The biggest challenge I’ve ever taken on

3 years ago, I agreed to stop being a freelancer, and take up the challenge and opportunity to be iHub community manager.

Mugs and Nekesa @MIT

Photo courtesy of @iHub

 

I was a freelance graphic designer who before that had been running projects at not-for-profit organizations; working with (what NGOs like to refer to as ) vulnerable communities; caretakers of orphans (widows), and then youth –  all from informal settlements, essentially as a business coach.

So when the opportunity for the iHub came up, I really did not know exactly what was needed. It took me a while to understand what exactly a community manager was. It was a steep learning curve because I jumped into the deep end immediately. I soon got the gist of it and it turned out to be an excellent opportunity, working with technology innovators wanting to be entrepreneurs, meeting all kinds of people in the innovation space globally, working to build the ecosystem and getting to speak about our work at various conferences and gatherings all over the world.

I got to meet founders of globally known startups (companies) , including Evernote, LinkedIn, Netflix. re:publica, Eventbrite, and personalities like Joi Ito, the MIT Media Lab director, Ban ki Moon UN Secretary General, as just a few of them.

I wrote about my experience here

So when it was time to move on, I joined a startup, Moringa School. It’s a Kenyan, Silicon Valley-style coding school whose main focus is to train developers in an intense 16 week boot camp and ensure they are market ready on exit, to satisfy this growing need in the African market.

Photo courtesy of Moringa School

Photo courtesy of Moringa School

For 3 months, I worked with them to build a community. Facilitating every cohort of outstanding self-driven developers that went through the school, to connect with each other, previous and following cohorts, companies that employ developers (with both immediate and future needs), and of course the ecosystem of developers and other players in the African innovation space.

 

Then I took on the biggest challenge I have ever taken on in my life. I joined OkHi to run operations.

OkHi (pronounced Ok, then Hi)  is a Kenyan startup that’s working to have the 4B people in the world without a physical address “be included” by allowing them to enjoy the benefits of a physical address.

OkHi Mafia

OkHi Mafia

 

A lot of things attracted me to OkHi.

One was the chance to join its stellar founding team ( the OkHi Mafia) which constitutes people who have experience working at  Google, McKinsey, and with diverse experiences and talents coming from different places across the globe.

Investors showed a lot of faith in OkHi. We have a collection of some of the smartest investors in Silicon Valley and in Kenya. From Patrick Pichette to Isis Nyong’o.

OkHi’s lean method of both building product and operations was another big determiner for me. It’s a value that they stay true to. Coming up with hypotheses, running sprints to prove or disprove them, then making decisions that are data driven and user centred. I wanted in on that.

And then of course at the core of my decision, was the reason for OkHi’s being. What OkHi does. Working to give everyone a physical address so that everyone, from every neighborhood  can not only enjoy the option to have something they bought delivered, access emergency services but they can also run an e-commerce business in their country, and easily prove who they are with a dynamic physical address to access finance services. That to me is impact I wanted to be involved with.

I was also attracted to the opportunity to practice UX (user experience) design, which is the particular area in which I want to grow as a designer; essentially my 20% at OkHi.

But to do operations, for a fast paced company that promises to scale very fast, like OkHi, Is the biggest challenge I have ever taken on. This JD spans from admin work (keeping the company running day to day), in-hypo operations (tactical pieces to enable hypothesis sprints) , accounting, HR (especially building onto and maintaining the great culture even as we scale), legal, community engagement and PR. While at the same time contributing to the company’s overall strategy both short term and long term.

OkHi boat 2

Photos courtesy of OkHi

Basically my mandate is to make OkHi the most awesome company to work for in Africa. Easy, right?

