James Owusu is a British Ghanaian Entrepreneur, and the Founder of Checkboard, a Real Estate management software that helps businesses speed up onboarding in property transactions.
He originally dropped out of university where he was studying Chemical Engineering, before embarking on a successful career in banking for 7 years, and subsequently becoming an Entrepreneur.
In our interview with James, we explore his entrepreneurial journey and the value proposition of his company, Checkboard.com.
Hello James and thank you for participating in this Q&A session. Please give us an overview of your background and Ghanaian roots?
James: I was born in Ghana and lived there with my mother and two brothers who are 7 years older. My father lived and worked in the UK before I was born. We all reunited in the UK and joined him when I was 7. Both my parents are Ghanaian.
You studied Chemical Engineering at Loughborough University but chose to work in the banking sector. What’s the story behind this transition?
James: When I originally started Uni, I asked my personal tutor the realistic salary projections of a Chemical Engineer. He said around £60k after achieving Chartered Status. I was very disappointing to hear. It sent me down a spiral, and I dropped out a year later. After this, I ended up in banking, and within 4 years of dropping out, I was already earning £60k per annum.
What originally attracted you to entrepreneurship in the real estate sector, especially since you had built a career the Banking sector for almost 7 years?
James: Since I dropped out of Uni I purchased a property each year. This exposed me to the inefficiencies in the industry, and how I could use my banking experience to resolve them. Particularly in open banking and automated Know Your Customers (KYC) solutions used in banking.
I believe entrepreneurship is a marathon and you must be mentally prepared to go the distance despite how tired, frustrated and beat down you might feel. - James Owusu
What key challenges have you faced as an Entrepreneur and how did you overcome them?
James: My biggest challenges have been fundraising. There is no playbook to it and everyone is different. I had to quickly learn the best approach for myself, and I eventually obtained an innovate UK grant which significantly improved our fundraising prospects allowing us to close around £1m in total funding to date.
What’s the origin story behind your company Checkboard?
James: When I purchased my final property in 2019, I believed the role of an estate agent could be automated into an app. I started out trying to do exactly that, however I quickly realised that will be an expensive endeavour and pivoted using feedback from industry players.
We landed on a solution to speed up the industry by gathering all the necessary information upfront. This was something that wasted a tremendous amount of time for estate agents and conveyancers, therefore they were happy to pay for it. Checkboard won an innovate UK grant for £270k and went on to achieve FCA authorisation, and raise £730k from private investors.
How would you describe Checkboard’s value proposition?
James: We help businesses speed up onboarding in property transactions by completing secure KYC, and source of funds verification, for the parties of a property transaction. Our solution is best aimed at small and medium Estate Agents, and Conveyancers looking to provide an app based verification for their property clients.
Why should customers use Checkboard’s services?
James: Our solution provides great value for money. Using our FCA authorisation, we provide a superior user experience whilst returning the most relevant data points for the transaction. We are also in partnership with LexisNexis allowing clients to obtain best in class data through this partnership.
Overall what do you attribute your success to as an Entrepreneur?
James: I believe entrepreneurship is a marathon and you must be mentally prepared to go the distance despite how tired, frustrated and beat down you might feel. Things can change positively or adversely overnight, and that night could happen at any time, so be prepared to deal with the challenges and keep moving.
Do you have any advice for new Entrepreneurs trying to launch or run their startup?
James: Start now, start small and aim big. You will be surprised where you end up 2-3 years later. The idea will most likely be different from what you originally started out to do, because you will use live feedback to guide your steps, but the journey will be worth it.
We would like to conclude this interview by thanking you for participating in this Q&A session. We wish you all the best in your future endeavours.
James: Thank you
Start now, start small and aim big. You will be surprised where you end up 2 to 3 years later. - James Owusu