Ayesha Ofori is on a mission to empower historically underrepresented groups through property investment. Ayesha has recently launched the PropElle Network and the Black Property Network – community forums which target women and black people across the UK, supporting them to achieve financial and lifestyle independence through property investment.
Here, Ayesha talks to BLM about founding her own business, her goals for her community networks, and her top tips for aspiring female and BAME entrepreneurs.
Can you talk a bit about your background?
A Londoner through and through, I was born and raised in the borough of Brent by my mother, who was a nurse, an education welfare officer and later a social worker. From a young age, my mother instilled in me the importance of education and having a good work ethic.
After earning an MSci in Physics from Imperial College London, I joined Morgan Stanley and worked in investment banking. Later, after completing an MBA at London Business School, I joined Goldman Sachs. I was a Private Wealth Adviser to ultra-high net worth individuals. In only a few years, I raised over £300m of client assets from new clients I brought to the firm, without the advantage of legacy clients. I was later promoted to Executive Director and became one of the most senior black women in a client-facing role at the bank’s European hub.
I resigned from Goldman Sachs in early 2018 and started my own property firm. In late 2018 I also founded two property investing communities: PropElle (Network) and Black Property Network.
What drew you to studying Physics and later an MBA?
I have always loved maths, because once you understand the rules, you can use it to solve a range of problems. I chose to study physics instead of pure maths as I saw physics as “maths in the real world”.
I started working in Investment Banking before the Financial Crisis. I got to witness the unravelling first hand – I was literally in the building next door to Lehman Brothers. I continued to work in banking, adapting as things around me changed, but eventually I realised that I was falling out of love with the industry.
The things I would tell myself to justify working until 3am each night, all weekend, or on holiday, just weren’t cutting it anymore. I wasn’t sure of my next move so I went back to a place that was comfortable for me – studying.
What was the inspiration behind your company Axion Property Partners and the Axion Academy?
When I’m immersed in the property world I’m at my best. It doesn’t feel like work. I read property news and articles for enjoyment and every time I’m outside I’m looking at buildings I pass to see if they have development potential.
To be able to turn something I love to do into a career was perfect for me. On top of that, I had previously worked with high net worth individuals for many years, and that was a part of my old job I didn’t want to lose. I enjoy meeting and working with people directly and when you’re investing someone’s hard-earned money, the relationship you develop with them is special. Axion Property Partners allowed me to combine my favourite parts of my old job with my passion for property investing.
However, I didn’t see why I couldn’t also work with people who have less, where my help would likely have a larger impact on their lives. 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. The Axion Academy was the first step in this direction.
How have you found the first year of business? What have been some of the highpoints and challenges?
I’d worked in banking since I left university and was used to a corporate office set-up. The idea of leaving to do something completely different was difficult to come to terms with initially. It took a few attempts before I was able to hand in my resignation letter. But once I had, I felt so liberated. One of my clients called to offer me a job the next day, and that reaffirmed I was making the right decision.
As with most things, there have been great days, not so good days and those days you wished you’d stayed in bed – but I love being an entrepreneur and working for myself. I set my own agenda, I choose how to make my impact on the world and most importantly I get to be a present mum. I have a 2-year-old daughter, and being around for her is so important to me.
Can you talk a bit about the Black Property Network? What are some of the issues you are aiming to address? What kinds of assistance does the Black Property Network offer?
The Black Property Network is a community that makes property education and investment accessible to everyone. Through regular speaker events, seminars, workshops, mentoring and other bespoke services, the network empowers its members to collaboratively learn and invest in property within a supportive environment that has an entrepreneurial focus.
Beyond enabling people to create wealth through property, Black Property Network also focuses on increasing financial literacy, honing business skills and developing an entrepreneurial mindset. These skills can be transformative not just to an individual, but to the community as a whole.
Financial literacy isn’t taught at schools, but there is often a knowledge gap within black society that perpetuates through generations and which can lead to poor decisions being made, which in turn can cause unnecessary poverty or criminality in pursuit of wealth. There is an alternative to this and BPN wants to be part of the solution and part of the national discussion to progress the black community.
You recently also launched the PropElle Network. Can you give a brief explanation of this project?
I founded PropElle to help give women the tools they need to gain financial and lifestyle independence, whether that means having a stable second income or allowing them to amass savings from returns on property investments. I want women to be able to have the opportunity to choose to work rather than need to work – just as I was able to choose, because of my property investments. PropElle aims to empower women to invest confidently at all levels, through direct property investments, crowdfunding, or even starting their own property-related businesses.
To give an example, I was recently called by a lady who had heard about me and PropElle. She told me that her husband had left her for another woman and although she had a high flying career, circumstances meant she was now at home looking after her 4 children alone, and no longer able to work. She told me that she had to start generating an income to support her family and she was hoping PropElle could help her. That is what PropElle is for. Being there for women when they need it, whether they actively recognise it or not.
How do you juggle so many different projects? What are your top tips for time management?
Life is pretty full-on, but I enjoy being busy. All my businesses are property-related and so there are synergies between them. It’s not quite the same as, say, running a law firm, a hairdressers and a nursery. I have teams of people who help me both professionally and personally. They say it takes a village to raise a child – I’d also say it takes a village to build a successful business.
Prioritising is key. You can’t do everything or respond to everyone immediately. I have a triage system, like in a hospital.
A mentor of mine from Goldman Sachs gave me some good advice when I was setting up Axion Property Partners. He advised me to build from the start, the systems I would need for the business I wanted to have in 5 or 10 years.
Several of your projects are focused on empowering underrepresented groups to build wealth. What advice would you give to aspiring female or minority entrepreneurs for building a business in a system that is stacked against them?
Negative people will doubt you. Haters will try to kill your spirit. The system probably isn’t stacked in your favour but that doesn’t mean you can’t get to where you want to go. It just means you’ll have to work smarter, fight harder and do not give up. It makes it more satisfying when you get there.
What are some of the most exciting developments in the property investment sector currently?
I’m an advocate for ideas that bring property investing to the masses and am particularly interested in property crowdfunding. There are several property crowdfunding platforms out there, but only a couple I think are going in the right direction.
Do you have any more projects in the pipeline? What are your plans for the next few years?
I’m working on plans in the property crowdfunding sector, so watch this space! I plan to help broaden the reach of property crowdfunding to the wider UK public and also bring crowdfunding investment capabilities to both PropElle and Black Property Network. I will continue to push both communities forward. The aim is to have tens of thousands, then hundreds of thousands of members in the future. The more people we can help, the better!
What is the biggest lesson you’ve learned since starting your own business last year?
I’ve learnt that failure can actually be the seeds to success. It’s more a question of how you deal with and bounce back from setbacks and what you learn from them. In the last year, I’ve made a lot of headway and things are certainly going in the right direction, but it hasn’t all been smooth sailing. I now look for positives when things don’t go as I plan and see how I can use them elsewhere or at the very least learn from them.