My Story at IAN so Far in 2023

Before it Began

My name is Mathenge Waweru, Co-founder and Product Lead at Shukran. Two years ago, I was in university studying Computer Science with the goal of becoming a software developer and founder of my own company. I was attracted to the idea of being my own boss and starting a company that makes an impact. I joined clubs like Enactus with the hope that I would learn how to play the game of entrepreneurship. However, I came to learn that entrepreneurship at a young age can be difficult if you lack proper guidance from experienced people. That's what motivated me to put my independent business plans on hold and join Impact Africa Network. I joined the Fellowship programme so that I could learn how to be a better founder.

First Steps into Innovation

I joined Impact Africa Network in early 2021 and we were working remotely. It took some time to get used to working from home due to all the distractions but I built discipline as my responsibilities increased. I was a product development fellow at the start and I was structuring and leading the Blockchain Lab, whose goal was to understand blockchain technology and how it can be used at Impact Africa Network. It was exciting but also scary to build a department from the ground up as I was the only one in the team and I had to do everything at first. However, one of my major wins at the beginning was when we hosted an online learning session on the Introduction to Blockchain. I had created the content, marketed the event to my networks and run the session from start to finish. It was a success as we got over 80 people attending the learning session to learn more about the blockchain. Even after my presentation, everyone was curious to learn more and they asked many questions.

My initial experiences were full of learning and expanding my thinking on what is possible. Through that learning session, I got to see the type of thinking that is required in the digital age. To plan a learning session, all you need is a computer, an internet connection and something useful to say. From there, you can use various tools like Yesware for email campaigns, Zoom for the video call and market to your networks using a well-made poster. Success in the digital age requires a mindset of leveraging the amazing tools you have around you to accomplish your goals. The only obstacle is you.

Evolution and Growth

My transition from running the Blockchain Lab to being the co-founder at Shukran was an interesting transition. Since the Impact Block Lab was mostly a community, we had planned a number of learning sessions to understand the technology. However, we soon came to realise that most people wanted to learn more about cryptocurrencies than the technology itself. It was also evident from the blockchain community at large that blockchain had not lived up to its promise of a decentralised monetary system. It was being used by people to make money through its volatility.

At the same time we were having these realisations, I was approached by Mark about building a project after 6 months of being at Impact Africa Network. I was thrilled and we went through multiple project ideas like insuretech, car-sharing .etc. In the end, we picked building a tipping platform that encourages diners at restaurants to tip service workers and show appreciation. The mission was noble and we set off on market research.

Building the tipping app, which we later called Shukran, required a different mode of thinking from the Impact Block Lab. Learning sessions are events that are built on content, Shukran is a product that is built of insights from customers, requires a team to build over time and must have a vision to encapsulate it all. A product is a continuously improving project that never ends. When you figure out one problem, another bigger problem presents itself. However, with each problem solved, you are one step closer to being a successful startup. I had to learn how to change my mindset based on what the business required. During market research, you are required to talk to people and be investigative. When analysing feedback, you are required to be analytical. When designing the product, you are required to be creative but also intentional about design. It is a continuous balancing act to understand what kind of leader to be and mindset to have at any given moment to make the team successful.

Unforgettable Moments and Emotions

My most unforgettable moment was at the beginning of my fellowship programme when Cohort 5 had a meeting with Mark Karake, Founder and CEO of Impact Africa Network. We were new so it was an honour to be in the same call with him and he took the time to know us and understand how our experience was. He also took the time to share his vision for the company and why he started it. His message blew our little minds away as he talked about using venture building as a vehicle to change society. When we achieve our 10-10-10 vision of 10 scale-ups, creating 10,000 jobs at 10 billion dollars by 2030, we would emerge as financially empowered individuals with the capital, networks, mindset and execution skills to change our society for the better. It was fascinating that even after Impact Africa Network had served its purpose, the people it transformed had an even bigger mission ahead of them. The intention was nothing but selfless and noble. I knew at that moment that I was in the right place. I even wrote a blog about it: The Strategy for Social Change

Impact on Communities.

Yes, there have been many instances where my work at both the Impact Block Lab and Shukran had made an impact and I got to hear and see it from the person impacted.

The first instance was at the Impact Block Lab. We had hosted the Impact Blockathon, which challenged more than 20 blockchain developers to form teams and build a impact-driven blockchain product using the Stellar blockchain. It was an intense 3 weeks of learning and developing their products and I had lined up learning sessions and expert panel discussions just for them. As I was checking in on the teams after a learning session to see their progress, one of them congratulated me for the work I was doing and he was so appreciative. He believed that what we were doing was important and was glad to be a part of it. These sessions were in the evening and I was exhausted but his words gave me strength to keep going. He showed me that what I was doing mattered.

