Founder’s Journey: Q&A with Mukhtar Mohamoud
We sit down with Mukhtar Mohamoud, Product Manager and Co-Founder of Newny.io to learn more about his journey and the lessons and blessings and he experienced along the way.
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🗞 Hot off the press
The saga continues. Last week, billionaire Elon Musk announced he was handing over the reigns to Linda Yaccarino who will focus on “primarily on business operations”. Joining Twitter from NBCUniversal Advertising and Marketing divisions, one might assume Yaccarino was brought on board to tackle the mass exodus of advertisers following Musk’s controversial leadership.
Is the future of AI open-source? 🌏
AI has seen a wave of growth since OpenAI’s ChatGPT dropped on the scene. Big Tech launched their own competing products, and Google, OpenAI, and Meta have all released open-source AI language models. A new wave of smaller competitors have launched onto the scene offering equally performing, but cheaper alternatives.
Access to open source can spur innovation and help democratise access to AI technology. However, gatekeeping measures may be necessary. Big tech may fear that access to open source language models may be exploited for malicious purposes. OpenAI has already made efforts to reverse its previous open policy.
You get a layoff! You get a layoff! Everybody gets a layoff. It has been a tumultous 12 months for the industry. Since April LinkedIn, Meta, Amazon, Dropbox, Clubhouse and Shopify have bid adieu to employees.
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🛠 Toronto Hackathon
Reer Toronto! 👋🏾 Somalis in Tech and Somali Professionals are planning a hackathon in Toronto this summer. 🇨🇦☀️
Before we kick off planning, we want to gauge the interest of the SiT community in Toronto. We’d also appreciate your input on what you would like to see. If you are based in the Greater Toronto are and would be interested in attending a Somalis in Tech Hackathon, let us know!
Please fill out this interest form. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact the folks at Somali Professionals.
Founder’s journey: Q&A with Mukhtar Mohamoud.
We’ve decided to switch up this month’s newsletter. Join us as we sit down with Mukhtar Mohamoud, a Product Manager who built and sold his own start up. We’ll hear more about his journey and the lessons and blessings and he experienced along the way.
We’ve been big fans of Newny, and have used the platform for our virtual events, so we hope you enjoy this conversation with Mukhtar!
Hey Mukhtar! 👋🏾 Why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself, your background and what you do day to day.
I’m Mukhtar Mohamoud, co-founder of Newny.io and an avid member of the Somalis In Tech Community.
During the day, I work for Boots.com as a Product Owner working in the MarTech and Personalisation product stack.
I’ve always been interested in Product but I hadn’t come across the Product function until maybe 3/4 years ago! My earliest foray into product was at Uni when I worked with some friends on a Groupon style website where we worked with local businesses to advertise their services on a huge discount. In order to unlock the offers, customers had to share the offer on their socials. The concept was novel and I genuinely think this could work today!
After Uni, I continued working at a local Startup called Meater.com, they produced the first ever truly wireless meat thermometer and it was one of the top 10 most successful Kickstarter campaigns. Working closely with the founders was such a privilege, seeing how they think and problem solve has impacted my professional career to this day. They’ve since sold the company and grew to a team size over 100 (it was around 20 when I was there).
Since leaving Meater, I had an itch to build my own startup, the only problem being I had no idea how to.
But ignorance is bliss!
That’s an impressive journey! How did the idea and formation of Newny come about? Can you tell us a little bit more about that experience.
Newny was the byproduct of an older idea.
When I was looking for a product to build, I started by looking back at my own experiences and I was trying to find potential problems I could solve. The one I landed on was an observation I made whilst at Uni that I think many of us can relate to.
I found that getting lecturers to answer questions via email was hard enough, let alone (as a student) having to muster up the courage to put your hand up to ask a question (that you’re sometimes embarrassed to ask) in front of 100s of students. So I set out to build a Q&A tool for students and lecturers to solve this problem.
I’m not a natural developer but I spent a few months learning to code (enough to build V1). The MVP was horrible but it meant a lot to me as it was the first product I’ve ever coded from scratch!
To build a full production ready product, I had to go out and find a partner who has the experience of taking it there. My co-founder David and I met on the Indiehacker.com forum where I’ve been posting about my progress. I put up a post explaining the progress I’ve made and how I needed someone to help come on as the CTO and help me take it to the next level. He reached out and Alhamdulillah it’s been a fantastic partnership ever since.
I tried to do everything by the Lean Startup ethos of building lean and working closely with the users. So I had regular catch ups with lecturers at my old Uni. I quickly discovered that working with the public sector was ‘not easy’ to put it lightly!
The Bureaucracy was worse than I expected. In fact, a fellow founder Dominigo wrote a book that just came out this year on his experiences of building a product for the public sector and the headache that’s involved with just getting conversations going.
