This episode is the first in a series on "Agency Leaders," women who offer technology services and have an original background.
Our first guest is Maureen Esther Achieng, the founder of Nocode Apps Inc. and author of the book "A beginner's journey to No-code apps made easy".
"[Tech] is an amazing place to be, every second you learn something new.!"
The journey of a woman in tech from Kenya
Maureen Esther Achieng comes from Nairobi, Kenya. She started her career in sales working alongside her father at his shop from 6 to 20 years old. He taught her most of the selling skills that enabled her to land a job at Mercedes Benz in her early twenties. After five years, she left the company and tried an entrepreneurial project. She discovered no-code tools while building her first application and has been using her knowledge to help other entrepreneurs ever since. Her goal is to have enough money to help her brother and those who suffer from cerebral palsy by creating hydrogenated water whose benefits have been known in Japan for a long time.
She is the author of a book on nocode: "A beginner's journey to No-code apps made easy," which she is marketing on her website.
Her testimony is one of courage and perseverance. She shares what she has learned in the last few years about entrepreneurship.
Four lessons from an entrepreneur in Tech
Lesson #1: To Sell, Know Your Product and the People Who Buy It.
She learned how to do this by working alongside her father since she was 6 years old, watching him listen to and serve clients.
Recently a freelancer friend told me the same thing: her most straightforward assignments to win were the ones where she hardly said anything in the interview and let the client talk about their needs.
Working at Mercedes also taught Maureen about big business culture, logistics, and selling luxury goods.
Lesson #2: Embark on Entrepreneurship While Accepting You Can Fail
When she left her first job, her father told her, "Give yourself permission to fail; I'll be there." She took the gamble and gave herself three years to fail - she was 27 when she quit. She failed in her first venture (a high-end water for the Kenyan market) and realized three things:
To start a physical goods business, you need capital, which can be a lot of money, and think about critical activities such as logistics.
The most important thing is to talk to potential customers to see if there is a match between the product and the market.
You must be aligned with your business partner to pursue the same goal/vision. Otherwise, it takes a lot of energy to convince him/her daily.
Lesson #3: Use the Resources at Your Disposal.
Maureen applies one of the main principles of the "effectuation" approach very well: do with the resources you have and that no one can take away from you. For her: her intelligence, courage, and goal which is to earn enough money to help her brother.
In particular, the no-code tools allowed her to start without any technical background, so much so that she decided to share this knowledge and made it her current business.
Lesson #4: Get the Best People to Help You
We have already discussed the importance of surrounding yourself with the right people.
Sleeping in her car while renting her house on Airbnb, Maureen funded coaching with the people who could help her accelerate. She got help with content, online sales, and promotion from three coaches. This allowed her to understand the value of what she was doing, get paid the right price, and test her market. She also reached out on social media to Mike Williams, an entrepreneur who built his app (Studiotime-an Airbnb for music studios) in one night using no-code tools.
Recently, a successful entrepreneur told me she had one regret: not going to an incubator sooner. Look at the existing programs, sign up for incubator newsletters, and put points in your calendar to check out what's coming up.
Would you like to join a community of Women in Tech?
Her mentor: Danielle Leslie.
Her role model in tech is Mike Williams, who guided her in the No-code space and gave her confidence.
Her favorite app: Stripe, to manage online payments.
Her show/podcast: "Masters of Scale" by Reid Hoffman, co-founder of LinkedIn.
Her cause: she recently started working on a foundation project to help Youths across Africa learn about entrepreneurship, technology, and financial literacy, because she believes these three pillars can change Africa significantly.
Transcript (English - adapted)
This episode is the first in a series featuring Agency Leaders, women who created businesses helping customers with a range of services in technology. We received Maureen Esther Achieng, the CEO and founder of Nocode App Inc. and author of the book “A beginner’s journey to zero-code apps made easy.”
[2.20 - 5.40] Maureen introduces herself. She’s an author and global speaker. She loves nocode because it allowed her to break into tech without spending years learning how to code. At her company, she helps non-tech early-stage founders to build their first products (apps or websites) without the cost of developers or the need to have a CTO among the founders.
[5.40 - 7.10] Maureen was born and bred in Kenya and currently lives in Nairobi, but her business is registered in the US. Her background is in HR, and she started at Compass. Then she worked at Mercedes for five years in sales. She learned to sell with her dad, and it comes naturally to her. Her dad taught her that you need to know your product and people; if you understand that, you can practically sell anything.
[07.10 - 8.40] After five years, she reached a ceiling and decided to quit. Her dad was very supportive, telling her that she needed to go where her heartfelt, and if she failed, he would be there. Her mum was also very supportive.
[8.40 - 9.55] She didn’t want to be a manager, and she felt like she had learned pretty much anything she could from the job. She is a quick learner, which she attributes to being pre-born.
