In the quiet residential area of North Ridge, a four-acre piece of land is being developed into a 200-unit apartment complex. The development in Accra, Ghana, is part of a trend of new real estate projects springing out from previously abandoned parks.
“This is a very competitive market, there are not many people with a lot of disposable income, so the market for potential buyers is very small with everybody going after the same pot,” says Godwin Ofori, real estate agent at BCD Properties.
Skyrocketing prices for properties is making people desperate to find bargains, says Ofori. Kelvin Nyame, the Co-Founder of meQasa, is hoping to ease their anguish.
meQasa is an online property listings site connecting buyers to more than 23,000 commercial and residential properties across Ghana.
“There are about 27 million people in Ghana and we look at how many people have the budget to rent the types of houses that are available for rent, or office spaces, then you look at people who have disposable income. We feel that the market is very small, so either you are number one or you are out of the game and to be number one you need to have three times the content that your competitors have,” says Nyame.
Nyame believes content is king.
“In the listings, we are the highest right now, and traffic wise we have closed the gap with our competitors. We are doing about 40,000 serious seekers with over 290,000 page views per month. More than half of the 40,000 are converting and what that means is that they are sending emails to our agents and calling our agents to enquire about our properties and we hope to grow this number by up to 50,000 to 60,000 by December,” he says.
Nyame came up with the idea, along with Rashad Seini and Kofi Amuasi, at the Meltwater Entrepreneurial School of Technology (MEST).
“So the whole idea of MEST is to learn software and online business. The program is structured such that you do capstone projects and in the capstone projects you form teams with everybody. The idea is that by your final capstone project you will want to develop your idea into a business and meQasa was one of the last two projects we were thinking of making into a business. After analysing our expertise and our skill set we decided to go for meQasa.”
Nyame and his team had to adopt a lean strategy from the start.
“The market is very small but there were a lot of big players and we just had $90,000 seed investment from MEST to operate with for two years. So if you do the maths, you can only spend about $3,000 per month and this includes employee salaries, office space, marketing and product development, so we were very limited and everyone was after the same customers, so it was very tough.”
There is, however, a light at the end of the tunnel. At the end of 2015, meQasa secured a much-needed investment of $500,000 from Frontier Digital Ventures, a global venture capital firm headquartered in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Nyame is using that cash injection to streamline the business.
“We started monetizing two months ago and we have what we call subscription for developers, so every developer has a fee they pay for a number of months with different bundles. We also have banner ads and also sell our newsletter. For agents, we have products that are customized as well and by 2017 there will be space for every agent that wants to list on the site.”
In just three years, meQasa gained a significant percentage of the property listings business, according to Nyame.
“The early days were tough. We did a lot of research but we made some assumptions. We tried models. As a business you want to look at how you can make money and some of the models didn’t work. One of the models was that we recruited agents who we called meQasa real estate agents. So basically we would give them some kind of resources and an ID card so they know that they work for us but they also have their own real estate business. The idea was to send them leads so that when they close the deal we share the commission but that didn’t work.”
“We also hired a meQasa agent relationship manager to manage the agents, which also didn’t work. We made a lot of mistakes by also looking at the US market and what will work over there, but again that is a very advanced market so it wouldn’t work here. Now we are looking more at emerging markets in Southeast Asia, who are not too far from us in terms of developments but they managed to find solutions.”
The company plans to expand to other African countries and Nyame hopes he’ll soon be the top player in the continent’s property game.