Have you ever wondered how some tech products become so popular and successful? How do people manage to create something that customers need and love? These were some of the questions that the Inspire Africa Conference answered. The conference, organized by Innovate Africa Foundation, gathered some of the leading product managers from Silicon Valley and Africa to mentor participants on how to build products that solve global challenges.

“Our goal is really to accelerate the development and the mindset of people in Africa about the continent,” said Christian Idiodi, founder of the Innovate Africa Foundation, and a partner at the Silicon Valley product group. 

Over 1,000 participants from 31 African countries attended, a significant turnout from Africa’s tech ecosystem. This included founders, venture capitalists, and product team leaders on the continent. The theme of empowering the product community in Africa, for Africa, was set up in four “Tracks”, a 1-day conference followed by three days of workshops.

Every session featured industry experts such as Christian Idiodi, Marty Cagan, Lea Hickman, Chris Jones, Martina Lauchengco, and Jon Moore, all Silicon Valley Product Group (SVPG) partners, and acclaimed bestselling authors. They extensively discussed topics on the importance of building a viable product. “The hope is that this event is an inspiration for meaningful conversations and positive work in the years to come,” said Idiodi.

There is no better time for Africa to build its capacity. In the last decade, the African market has been one the most sought-after for tech products. According to a report by the International Finance Corporation, the digital economy in Africa could be worth $180 billion by 2025, up from $115 billion in 2020. This represents a huge opportunity for entrepreneurs, investors, and innovators who want to tap into the growing demand for digital solutions and services. To echo SVPG partner, Marty Cagan, Africa doesn’t have a talent problem. Between 2020 and 2021, the pool of African professional developers rose from 690,000 to 716,000.

However, post-COVID, a lot of companies continue to struggle with creating products that create real value. According to this survey by McKinsey, only 21 per cent of executives in South Africa said that their companies were very effective at creating new products and services that meet changing customer needs. Another report by the World Economic Forum states that COVID-19 disrupted many business models and forced companies to rethink how they deliver value to their customers and stakeholders. “There’s so much opportunity here because there are a lot of problems to solve here. Anyone who goes abroad, realizes that 90 per cent of the problems have been solved. People are comfortable there. Here, you are challenged with problems and opportunities daily. This event teaches companies how to create great products to address these challenges,” said Princess Edosagie, a product lead and representative from the event’s headline sponsor, Interswitch. “It is important that innovators understand how products can be better tailored. This is why when the SVPG team reached out to Interswitch about the conference, they jumped at it. “I had gone through their work and read most of their books before. So I knew straight away that it would be a good opportunity to sponsor such a project,” said Edosagie.  

Every session and speaker at the Inspire Africa conference was intended to impart the most relevant knowledge. On the 4th day, coaches delved deep into the techniques top global companies use to create products customers love. SVPG product partner and event coach, Lea Hickman, talked extensively on product visions. “One of the most important things about product management is to communicate and evangelize it again and again,” she said right before she tasked the participants to unearth their product vision in a breakout session. Participants loved that session. “Product vision is one of the things I am glad was emphasized,” said Eva Isiadigbe, one of the participants, who is a product lead in the financial sector. “The coaches were able to address pressing questions, like how do we create a vision, how do we create a strategy? These are information I will use back on my desk,” she said.

Similarly, Raymond Anukwu, the founder of Mile 12 Delivery, an e-commerce platform that sells fresh farm produce, said the event surpassed his expectation. Initially, he thought the event would be centered on ecosystem updates, meet and greet sessions, and a ton of networking. “Most tech conferences are just that,” he told Ventures Africa. Anukwu, who initially registered as a founder, returned to participate in the product lead’s session on the fourth day after the founder’s session ended on the third day. He also called his tech team and told them to scrap what they had been doing, a decision that would set them back eight weeks before testing figures, but he believes it’s worth it. “The knowledge that we have gathered will make our progress far more effective,” he said. “As someone who didn’t have much experience before I started my company, I didn’t know a lot about product management. So far, I’ve received far deeper insight into product management, which I hope to implement to maximize our profits,” he added.

The Inspire Africa conference transcends product development. “It has been 200 per cent beyond our expectations,” said Edosagie from Interswitch. “What companies often do is send different team members on training at different times. This event has allowed everyone to get trained in the same way, in the same direction across products, engineering from technology all into the same room at the same time. This makes moving forward a lot easier. The expectation is that we can build excellent product teams in Nigeria and Africa,” she added.

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