@heygeekyness

 

Building and retaining an awesome culture in any organization is a big challenge. Whether you are starting out (at a startup) or doing it in a larger organization. And this is just one of the aspects of operations. I would like this to be the first post in a series of posts where I share different aspects of my work. Hopefully spark off conversations with other people running operations or operations-related stuff.  I would love to hear you feedback in the comments section, on my Twitter, or email me: mugethi@okhi.com

2 years @iHub

The iHub Green Members 2014 onboarding session. Photo courtesy: iHub

The iHub Green Members 2014 onboarding session. Photo courtesy: iHub

It’s a few weeks shy of 2 years since I joined the iHub. When I joined, I wasn’t quite sure what being a Community Manager meant exactly. Or if I would survive in employment after being a freelancer for a whole year before that. But meeting with Jimmy Gitonga (former iHub Hypemaster) and Nekesa “It’s handled” Were who had both been working here for a while, I was convinced that it must be a cool place to work.

And it has been one exciting journey.

Working with individual iHub members and seeing them grow has particularly been exciting. This heartwarming list includes Jackie and Ondieki of Kleva Solutions who met in the space and have since built a payments solutions business that employs 6 developers, Cynthia who built Ujirani App within her first couple of months at the iHub, has already launched it and is incubated at the Nailab. Ian who builds beautiful functional mobile apps in just 2 days, Kenneth, who runs an international startup and has recently qualified to be one of 5 GDEs (Google Developer Experts) in Africa. Startups like Card Planet; first Kenyan startup to be accepted into Silicon Valley accelerator 500 Startups, and Kidogo ECD that has since received investment and proceeded for incubation at m:lab East Africa, and Twiga Fruits, first African startup to win the overall 1776 Startup Challenge Cup in Washington DC. I have seen real exciting growth.

I have seen more engagement online and offline.

Offline with our current Green and Red Members braving life away from their laptops and engaging more with each other, hanging out together at the iHub for BYOB Friday, and forming impromptu (karaoke) bands together, then coming together and working on startup projects together.

I have seen our social media following grow from 42K to 82.9K today. Increased engagement, courtesy of a kick-ass team.  I have seen the launch and constant improvement of our community portal courtesy of our amazing web team, which has seen iHub take the online engagement of its global community to the next level.

Personal growth

I have had the chance to travel to conferences across the world and speak on behalf of the iHub about the Kenyan tech ecosystem.

I was challenged to start a tech blog, did that despite feeling very un-qualified at the time, and I have found my space in writing about tech.

The 5 year tech bash was a feat in mobilization and the sheer logistics of planning that party required us to become giants overnight. And step up we did. I was involved in coordinating online communication for the bash. This involved putting up content on blogs, Facebook, Twitter and Youtube as well as coordinating the 3 step release of 3000 tickets on Eventbrite. Convening Nairobi’s biggest tech bash and having everyone in one place reaffirmed for me the importance of the work that the iHub does and how critical the tech community in Kenya is for the country’s economic growth. I learnt by interacting with many of you, that to sustain an industry as vibrant as ours, community and collaboration are key. I will carry this lesson with me, always.

I have seen some things go wrong and made some decisions where hindsight swiftly kicked me in the behind. But I’ve seen a lot of things go great! I’ve had a lot of achievements. And many times just stood in awe of my teammates, because the team at iHub is made up of rockstars.

iHub is truly the nexus.

While at the iHub, I have met people I never thought I’d have an opportunity to meet so easily and effortlessly. From Ban Ki Moon, UN Sec Gen, Joi Ito, MIT Media Lab Director to founders of well known global companies, and African Government officials for ICT, to young genius men and women resident at or visiting the iHub.

I have been mentored, advised, and supported by some amazing people including Erik, Juliana, Jimmy and Nekesa who by constantly interacting with, have made me step up my game. Awesome Ninjas like Scott, Mutheu, and Dennis taught me that your next big idea can come from anywhere.

I can say with confidence that if iHub’s resident members are anything to go by, Kenya’s tech community will continue to dazzle the world with endless big innovations. I am inspired everyday by the go-getter attitude here and I will hold the iHub resident members close to my heart.

As I move on to the next chapter of my life, I can only stand in gratitude for what iHub has done for me, and confidence that my vision for the community, seeing them turn their innovations into sustainable, scalable businesses, will be achieved.