Interview with PropElle founder Ayesha Ofori

Ayesha Ofori is the founder and CEO of three property businesses and an experienced real estate investment and wealth management specialist.

Ayesha’s expertise empowers under-represented groups and high net worth individuals alike to develop entrepreneurial, business and finance skills, and gain financial independence through property investing.

What’s your career background?

I worked for two of the largest investment banks in the world – starting my career at Morgan Stanley, working in M&A and then the real estate investing team.

I earned an MBA from London Business School before joining Goldman Sachs, where I worked for over six years as a wealth management advisor to ultra-high net worth individuals. I was an Executive Director and became one of their most senior black women in a client facing role in Europe. 

How did your career change after having children?

Becoming a mum changed everything. I am and have always been very career driven and business-minded, but I realised (about halfway through maternity leave) that I also wanted to be a “present” mum and staying in banking wouldn’t have enabled me to do that.

At the same time, my entrepreneurial itch was growing and I eventually saw that banking just wasn’t for me anymore. I wanted to do something I was passionate about, make my own business decisions and work in a way where I could still be around enough to see my daughter grow up and not miss the special moments.

Property ticked all those boxes. So I left and set up my first business, a property investment firm – Axion Property Partners. It wasn’t easy to leave Goldman…I’d been in banking so long I was essentially institutionalised. I brought my resignation letter in twice and was only successful on the second attempt of handing it in.

The most satisfying moment was when one of my Goldman Sachs clients called me 24 hours after I resigned to offer me a job. It was such an incredible feeling and it really bolstered my confidence heading into my new venture.

Where did the idea for your business come from?

Axion Property Partners came from my personal experience of investing in property. I personally experienced the positive financial impact of having property investments with my first investment property and knew this would appeal to others.

I set up PropElle and the Black Property Network to help people (who wouldn’t necessarily benefit from Axion Property Partners) achieve financial independence through property investing. I’d spent a long time helping wealthy people to look after their money, I made a conscious decision to also help those who were less fortunate.

So I took all that I learned in my career beforehand to not just help high net worth individuals, but anyone. I also wanted to do my bit to bridge the wealth divide. It’s no secret that you need money to make money and historically to invest in property you’d need a fair bit.

It’s my aim to democratise property investing and make it accessible to everyone, particularly to women and other groups typically underrepresented in property.

The Axion Academy, an educational platform, was the first step to doing this, and from that idea grew the PropElle Network and the Black Property Network. Both platforms not only help people achieve financial independence through property investment, but they give people the opportunity to learn business and finance skills, receive mentoring, as well as build confidence and a network of connections. 

How did you move from idea to actual business?

I just started… and that goes against all my Business School training (my old professors would be horrified). But I feel that you can spend forever writing and tweaking business plans and debating on paper what might work, what you could do etc without really making progress. So I just got on with it.

I started to talk to more people about what I had been doing on the property side, rebranded myself…I even changed my name and started using my married name (my husband was pleased after years of asking me when I was going to do it).

It was like a clean slate to go out to the world and share my vision. People and companies began to contact me asking me to speak at events or to help in various ways and things grew from there. I did then formalise a business plan and do all the things you’re supposed to do when starting a business.

What’s your USP?

I’m opening the door to property investment opportunities typically reserved for the wealthy. I’m providing people with the opportunity to invest in property through an investment platform with as little as £500.

At the same time, I’m also helping people learn new skills and achieve their goals, whatever they are, in a collaborative environment.  

Who’s your target audience?

Whilst PropElle is aimed at helping women and the Black Property Network aimed at the black community, both networks are open to all. Both are UK based. 

How do you spread the word about what you do?

I have social media platforms for myself and the networks, as well as websites for all the businesses, to help spread the word about what we do.

I also run events regularly and these are promoted on the company websites and Eventbrite. A lot of it is also word of mouth – people liking what we do and telling others about it.

What’s been your most successful marketing strategy?

I can’t discount the power of social media, and how we can use it to make connections. The responses I’ve had, both for events and for simply sharing experiences and top tips are just incredible. 

What’s been the biggest obstacle you’ve had to overcome?

Juggling everything and being as efficient with time as possible, is a constant challenge. Believe it or not, I sometimes set time in my diary to eat.

An unexpected challenge I encountered and something that I’m learning to adapt to, is hiring and working with millennials. Technically I am one, but my work ethic and motivations are strikingly different to a lot of younger people I encounter.

I interviewed one person who genuinely didn’t care about the salary or having any kind of job security. I asked her if she could see herself staying in a role for several years. She answered “Probably not. I mean I could just Uber for a while or maybe go travelling”.

I loved her honesty but was shocked by the response. Had I said that in my interview for Goldman Sachs all those years ago, I think it’s safe to say I wouldn’t have gotten the job.

And your proudest moment so far?

My grandmother was visiting the UK and came to one of my events – she was so proud she told all her friends. She said to me “I didn’t know you could speak like that… talk so that everyone is listening and paying attention – you must get that from your grandfather”.

Why is work so important to you?

That’s a great question. Nobody makes me do what I do, I choose to (and I have to remind myself that sometimes). To me life is an opportunity to make an impact… no matter how small… something you can look back on and see your raison d’etre.  

My job is about helping people. In creating these communities, I have a very visceral connection to my community members. I want to contribute to making a positive impact in their lives and help them to succeed, and that’s why my work is so important to me.

I put my heart into everything I do and I’m keen for people to learn and develop. I get great joy out of seeing people succeeding and achieving their life goals and knowing I played a small part.

Who inspires you?

Strong women. From the Michelle Obamas, Gina Millers and Karren Bradys of the world, to the stay at home mums looking after their children or the mums juggling motherhood and careers. Also, my mother – I am who I am because of her and how she raised me.

How do you balance your work with your family?

Not as well as I’d like. But as I choose to work from home I see my daughter every day, for a good part of each day. It works well most of the time… she’s only interrupted the odd conference call or had a tantrum at the wrong moment a few times (I usually let people know I’m working from home with a two-year old nearby).

My poor husband gets the short straw as we only get to see each other in the evenings and weekends, when he involuntarily becomes my free business adviser. But he enjoys it… I think.

Although I should make some evenings work free nights so we can be “normal” husband and wife and watch Netflix, and not always being in business mode, planning and strategising. 

What are your three top pieces of advice for someone wanting to do something similar?

  1. Just start. Pick a day, choose something to do which is part of your idea and get it done. You can refine it and tweak it for the next time. Once you’ve started and people begin to expect things from you, you have to deliver and it starts to take on a life of its own.
  2. Dream big and when the naysayers come (and they will) use that to spur you on.
  3. Surround yourself with good people. No wo(man) is an island and (particularly if you have children) you’re going to need help. This applies to personal life and business life.

You can find out more about ProPelle on their website.