Mariam Braimah was at the top of her career as a product designer when she realized she was still missing something.
As a product designer, Braimah knew how important user research and testing was, but saw a major disconnect in the product development industry, especially in Africa. As product teams build more and more for African consumers, they’re in need of quick, quality, and local insights from users. However, finding valuable testers across Africa is underserved, expensive, and extremely slow.
What came from this is Kimoyo Insights, a research logistics platform that manages participant scheduling, payments, and recruiting across Africa. They provide companies with the best participants to get the user research they need.
“I really want to build for people across the [African] diaspora. It doesn’t matter if I’m working for a company, or if it’s my own, but for the first time I started thinking ‘I’m fine with having to build it if it doesn’t exist’”.
- Mariam Braimah, Co-Founder and CEO of Kimoyo Insights
In 2016, Braimah joined Netflix as a product designer. This was her second job out of college and at 24, she knew she could learn from the impressive team around her.
“This is great because I’m around people that have 10, 15 years of experience,” Braimah said. “My first few years at Netflix [were] mostly absorbing everybody’s work and learning as much as possible.”
In 2018, she realized it was time to make a shift. Braimah had gained invaluable experience, but she was missing something. Her career needed to be driven by her passion for her cultural community, and her talent used to uplift underserved people and industries.
“If I’m gonna work on a product, I want the product to be for people that look like me, that are of my descent,” Braimah said.
She began to reach out on Twitter and find her community within the platform. Namnso Ukpanah, Kimoyo Insights' future co-founder and former founder of Figma Africa, was the first person she reached out to. Ukpanah asked Braimah to talk to the Figma Africa community.
“From there, other people started inviting me to talk at different Nigerian design teams and design spaces,” Braimah said. “A lot of the questions I was getting were questions that I had when I was starting as a designer in college. I realized [that] there seems to be a need here for design training.”
Braimah knew she could combine her experience with her desire to uplift the African community. She created Kimoyo Fellowship, a bootcamp for training the next generation of leading product designers in Africa.
Research was a key part of the fellowship. Braimah and Ukpanah wanted to teach the fellows to understand their customer base in order to design the best product.
The hit of the pandemic changed their original strategy for consumer research: connecting with people would be much more difficult given all of the COVID-19 safety protocols. Braimah’s backup plan was to use a service and pay them to be connected with African user-testers and focus groups. After searching, Braimah realized that this type of service didn’t exist.
Once again, Braimah saw a lack of focus on African resources. As the African market grows, companies need research resources to create the most informed and curated products for consumers.
According to Statista, the number of tech startups securing funding in Africa has increased by roughly 42% between 2015 and 2021. African tech companies raised over $4 billion in 2021, more than 2019 and 2020 combined.
Companies around the world are expanding into Africa and appeal to African markets. Google is launching their first product development center in Narobi, and Twitter opened its first African headquarters in 2021. Facebook opened its second major hub in Africa in 2021 and Microsoft spent $100 million opening development centers in Nairobi and Lagos in 2019. These leading tech companies and many more are focusing on growth within the continent, looking to capitalize on the fast-growing populations of many African countries.
Research is a key component of any major expansion, however, there aren’t many platforms currently offering access to the African consumer base.
The need for vital user research led to the creation of Kimoyo Insights. Braimah and her team built a user recruitment and logistics software platform that programmatically recruits, qualifies, and schedules African user feedback participants for research studies, helping businesses get insights 55% quicker.
Customers are also able to filter according to the target audience and rate participants based on their responses, creating a curated database of quality testers who give reliable feedback.
The Kimoyo Insights team gets to know their client’s needs, tailoring the research methods and process accordingly. The ultimate goal is to create a seamless process to deliver information that can lead to tangible next steps in product development for the client.
Why Visible Hands?
The Visible Hands (VH) team reached out to Braimah via Linkedin and asked if the accelerator was something she was interested in to catalyze growth for Kimoyo Insights and develop as a tech founder. She was hesitant to apply to a full-time accelerator, as she was still with Netflix and running the Kimoyo Fellowship simultaneously.
“It was the first time that I felt like Kimoyo Insights could be something,” Braimah said. “This could be a chance for us to validate our idea further.”
Braimah decided it was worth taking the jump to go through the application process and see what could come of it.
“The call [with the Visible Hands team] was awesome,” Braimah said. “I told them my situation and they told me to just shoot the shot.”
VH became Kimoyo Insights' first institutional investor and a lifelong partner of their goals and mission.
Building Kimoyo Insights
After getting accepted, Braimah was eager to jump headfirst into the accelerator.
