Reflecting on our 2nd year building a design firm & the transition to a new brand — Made by People

Kipkorir Kirui
Mar 11, 2020 · 7 min read

March 2020 officially marks the start of our third year of operation at Tanasuk Africa (now doing business as Made by People). It is the perfect time to reflect on our second year building a design firm. I did a recap of our first year which you can find below.

We are now Made by People

Made by People is a product design and development firm made up of designers and engineers based in Nairobi, Kenya using human-centered design principles & agile software development practices to help organizations build impactful products/services for African markets. We previously did business as iHub Software Consulting and this was based on a co-branding agreement with iHub Ltd.

Upon the acquisition of iHub by CcHub, our co-branding agreement came to an end. For a while, we had been itching to launch our brand and so this was an opportune time to do so. We are now doing business as Made by People. The name reflects our ethos and our world view. We continue to prioritize a workplace that puts its employees first and our engagements with our clients are all about empowering them to put users and people at the center of their solutions. In the rest of the article, I will be using Made to refer to our firm.

We (Made) finally got around to taking professional photos of the team. (L to R Myra, Wambui, and John)

The Highs

2019 was our toughest year so far. However, every cloud has a silver lining. We still managed to achieve a couple of notable things.

#1. Survived a tough year

2018 ended pretty well for us all at Made and we were pretty excited about 2019. Little did we know what 2019 had in store for us. We survived the year but we were quite bruised. Work was hard to come by. This got better towards the end of the year. However, we had been idle as a consulting firm for too long for a single quarter to save the year. This had a significant negative impact on our cashflow. It is a miracle we didn’t shut down the company and that we are around to give it another shot.

#2. Our culture, sort of, passed the hardest test

During good times, it is relatively easy to stick to your culture. From the onset, we endeavored to build a culture that puts people first over profits. Our belief was and is still that your employees are the most important unit. During tough times, it is easy to forget your core values and purely focus on survival. It is easy to push the team to work all the time, cut on most expenses meant to make the workplace comfortable, and being more controlling. While we struggled to adjust, I can confidently say we stuck to our DNA.

#3. Didn’t miss a team lunch

This is tied to the previous point. It was a bit tempting to cut the biweekly team lunches we do. On paper, it seemed like a good idea as it would save a bit of cash. However, in the bigger scheme of things the value we derive from the lunches outweighed the amount we spend. We will continue with this tradition in 2020.

#4. Client growth and retention

In 2019, we had the chance to work with some of the brands that you can only dream of. Our biggest success metric, repeat clients, grew. We established ourselves as one of the leading design thinking firms in the region.

#5. Started building internal products

When we started out, our vision always to become a startup studio. Consulting was and will always be our way to build the right talent and identify opportunities. This doesn’t mean we don’t take it seriously but rather it is part of a greater plan. Originally, we thought it would take about 5 years before we embarked on this part of our journey. In 2019, we worked on three products. Two were executed in partnership with external founders and one is purely internal. I will be talking about this more in an upcoming blog post.

#6. Team growth both professionally & personally

Some people got married and everyone got better at their jobs. Team members went through different life moments and we were all there as a team to celebrate each milestone. They traveled to places they hadn’t and took on challenges they had never imagined they could. Even with all the challenges we had in 2019, I believe we saw the most growth both professionally and personally across the team.

My personal highlights were the two weddings that we attended. In the first, we saw the groom (employee’s now husband) dance with the mother and it blew our minds away. First, we didn’t expect it. Secondly, the choreography was top notch. The second highlight for me was seeing our teammate sing and dance for his bride. First, we didn’t know he could sing. We knew he played in a band but singing and dancing were completely new to us all. All in all, we all grew in 2019.

Areas for improvement

As I mentioned at the beginning of this article, 2019 was probably our toughest year yet. As a result, we have a lot to improve upon. Top on my list:

  1. Grow our software development portfolio — in 2019, we did a lot of design work. However, we can’t say the same about software. There was a significant dip in the number of software projects we executed. This, in turn, had a negative impact on our cash flow.
  2. Rebuild the team spirit — we lost three team members in 2019. As a team, because of cash flow issues, we all went through a tumultuous time. This had a negative impact on team spirit. We are hoping to turn this around in 2020.
  3. Invest more in marketing and business development — we relied a lot on inbound leads and didn’t do enough marketing and business development. In 2020, we plan to be intentional about this
  4. Move beyond the reliance we have on key individuals — we noticed a trend where work was completed on time depending on who was involved. In 2020, we will invest more in building processes and empowering different team members to reduce reliance on a few individuals
  5. Be more intentional about capacity development — this point is tied to the above but also something separate. Personally I believe that anyone who works with us should be better by the time they move on to something else. Success will be seeing more team members grow into senior roles and take on more than what they are currently doing. To achieve, as Made we need to create a program to build capacity. We will start with paid courses and sponsored events and then build upon that.
  6. Establish the Made by People brand — I have always dreamed of building an independent brand and I finally have the chance. Working with the iHub had its advantages and disadvantages. We are grateful it helped us get started but even more excited we are embarking on our journey.

Shout outs

  1. To each person in my team Mutugi M’narobi, Joy Kendi, Dennis Muthuri, Liz Kagimbi, Joy Wambui, Amos Korir, Brian Ngaira, and Myra Sika. You are the real MVPs and I am glad you are part of the team.
  2. To the team members who left the team in 2019 Ansel Melly, Mike Manuthu, and John Owuor. Your contribution was invaluable and we were sad to see each of you go. We will continue cheering you on as you embark on new challenges.
  3. To the amazing consultants, whom we worked with in 2020 Hilda Kibe, Eugene Wangombe, Joe Okatch, Eric Asiago, Joe Mathai, and Dan Njuguna. Without your input, we would not have achieved half what we did in 2019.
  4. To each of our clients from 2019 Twiga Foods, Virtual City, Lynk, Fuzu, New Quest, Soko, Raise, Masoko, Turnkey, Dry Associates, Allan & Gill Gray Foundation, Epic Africa, African Union/GIZ, Mercy Corps, Innovation 4 Change, War Child Holland, World Vision Somalia, PCI, and Siemens Foundation. We are grateful for the chance you gave us and hope to do more with each of you in 2020

We are excited about our 3rd year and can’t wait to see what we will achieve over the next 12 months.

Our last team lunch of 2019 was at Kesh Kesh, Timau Plaza.

Made by People is a Nairobi-based consulting firm offering design thinking (human-centered design) and software development services to organizations building or looking to build products for African markets. We work with startups, corporates, and NGOs to help them realize the value of human-centered design as a problem-solving approach and to leverage the power of technology to solve some of their most pressing problems. Interested in working with us? Drop us an email hello@made.ke