Facebook Product Team Finds Inspiration in MEST after Ghana Tech Tour

by on Monday, February 6th, 2017, filed under IncubatorSchool

An interview with Howard Akumiah (portrait picture below), Product Manager at Facebook.

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Each year, Facebook sends its team of rotational Product Managers on a global trip with the intention of studying a particular issue related to product development first-hand. In 2016, Silicon Valley PM, Howard Akumiah and his team of 12 set out to observe the internet’s ability to catalyze wealth creation, and they came to MEST for an in-depth look at the issue in West Africa.

Over the course of several weeks in July, the group traveled to Ghana, South Africa and Chile observing how access to the internet was making a difference in terms of job opportunities and economic development. From new ideas for product development to interesting consumer perspectives, their observations were collected and noted, allowing them to become internal experts on the subject.

Following their journey, they returned to Silicon Valley and presented their findings to the greater product team. “The lessons we learned will continue to drive product development and our thinking over the next several months,” Akumiah explained.

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MEST organized a Tech Tour for the team during their time in Ghana, including a look inside MEST and its startups, 1:1 conversations with some of Ghana’s most prominent tech entrepreneurs and a multitude of local cultural experiences. Representatives from companies like SMSGH, mPharma, Tonaton and many more, as well as MEST startups from MeQasa to Leti Arts met with the team to share their experience while the visitors also got a taste for local cuisine, art and culture. They were particularly impressed with what they found at MEST.

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“MEST is like something I’ve never seen,” Akumiah said. “The program is incredibly holistic. Everyone is supportive of one another, and it’s some of the most hands-on involvement I’ve seen in an incubator of this kind.” He noted the incredible value MEST entrepreneurs can get out of their time in the incubator. “There’s a strong community and a lot of closeness. Because everyone is on campus together, there’s so much room for collaboration between companies and entrepreneurs.” Being at MEST also provided them with a more realistic viewpoint of the role the internet access plays locally.

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“Our time at MEST tempered our understanding of what the internet is realistically doing for people.” Going into their adventure, the team had an optimistic viewpoint about the internet’s impact in developing countries, perhaps shared by many in the Valley. After gaining more exposure, they were able to put facts behind their big vision, and it began to change. “Our initial hypothesis was a bit grandiose. Though its impact is impressive, it turns out the internet isn’t making billionaires everywhere as easily as it is in Silicon Valley. There are a lot of kinks that still need to be worked out. But it is creating job opportunities at increasing rates.”

Akumiah noted the challenges that still need to be overcome before the internet reaches its full potential. “We will see a boon in its value when issues like cost and unstable connectivity have been addressed.” Akumiah and his team find it helpful to get realistic ideas around how they can help accelerate that boost through their own product globally and intend to focus on these moving forward.

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In addition to providing a foundation for future product development, the experience had a significant impact on the team’s personal development. “It made everyone want to leave the US and go immediately to Ghana. It was inspiring. People doing this in Ghana are so ambitious – the scale of thinking there is truly humbling. It made us go back to Silicon Valley and want to think and dream bigger.”

Of his experience at MEST and the trip to Ghana, Akumiah has nothing but positive things to say. “Working with MEST was smooth and seamless. They were on top of absolutely everything. It was the best introduction to Accra I could have possibly imagined – everything from food to culture to business introductions was covered, and the staff was incredibly friendly and invested.” He added, “I just love the MEST team!”

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During their time at MEST, the group was particularly inspired by several startups and decided to extend their experience, establishing a relationship with those companies after returning to Silicon Valley. “A number of people left the program with advisory roles for companies at MEST, and they’re now in weekly contact. It’s great to see.”

We thank Howard and the Facebook team for joining us and sharing their knowledge, experience and ideas with MEST and our companies. To learn more about booking a tech tour for your team, contact Celine at celine@meltwater.org.

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