With Alagie Manneh
Real Estate business anywhere in the world and America in particular is not for the faint hearted. The industry in America is capital intensive and is mostly white-dominated. Musa Jallow is one of Gambia’s most outstanding entrepreneurs in America. He is the CEO of Musa Jallow Home-Restaino and Associates in Madison, USA. When Alagie met Mr. Jallow recently, he recounted his entrepreneurial journey , reflected on the lessons he has learned along the way and spoke about his future plans for the Gambia’s Real Estate industry.
You are one of the most successful African businessmen in the US but not many Gambians know you. What is your personal and professional background?
I was born and brought up in Barra, North Bank Region. I attended Gambia High School and graduated in 2007. I later worked in The Gambia for a little bit before moving to the US in 2009. I am the owner of Musa Jallow Homes, a real estate business in Madison, Wisconsin.
How and when did you start your venture as a Real Estate business man?
I have always been passionate about Real Estate while I was still in The Gambia, however, I ventured into the business when I got to the US. I was discouraged when I told some friends about my plans to get into Real Estate business. Most thought I had very little chances of success because of my African origins and accent. Alhamdulillah, looking at how my business is flourishing now, I am so glad I took the risk. The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure you seek.
But today you are one of the top producers in your city in Madison, Wisconsin. How did you accomplish this impressive feat as an immigrant in America?
First of all, I thank my clients for trusting me to help them with all their Real Estate needs. The second reason is hard work and top rated Real Estate service my business offers. I get a ton of referrals from raving and happy clients. Above all, I work with a very good team of loan officers, home inspectors, appraisers and builders that makes serving my clients with top notch service easier. But again, being an African, it is always difficult to compete with whites there. As a people person, I was able to raise my standards in Madison and within three years I grow to be part and parcel of the top producers and one of the top earners in my area. Real Estate is life for me.
As an immigrant, have you encountered any unique challenges in US where you run your businesses?
Of course running a business is challenging in itself and being an African with an accent doesn’t make it easier. But I am not fazed by obstacles and competition. With hard work and dedication, the obstacles must give way to success. I do whatever it takes to succeed in helping my clients with their Real Estate needs.
What is your assessment of the Real Estate industry in The Gambia?
I have been studying the market and I think there are a lot of things that needed urgent fixing in Gambia’s Real Estate industry. Anybody can wake up today and become a Real Estate agent in The Gambia. There is no regulatory body to supervise the activities of Real Estate agencies and there are a lot of dubious land dealings and unethical marketing practices by some agencies. There is also no multiple Listing Service (MLS) among many other things.
What is your vision for Real Estate industry in The Gambia?
The Real Estate industry here has a lot of potential. It only needs some regulation as far as the industry is concerned. I am working on some things behind the scenes and when it is ready, I will roll it out for everyone to know.
Don’t you think we have reached a saturation point for real estate business in the country especially in light of the discord it has caused in recent years?
Yes, there are a lot of people running Real Estate businesses here but few really know what they are doing. Most people think Real Estate business is just about buying, helping people buy Real Estate. It is way more than that. Together with a Gambian Real Estate business partner called Alex Darboe, we are planning to come back home to change the Real Estate game. With the help of government, we can regulate the Real Estate industry while making home ownership affordable and attainable for so many of our people. People cannot just wake up one day and become real estate agents. There must be a Real Estate school here and a regulatory body to ensure that the people running the business here are educated and certified in what they are doing. Right now dishonest Real Estate business men are selling one land to five different people. This is a tragedy and very heartless too.
Exactly what will you do differently from other estate operators when you start operations here to make sure the average Gambian can afford decent housing?
There are so many policies that can be initiated and rolled out to help an average working Gambian afford homes. For example, in the US interest rates are pretty low, people earn differently. In the US, if you are a first time home buyer, sometimes you receive grants from the city or the State. I think something like that can be introduced in The Gambia. Gambia government should also work with the banks to make loans easier and cheaper for so many. The interest rates here are very high and extortionate.
At 32, you are still a young man, has your young age been an asset or a liability in the pursuit of your business?
I think my young age has been quite an asset. With my young age, I can work twice as hard and I am able to leverage technology to grow my network, business and build my brand.
What does success mean to you?
Success is described in a lot of ways but my definition of success is not how many millions I have in the bank. Success for me is helping people achieve their dreams. When I help people purchase, buy or build their dream homes, I feel successful because I am putting smiles on their faces with their families. Helping families to move to better neighborhoods; better school system for their kids gives me the best feeling. For me, success is about significance and helping others get what they want.
Any words of wisdom for young African entrepreneurs who are afraid of starting something in the US?
America as they say, is the land of opportunity. You can be anything you want to be in the States, you can be as successful as you want. If you want to start a business, you must have a vision. Do not listen to negative nay-sayers. When I started my Real Estate business, nay-sayers tried to discourage me but I kept going anyway. I struggled in the first two years but once things started falling into place, you will be amazed at how well you can do if you believe in yourself. Self confidence, self-discipline and vision are key.
What about the young people in the country struggling for self-actualisation, how can they make it here?
First of all, as young people, we have to fix our mindset and see opportunities in this country instead of obstacles. There is no short cut to success. Just be honest. Work both hard and smart. Success doesn’t come easy but with hard work and persistence the obstacles must give way to success.
What are your aspirations for the Gambia?
United States of America, though considered one of the most developed countries, has its own challenges. Our government most definitely can do better but change, progress and development start with us. If we all work hard and contribute the little we can, together we can have a better and more prosperous Gambia.