Hey guys, welcome to this new episode of an African Design Agency, a series of articles about growing a UX research & design company, from the perspective of our team members. A few months ago, we talked about what it means to be an African Company and about supporting design communities. Today, we’ll talk about what our team was proud to accomplish last year. I’ll be quick as I’m not a big fan of self-promotion articles and if I’m not done with my Mafé yet, maybe I’ll touch on the crispy part: the stuff we failed (hoping they’ll be different from the previous year ah ah!)
Disclaimer for designers out there: I’ve been lazy with the affinity mapping/grouping of ideas following our team brainstorming on Miro, so I’ll do it guerilla UX style.
- “Have a wife! “
My favorite. I removed the name tag of course but the sticky note of this Francophone colleague below so that you believe me. Dear readers, finding the right person for you is hard enough, but it’s also a match between families and a loooooot of stress to put together. So a big up to our friend who managed to accomplish all this and celebrate his wedding… while launching our new product, LOOKA Panel.
- “6 projects in less than 6 months” or “doing more than 54 interviews”
It’s hard, but that’s why, as Fikayo put it, you grow fast when you work at Design Agency. PS: we generally don’t count the number of interviews we do… ...but one of our colleagues apparently does! 😂
- “Networking in the clubs”
Haha, I should not worry about our biz dev strategy or CRM then… it’s all good
- “Joining YUX!”
It came around 3 or 4 times… we made our recruitment process harder and longer. We have up to 3 rounds of chats + a test. I guess that’s why people are happy when they get through.
- “Learning and connecting during the Stanford University STP Program”
Daniel, our co-founder and I plus 5 other team members have been selected for a quite intense, 1-year program designed by Stanford University for African Mid-Sized companies. We learned a lot, met great people, and at the despair of our coaches, we realized we are different: we don’t care about scalability, market size, or valuation - we care about inspiring people with quality work and making research and design accessible to all.
- “Resilience during my colleague’s maternity leave”, “leaving 6 months without drama”
We don’t really have a policy or limit on maternity leave - if you need X months, then take them and even come back part-time if you’d like. That’s naturally great for the person enjoying the sleepless nights, but also an occasion for the colleagues to step up and see how capable they are at leading teams and projects.
- “Growing as a UX researcher”, “increase my design skills”
self-explanatory (unlike the Soupou Kandia - yeah subtly pushing my agenda on Senegalese food)
- “Take more initiative and autonomy”, “be lead on a small project”, “Leading a project in my first week”
Yep, that’s the YUX recipe, we throw you in the fire. Ok we need to accompany that a bit more, but in the end, no one died, clients are happy and you gain confidence. Which, by the way, is one of the hardest things to build for young people in general and from Africa in particular.
- “Investing in myself”, “mentally making it through 2022”
Personal development and mental health are not really taken as seriously as they should on the continent, and understandably, it’s hard to think about yourself when you have so many other people to think about and family stuff to handle. So I’m super happy we’re seeing people maturing and realizing that taking care of your loved ones goes first by taking care of yourself and your well-being.
- Going back to sport, waking up early, reading, and spending lots of time with wife and kids
Well, that’s me, I found a much better balance this year and managed to deal pretty well with the work I love and good times spent with my family. I actually don’t create a strict limit, but rather I find smarter ways to intertwine them. I realized that, for me, sport is the key to that balance as it helps me cope with the lack of sleep and stress and thus be more present during family times.
Team or colleagues' accomplishments
There are many, so I’ll drop the most recurring ones
- “State of User Research in Africa!”
That’s a bomb, we touch on researchers' and designers' challenges, tools, salaries, ethics, decision-makers' buy-in, and much more >> download our report now, it’s for the community, by YUX and the major design communities on the continent
- “Wikipedia, Google, Médecins sans Frontière, Meta, GSMA, UNICEF…”
And I could go on with the name-dropping, but these are actually real partnerships and long-term collaborations we solidified this year with these top-notch organizations. Overall, the “design maturity” of our clients has dramatically improved and our team now speaks to directors of research, lead designers, or innovation managers with years of experience. Big up to all of our UX Leads and especially my co-founders Camille and Daniel who stepped up to the next level this year.
- “LOOKA transitioning from a service company to a software company”
By definition, in the Saas business, the limit can be thin, but for us, it meant saying no to very profitable customized demands from clients and focusing on the ones that understand that the future of product-lead companies lies in their capabilities to do research on a continuous basis, by themselves. This risky pivot, leading to several key members saying bye, was super fruitful in the end as we managed to get the same revenue as in 2021, but in a much more sustainable and replicable way. With a new product-market fit found, a solid tech and UX, and a great leadership team in place, be prepared to hear a lot ºabout LOOKA and its suite of research tools in 2023!
- “Leading 3 recruitment projects with Panel at the same time”
Yeah congrats Amadou and Mouhamadou, it’s been an amazing drive for our participant recruitment service! Since we launched this new product in March 2022, it has been active in 6 major markets and has been used by Google, Stitch, Chipper Cash, Square / Block, Wikimedia, and many others…
- “Conference participations"!
