In Conversation: Anton Borkum (Board Chair, Vantage Properties)

Having been recently appointed as the Board Chair of Vantage Properties, Anton plans on leveraging his extensive experience to help the prop-tech startup conduct business as an upstanding corporate citizen among other things. In this interview, he takes us through his professional background, his opinion on prop-tech in Botswana, and much more!

In your own words, please tell us who Anton Borkum is

I am a family man and travel enthusiast who is fascinated by the relationships between entrepreneurs, corporates, technology, real estate, and sustainability. It is my belief that these five elements can be leveraged to bring about education, growth, and development in Pan African markets.

Briefly give us an overview of your professional background

For the last two years, I have been on an entrepreneurial journey, assisting early-stage tech startups as well as established global corporations. Prior to 2020, I amassed 15 years of institutional experience in financial services and real estate, working as a property financier and corporate finance advisor (part of the team that listed LLR on the Botswana Stock Exchange in 2011). I lead the team that listed East Africa’s first property fund on the Nairobi Stock Exchange in 2015 and was its first CEO.

In terms of education, I hold a Bachelor’s degree in Commerce from UCT, an MBA from Bond University, and an MSc from Pretoria.

You recently got appointed as Board Chair of Vantage Properties. Please tell more what that role entails

As the Board Chair, my primary role is to ensure that Vantage Properties conducts its business as an upstanding corporate citizen. We (the board) are responsible to the shareholders of Vantage, but also its stakeholders, such as employees, lenders, and regulators. We do this by ensuring that the company operates within a robust and practical governance framework. My secondary role is to support the CEO (Sethebe Manake). I am a confidential soundboard for her and seek to share my experience when such will be of benefit. In terms of corporate development, I seek to introduce Sethebe to other PropTech players in the Africa space wherever I believe there is an opportunity for collaboration.

What persuaded you to agree to join and lead the Vantage Properties board?

I have known Sethebe for more than 10 years and watched her career and business acumen grow from strength to strength. In the last two years, I have become very interested in PropTech. Thus, when I became aware that Sethebe was looking for business leaders to join her board, I immediately reached out to her. The quality of professionals that constitute the Vantage Properties board is staggering, and I am honored to be part of it. I agreed to lead the board after a unanimous vote (to choose the Chair) at the end of the first meeting.

Prop-tech in Botswana is pretty much nonexistent with the real estate industry still stuck in the old way of doing things. How much of an opportunity and challenge does this present for Vantage Properties?

I think that my view of PropTech is quite different from yours. In direct comparison to the larger countries in Africa, the Startup Tech scene does appear quite small, but if you compare Botswana on a relative (to population or GDP) basis to Kenya or Zambia, it becomes apparent that Botswana is home to many skilled techies, and that Gaborone punches seriously above its weight. PropTech as a sub-category of Tech has been slow in taking off across Africa, but it is now starting to gain momentum and attention of both incubators and investors. Vantage Properties is playing the role of pioneer in this space, which can be at times scary and at other times lonely. But none of that held back Elon Musk, and we believe that Vantage Properties has a great business path to explore. That said, uphill climbs are difficult, and need careful planning and plenty of fuel.

Vantage Properties plans on eventually penetrating markets like South Africa where prop-tech is much more vibrant than here. What comparative advantage do you think it will have in such highly competitive markets when that time for expansion comes?

Vantage Properties has on its board several directors that have first-hand experience of the different functions of the real estate market, such as agency, property management, property development, and asset management. In addition, we can draw on the skills and experience of one of Botswana’s top tech entrepreneurs, and we are focusing on AI (Artificial Intelligence) as The Next Big Thing. Furthermore, we understand the collection of real estate data in less developed environments, and this differentiates us apart from incumbents in more developed countries. We are seeking to develop PropTech solutions that are good for Africa and developed by Africans. 

In an operating environment like Botswana’s, GoSmartValue is a revolutionary product offering. As the board, what role will you play in ensuring that Vantage Properties will be able to leverage on such a product?

GoSmartValue effectively “democratizes” the process of residential valuation, by making it quicker and more affordable. As the board, it is our responsibility to ensure that all data handled in this process is treated with the utmost care and respect, and in adherence to all data (and privacy) legislation.

As an extensively experienced tech entrepreneur, what potential value do you see in GoSmartValue as a prop-tech product offering?

I firmly believe that the purpose of Tech is to improve the quality of lives of citizens, and GoSmartValue (by making residential valuation easier and more affordable) does just that. I am very excited that our first product addresses such an essential need and look forward to Vantage launching more products that are able to make a similarly positive contribution.

You will be heading a board of four other accomplished individuals in their respective fields. How much are you looking forward to such an experience?

We have six members on our board (Sethebe – as CEO - is also a member). To be honest, it’s a bit daunting, because I must ensure that we meet our governance obligations correctly, every time. But I also need to ensure that we make optimal use of the time of other non-executives, as we all have day jobs with companies other than Vantage Properties. I am humbled to hold this responsibility and make an effort to learn from my colleagues on the board at every engagement.

Capital funding is a vital part of the growth prospects of any startup. Vantage Properties last year closed their angel investment round. As the board, how are you planning to help Vantage secure subsequent rounds in a country where venture capital isn’t as ubiquitous as in South Africa?

I am aware of several fundraisings for PropTechs taking place in South Africa right now, and we will be watching these with great interest. Sethebe is part of several incubator programs, and all of these have links to Venture Capitalists. We would like to raise VC funding in the next 12-18 months and will be reaching out to our Angels and other Botswana investors first. But we will also be approaching South African investors, as well as those from further afield such as the UK, Europe, and the USA.

As Board Chair, where do you envision Vantage Properties’ growth in the next 5-10 years as a prop-tech startup?

As any CEO or Chair of a tech startup will tell you, it’s difficult to focus equally on sales and product development together. So, for now, our focus is on product development, with a small team handling sales and business development. However, within 5 years we hope to grow the development capacity of the company to such a point where we can dedicate significant resources to sales, business development, and corporate development.

Lastly, please share your contact details with our readers who may be interested in getting in touch with you

Tel: +27-73-333-2233


NB: Interview has been slightly edited for clarity
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