Whilst struggling with the University, I managed to partner with a local TEDxTalks chapter which ended up kick starting our shift from focusing on the public sector to the Events industry.
Then Covid came and put a pause on the progress we’ve been making. It was survival mode.
Near the end of 2020 we got accepted into an accelerator and this helped us get a fully formed product ready to launch!
To make Newny relevant in the new world of virtual events, we changed our positioning to focus on helping manage the questions event managers get from lots of different places (email, twitter, comments) to one unified view on Newny!
We launched a complete version of Newny on Product Hunt, Jan 2021.
Wow! So once the product was out there – what happened next? Do you have any learnings or takeaways?
Launching on Product Hunt wasn’t a massive success but it was enough to get conversations going about Newny. The biggest learning we took away was to not put everything in one basket and that small consistent changes have the best outcome (marketing and product wise). We had a payment wall up which in hindsight was a mistake, the product should have been free from day 1, to allow users to learn the ropes of the product and see if there’s value in it for them.
The months following our launch was a slug but the best ROI in terms of conversion from visitor to user was from our SEO content efforts. We targeted keywords that mattered to us (like ‘Live Q&A platform’) and we managed to start ranking well for them. Over time we managed to get a consistent set of new users coming into our funnel and we crossed 2,000 questions being asked on the platform.
It was a lot of trial and error but through consistency and focusing on delivering adjacent value we managed to drive a predictable number of new users.
Whilst all this was going on , I was still working full time. Prior to Boots , I worked as a Product Support engineer with the University of Nottingham and through this work, the Product Hall course and Newny. I managed to secure my first product role with Boots.com (assistant Product Manager then Product Owner).
If you don’t have the experience for the role you want, make up the experience through self-started projects and courses.
Congratulations are in order – Newny has been recently acquired! How did that opportunity come about?
Newny was on auto-pilot for a while and I didn’t have plans to grow it or do anything else with it, so when the opportunity came (via Acquire.com) I was excited by the plans the new owners had for the future of Newny!
The satisfaction for me was not so much the acquisition itself but the fact that we built something that someone else found value in, to the point that they want to take over and grow it themselves. That alone was a huge win!
Mashallah! 🎉 Here’s to many more wins in the future. How has your experience building your own start up impacted your career as a Product Manager?
I’ve learnt so much!
It felt like a crash course on product management. A lot of my experiences were informal and later formalised via Product Hall’s fundamentals in product management course that I participated in back in 2021.
A lot of the work I did on my own via Newny helped me tremendously in my day to day work because I had that experiential context that’s often missing when you only understand a topic by theory.
I think running a side project should be a fundamental requirement for working in Product Management or else you are missing that experiential context to make really good product decisions.
Can we ask what’s next for you? Is there anything you’re working on at the moment.
The story is not over!
I’m taking everything I’ve learnt building Newny and applying it to my new project.
Over the last few months I’ve been quietly working on a B2B SaaS solution in the Customer Success world. It’s a little different to what I did with Newny but it carries the same core elements which makes it just as interesting.
I’ve taken a different approach to the one I did with Newny. This time, I’ve been actively collaborating with our users in the development of the product. When I tried to do this with Newny, I realised the misalignment between the product and the audience was too great (i.e avoid building for lecturers lol).
So this time round, I’ve put a huge emphasis on understanding my target audience and all their quirks before building anything. This has made a world of a difference already!
I’ll be sharing more in due course!
Final question! What has been your biggest high and biggest low?
One of the biggest highs was the launch of Newny on Product Hunt and the successful sale of Newny via Acquire.com. These achievements taught me the importance of taking initiative and getting yourself out there to achieve outsized outcomes. If we hadn't taken that bold step, we wouldn't have accomplished these milestones. I'm really proud of what we achieved and how hard we worked to make it happen.
However, there were also some lows, such as the slow climb on Google and the realisation that launching a product is just the beginning of the journey. It was disheartening at times, but we remained patient and consistent, we eventually saw the fruits of our labour pay off. This experience has taught me the importance of persistence, resilience, and staying passionate about your goals.
Overall, my experience with Newny has been a valuable lesson in pushing through setbacks and remaining dedicated to your goals. I hope that by sharing my story, you can learn from my experiences and use them to achieve your own personal ambitions.
I want to end with a special thank you to the SomalisInTech team who’ve been a huge help in the early days of Newny.io. Abshir and Mohamed took the time to support me in both my career and journey with Newny. For that I’m truly grateful! I’m a beneficiary of SomalisInTech and I am more than happy to pay it forward and support others in our community who are on a similar journey.
Questions for Mukhtar? You can find him over on LinkedIn and Twitter.
Aaddane eed ma waayo
Human beings are never without fault.