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Dr Ope Banwo, the African ‘Internet Visioneer’ and Founder of American Internet Business School speaks extensively on the benefits of the internet to Nigeria and Africa

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Dr. Ope Banwo, Founder American Internet Business School

Dr. Ope Banwo, Founder American Internet Business School

Dr. Ope Banwo, in his frank manner speaks extensively on the solutions and opportunities he believes the internet represents. He also explained several initiatives he himself has been involved with as a new player in the new global marketplace.This interview is a must read for anyone interested in the internet phenomenon and those interested in some lasting solutions to burning issues in Nigeria such as employment and education.

 

Question: It’s been a while we have heard from you. What have you been up to lately?

Dr Ope Banwo: As you very well know, I consider myself a solution provider in critical areas of the economy and for the last couple of years I have focused my attention almost exclusively on providing internet based solutions for not just Nigerians, but Africans and the world. Though I have a PhD in Law and have been involved in several businesses including Law and Entertainment, I consider myself a serious Netpreneur now. In keeping with my focus as a Solutions Provider, most of my products and solutions in the last 2 years have been very exclusively based on how internet business can be done better and more profitable by not just Nigerian businesses, but also by enterprising Nigerians. For me, the internet now represents the melting point where all businesses converge to create a new dynamic marketplace that affects every area of our life

 

Question: That’s very strange. As an Attorney, public commentator and an entertainment impresario, why do you think the internet is more important or profitable than law or entertainment?

Dr Ope Banwo: This is not about which business is more important or more profitable. It is about the direction of commerce and human interaction and the future. Unless you have been living under a rock in the last 5 years, it has become very obvious that everything is converging on the internet. I mean everything including Law; Entertainment; Business; Government; Banking; insurance; telecoms etc. Every sector of the economy is affected by the internet explosion. Almost overnight, the internet has swiftly become the new marketplace and the new terrain for dissemination of information; for making sales; and for interacting with customers among others.

 

Virtually everyone old enough to read and write are on the internet now. Kids are there. Students are there. Adults are there. Small companies are there. Mega companies are there. Politicians are there. Religious leaders are there. Virtually every business sector and every area of human interaction is online now and it does not take a genius to understand that the new marketplace of today and of the future is the internet.

 

On realizing this a few years ago, I understood immediately that the next set of billionaires and Millionaires are going to be created on the internet, and it is strategically crucial for me to understand how it works and how I can provide different solutions to solve different problems that will naturally arise from the emergence of the internet as the new marketplace for commerce and industry

 

Question: When you say the internet is the new marketplace, what exactly do you mean by that?

Dr Ope Banwo: Well, a marketplace, simply put, is a place where sellers and buyers meet to transact business, regardless of what they are selling. With the internet now, the marketplace has become virtual. In the last few years, with the explosion in the use of social media like Facebook; YouTube; Twitter and LinkedIn among other, there has been an amazing relocation of businesses and customers to the internet. To add gasoline to the fire, most people now have access to the internet with the global explosion in internet-capable mobile phones. With this perfect storm of capabilities, most people now spend most of their work-time and free time online.

 

While most people could not be located at home, they can be found online at any time of day or night. It is therefore only logical that businesses have to come up with strategies and ideas to follow their people and potential customers to where they can be found in order to offer them products and services.

 

As people opened up to the business and commercial possibilities of the internet, more and more commercial activities have begun to take place. As consumers also opened up to the idea of buyers goods and services online, companies have also stepped up their game to attract more and more customers online. That’s what I mean by the new marketplace. With most people having easy access to the internet, the battle for the pockets and bank accounts of the consumer has now moved to the internet.

 

Now while a few people and companies still do not get it and keep treating the social media explosion and internet phenomenon as fads that will soon pass, most companies who understand the new dynamics have been working hard to create an online presence that will make their brands visible online. I say we are at that point where companies have to get online with serious business strategies or die a slow death in the market place in the months to come. An internet business strategy is no longer an option. It is a matter of business survival.

 

With the new development, you can buy virtually everything you want online – clothes; food; shoes; books; furniture; real estate etc. In the old marketplace, buyers and sellers deal with each other by physical interaction, telephone and transportation. With the internet, all you need is an internet connection. So, yes, the internet is the new marketplace.