[9.55 - 11.44 ] After Mercedes, she considered Tesla, but it was not in Africa then. She felt it was time to do something else. She likes to learn and has reached a tipping point where she thought she was sacrificing her mental health. She wanted to do something that she could transfer to her future children. She thought she could allow herself to fail (until 30!), and it gave her the courage to leave, even if she didn’t know what she was going to do.
[11.44 - 14.40] At Mercedes, Maureen learned about corporate structures, logistics, and selling to high-network individuals. She is not intimidated in a room filled with tech millionaires because she built her confidence selling at Mercedes. She is also confident in selling her product at the right price because the cars sold at Mercedes are costly. Being exposed to that kind of money early has made her comfortable with making money to reach her goals.
[14.40 - 20.00 ] As a next step, she started to rent her apartment at AirBnB and founded By Maureen, a company in the luxury water space. She partnered with one former Mercedes client. But the business didn’t find a market fit in her home country. She didn’t realize how much capital was needed to start the business and learned two lessons:
It’s crucial to reach product-market fit and talk to customers before launching.
You need to be in total alignment with your partner.
[20.00 - 23.00 ] Her second startup started for personal reasons. Her little brother Charlie suffers from cerebral palsy and takes medication every five hours. In 2018 her dad called her, saying she needed to come to say goodbyes to her brother because he wasn’t feeling well. Her purpose was revealed to her that day, holding her brother in her arms. He needed stem cell therapy in Germany, but they couldn’t afford that. So she started to look into what could improve his quality of life.
[23.00- 27.40 ] Her background in water led her to discover hydrogen water used in Japan since the 19th century. This water helps reduce hydroxyl radicals in the body. She decided to create a company but couldn’t find any investors. She learned another lesson. To start a physical business, you need two things: coins and connections. She was just a newbie and decided to fund the project herself, one way or the other. She gets her resilience from her brother. Her strengths are resilience, a smart brain, courage, and purpose. She stopped looking at what she didn’t have. She is even glad she didn’t have a yes back then because she learned so much funding her own company.
[27.40 - 28.30 ] How didn’t anyone give funds for a project like hers, that can help so many people? It depends on who you know. In Kenya, it’s the only thing that matters. She needed to move fast. So she decided to start from the ground, concentrating on what she had and that no one could take away from her.
[28.30 - 30.10] She took care of her brother’s bills. She was already renting her house and decided to rent her shoes, bags, etc. She googled how to build apps and found Mike Williams, who built Studiotime, a marketplace for renting studios in one night with nocode tooms. She reached out to him, and he guided her along the steps. She started to teach herself about nocode tools and to build apps.
[30.10 - 31.30] The fact that a person with no technical background can build something made her pause. So many Africans are not aware of this. She decided to build a company to teach people how to break into tech. And from that company, she will fund her hydrogen water project.
[31.30- 34.00] As an entrepreneur, she applies one of the “effectuation” principles, which is to build with the resource you have at hand. She never gave up, although she suffered from imposter syndrome, having no technical background, or a degree, and being a woman in a male-dominated industry. At one point, she stopped explaining herself and just continued.
[34.00-35:45] She has been mentored greatly because she needed to understand online business. Most of what you see online is for VC- backed tech companies, but those business models don’t apply to a bootstrapped company. It didn’t come cheap, but she would have slept on the floor to pay for it. Once she understood the game, she built a company empowering people to make their ideas go live, thanks to nocode tools.
[35:45 - 38.30] Only 0.3% of the population can code, and she would like to empower a maximum of people. At the same time, everything she does, her book, speaking engagements, and programs, are monetized. It’s important to access knowledge. How did she find her first clients? She started by building apps on any nocode tool, then wrote her book “A beginner’s journey to zero-code apps made easy” and put it for sale on her website. Her first customer was from the US! And then, she started helping people build their websites for pay.
[38.30 - 40.30] She enrolled in a coaching program by Danielle Leslie, who taught her how to turn her ideas into business. Another mentor gave her the confidence to launch herself on the internet. It’s not that she wouldn’t do that by herself, but where she sees gaps, she seeks help. She doesn’t hesitate to pay people for the skills she doesn’t have. She learned how to scale her business with another mentor.
[40.30 - ] She learned so much that she would dedicate her life to her project [hydrogen water], even though she has a slight chance of succeeding. The way she defines success is to be aligned with her purpose, her divine assignment. She wants to help people with her gifts.
[41.00 - ] When she worked at Mercedes, she learned from a trainer that Lewis Hamilton (the Formula 1 champion) also has a brother with cerebral palsy. The challenges are the same. In Africa, laws to take care of disabled people are different. When she felt like giving up and even committing suicide because she doubted herself, she found the courage. Your qualifications don’t matter; no other people like her can do what she does. Nocode allows her to help others.
[41.00 - ] Her speaking engagement experience started with a TV interview. Training other people helped her build her confidence. What is important is not you, but the message you deliver. The more you speak, the easier it is, even if you still feel anxiety.
[41.00 - ] She intends to be an angel investor, helping people build tech products, especially women because they are so few.