The next instance was during our market research phase at Shukran. It was the 1st time I met Fenny and heard her story. We walked into Ocean Basket with the intention of learning more about tipping and telling them about our potential platform to receive tips. Fenny was willing to talk to us and we went through the questions to learn more about her. When she got to how she used her tips, she opened up about how she used her tips to support herself and pay for her two younger sisters to go through high school and university. This story blew us away and I knew that we had to build Shukran. In that moment, I realised my work could have a tangible impact on Fenny's life and other service workers like her. Even today, she is still bought into the Shukran mission. So much so that she is the Secretary of Shukran SACCO.

Personal and Professional Growth.

A major turning point was at the final stages of the Impact Block Lab. It was becoming clear to us that blockchain interest was wanting as most people were more focused on crypto and how to make money than building useful applications. Therefore, we had a final trick up our sleeves to attract the right kind of people for our blockchain community. We started planning a blockchain hackathon and I planned it from start to finish. It was the biggest thing I had done yet and we were only a team of two. It was Marion and I against the world. We came up with a list, game plan and started preparing the foundations to make it happen. The 1st step was to get people interested in signing up but we needed prizes to get them excited. It was chicken and egg problem. With no sponsors for prizes, we would get no signups. With no signups, we would get no sponsors for prizes. We decided to fake it till we made it. We couldn't lie about prizes but we could lie about signups. So we started reaching out to various blockchain companies like Stellar, Celo and Ethereum about the hackathon and told them about our 20 blockchain developers "we had" on standby to start building. To be fair, we had a community of 80 people and I had a network of developers so it wasn't a lie in the strict sense. Anyway, we pitched to these companies and eventually Stellar was the interested one. We hoped on the 1st call and talked about the hackathon and how we can get our developers to build applications on Stellar. The community manager at Stellar was bought in and said she would get back to us in our next meeting. By the next meeting, we started off clarifying what we had discussed in the last meeting like plans, marketing structure and so on. Close to the end, Anke, the Stellar community manager, got to the money and mentioned the prizes of $3000. Marion and I were not expecting that and the call was quiet. I got the courage to speak and mentioned that since we are just starting out, we can reduce to $2000. I still laugh that to date. Niliogopa pesa!

We had the prizes, slapped them on a poster and started the rigorous marketing campaign. I sent it to my contacts at Strathmore and we got students to sign up. However, the signups was so diverse that we got people from Rwanda and Tanzania. The hackathon had its ups and downs. We were flexible, learning on the job and putting our best foot forward. We got help from the executive team and mentors at the time. We would not have done it well without them. All the things I had learnt at IAN had led me to that moment. I leveraged the power of collaboration and got individuals of differing skillsets to work towards building one thing. From the video team to mentors to engineers to marketers. It was the whole stack of collaboration in the digital age. I felt alive in that moment after a long time. I took many lessons from that experience but one thing is for sure, I learnt that my vision of the world can come to light. With clarity, vision, execution skills and coordination, you can build anything and make anything happen. For all my time at IAN before, that moment brought it all together. I was becoming an Innovation Leader.

Leaving a Legacy

Well, I am not planning on transitioning anywhere apart from making Shukran successful. As I look back, I am proud of the work that I have done and the impact I have made. In fact, I wish I did more. I should have spoken more, worked on what mattered more, moved a bit faster, thought more critically, learnt a bit more. I could have done more and I can still do more. The job is not done. With so much to do and so little time, who am I not to do them. This is my message. Everything in life has prepared you for the moment you are in now. The here and now is your obstacle and your opportunity. Your past is your track record but your effort in the moment is your judge. What you do now will define what your life will look like in the next couple of years. The challenges you face now will be the proud moments you have. Take a picture of them and frame them on your wall. The reward is to look at them one day and see the person you were, who you became and thank your past self for it. In that moment, you will shake the hand of your past self and let him know that you did well. "We made it. We made a difference, we did what mattered, we changed the world, we made our mark upon it". You did it. Sure, you had help along the way but they helped you because you were willing to do it. You were willing to make dreams a reality. Turning ideas into tangible things. Turning desire into impact. What more do you want in life? You can have the cars, the money, the power and the women. But the thing that will stick with you, are the picture frames on the wall. The impact, the overcoming of struggle, the connections, the things you left behind. What matters are not things but a feeling, a feeling that encapsulates all of life into one. For those less poetic and philosophical, it means you have lived a life worth living and you can look back on it on your death bed and smile. That's it.