Dr. Ope Banwo [Attorney, Pastor, Businessman And Techpreneur]
The Restless Pioneer Who Loves To Zag When Everybody Is Zigging
INTERVIEW WITH Dr. Ope Banwo, FOUNDER OF BANWO & IGBOKWE LAW, PIONEER PASTOR AND FOUNDER OF GISTHOUSE AFROCENTIRC APP
1. CAN YOU PLEASE TELL US ABOUT YOURSELF?
I am not sure how to talk about myself other than to tell you that I am a solution provider, a business risk taker, a restless entrepreneur, and a relentless pursuer of new opportunities, especially in situations where most people see roadblocks. Many people call me ‘The Activator’ or ‘The Catalyst’ because of my aggressive way of making things happen and bringing out the best in people.
However, to be honest, I have always believed nobody can really give an objective description of himself. Or have you ever met anyone who described themselves as a bad person? So, if you really want to find out the good, the bad and the ugly about me or anyone for that matter, Mr. google is the best guy to tell you.
The internet will in most cases give you the full picture of anyone if you are patient to study many writeups about them online. Sure, there would be some misinformation, some deliberate falsehoods and mischievous lies by haters out there about everyone, but if you study all the information enough, you will probably get a balanced record of the person. The internet keeps an ongoing history of all of us and the internet never forgets. Over time, what the aggregate of the internet reports on you says you are, is what you probably are.
2. YOU ARE ONE OF THE FIRST BLACK-AFRICAN IMMIGRATION ATTORNEYS IN OMAHA, NEBRASKA, CAN YOU TELL US HOW YOU GOT STARTED AND WHY NEBRAKSA OF ALL STATES?
To be factual, I don’t think I am the first African Lawyer to practice immigration in Nebraska, I think there was a Dr. Okoye before me in Lincoln, Nebraska, maybe Paul Munya and Tony Ike. But I do believe I was the first African Attorney to focus exclusively on Immigration Law in Omaha, after getting admitted to the New York Bar in 1997. I don’t know who was first, but I had the privilege of helping literally thousands of immigrants from mostly Africa and Mexico in those days. That’s what I remember and cherish. It was fun, and very fulfilling for me to help so many of my fellow immigrants.
As to how or why I chose immigration practice, or chose Nebraska to practice, it is a very long story. Bottom line is that because Nebraska does not allow foreign trained attorneys to sit for the Bar, without going back to law school, I had to go take the Bar in New York. After I passed the New York Bar, but still wanted to stay in Nebraska, the only kind of practice I could do was FEDERAL since each state practice is limited to attorneys admitted in that state. I looked at the few federal practice areas which included Bankruptcy, Patent, etc and chose Immigration as the area I could do well for myself while also helping my people. I was provided right. Our law firm now has over 20 staffs with 4 attorneys though we have now broadened our practice to include criminal law, personal injury, divorce etc with attorneys who were admitted in Nebraska. Our managing partner, Nedu Igbokwe and another partner, Emeka Igbokwe, are all admitted in Nebraska.
3. WE UNDERSTAND YOU ARE ALSO THE FIRST AFIRCAN TO START A CHURCH IN OMAHA. CAN YOU TELL US A BIT ABOUT THAT? The church is called Christ Embassy, It’s a Redeemed Church. Honestly, I will not say I “started” that church or that I was first. I don’t know. I would only say God used me to jumpstart Christ Embassy church then. The house fellowship that led to it was not started by me but by one Evangelist called Ade, whom God used to connect with a Pastor Friend of mine in London, Pastor Leke Sanusi. Through providence and a string of long God-incidences, I ended up being the First pastor of the church at inauguration, and did my best, despite many rookie mistakes, to grow it into a viable church before handing it to Pastor Okechukwu, the current pastor, to oversee it for me, when I was called to handle an assignment in Nigeria. The rest of that story is history.
