• Build

    I walked the candidate into our meeting room. “Welcome to Mozi Labs” I said, as I signaled for her to sit in front of our panel. “I will inform the rest of the team that you made it here safely so that we can start the interview. The weather is really bad outside, I hope that you did not have too much trouble finding our office?” “No,” she responded. “I was so excited about this interview that I made a trip in advance yesterday to ensure that I would be able to find my way easily.” Way to win my persistence points even before the interview started. I like people who come excited about us.

    True passion is hard to find, and when we find it, we find a good place for the person in our organization and nurture that passion. They will be our people champions, spreading positive energy within their teams. We agreed on this before we even started recruiting.

    Our approach to user research has started getting our name out there even though our real product is not built yet, and we have done little to no marketing. People have seen the Wanukus website, which is powered by our data platform and integrated with their interface, which we built. A case study of this got published in mainstream news publications after their launch two weeks ago, and Kutoka pulled all the strings he had to make sure that every major staff and newsroom in the city had a champion talking about us and referring people to the news article.

    “This is the way we make sure that we get top talent without spending a lot of money. Do interesting things that get us press coverage, and get champions everywhere that matter referring to the press coverage. Word of mouth never fails.” Kutoka’s experience always shines through in his platitudes. His positivity also gives him the confidence to approach anybody and get them excited about what we do.

    The thunderstorm was so bad outside, and we had seen a bout of whirlwinds that lifted heavy items off the ground. A whirlwind forcefully pulled Sojuku’s bicycle off the chain that he used to secure it outside the office building yesterday, and it was badly damaged. Kutoka just approved that we reimburse him for the bicycle and build our own secure railings inside the garage. We had sent an email to this candidate not to show up once we started seeing signs of another bad thunderstorm earlier this morning, but she was either too excited or completely missed the email that we sent. We were not expecting to interview her today.

    Danak is starting to hire people to build out his infrastructure team and execute his plan. The first step is to get two people to take over what he does today so that he can begin to focus on infrastructure for our own financial services platform. We did our panel interview, where everyone was impressed by this candidate. Just as she had come one day in advance to know our office, she had also read our news clippings, knew much more about our company than some of us by reading the entire website, and also researched the backgrounds and past experiences of all of us on the founding team. Danak and Jakubu did a technical interview right after, and they were also very impressed.

    I walked her out of the office after the interview, trying to contain my excitement. Did our first candidate just blow our expectations out of the water? Were we just lucky, or did the job market just completely change on us? We had attempted recruiting a year ago before we started getting publicity through our case studies, and the interviews we did were frustrating. We got people who barely understood the reason why our company exists or our strategy of experiential user research in the hinterlands. We stopped that effort out of frustration.

    This new round of recruiting is different, and even the form responses to our job postings are much more unique. As a prerequisite to applying, Sojuku and Meluna programmed an authentication system that has the candidate solve a puzzle and verify a code sent through a text message before an application can be filled out. We are getting significantly fewer applications, but the quality is much higher. Candidates also have a good ice breaker to start the interview, if they take the opportunity to use it. We were excited to get feedback about it from this candidate.

    We are making sure Meluna does not get prematurely excited about her, as we have many others in the pipeline. “We are going to get so many women on our teams, and we are going to have the first culture group. Women of Mozi Labs.” Needless to say, this is a very exciting time for our founding team.

    As a follow-up to our brainstorming session from last week, we have decided to add a marketplace to our plans for launch, where certified businesses that share their commerce data on our platform can find other businesses that they can get services to complete their product offering. This was from the Banetis reaching out to us for help after they got their first inquiry and order from a foreign merchant for their cattle hide.

    There is value in creating a directory of businesses that have capacity, and are open to providing services to the craftspeople who build products in the hinterlands using data from our platform. Our platform will also curate and categorize their services so that they can connect with each other and the craftspeople.

    This was a good week. Next, we implement the new version of our interface for the Banetis and make some hiring decisions after a week tightly packed with interviews. On the first floor, there is a new sports bar that serves my favorite cocktails. Sojuku, Danak and Meluna are down there. I will join them in a moment.

  • Iterate

    Live long and prosper, said Sojuku as he stepped out of the meeting room.

    Peace and long life, I replied. Sojuku is a big fan of Star Trek. I could care less about Star Trek, but anything to make the man smile and continue feeling good about the work he puts in to enable our customers to share data about their lives and commerce.

    “Another shot of whiskey before you hit the streets?”

    “Yeah, why not!”

    I like the view from here. Our office overlooks the ocean, and we were fortunate to get a beautiful view of it right at the corner of the building. When we found out that we were going to be getting this space, we decided that we will make all the outer walls of our offices and meeting rooms transparent, with one wall in every room painted with ideapaint™. We planned for these brainstorming sessions, and it was a great idea. The next wow moment can happen in any space.

    Sojuku is not a fan of the long road trips that we make to the hinterlands to engage with the people who are starting to share their data on our platform. Getting people who never used computers to start sharing data about how they transact business is challenging, and Kutoka insists that we create interfaces that are natural to them with rugged solar-powered hardware, while we see the ones among them who naturally transition to ubiquitous interfaces like mobile phones, then encourage them with funding and mainstream consumer devices.

