By Mandisa Tselane
Earlier this year, Kagiso Trust (KT), Motseng Investment Holdings and the South African Diversity Council (SASDC) put their heads together to create a platform which supports black entrepreneurs in the local property sector.
The result of this collective effort was PROPreneurX, a property entrepreneurial programme aimed at professionals and business owners in the sector. Individuals selected to participate in PROPreneurX were afforded access to an accelerator programme, knowledge-sharing forums, as well as networking and mentorship opportunities.
The six-month programme was delivered through the Youth Innovation Entrepreneurship Design Institute.
KT’s Mandisa Tselane chatted with one of the development academy’s inaugural graduates, Bonolo Gueye, founder of MaiKae Property Consulting.
MT: Property isn’t exactly every young black person’s career choice, especially since the industry is still largely one which hasn’t transformed. Why did you pursue such a tough sector, and what is it that still keeps you going?
BG: I don’t think I can start talking about myself as a property entrepreneur before mentioning I come from a long line of entrepreneurs, mostly women. My grandmother, my mother, my aunts and my sisters have all been a big part of the reason I embraced this entrepreneurial gene.
So, you could say that my fearlessness about entering an industry that wasn’t tailormade for young black woman, has everything to do with the determination, the hard work and resilience I’ve witnessed first-hand in the women in my life.
I spent a few years in the States (Chicago) pursuing a degree in Industrial and Organisational Psychology, so it came as no surprise when my employer, after returning home, asked me, “Why are you interested in property when you’ve studied psychology?”. My response was and still is, property is about people. Buildings, whether offices or homes, are occupied by people. Psychology is about people.
While I started as a secretary at JHI Properties, I took every advantage of this entry-level position as my classroom and really, I fell in love with the self-awareness, intuition and interpersonal skills required to do the ‘tango’ of negotiation and deal-making. Five years later, I found myself ‘graduating’ into a more senior role at Investec, followed by my tenure at Growthpoint.
In 2016, MaiKae Property was born and since then, I’ve been very fortunate in the many referrals, all thanks to the network I’d fostered over a number of years. So, in a nutshell, keep learning, keep growing, be good to those in your circle, and as far as possible, make that circle a mutually rewarding one.
MT: After you’d already spent years in the sector, what more was there to learn? What did PROPreneurX offer you that you hadn’t already known?
BG: The property sector, much like any other industry, is constantly evolving, so there is always a need to expand your skills set, especially as a business owner. One of the most important lessons I learned was that while I may be well-versed in property, it’s not enough to be successful at running a property business.
Key aspects of ‘doing good business’, even the seemingly simple art of the elevator pitch or defining effective sales strategies, can so often be overlooked and taken for granted. But the ProPreneurX programmed forced me to hone my skills, and quite frankly, shifted my perspective from working in my business, to working on my business.
What was particularly rewarding for me was that I didn’t need to wait till the end of the six-month programme before I could apply the learnings and take practical steps towards advancing MaiKae. While the modules were comprehensive, in-depth and gave cause for deep introspection.
MT: What were the PROPreneurX highlights for you?
BG: The launch event really set the tone for the programme and kicked things off with a bang!
Initially when I’d ‘stumbled on’ PROPreneurX, I was already excited to see someone like Ipeleng Mkhari on the list of mentors we would have access to. Again, yet another woman I’ve long admired, and I know I join a long list of aspirant business leaders who have constantly taken pages out of Ipeleng’s book, her incredible track record of success. So that was already a pre-highlight highlight.
Secondly, the fact that I could as a small business owner, without the big corporate training budgets, have access to a programme which would expand my skills set, that has been such a blessing!
Then, it was apparent on Launch Day that we had a diversity of entrepreneurs and professionals who were participating in PROPreneurX. This excited me because we learn from those who are not the same as us, but from the ones who are different. Every person came with their own individual experiences, their own distinct points of view, and this for me, made the programme one which would not only challenge my perspectives but also bring a new texture to my journey as a property entrepreneur.
Lastly, the networking made possible by PROPreneurX created opportunities for us as training candidates to explore synergies between our businesses, and this was extended to include the programme sponsors. As I’ve said before, property is about people, it’s about relationships. And really, this is the biggest take-out, the greatest highlight for me.
MT: How did Covid-19 Lockdown impact your business?
BG: We were fortunate enough to have completed at least three months of training before Lockdown end-March, and the economic shutdown forced us to apply our learnings, specifically, how to pivot your business, adapt it to new conditions in a new environment. This was not only true for the property sector, but for anyone, everyone, across industries.
The point is that by the time Lockdown happened, we were already thinking differently.
One of my PROPreneurX classmates is a carpenter, and during Lockdown, she identified the need for laptop stands for those working from home. Another has a business in providing property fencing, and while it’s not quit the same, he went on to manufacture Perspex face shields. That’s what I love about us as South Africans, our survival instincts are strong, we know how to make a plan.
As businesses downsize, as the economy continues to contract, there is now a new and growing market for companies seeking to optimize the spaces they occupy, looking for commercial and industrial property that allows for ‘smart-leasing’ at more affordable rates.
I’m still growing, evolving. And it really was most fortuitous that the shift in my thinking started just before everyone else was forced to shift theirs, all thanks to this PROPreneurX programme.