While I would not say I was happy about how I came to lose pastoring that church; I am still very proud of the great things we did while I was running it. I am also grateful to God that many souls came to Christ while I was there. Also, our success at Christ Embassy actually led to a mini revival of church startups in Omaha between 2001 – 2010, when other Africans started many new churches. Some were directly mentored by me, and some just started on their own churches after seeing what God can do with Africans here. I still look back to that period of 2001-2008 as probably the most productive of my life in spiritual things. I even wrote about 6 Christian books now on Amazon during that period.
4. OUR BACKGROUND RESEARCH ALSO SHOWED YOU WERE ALSO ONE OF THE PIONEERS OF STAFFING AGENCIES AMONG AFRICANS HERE IN OMAHA. IS THAT TRUE?
LOL. People credit me with a lot of firsts, but I am not going to claim to be the first person to start a staffing agency in Omaha, though I rocked that industry. I think that distinction belonged to a gentleman called Chucks. I got the idea to do a staffing agency after seeing the tremendous opportunity available in that sector in 1998. Sure, I ended up having the biggest agency at some point with over 1,000 staffs and made a boat load of money from the business at the time, but I was not the first African to do it.
My company was Specialty Personnel Services, but Chuks was there before me. I only learnt from him and then took it to next level for a few years. However, I am extremely gratified to see that our colorful and aggressive efforts in this space inspired a lot of Africans to start their own staffing agencies too. I was not in the space for long, but like I always maintained, it is never about how long but how well you rocked a space while there.
5. YOU ALSO STARTED NATIONAL WORKFORCE TRAININING INSTITUTE THAT TRAINED THOUSANDS OF CNAs AND CMAs, WHAT INSPIRED THAT?
Like I told you earlier, I am a man who loves to take advantage of opportunities and I love to ZAG when everyone is ZIGGING about something. Around 1998 when I started Specialty Personnel services, there seemed to be a big rush, especially among immigrants, to become CNAs, CMAs etc. because of the huge availability of jobs in nursing homes. Since I already owned a staffing agency as we discussed previously, it was a natural progression for me to start a school that would train CNAs and CMAs so I could have access to a wider pool of workers. So, I started National Workforce Training Institute to take advantage of that opportunity, and handed it to my wife, a Registered Nurse, to run it. It was hugely successful for a while. Again, that’s another venture I am very proud of because we trained thousands of immigrants and Americans to become CNAs and many of them are full time RNs and LPNs today. They started their American Dream of a profession with us, and that’s a feeling nothing can take away. I am also gratified that our effort in this area has since inspired many other Africans to go into that space.
6. YOU ONCE MANAGED AFRICAN TOP LEGENDS LIKE GENEVIEVE NNAJI, OMONI OBOLI, FRED AMATA FUNKE JENIFA AKINDELE AND OTHERS, TELL US ABOUT YOUR FORAY INTO ENTERTIANMENT
I’m sure by now, you can tell, it’s not a secret that I am a man who loves to take up new challenges, especially when a current venture becomes routine. So sometime in year 2010, I decided to go into the business of managing entertainers as well as owning a record label. This was around the time I was spending more time in Nigeria after having ran a company called Dove Media for Redeemed church. I started Stingomania Entertainment and Stingomania Records as twin companies under the Stingomania group. I had a lot of fun and I also give God all the glory for helping us to make an impact within few years. We introduced Omoni Oboli back to Nollywood on her return from London in 2010 when nobody remembered her. We helped Funke Akindele go to next level though she was already coming up strong and we impacted lots of other iconic actors and actresses today.
Our music arm, Stingomania Records, also introduced new musicians like DJ Zeez “Fokasibe”), Konga (‘baby Konga”), Baba Nee (“Omo Ghetto”) and Midnight Crew (“Igwe”) etc., most of whom have since gone onto becoming megastars in the music industry today. We are always thankful to God for the privilege to have been given the gift of impact in their respective careers.
Though I didn’t introduce Genevieve Nnaji and Funke Akindele to the industry, they were already big before I managed them, it was still a pleasure and source of professional pride to have had a little impact with them.