We’ve been invited quite a lot this year, and most interestingly, not only the co-founders. Creating great reports like the State of UX or case studies on Agritech, Education or Health in Africa really got our team members invited across the globe to speak, share and meet. We even had to create an account on Airbnb business for that purpose!
- “Recruiting a research ops manager”
What a pleasure for our researchers and designers this year who did not have to worry about the logistics, the participants' recruitment, the incentives, the consent forms, the workshop materials, etc. Our angel Alex is now here and everyone can focus on what he is best at!
- “internal studies”, “Malo and Melisse internship”
We probably welcomed our best foreign interns ever this year. Coming from Strate, one of France's top design schools, Malo and Melisse who had some previous working experience in Togo, both lead a great team effort to produce 2 important public studies. They’ve shown amazing humility, fit very well in the Senegalese context, and ran this 6 months research work while working on client projects at the same time. So, in addition to the State of User Research, we’ll soon share reports on “Teens Digital Behaviors in Nigeria and Senegal” and “Managing Creativity in Senegalese Companies”.
- “YUX Retreat”
For the first time since 2020 and since we have a really pan-African team, we managed to gather everyone in Dakar for 1 week in December. On the menu: parties, workshops on visions, collaborations practices, feedback 360 sessions (the best from everyone’s opinion), personal objectives and challenges, careers path, and salaries.
- Remote work and a truly pan-African team
We are now more than 40 people, spread between Senegal, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Benin, Nigeria, Canada, Rwanda, and Kenya. It has not been easy to 1) Merge all our team communication and processes in English, 2) build the admin infrastructure and find the financial tools to hire, pay and manage people across the world, and 3) Make sure the mix of cultures works well.
The crispy part: Our challenges for 2022
- Make sure the mix of cultures works well!
This point is still a big “work in progress” to be honest. Some Francophone team members have felt a bit left behind with this fast transition. I could/should have handled it more smoothly. Bridging the gap between Francophone and Anglophone Africa, if ever tempted, generally comes at a much stage of development in African companies. With limited means, we need to make colleagues see each other, invest in their soft skills and personal development, give English and French classes, learn how to give feedback across cultures, etc. But, today we make up to 75% of our revenue with Anglophone clients so it’s only the beginning and we are all quite excited about what our company can look like in a few years down that road.
- Payment and banking infrastructure
For some basic request I was making, our bank asked me for a handwritten letter… As I mentioned in a LinkedIn post they all discovered 2 months after, I did not have to write with my hand since primary school (except on a sticky note)! That’s just to tell you the level of digital transformation of our banks. We had salaries arriving 3 weeks after and payments from clients getting lost somewhere in the metaverse! So building a pan-African organization from Senegal - and I would even argue after chatting with dozens of founders, from any African country - is not easy, to say the least. Our solutions: we successfully tested WorkPay which can do the contracting / EoR for staff across the continent and Cadana, a multi-channel payment provider. To receive global payments, we work with IbanFirst, a top-notch European fintech that opened for us virtual accounts in USD, EUROS, and GBP.
- Service providers understanding Anglophone Africa
We tried, failed, and tried again, but we can’t really find accountants or tax experts able to clearly explain to us what we should pay when we hire remote workers outside of Senegal. So, in doubt, we pay the maximum… This is hundreds of thousands of dollars in tax each year (exactly 23% of our revenue in 2021). However, the most difficult thing is not the amount, it’s the fact we can not predict how much we should pay and budget it. And that’s not only for tax matters. We face the same issues of Francophone and Anglophone systems reconciliations for financial analysis, legal stuff, admin processes, HR, and accounting software. Our solution: no other choice than creating an entity in an English speaking country - still debating which one - hopefully in, or not far from Africa.
- Using slack properly
We had to have an entire 2 hour session on this during our retreat and it was worth it. It’s actually very much rooted in cultures because it touches for instance on what “reactivity” means. In other terms, should you respond to a colleague or client in the next 30 minutes, 2 hours, or the next day?
- Giving Feedback and tasks to colleagues
Likewise, if we learn how to give candid feedback to ourselves whatever the roles, positions, and cultures, we’ll be able to grow as a team, go faster, and deliver top-quality work. It will also help us go through hectic times and be less stressed out. On the same note, we will have to define what our tone should be. For instance, when asking for a task to be done, should you say
- Hello Ndeye Fatou, How are you? I’m sorry for Sadio Mane’s injury :-(
- I’m working on finalizing the report for the client, when do you think you can have this Experience Map ready by?
- Kindly send me the Experience Map before COB today
Both can actually work fine depending on where you’re from or your background, but in a diverse environment, you’d rather take the former to avoid hurting people.
- Hire well
And that will be our last and largest challenge for 2023: as we continue scaling organically but rapidly (+50% growth YoY in 2022), we need to find and attract the right talents. By right I don’t mean necessarily skilled or talented in research or design - that we can train for - I mean ambitious, pan-African leaders who are energized by the challenge of building an inspirational African company. Moreover, we need people who care for African users, their needs, and their identities. So never hesitate to drop an email at firstname.lastname@example.org if you think we can grow together to the next level! As for retention of talents, well that’s for another article on “Managing researchers and designers in Africa, what worked well for us… and didn’t.”