 

Question: You seem to find this new internet marketplace so fascinating, why is that?

Dr Ope Banwo: Yes I do find it very fascinating because when anything new emerges, it means new opportunities; new market dynamics and new reallocation of resources. It means new problems requiring solutions from solution providers like myself; it means a change in the old economy and method of allocating of resources in the marketplace. It gives everyone a fresh opportunity to create legacy income regardless of your present status or station at birth. I am so excited that Nigeria is finally catching up to this new phenomenon because it mean a whole new generation of social, economic and even political leaders will emerge.

 

I am also excited because the internet is a leveler. It is a new playing field where the small man can still compete with the big boys. Right now in a place like Nigeria where we don’t even have spam laws yet, it is a wild-wild-west where the little guy can still take down the established companies in different niches. For instance, in the old marketplace, it will take millions of naira for a new bookstore owner to compete with the big stores but with the internet all you need is a good ecommerce site and skills on how to create awareness online for your store and you can compete with the giants.

 

Under the old order of things, you need enormous capital to be able to sell expensive hardware like fridges and telephones (you need a warehouse; you need stock etc.), with the internet you don’t even need to own anything. You can sell fridges, TV, Sound system etc. without physically owning or storing any of them in any warehouse. As an affiliate you can make lots of money selling physical products without the baggage of having an office or warehouse or stock.

 

As a practical example, I sold over 5,000 copies of my last book online without having any inventory and without paying a dime for printing. Many others are doing the same thing all over the country now. I know of a university student who sold over N5million worth of software on the internet without having a store, and without investing any money in inventory. I recently trained an 18 year old boy who released a training product online and made over N1million in less than a week. Of course I am sure you have also heard about site like Jumia.com who do billions of sales on the internet while brick and mortar stores are still advertising inside newspapers for customers.

 

Furthermore, in the old marketplace, you have to physically attend a school to get a degree or get certification for knowledge acquired. With the new marketplace, you can get it all done from the comfort of your house as long as there is internet connection. Yes I am excited because now nobody can claim poverty or disability or distance as an excuse for not realizing their dreams

 

 

Question: From listening to you, it is obvious you have been thinking a lot about the possibilities of the internet, what are some of the major problems you believe that the internet can solve for Nigerians or Africans in general?

Dr Ope Banwo: One of the biggest problems I think the internet can solve for us in Nigeria is the problem of employment. Right now, according to the bureau of statistics in Nigeria, unemployment rates among youths and fresh graduates is more than 50%. While most people are pointing at governments for solutions, I believe the solution is right before our eyes if only the people will open their eyes to the possibilities of the internet. I strongly and passionately believe that the internet is the solution to Nigeria’s unemployment problem.

 

I believe most serious youths can get themselves gainfully employed at a cost that is lower than the cost of blackberry phones they all seem to find the money to buy even while they have no source of income. With the internet, any serious person can find something to sell online. They can sell services as simple as proof reading for thousands of dollars a month. They can make money doing tasks as simple as liking social media pages for people. They can get paid for graphic designs and they can get paid for selling other peoples products without having a store or carrying inventory.

 

Instead of wasting hundreds of waiting energy and time waling round the streets looking for non-existent jobs, people can learn a skill or 2 to sell online in less than 5 hours and then start making money the very next week by learning how to position themselves online. I still consider it one of the mysteries of life that our government has not caught on to the internet as a solution for them to get our youths employed and moving forward. To get a Nigerian youth educated and positioned to make money online will not cost much and it will be faster than any other means including the slow process of trying to get them to go into small scale business offline when they don’t have access to money and resources to secure offices or stock up inventory.

 

So I consider the internet as the God-giving opportunity for us to get our country moving again by getting our youths self-employed in the new marketplace.

 

QUESTION: Very interesting sir that you have singled out unemployment as one of the major problems the internet can solve. Have you come up with any solutions in this area or just pointing this out for others to find the solution?