“We planned to take the $25 thousand and go straight into building the MVP,” Braimah said. “However, success for us actually ended up looking like learning sales strategies, how to create a marketing campaign, and the basics of fundraising.”
Darrel Frater, Associate at VH, was Braimah’s concierge, a member of the VH team who is responsible for curating an individualized engagement plan for the founder throughout their time in the program.
“Darrel is the best,” Braimah said. “[We had] 1:1 sessions with him where we did a lot of sales and pitching training. We then put that into practice and got feedback from him.”
Although Braimah was the only one who had officially joined the cohort, VH was dedicated to supporting the Kimoyo Insights team in various capacities to facilitate company growth. This meant involving co-founder Ukpanah in various aspects of the program.
“My co-founder was on every single weekly session with Darrel,” Braimah said. “Sometimes he would join some of the workshops. [Having access to] that was really helpful.”
While Braimah was focusing on refining their sales approach, Ukpanah started developing a marketing campaign with VH Vice President and Chief of Staff, Tia Thomson. This included designing graphics, creating content, and writing copy.
“The Kimoyo Insights team and I began by trying to understand and articulate the value propositions that they wanted to convey to potential users,” Thomson said. “They came at this with a very experimental mindset, willing to try a bunch of angles to see which ones worked best. Their input throughout the project, coupled with a strong marketing strategy, led to a hugely successful campaign.
From there, Frater helped refine their ad campaign, which was targeted at acquiring Kimoyo Insights user testers. Based on an analysis of their target market, Frater recommended running ads on Facebook and Instagram. Kimoyo Insights saw success from this strategy, receiving over 3,000 new sign-ups and spending less than $100 in ad spend in two weeks.
Having Braimah’s co-founder involved in the accelerator proved to be helpful for Kimoyo Insights’ team dynamic as well. The extra help from the Visible Hands team allowed Braimah and Ukpanah to explore what their unique roles looked like within the company, and where their work could be divided or delegated.
“I think for us as a team we were able to figure out what our [separate] roles were because we’re both designers,” Braimah said. “It was important for me to understand where my strengths are.”
Frater was also impressed with the personal strides Braimah took during the program.
“I've seen tremendous growth in Braimah as a leader and founder,” Frater said. “By the end of the 14 weeks, she could easily identify what goals she should set for herself and a plan of action to execute without my support.”
How else was Visible Hands a catalyst for growth?
Braimah drew support from all aspects of the program to meet her emotional and entrepreneurial needs.
Braimah utilized many program offerings including mastermind sessions. These weekly meetings, with a smaller group within the larger cohort, were used for emotional support and as a general time to provide advice and feedback to one another.
Additionally, Braimah attended VH workshops. These were sessions with external industry leaders who offered advice, answered questions, and shared best practices with the founders in their areas of expertise.
“The workshops were where I was [achieving] my goals of understanding VC and fundraising,” Braimah said. “Even though I wasn’t close to raising, just understanding terminology and concepts around fundraising [was important]. All of that [I learned] from the workshops.”
Braimah didn’t hesitate to soak up the knowledge from the speakers on a diverse array of topics, even if it didn’t directly apply to her. Workshop offerings ranged from learning about seed fundraising with Rob Go of NextView Ventures to startup leadership with Aaron Wolk of Bombas to maximizing ROI with Candice Smith of French Press Public Relations.
“I had a notepad where I was just taking notes, even when I didn’t know what was happening or [there was a topic] that I didn’t know I needed to know,” Braimah said. “I think the workshops were paramount.”
Braimah also learned a tremendous amount from her fellow cohort members. Now being a part of a full-time accelerator, the 2021 orientation in Tulsa, OK was crucial as she thought more seriously about fundraising.
“Su Sanni’s session was great because he gave a clear overview and went through terminology and types of investors,” Braimah said.“This is our first time; a lot of us hadn’t raised before. It was a great lay of the land.”
“During my time at Visible Hands, we cultivated sales expertise, improved investment, and VC acumen, and developed our marketing strategies,” Braimah said. “We now have an understanding of how much funding to raise in our upcoming round.”
Kimoyo Insights has been doing exciting work since wrapping up with the VH accelerator in 2021.
They signed three pilot customers, two African tech unicorns, and the other an S&P 500 company. Additionally, they’ve received a 150 thousand dollar follow-on investment from Visible Hands. Kimoyo Insights is also prepping to launch their MVP product in private beta.
Visible Hands is proud of Kimoyo Insight’s growth during the accelerator and we’re excited to see what’s next for them. We encourage all founders who align with the Visible Hands mission to consider being a part of our accelerator. If you are an aspiring or early-stage startup founder from an underrepresented community, apply now by May 20th to join our 2022 cohort!
- Visible Hands Team