Check out this interview with Forbes 30 under 30 founder Kelvin Nyame (above), one of three Ghanaian entrepreneurs, (including Rashad Seini and Kofi Amuasi), who launched Ghana real estate website MeQasa after receiving US$90,000 seed-funding from Meltwater Entrepreneurial School of Technology (MEST) in 2013.
MeQasa went on to raise US$800,000 from Frontiers Digital Ventures, a global VC firm in 2015, and is rising to be the number one real estate platform in Ghana.
How would you summarise what MeQasa does?
We help people find homes to rent or buy, within their budget. Basically, we use our website to connect property owners with property seekers.
What’s the MeQasa story? What shaped your drive to solve this particular problem (of home ownership)?
After I left University, I had 200 cedis to find a home, what I had hoped for was a single room. It was my first time housing searching and it was really tough. I could not find anything within that budget and I had to pay agents to find leads. So, I persuaded a cousin to leave home with me so we could pool resources and have the freedom of living alone. Our combined budget was 400 cedis.
This experience became the basis for why our team at MEST ventured into real estate. Especially after we realised that we could build a model to fit Africa, our own environment. Eventually, we built the prototype, pitched to it to MEST and got seed funding.
How has the journey been thus far?
MeQasa will be four years into operations this August. We were a small startup and we are now becoming an established business. This has come with a lot of changes - in structure, expectations and market share. There have been problems too but I take these as opportunities for learning.
How much funding have you raised and how has that helped your growth?
So far we have raised US$890,000 (seed funding $90,000 and series A $800,000). Funding is great for strategic planning and growth. With our series A fundraising, our goal was to obtain a larger market share in terms of quality content listing, traffic, and leads. We also needed to get revenue to break even.
After series A, our listings grew nearly 85 per cent, increasing our options in every locality. Our website traffic has gone up from about 5,000 to over 70,000 monthly hits and about 10,000 leads a month. We are constantly working hard to surpass our revenue targets by exploring different revenue streams to bring in more money.
We are growing steadily and our primary concern remains giving options to people who come to our site to look for housing.
What are your plans to expand in the short and long term?
We have two main goals currently: to maintain our market leadership and find more strategic ways to make revenue.
Part of our strategy involves extending our services offline. That is why we launched the Dream Homes Expo, a 2-day housing fair and exhibition that took place earlier this month at the Accra International Conference Centre.
Tell us a little bit more about the Expo
This was our first edition. We invited big property developers, estate agencies and vendors, service providers - both ancillary and auxiliary - for a showcasing event/exhibition. People who attended had many home solution options to choose from. From small purchases and furnishing services to mortgage services. There were also targeted and relevant seminars for people in the market to buy or rent houses.
The response was good. We sold more booths than we anticipated and now had the added responsibility to select the right houses and agents to showcase.
Moving forward, we hope to hold expos like this twice a year. Our goal is to provide the best possible service to our customers and take some of the burden of finding leads to good housing off their shoulders.
You were named one of Forbes 30 under 30 in 2016. What does being listed on such a prestigious list mean to you?
It’s an honour but also a responsibility. There are many problems in the world and I am just one person trying to provide one solution. In that regard, there are a lot more people to recognise. While I appreciate the honour, I’d also say that I still have a long way to go.
What do you think about the Ghanaian startup ecosystem? Are viable companies being created?
Rather than generalizing about the ecosystem, I tend to think instead that there are problems and there are opportunities. And we should be focusing on how to solve these problems. As locals, if we focus on creating solutions that work, our ecosystem will evolve and grow naturally.
Tell us about your biggest entrepreneurial challenges
Transitioning from startup to business has been tough. Managing a close-knit team of three co-founders with a shared vision is easier than a diverse team of 18 employees in various levels of management, not including investors and their expectations.
Some of the finer challenges include finding the right skills/talent who understand the startup space and want to grow with you and help manage your vision over time.
Another obvious challenge is with the government in creating an ideal environment for investors. Currently, local investors don’t have the necessary incentives to invest as much as they could.
Do you have any specific leadership tips for managing teams to share?
My approach has been to look beyond talent to bring in people who understand the startup space and culture. This eases the chances of me having to manage conflicts, which I don't like to do.
The culture I’m trying to build hinges on asking certain questions; Can we work together? Can you work with people? I also rely on tips and advice from experienced managers or valid online resources to help manage my team.
Finish this sentence, in 2020 Africa will be..?
That’s only three years from now! I would like to see more locals starting impactful businesses, solving real problems. There’s a growing trend of local investors getting engaged, more willing to commit financially, and foreign businesses expanding to this market because they want to grow. By 2020, it will be an even greater time to flourish as an entrepreneur in Africa.