved to Kenya to join the team at Maisha Meds in October 2020, tasked with the challenge of product management and growth strategy for our Reorder e-commerce platform. The business potential and social impact vision excited me; the economic theory of pooling demand for small pharmacies and selling high quality medication at lower costs simply makes sense. Of course, reaching that vision proved to be challenging once I learned about the constraints of financing gaps and subsequent just-in-time supply chain needs at the small pharmacy ground level. It had been months since a previous part-time PM had left Maisha Meds, and almost a year since the former Head of Product had departed for medical school. Spreading those product managers thinly across our “Loyalty” behavioral incentive product and Android point of sale (POS) meant that not all teams understood what product management entailed.

Product is a role at early stage startups that is too often viewed as a “could have” or “would have,” to use the MOSCOW prioritization framework, given realistic constraints on funding and budget. I came to Maisha Meds from a similar role with another global health startup, where as a Product Intern I worked to build out the product function, processes, and prove that value to the executive team. A personal goal of mine over the last year has been to build internal understanding, buy-in, and value for the Product function at Maisha Meds. It has not always been a smooth journey, but the growth of our product team has been one indicator of that success.

WHAT IS “PM”?

Kenan, Njuguna, and Wangari review sticky notes in a research synthesis session

So what really is product management, and why is it necessary? Product drives innovation at companies. It sits in the center of defining user desirability, technical feasibility, and business or program viability. On any given day, you can find a product manager in the field, testing a new feature with users and gathering feedback to inform a new product launch, on a video call leading backlog grooming with the engineering team, or gathering functional requirements from the operations team on new programs design for a new experiment looking at behavioral incentives.

TEAM GROWTH

One of several delicious and elaborate cakes that Kenan has made for a Maisha Meds team member

The growth of the product team at Maisha Meds has been exciting to watch, as we’ve expanded from a team of one to a team of five within the last year, while the broader Maisha Meds team doubled in size (currently at 70 employees). 

In January, Kenan was promoted from leading systems to product management, first on Loyalty and now across the point of sale (POS) application. Kenan provides thoughtful attention to detail in thinking through systems integration, and he’s a fabulous chef, known for baking birthday cakes and cooking delicious Kenyan meals for coworkers. After three months working with Reorder, our strategy pivoted to a more concentrated focus on our Loyalty behavioral incentive programs, and I moved to that team to help manage our Loyalty products as we were also scaling growth into Ethiopia. In the following six months, our engineering team grew and restructured into three teams focused on our POS product, Loyalty product supporting program growth, and Loyalty incentives and fraud management.

Mark Gichure

Mark modeling the Maisha Meds brand

Wangari’s enthusiasm for both Product and fish is contagious

Wangari, our Chief Product Officer and self-proclaimed “Cheerleader of Products,” joined the team part time in May and full time in July. She is a fearless leader and advocate for product integration, product growth, and product vision throughout the company. In her free time she inspires others with her Nine to 5 podcast and runs a Pilates studio, teaching Pilates newbies (myself included) with the same patience and confident leadership that she brings to our Product team. Mark joined the Product team in July and leads product data and analytics work, in addition to supporting the systems function. He is known for his quiet humor and signature black turtlenecks. Njuguna, our UX Designer, joined the team at the end of July. As our first full time design hire with a long backlog of design work, everyone at Maisha Meds is thrilled that Njuguna is on board. He has immediately been making an impact by rapidly building out higher fidelity wireframes for POS and Loyalty teams, while also supporting graphic and web design for some of our communications and marketing efforts.

WHAT I’VE LEARNED

Field work days can be both enlightening and exhausting

Over the last year, I’ve learned a lot about what works and what doesn’t work in Product from engaging closely with this product team as well as the engineers, operations, and exec team members that we work closely with each day. Product is the grease required to get a team to function like a well oiled machine. Strong communication, agility, creativity, and drive are all skills necessary to succeed in the role. A positive attitude, and ability to persuade, inspire, and lead without a direct leadership role is also integral. A strong product manager must be willing to steer the 500 foot view of long term product and systems strategy as well as dive into the nitty gritty details of screen design. It’s not an easy job, and I’ve failed many times over the course of the last year. I’m grateful for teammates and colleagues that have continued to show grace and help me grow, provide feedback, and been open to changing their own norms.

 

As much as I’ve enjoyed the last year of adventures in a fast growing startup in Kenya, I’ve decided it’s time to pass the torch on to someone else and move back to the USA to be closer to family. We are looking for a Senior Product Manager to take over my current role of managing the Loyalty Programs and Loyalty Incentives teams. Come join our team to be a part of the next stage of exciting growth for Maisha Meds! Future 2022 pipeline work involves expansion into Uganda and Nigeria, scaling the use of biometrics for patient identification and verification, continuing to refine and strengthen our fraud systems through automation, and, of course, always working to improve the UI/UX of our Loyalty programs. We are building impactful products, but the key to our growth and success, and what I know I will miss the most, are the incredible people that make Maisha Meds so special, both within our Product team and throughout the entire company. 

More of a “fun” than “functional” team photo from a recent team research trip to Kisumu