Much like last week's interviewee, Fikayo Ogundipe of PorpertyPro, Kelvin Nyame has been operating a real estate portal in Africa for nearly ten years.
The journey has not been straightforward but in that time Nyame has seen MeQasa become the market-leading real estate vertical in his native Ghana.
Kelvin also told us about MeQasa's business model, the state of investment in the market and some of the huge opportunities he sees down the line...
Unlike in many emerging markets in Southeast Asia or Latin America, Ghana's is a property market dominated by second-hand housing. Agents operating in this market tend not to be sophisticated and one of MeQasa's challenges is to regulate listings while also convincing small-scale agents of the value of listing on a digital platform.
The company does not use the freemium model popularly used by many portals in European and Asian markets and instead has a pure pay-to-list model.
Nyame revealed that in order to list on the portal, agents must submit their listings and wait for a two-week period in which their ads may or may not appear on the front end. The process allows MeQasa to see if the agent is serious about listing and, ultimately, paying the fee that anyone wishing to list on the portal must pay.
The model and the insistence on a two-week trial period is perhaps useful when it comes to distinguishing MeQasa from the horizontal classifieds players which Nyame says are not used by serious agents and hardly used at all by developers.
"Very rarely do you get exclusivity if you're an agent. So people are looking for where the high-quality leads are and it's very difficult for these horizontals to get high-quality leads."
Like many portal companies in developing markets, on top of online listings MeQasa also attracts buyers and investors to in-person sales events for developers to market their stock to. The events had to go online for two years with the CEO admitting their relative success was not something he's particularly proud of.
Since 2022 the sales events have been back in person and bigger than ever with MeQasa expanding the event to four days, attracting 2,000 attendees and, crucially, hitting its revenue targets. The offline events are seen as an avenue for growth with Nyame saying that "there's a lot of revenue to capture" and that the MeQasa would be creative around creating more value for sponsors and developers.
One of those investors was Frontier Digital Ventures, the Malaysia-based business that invested $500k in the business Nyame co-founded two years after its launch in 2015.
FDV quietly divested from MeQasa in Q4 of 2022 with Nyame diplomatically telling us in January that the ASX-listed online classifieds investor was perhaps "trying to avoid the challenges that Africa may suffer" as the threat of global recession looms.
Nyame admits that the rate of growth in the Ghanaian real estate market has not lived up to expectations, especially for any company looking to focus on a traditional online classifieds business model of charging an advertising fee.
"You have to look at where else can you focus on to make more money"
There has been some growth over the last ten years and Nyame thinks that even rival online classifieds players can contribute to growing the market for everyone by convincing stakeholders to move online.
"I was doing everything in terms of the sales so I know how difficult it was to convince people to pay to come online and try to explain the value to them. Whether you are a vertical or a horizontal, everyone is doing their part by training the market and training the customers."
Despite the divestment of FDV, Nyame was upbeat about the future of the Ghanaian real estate market and the "huge opportunity" implicit in a housing deficit that is estimated to be growing at a rate of two million per year brings.
"The problem is how do these investors get the money to build... and how do we get the financial sector to come in with loans."
Specifically, Nyame believes that the opportunity for real estate portals lies in monetising the millions of consumers that are attracted to real estate portals across Africa every day with unserviced needs.
"We're starting to look at the consumer side. If you're a real estate portal in Africa I think you should be thinking about 'how do I monetise consumers?' Because that's something that we really haven't discussed or explored yet."
"Are they asking about the legal process? Can you find them a good lawyer? Are they looking into building their own property and can you find them a good construction company?"
There is also the opportunity around greasing the wheels of the rental market which, in many African markets, is weighed down by a lack of trust. Renters in Ghana must find the money for 12 months of rent in advance - an obvious problem which Nyame says MeQasa is in a prime position to offer a solution to in conjunction with financial institutions.
"Once you solve these financial problems, every buyer and renter is going to want to come to your website because they know they can get financial assistance there."
Nyame answered the question of whether he pays attention to news about cutting-edge real estate trends from mature markets before it was asked when suggesting that fractional ownership could help Ghanaian developers offload stock. Ultimately no idea is being ruled out for MeQasa as it looks to the next ten years of operations in the Ghanaian real estate market.
"There are different solutions and we have to think through them to get it right but at least these are big opportunities that we are looking to explore."