I was also blessed to be the first to produce a docudrama for a church in Nigeria with our Covenant Church movie for Redeemed church. I also produced the first biopic to win the Los Angeles movies awards for scriptwriting (which I co-wrote by the way, with Daniel Ademinokan) name DAGRIN, to document the life and times of the popular musician who died too soon.
Truth be said, my Entertainment venture was fun though I can’t really say it was a profitable venture for me. Despite managing some of the best the industry had to offer, it’s probably the only business venture I didn’t make mega profits within my first 2 years of starting a business it.
7. WE ALL KNOW YOU AS AN ATTORNEY, BUT NOW YOU ARE A CELEBRATED TECHPRENEUR WITH SO MANY SOFTWARES TO YOUR NAME, CAN YOU TELL US HOW YOU STARTED IN THE TECHNOLOGY SECTOR?
Though I have been involved in digital business since 2011 or so, as a side hustle, I got serious in the Software Publishing and Tech management part of the digital world in 2016 after observing that there is a lot more ROI in that sector than the digital business sector I was involved with at the time.
After attending several trainings by people like Mike Filsaime and Alex Jeffreys, I suddenly realized that I do not have to be a technical genius before I can operate in that industry. I learnt that you could publish and own a software even if you yourself cannot write a line of code.
So, I decided to learn deeper and work hard in becoming an expert in that genre. I was fortunate that my very first software launch, Mobimatic App Builder, was a great success doing over $375,000 in sales in 5 days, and over $430,000 the first month in 2016. Though I didn’t get to keep most of that money, this beginner’s success encouraged me to delve deeper into that hole and kept getting better. My latest software, GistHouse Audio App, launched this year 2022, is actually my 9th software to be published, and the first free one. This Afrocentric focused audio app actually rewards users for having great conversations with their friends and communities.
8. TELL US ABOUT THIS GISTHOUSE AUDIO APP.
Gisthouse is an Afrocentric audio conversation app that not only allows you to have free conversations, at any time, and about anything, with your friends and strangers around the world, but also compensates you for speaking with your friends or listening to others as they speak on the platform.
Gisthouse rewards you when you create your user account; rewards you when you reach followership milestones; and allows you to monetize your creative contents and knowledge right inside the app.
Gisthouse, is also the first Audio Conversation Social Media platform with a blockchain-power token for monetization and gamification of the social media experience to its users. It has several features that are geared towards providing innovative solutions to major problems that have limited maximization of the audio conversation experience for content creators and platform users in other similar apps.
9. WHAT INSPIRED YOU TO CREATE THE GISTHOUSE APP?
It’s a long story that started with the time the owners of Clubhouse, now a competitor, sent out a notice to meet with Nigeria Nationals using the Clubhouse app. During our pre-meeting among African content creators of the app at the time, it occurred to me that this audio conversation phenomenon was the next direction of social media, and that Africans really have not registered their presence as owners. Africans have always been consumers of innovative technology, and hardly as one of the people leading in a new development in human interaction. I felt that the barrier to entry for an audio conversation app was still very low and that if Africa was going to stake a claim in this new audio industry, now was the time.
Also, I released that many of us, especially Africans on the Clubhouse app, seemed to have so many ideas that we are trying to push on the owners of Clubhouse. Yet the owners of that app did not create the app for Africans. There is only a limit to which you can try to shape the vision of the creator of a platform. If you don’t like a platform or want the platform to have a certain image, then you have to go create your own, and then put all those seemingly smart ideas you have into your own app. That’s exactly what we are trying to do here with GistHouse. Its available now on google play store and IOS.
10. HOW HELPFUL IS GISTHOUSE FOR ENHANCING BUSINESS?
We believe that the Audio Conversation based social media has the potential to help businesses increase their presence online, improve their brand equity and expand their bottom line. GistHouse was built from ground up to have several features specifically included to help businesses realize this potential. We have a centralized monetization currency that allows businesses to transact businesses across currency boundaries. We have sponsorship opportunities business, and we have features that allows commerce to take place right inside the app.
