Empowering African small businesses through a cheap, easy and tailored digital payment ecosystem
Asilimia is a African-based fintech startup that allows small to medium-sized enterprises make transaction-free mobile money payments and provide access to financial services, such as insurance. Although originally based in Kenya, I was able to work at the startup while it was part of the Founder's Program of Station F in Paris, France.
In Kenya, approximately 96% of households have a mobile money account with M-Pesa, a cellphone-based money transfer service (source). M-Pesa is essentially a money transfer service like Venmo, Paypal, or Lydia, but it does not require a bank account. To make a deposit or get cash from the app, mobile money systems use human agents: people who hang out at key locations throughout the country (especially in remote rural areas) with cash and a cellphone. To summarize, M-Pesa is successful because it gives the opportunity of allowing people to become part of the financial system without a formal bank account.
Although this service is very popular, there is still room for improvement and more banking opportunities that are lacking, especially with businesses. Asilimia aims to tackle this by creating more services to empower small and medium-sized business along with making the M-Pesa process much easier and faster.
In July 2020, I joined the team as a Product Manager intern. Overall, my biggest contribution was leading the design of a new service that Asilimia can offer: a web dashboard to allow Asilimia users to easily view their B2B and C2B analytics. Apart from this planned service during my internship, only the mobile application was offered from Asilimia at the time.
Although my main responsibility was product design and user experience, I worked in collaboration with the development team, marketing team, and finance teams on other tasks that needed to be accomplished. I was involved in many stages of the product development cycle, and provided support to different teams wherever I could.
Because the work I've done has not been made public yet, I'm unable to disclose more details regarding my work at this time. However, I'd be more than happy to sit down and talk with you about my time at Asilimia.
The timing of my internship was only a few months into the COVID-19 pandemic. Although the team is already split between Kenya and France, there was certainly an impact on the workflow of the company. I was fortunate enough to visit the Paris office in-person at Station F a few times, but I mostly worked remote otherwise. Even though I worked mostly from home, I still took away many things from this experience.
The biggest takeaway for me was the importance of communicating with others as early and frequently as I could. I did not have any previous exposure or experience with the M-Pesa system, so I had to teach myself not to be afraid to ask questions and truly understand the product I'm working with. By doing so, this enabled me to continuously iterate a better product while recieving feedback, insights, and perspectives outside of my own knowledge and background.