Dr Ope Banwo: Of course, you know I don’t simply talk about problems, I also try to work on the solutions to those problems myself, even as I am challenging other well-meaning people to come up with more solutions. Personally, I think it is a shame that our government has not yet realized the vast potential of the internet in solving the unemployment issues in Nigeria. Instead they are busy dumping billions of Naira into traditional initiatives that have no measurable results and which only end enriching those who are already rich as they misuse most of the funds voted for alleviating unemployment in our country.

 

In order to use the internet as a means for solving unemployment in Nigeria, I believe that the first thing that must be provided is a forum or portal where people can learn about internet business and acquire skills that will help them to employ themselves online; be employable worldwide as opposed to just the local environment with limited job opportunities or allow businesses to thrive online by making more sales.

 

As the bible said, my people perish for lack of knowledge. As long as people are ignorant about how to exploit the possibilities on the internet, they cannot take advantage of it as a solution to unemployment. You cannot employ yourself or get employed by millions of companies and individuals all over the world looking for staff and skillful people unless you know how to acquire the skills they need and also learn how help them find you. To play my part in this area and also take advantage of the opportunity in the area of education on internet possibilities, I have introduced several solutions that I believe will go a long way in addressing the problems

 

One of the innovative solutions I have introduced is the American Internet Business School. This is like the internet business version of the Lagos Business School. The American internet business school is an online learning school that specializes in providing training and education for people on how to do business on the internet. It teaches people about how to set up their internet business for profits. It provides courses on how to make sales online regardless of the industry you are in. It also provides training on critical areas of internet business such as social media marketing; list building; freelancing; email marketing; customer service etc. This school has individual courses as well as certification courses in different niches for those who want to learn about internet business, marketing and sales at very affordable prices. We even have some free courses available on our portalwww.americaninternetbusinessschool.com.

 

Question: That is very interesting. What kind of people can benefit from the American internet business school?

DR OPE BANWO: The American Internet Business School is for virtually anyone interested in learning about internet business. It is useful for companies who need their technical, sales, marketing and customer service staff to know how to do what they do offline on the internet. It is useful for those who want to learn about internet business and how to use the internet for marketing; sales and branding among many other things. We have carefully assembled professional trainings on different areas of the internet that may be of interest to different sectors of the economy and different departments. We have training on Social Media Marketing; we have training on turn-key businesses that anyone can learn and use to employ themselves; we have training on sales and marketing for companies. We have training on virtually every area of business.

 

Question: That sounds very interesting. AN internet business school? What is special about this school apart from providing education on internet?

OPE BANWO: Actually there are many things special about the American internet Business School.

 

First, it is the very first Internet learning portal that is devoted exclusively to teaching people about internet business only. It is not just an online training for people who want to get education on different offline things. The curriculum is dedicated exclusively to Internet business and internet marketing related subjects and interests. We don’t teach people how to run their businesses offline. We focus exclusively on skills they will need to survive online and increase their sales, marketing and branding reach using the internet. Like I mentioned before, the American Internet Business School is the internet business equivalent of the Lagos Business School.

 

While the Lagos business school principally teaches business people about how to do business offline, the American internet business school teaches people about how to do business offline. To my knowledge we have not heard anything like that in Africa. Yes, we have had online training schools but none is dedicated exclusively to providing online business related subjects. That’s the specialty of the internet business school.

 

Secondly, this is the first school that will officially certify people for internet business related skills. For instance we provide official certification for Social Media Marketing; Virtual Assistants and Web Developers. Prior to our school, people have no way of knowing whether anybody who calls himself/herself a Social Media manager has gone through any formal training. Companies hire people on faith based on resume but at the American Internet Business School, we are providing a more objective basis for evaluating peoples’ competency and certified training. Our online modular training courses comes complete with quizzes and tests for each module to ascertain that the student actually has mastered the training before providing them with verifiable certificates.

 

The third special thing about our school is that it provides practical and actionable training from real practitioners in the industry who are currently using those skills, resources and methods thought in the different classes at the school. Many of our course creators and facilitators are globally respected experts in their different fields. So, this our curriculum is not just a theory based curriculum like most training online, but a practical education that people can apply immediately to their businesses on the internet.