In addition to that the app has a very potent business-based rooms where discussions and conversations of problems and solutions for businesses can be discussed. In short, GistHouse will be the wet dream of most business executives once they get to understand how loaded it is.
11. YOU MENTIONED THAT GISTHOUSE HELPS USERS MONETIZE THEIR CONVERSATIONS, CAN YOU TELL US SOME OF MONETIZATION FEATURES FOR USERS?
We have several monetization features built into this app including:
a. Room Sponsorship – You can get corporate buddies or individuals to sponsor your gist rooms and be able to put their names as part of the title of the room. We are the only audio app with this feature right now.
b. Paid Rooms – Speakers with great contents to deliver can monetize their knowledge and celebrity status by running paid rooms directly inside the app with our unique ‘Paid Room’ feature. People will pay you before they can enter your GistRoom.
c. Referral Income – Because we believe that users of ours are the real value of the app, we have worked out a system to make sure our users are compensated for recommending the app to their friends. Another unique feature of our app now allows those who refer friends to the app to become the referrer or affiliate for that person. This means that when you introduce or refer anyone to the app, you will earn commissions for life from any income made by the person you refer on that app. Our users earn 5% of all income earned by all the people you personally introduce the app to.
d. Followership Milestones – Another monetization part of our app, at least during the beta months, is to reward our users for achieving followership milestones from one hundred followers, five hundred followers, 1,000 followers, 5,000 followers and 10,000 followers. This is to encourage our elite users running great rooms that will make people want to follow them on the app.
12. TELL US SOME FUN FACTS ABOUT YOU
Well, I eat rice 3 times a day, 7 days a week most times. People think that’s weird, but it is perfectly normal to me. Most times when I try to eat something else, I get constipated for days. So, I go back to my rice and dodo.
Also, though I work 90% on my computer now in my basement office, I still shower, put on my suit, and tie just to go downstairs to my basement to work on my desktop throughout the day. My wife thinks thats weird, but for me online business is a serious business. So, I dress up like I would do if I was going to an executive meeting.
Another fun fact is that, when I am really confused and need to think very hard, I go to the movies. Most of the worst problems I had to solve have been solved while I was watching movies, and in the middle of very loud noises from a movie, especially action movies where people are getting shot up. Many people think that’s funny. I do not.
15. MENTION THREE TRENDS THAT EXCITE YOU IN 2022.
– AUDIO CONVERSATION SOCIAL MEDIA: Though over 90% of the world are probably not even aware of it yet, the rapid growth of Audio Conversation Social Media Platform in the last 2 years excites me a lot. People who are aware are excited by the idea of having group conversations online without the stress of having to dress up which allows you to multitask while having a discussion with 100s of people. It’s like a Zoom on steroids or interactive radio. I am super excited about this phenomenon because I am getting a seat at the table while it is still on the ground floor.
– RISE OF NFTs (Non-Fungible Tokens): – This is the most explosive trend this year though as usual most of Africa is not even aware of what’s going on. It’s a derivation of the popular crypto market but it impacts arts, movies, and music more, but most African businesses and especially entertainment-based people are still asleep while regular guys are turning this into major empires. Yet we are uniquely positioned to be market leaders in this area. Unfortunately, I am not engaged in this area because it exploded around the same time as audio based social media and I had to make a choice which horse I want to ride first. This may very well be my next foray if the trend continues as I am observing it in this 2022.
– RESET OF THE PLAYING FIELD FORCED BY COVID19 – Many people have not realized it but covid19 has changed the way we do business forever. It has put digital people firmly in charge of the marketplace and disabused our minds of previous myths about business, life and even religion. This is the season for innovative thinkers and sharks in the marketplace to take advantage of the amazing opportunities covid19 has unlocked in virtually every area of life. I could take an entire day to talk about this one excitement alone, but we will leave it for now. This interview is already too long.