Abel Masai, Founder & CEO Kocela Ltd, explaining a point during the Lean Canvas session

Using the Lean Canvas to rethink a business: my session with Kocela Ltd

Kirui K.
Kirui K.
Mar 13, 2017 · 7 min read

In an earlier article, I talked about how you can use the Lean Canvas to think through a business or a startup. Recently, I had the privilege of running a Lean Canvas session with one of the young companies I admire here in Kenya — Kocela Limited.

The Lean Canvas template

Why run such a session with a company that has been in operation for the last three years? From my experience, you can also use the Lean Canvas to rethink or refocus your business. As a company grows, it tends to take on anything that comes its way. This is particularly true for consultancy companies. With the Lean Canvas, you can quickly map out what you do and decide on the areas that you want to focus on.

Kocela might not sound familiar but you might have used some of the apps they developed. It is the company that built and currently maintains KCB’s mobile application which is available both on the Play Store and iOS AppStore. They have also worked with the likes of The Standard Media Group, Radio Africa Group, and Credit Bank.

From right to left: Abel Masai, Kocela’s Founder, Samuel Makome, KCB Group’s COO, Angela Mwirigi, KCB Group’s Director Marketing & Communications, and Jaymo Ule Msee at the launch of KCB’s banking app (Photo credits KCB Group)

From humble beginnings

Kocela started just like many of the startups & companies in the Kenyan tech ecosystem. While in JKUAT doing his undergraduate degree, Abel Masai took a particular liking to Android after he bought his first smartphone — the legendary Huawei IDEOS.

The legendary Huawei IDEOS

On completing his undergrad, Abel joined Cellulant as a back-end developer. Unfortunately, this didn’t allow him to do what he loved doing the most — building mobile applications. The only way out was to start his own company. He became particularly motivated to do so after noticing that no one was paying any particular attention to mobile application development space. Additionally, the quality of apps that were being churned out by other companies left a lot to be desired. He took that leap of faith and started Kocela in 2014 as the founder and sole employee. Three years later, Kocela had grown to a team of 14. Abel tells his story better in the video below when he appeared on KTN’s The Entrepreneurship show.

Before the session

Before the session, as the facilitator, I had to do a bit of preparation so that we could get the best out of the session. The first item on my agenda was to figure out the main reason we were carrying out the Lean Canvas session and to create a list of expected outcomes. Typically for a startup, the Lean Canvas is usually great for understanding the idea better and creating a hypothesis to test. For a company that has been in operation, it is a great way to think through what you sell & identify where to focus your efforts.

Once this was done, I spent some time doing background research on Kocela. Having known Abel Masai for a while, this was relatively easy. He was a consultant with my former team at iHub and so I had witnessed his journey. I, therefore, concentrated on understanding Kocela’s perception on the internet. I looked at their digital properties and news items about them.

Next, I worked with Abel to identify team members that would participate in the session. There is the temptation to only have the management or leadership team in such sessions. It is based on the assumption that they are the ones who understand the business really well and will give you all the information you need. However, based my experience, good ideas are not monopolized by leaders or managers but can come from anywhere. I usually have a mix of Deciders (senior management) and other employees in the company for such sessions. In total, I had 4 team members for the session. Having too many people is not good as it will be harder getting everyone to contribute.

The Logistics

Once I finalized on the research and team identification, I embarked on the logistics for the session. While it is something simple, overlooking will have a huge negative impact on the session.

  • We needed a quite place with white boards or a wall that we could stick notes. A section of Kocela’s office came handy
  • Supplies — sticky notes, sharpies, white board markers, voting dots
  • Sprint clock — perfect for tracking time as it is visible to everyone in the session
  • Snacks to keep everyone energized throughout the session
  • Several copies of The Lean Canvas printed on A3. I originally was hoping to have it printed on A2 but ended up confusing the sizes. A2 provides more space to work on
This is the sprint clock

Once we had this, we were ready for the session.

The session

We started the session at 10 am. 10 am wasn’t selected randomly. It allows everyone to catch up on emails and other urgent matters so that they have the peace of mind when the session starts. As always, laptops and other electronics are not allowed when in session. Phone calls are accepted though but the person has to step out to pick the call. This minimizes distractions allowing all the participants to fully concentrate on the task at hand.

Before kicking off the session, as the facilitator, I had to explain to the participants how we would do it. We would use a lot of the principles of design thinking & design sprints to think through the different pieces of the Lean Canvas. This meant we would do a lot of individual sketching, Zen voting, and speed critiques just to name a few. Sketching always sound scary especially if you are not artistic and so I was quick to point out that I didn’t expect perfect sketches. We would track how much time was being spent on each activity to ensure we didn’t run out of time. However, we wouldn’t be too strict on the time but instead, add time to activities when needed. The Sprint clock came handy for this. We would also have a good number of breaks throughout the session to ensure energy levels stayed up.

The last thing I did before we dived in was to ask each participant to introduce themselves and talk about what Kocela does. The setting provided for the introduction was a cocktail event where the said person was having a one-on-one with an external person. The aim of the exercise was to see if the participants shared the same message when talking about Kocela. We would revisit this topic when discussing the unique value proposition later.

Once that was done, we embarked on fleshing out the different pieces in the Lean Canvas.

The outcome

Our session started at 10 am and ended at 3 pm. During that period we managed to go through each segment of the Lean Canvas.

  • The problem — fairly straight forward to define as Kocela has been in the business for a while
  • Customer segments — we listed all clients Kocela had worked with and all the proposals they had sent. From there, we easily came up with the segments.
  • Unique value proposition — this was probably the hardest section as we had to create a compelling statement that could be shared with anyone and he/she would understand exactly what Kocela offered.
  • Solution — what service did Kocela offer?
  • Channels — what is Kocela’s path to their customers? Were the current channels sufficient? If not, what other ways could they reach their customers?
  • Revenue streams — how did Kocela make money?
  • Cost breakdown — how does Kocela spend money?
  • Key metrics — what do you track to know whether you are growing or not?
  • Unfair advantage — what can’t your competitors easily copy or buy?

We didn’t dive deeply into the revenue streams and the cost breakdown because of time constraints. As a result, I had a follow up session with Kocela’s Operations Manager Kelvin Kurui to finalize on this.

We also spent time identifying the tools that would help Kocela implement what we had discussed. From experience, it is very easy for people to move on and not implement any of the discussed items. A good way to ensure this doesn’t happen is by setting up processes suited to that particular company to ensure they can track their progress going forward. The key metrics can be listed on an excel sheet which is updated frequently. To see if you identified the right customer segment you can track all your leads on excel or using a CRM tool like Insightly. Your unique value proposition determines your messaging and so should prominently appear on your digital properties. As a result, you will need to update all your communication material to reflect this. An excel sheet can be used to break down your cost structure. I worked with Kelvin on these items in the follow up session.

With that, my job was over. I can only hope that it will make a difference for Kocela as they continue growing.


Interested in running a Lean Canvas session for your startup/company? Don’t hesitate to ping me via hello[at]kirui.co.ke and I will provide you with details on how we can make it happen.


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Kirui K.

Written by

Kirui K.

Product Designer & UX Researcher, Co-founder & CEO Tanasuk Africa (dba iHub Consulting), Co-convener Nairobi Design Community

Lean Startup Circle

The Lean Startup Circle is a worldwide community of Lean Startup practitioners, educators, consultants, and investors

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