 

Fourthly, our school provides a forum for students to interact with each other and do group learning as students. Instead of leaving students to survive on their own when it comes to practicalising the skills they have learnt online, we have provided opportunities for them to discuss their issues and questions with each other in a peer-to-peer manner. This has been a huge boost to students who may need help of other students in different areas.

 

As you can clearly see, the American Internet Business School is a one of its kind solution to the problem of getting practical knowledge on how to do business online or how to use the internet for increasing brand presence, making sales and dealing with customer service issues.

 

Question: When can people get access to this Internet business school and how much does it cost?

The American Internet Business school is actually open right now athttp://www.americaninternetbusinessschool.com and we are currently running a special promotion with up to 40% discount for the first set of students as we go through the beta testing stages in August –October. The school will be officially launched in November 22nd when we bring in all the international directors of the school from USA; Europe and Canada to Lagos for the African Internet Business Summit, also being organized by the school in collaboration with our technical partner, Afrinet Business Solutions.

 

We have deliberately made courses at the school very affordable for everyone. For as little as $99 or N15, 000 or less, you can learn a skill or take a relevant internet business related training at the school. There are also some free courses available for members of the public.

 

Question: Apart from the Internet Business School, Is there any other internet based initiative that you have introduced or which you are part of?

Dr Ope Banwo: Definitely. As you probably know about me, when I commit to a certain area of business, I go out of my way to give everything I have in pursuit of it. I seriously believe that the internet as a new marketplace is really still in its infancy in Nigeria and that for it to grow in leaps and bounds to catch up with the rest of the world, we need to put some enabling structures in place. Of course many other people have introduced some great initiatives to enhance and speed up internet business with great initiatives from onga.com; Jumia.com; GTBank with the SME Market Hub; Voguepay etc.

 

One of the things I think we need to have is a recognition and reward process that will incentivize people to want to accomplish great things online. One of the greatest motivators for human progress and achievement is the reward and recognition system. I believe we need lots of this on internet based initiatives to really galvanize people into getting even more creative. So, beginning this year I am introducing several Awards or Recognition events into the Nigerian and African internet business arena.

 

These include the Nigerian Dotcom Awards to recognize the best of the internet in 25 different categories yearly; the Nigerian Social Media Awards to recognize the best of social media initiatives in Nigeria and the African Dotcom Awards dedicated to rewarding the very best of internet business efforts all over Africa. We are of course starting with the Nigerian DotCom Awards in November of this year.

 

Question: Wow. That is a great initiative. What stage have you reached with the Nigerian Dotcom Awards?

We have already shortlisted 5 finalists in each of the 25 different categories we seek to recognize and encourage this year. The final nominees are being notified as we speak and the voting process will be for a 30-day period in September while the eventual winners in each category will be announced at end of October and the Awards Presentation itself will be on November 22nd in Lagos.

 

Question: can you give us an idea some of the categories you are seeking to recognize or give awards to?

As I mentioned, we have 25 different Awards categories including Life-Time Achievement awards for some internet business pioneers from Nigeria. Some of the key categories include Netpreneur Of The Year; Best Internet Marketer; Best Internet Service Provider; Best Payment portal; Best Internet Banking Provider; Best Internet Innovation; Best Technology Blog; Best Entertainment Blog; Best News blog; Best celebrity on Twitter/Facebook; among others. You can actually get a list of all the different categories and the final nominees on the awards site at www.dotcomawardsng.com. You can also vote for your favorite website or nominee on that site before the end of September.

 

I am so excited about this particular project because we have some of the best websites in different sectors of the economy that need to be recognized and encouraged. The Awards ceremony itself will be a fun filled event with attendance by some of the top gurus in the world and entertainment by some of Nigeria’s most celebrated entertainers in attendance.

 

Question: What is the awards judging process to pick the final winner in each category or is this just something you decide on your own?

DR OPE BANWO: Not at all. We have a very elaborate process to ensure that the process is transparent and very fair in selecting the eventual winner in each category. As a matter of fact, we have 2 different Awards in each category to recognize not just sites that regular internet users think are the best but also to pick out the best technically sound websites from the perspective of the experts who know what to look for.

 

To achieve these twin objectives, which are not necessarily convergent, we have the PEOPLE’S CHOICE Award and the PRACTITIONERS Award for each category.