    “The only way that we can design interfaces that they will actually want to use is to spend time with them while they transact business; building trust, while we understand the kind of hardware and interfaces that will work for them through observation.” says Kutoka. He is very altruistic. Meluna thinks that we will never get some of these people to use electronic devices. “They don’t trust the banks enough to put their money in there. How can we get them to trust us enough to tell us how they are spending it?” she says.

    Kutoka thinks all of them eventually will, and if we don’t figure out how to make them, someone else will.

    I’m in the middle. I think for the foreseeable future, there will be early adopters who are the proxies for the ones who refuse to adjust. In open markets, they might work for multiple shop owners, helping them to maintain their inventory and record sales for a nominal fee. These are the people who will need to build trust, encouraged by the referral fees that they earn. It will be messy in the beginning, but once the benefits of predictable sales and new financial services that they have access to by sharing data about their commerce starts to become obvious, they will learn how to do it themselves.

    Mobile phones are promising as a portal into the world of more structured data sharing. For now, most people in the markets that we have explored just know how to call and text. Sojuku is working on machine learning models through text messaging as an interface for inventory and bookkeeping. For now, it’s too messy for production and for the demographic that we’re looking at. People need a guided interface that’s friendly, natural, and also provides strict constructs for collecting data. When the constructs start to become natural to them, then text messaging and chatbots can be a usable interface.

    This makes Jakubu happy, because the cost of our hardware, in his words, might get us out of business before we collect enough data to build a network that connects our customers to each other and our own retail financial services. Getting people to use their mobile phones is the solution, but they need to have constructs for recording business transactional data in mind first before we can make this leap.

    We are going to provide shared hardware with biometrics for shop owners where they record their business transactions, verifiable through bank statements. Like ATMs, but collecting data and selling retail financial services from our partners. Our end game is to build our own financial services infrastructure. Danak has a 5-year plan in place.

    We are collecting bank statements automatically using QR codes that the shop owner scans on the hardware. Other transactions are entered manually, and Kutoka is negotiating this integration with the bank’s collective clearinghouse.

    Today’s brainstorming session was very productive. We saw a demo of the new version of the interface that we’re building for the Banetis, soon to become exporters of cattle hide after doing it locally for over 40 years. Word on the streets is that they were found through Instagram when a local fashion designer took a video of them curing the hide after drying. They just imported a machine to automate this process. We helped them source their packagers and transporters from our own directory of customers. More on this topic at our next session.

  • Talk

    We dropped our bags, five of us getting back from a trip to share our boons with the Wanukus.

    Meluna the designer, Sojuku the developer, Jakubu the technical architect, Danak the systems admin, and Kutoka the counter.

    Kutoka, being the oldest in the group, naturally feels the urge to start the conversation after a long and stressful trip.

    “So, that didn’t go as we expected, huh?” Silence.

    Meluna gasps in frustration “The Wanukus can be some of the most difficult group of people to get along with.”

    We went on a trip to the Wanukus after a long deliberation on how we can get them to spend more time sharing data on our platform.

    The Wanukus are a seasoned tribe of craftspeople. Astute at what they do, creating baskets that store fruits longer without the need for artificial preservation.

    These baskets are eclectic enough that they fit in nicely with modern decor. In fact, a niche group of piano lovers have started a trend of taking photos of their baby grands with Wanuku baskets sporting their favorite fruits.

    The Wanukus have come to be known as the best at creating these baskets, and they take a lot of pride in it. So much so that they have their customers drive for hours to get their products.

    “We need a list of each product and the quantity that they have left after each sale so that people who drive out to them know exactly what they are going to get,” said Jakubu.

    Meluna responded, “I thought I made that interface look just like their shops so that they would not be worried that this would take away from their culture.”

    “We all thought that the camera to scan their sheets was the easiest way to get the interface updated without a computer,” said Jakubu.

    Sojuku spent so much time programming the optical character recognition to make sure that all variations of their handwriting could be captured correctly.

    If they are so protective of their culture, how do we even communicate with them after they start getting questions from the interface?

    We all laughed. I had been quiet the entire trip, and I had not participated in this conversation either.

    Sojuku and Danak were at their computers, working on the next version of the interface that we were going to create for the Banetis; cattle hide traders.

    After I had listened to the entire conversation, I remembered the encounter I had with an old man at the Wanukus.

    He was sitting outside and ushered us into the shop where we met with them every day when we demonstrated the interface.

    He did not say much, but I caught him on the last day looking back at the shop owner and nodding his head in disapproval.

    We had missed an important point. The Wanukus consider their old men to be the ultimate decision-makers even though they do not craft or sell their products.

    They simply stand at the door, usher people in, and decide who the shop owners sell to and at what price with simple nods. They are always listening.

    One of the subtle best-kept secrets in their culture.

    I suggested that Meluna change the interface to have the same look as the stand that the old man uses to keep the souvenirs he shares with everyone who visits.

    He gives these souvenirs with a big smile on his face even after a scathing nod of disapproval after listening to the buyer engage with the shop owner.

    I suggested that we take one more trip to demonstrate the interface to the old man.

    The Wanukus now use our interface, and the old man uses the chatbot to let us know when their sheets are not scanning correctly.

    We have characters for his nods. A video feed when we are not understanding what is coming through the interface.

    I did not count myself, we are a group of six. I am that guy, you can call me the medium. I listen to people and interpret things. I also engage with our users and tell our stories.

    I am usually quiet until I have something to say, so you will never notice me in the group. When in action, I do many things. Mostly observe people.

    Welcome to our world.

No more stories or excerpts.