 

For the PRACTITIONERS’S CHOICE AWARD, each site nominated is assigned to 5 or more expert judges selected from active internet business practitioners for evaluation.  The Award Judges are informed of the criteria for each award category as state on the website and provided with a link to the site to review it from the point of view of users coming to the site. ,

 

The judges then visit the site, starting with the URL provided on the entry form, and assume the role of a target user.  After reviewing the site, they enter their scores and record their observations and comments before moving on to the next site. At the conclusion of judging, the scores are averaged for the final score.  Entries will be judged on the following seven criteria on a scale of 0-10 points: Design; Innovation; Content; Interactivity; Copywriting and Ease of use. The highest score in a given category wins Dotcom Practitioner Choice for that award category.

For the PEOPLE’S CHOICE AWARD, all internet users who register to vote are eligible to vote for the Peoples’ Choice Award. Users will be free to use whatever criteria (including the criteria listed above for the Practitioners’ choice) to select who they believe is the best in each category based on their personal experience on the different websites in each category. The website or nominee with the most unique votes from users will win the award in each category.

Question: How do members of the public vote or participate in the voting process for the People’s Choice Awards part of the Dotcom Awards?

 

Anyone with an internet connection can participate in the voting process and support their favorite sites. To ensure fairness in the voting process, we are limiting people to only 1 vote per computer. Votes are open for 30 days in September each year. The winners will be announced by end of October and the Awards will take place in the second week of November each year.

 

Question: Where and when is the Dotcom Awards taking place?

DR OPE BANWO – The 1st Nigerian Dotcom Awards will take place in Protea Hotel, Lagos on Saturday, 22nd of November. We expect all the big names and companies in internet marketing in attendance including celebrities from all walks of life. We have also contracted some of the most popular entertainers of our time to come and add color to this event.

 

Question: Do you have Sponsors or other Corporate Partners for this event?

DR OPE BANWO – Right now we are still meeting and consulting with different stakeholders who are interested in being official sponsors of this event being organized by the American Internet Business School and my company Afrinet Business Solutions. Though we have received some interests and interesting proposals, we are weighing our options very carefully to be sure we only select partners/sponsors who really appreciate the importance of internet business for the development of our economy. Interested companies and individuals who would like to sponsor this event or advertise on some of the advertising options available can contact our event director at info@dotcomawardsng.com for further details or visit the site itself for more information atwww.dotcomawardsng.com.

 

Question: Apart from the Internet Business School and the dotcom awards, are there any other initiatives we should be aware of as far as the internet is concerned?

DR OPE BANWO – Of course. I believe that is a big need for a strategic company that will help Nigerian companies to get their businesses going on the internet. It is one thing to tell people about the importance of the internet as a new marketplace. It is quite another matter entirely, for people to know how to become competitive online. As unbelievable as it may sound, there are still thousands of Entrepreneurs, SMEs and even Big companies out there who still do not have any internet Marketing Strategy or something as simple as a responsive and ecommerce enabled Website. So, I have created Afrinet Business Solutions to help internet businesses in Africa get their businesses online and help them compete for sales; marketing and branding space with their competitors. Afrinet Business Solutions specializes in helping companies develop an internet business strategy; help them write an internet business plan and also help them build and deploy different assets to make more money online and increase their brand awareness and equity.

 

Some of the services we offer include Website Design and since this aspect also requires a lot of technical expertise, we have opened offices in our headquarters in the USA; Philippines and Nigeria to deal with different technical needs of our clients.

 

Some of the services and capabilities we offer different companies in Nigeria and Africa can be found at www.afrinetsolutions.com. We even offer Free Diagnostic Consultations to companies who are interested in figuring out how to decode the internet as a viable medium for them to improve their bottom line.

 

Question: You seem to have given a lot of thought to this internet business thing. Since In noticed that several commentators have dubbed you the ‘African Internet Visioneer’, can you tell us your vision of the internet over the next 10 years? What do you envisage would or should happen in the new internet marketplace as far as Nigeria or Africa is concerned?

Well that’s easy. I see the internet as a viable new marketplace with new players and superstars dominating commerce online. I believe the new business champions of the internet business may not necessarily be the same offline champions that we know today. For example, Jumia and Konga.com have already staked their claims as the retailers that may rule the new marketplace for retail business while irokotv.com has already demonstrated that the Alaba marketers or other offline movie distributors may no longer be relevant when it comes getting Nollywood movies to the world. GTBank is already showing that while it may be number 3 in offline banking, it is a distant first runner when it comes to internet banking. Resources and space are already being allocated and dominated with relative ease. Sadly some business still don’t get it. They will wake up 5 years from now and realize that an upstart with no office and no money has commandeered their lunch permanently.

 

ON YOUTH UNEMPLOYMENT – I have bene on record for saying that the internet presents one of the biggest opportunities for resolving the high unemployment rate among the youths. So, I see more and more youths learning different skills and ways to make legitimate money on the internet without going through the frustration of looking for pitiful jobs in traditional offices. We already have 18year old making over N1million with one product release (I have a protégé who has done this and know of many more doing this in Nigeria even today), so I can see more and more youths embracing self-employment through the internet as the awareness spreads and people realize you don’t have to do yahoo-yahoo to make legitimate money online. I actually believe that the internet will yet represent one of our biggest products to the outside world as more and more of our youths get the necessary education, mentorship and guidance to leverage their brains and skills on the World Wide Web.

 

ON ADVERTISEMENT AND MARKETING – I definitely see a realignment of the marketing and advertising marketplace where most of the money will no longer be spent on newspapers with a pitiful 30,000 newsprint circulation as opposed to blogs and websites who can reach millions of people simultaneously and repeatedly. Unlike traditional advertising and marketing methods where the return on investment cannot really be accurately measured and where big names get big advertising and marketing deals, the internet is a precision alternative. Now, companies can accurately measure the effect of their advertising money. They can determine how many people saw their adverts; how many people take the actions they required and how many actually bought their products of services based on their advertising spend.

 

So there is no more hiding place for the established names. A relative upstart with sound internet marketing savvy will be taking down the giants of marketing and advertisement with relative ease. For instance Linda Ikeji and Nairaland have already proved that when it comes to reaching consumers or getting consumers to take action, they are light years ahead of the best newspaper on its best day and can outperform the best advertising agency in Nigeria right now, naira for naira. So in the future look out for adverts on blogs and sites like Linda Ikeji to become increasingly more expensive while traditional newspapers will have to keep begging for patrons unless they learn to develop serious internet presence to go with their offline publications (i.e. Vanguard and punch are already making huge strides in this area)

 

ON EDUCATION: I also see a move away from the traditional learning schools as more and more people understand that you can study and get certificates on the internet without leaving the comfort to your house or village. I can definitely see a situation where more people will be studying to get degrees on the internet that will be as respected as degrees from traditional brick and mortar surroundings.

 

ON POLITICS: While our politicians are generally slow to understand, and harness the power of the internet to mobilize votes at this time, I strongly believe that as elections get more and more transparent in Nigeria, and votes actually begin to count, this will change. I definitely see a situation where lots of those billions they are now spending to bribe or rig elections for them will be diverted to actually convincing voters, through social media and internet, that they are worthy. I believe a time is coming, and the time is now, that a relatively unknown blogger can take down a perceived political kingpin or Godfather. Politics, where elections are free and fair, is based on how many people any politician can mobilize to support them on Election Day. A blogger with millions of fans like a Linda Ikeji will be in a position to take down a traditional politician with ease, if she so decides to run, and the playing field is level with no rigging.

 

Furthermore, with the advent of the internet awareness, voting will also be greatly reduced as people are able to communicate much better and results of happenings at different polling booths can be easily disseminated to all Nigerians in real time. You can just steal ballot boxes and run now with nobody recording that for posterity. Even government lapses, mistakes and achievements will be easy to document and disseminate/ Everything will go into real time with no chances for a second take among public figures (i.e. Statements like ‘Go and Die’; ‘Na only you waka come?’ Or ‘There is God o’ can no longer be denied or taken back once it hits the internet.

 

It will definitely be a whole new world over the next few years and I am so excited for the future of our country.

 

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