Interview

INTERVIEW: The extraordinary story of how serial entrepreneur, Ronald Nzimora, almost became a priest

If you ask Ronald Nzimora to teach you how to make a million dollars, one word that will appear the most in his step-by-step guide is – ownership

He will tell you, “Ownership is important in the money game. The more things you own, the faster you can get to one million dollars”. 

To many people, talks about ownership and entrepreneurship are cliches that most financial gurus use to manoeuvre their lack of depth. Nzimora however, is someone you should give all your attention. 

Apart from making a lot of money from businesses across different sectors, he has also helped hundreds become millionaires either through direct or indirect mentorship. 

So like many other people who rose from struggle to wealth; Nzimora’s template is drawn from personal experiences and maximising his biggest strength.

Fresh from finishing secondary school in the east, he was enrolled at a seminary school to set him on the path of priesthood. 

However, two years into training in the seminary school, he discovered his preference for owning things and being the star actor in the Nzimora story.  

“I just want to be a regular person, who earns his own money,” he said, explaining why priesthood negates his personality.  

“Because when you’re a priest, you are basically catered for. It is not a bad thing, to be honest, but I just wanted to be my own person, make my own decisions, be responsible for my own actions and basically just own my life. I am big on ownership, not just of life but of every aspect of me.”

For the over 40 minutes of our conversation, Nzimora sat in the study of his Lagos office smiling warmly as he provided detailed answers to all I asked. 

But suddenly, his face lit up when I asked him to name his biggest achievement in life. He said with a big smile; “my daughter, she inspires me to be the best dad anyone could ever have. You know, I try to be to her what my mother was to me.”

Nzimora has always been an open book when it comes to his life.

But in this interview with NewsWireNGR’s Oladele Owodina, this agric economist graduate shares exclusive tidbits of his fascinating journey, secrets to conquering internet marketing and why he is happy to inspire thousands of unknown faces to their wealth.

How was growing up like for you?

I was born in Ahmadu Bello University Teaching Hospital, Zaria. We lived in Zaria until 92; when we left because of the incessant riot in the North. My parents feared we might not survive the next riot, so we all left the north and moved to Lagos. I was about 11 at the time.

Because of our background, we couldn’t speak the local language, so my parents sent me and my siblings to a seminary school in the east. After that, I was training to be a priest.

Two years into that, I decided I don’t want to be a priest anymore. So I left, wrote UTME (Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination) and got into the university. I think that’s where childhood life ends.

What was your most memorable moment when you were a child?

Lots of it. There was this riot where my mum had sent me to the market. Just after I got to the market, there was pandemonium and people were running helter-skelter. In the midst of running around, police shooting, different things happening at the same time, I was trying to figure how to get home and suddenly, I just heard someone screaming my name. It was my mum’s voice.

So she had left home, and went through all of that pandemonium, all of that fighting, that killings, people being killed right, left and center, to come to look for me. Imagine.

I was probably like 9 at the time and when I heard her voice, I started shouting ‘mummy, mummy, and mummy’ and she was screaming my name, didn’t know where I was. She followed my voice and grabbed me, and we started heading back. Then this Fulani man, I think his name is Alhaji Abass, took us in his car, and he drove us home.

Were you the first child?

Yeah, I am.

What did you think you would be when you were growing up?

I thought I would be plenty of things. At first, I thought I was going to be a doctor, then I wanted to be a pilot. We visited this family friend of ours in Kano, he was a captain in the Nigerian Airforce at the time, and he gave us a tour. So from that day, I thought I was going to be a pilot. 

I think that was what it was for me until I got into seminary school. After junior seminary, I got into priestly training and that basically just changed it for me and I was like okay, I am going to be a priest.

You were set to be a priest, but within two years you exited. What made you take that decision?

I am someone who is very perceptive, so at that point, I just felt it wasn’t the best use of my life. At that point, I felt I would be more useful to the world not being a priest. I felt I would have more purpose and more meaning to myself if I don’t continue to be a priest. I didn’t want to wait until many years had passed, so I just decided, I don’t want to do this anymore. 

I just want to be a regular person, who earns his own money. Because when you’re a priest, you are basically catered for. It is not a bad thing to be honest, but I just wanted to be my own person, make my own decisions, be responsible for my own actions and basically just own my life. I am big on ownership, not just of life but of every aspect of me.

Priests do not also see ladies, I guess

Well, Catholic priests are not allowed to marry. You have to be celibate. So when you are a Catholic priest and you are ordained a priest, you take a vow of celibacy. Basically, that means you can’t have sexual relations with women and of course, you can’t marry.

You constantly talk about wealth and money. When did you engineer this consciousness?

When you grow up very sheltered, especially when you have parents, you don’t really know the struggle that they go through to make sure that you and your siblings are comfortable. It was like that with my parents. 

I didn’t really know the struggle they went through until I was a certain age. It was well over my twenties. I remember that in 2000 my mum died, and when she died, it was tough because we were really close. You would even think we were siblings and not mother-son. 

So when she died, it left a huge void. My dad was outside of the country doing business, so he wasn’t around. It was my mum who was available for us. After the burial, my dad had to go back. I mean, there was nothing else he could do. He also started making plans to relocate because of us, but he still had to go back and get things in order before he could do that because relocating means starting from scratch. This means that since he wasn’t around, it fell on me to take care of my siblings- a younger sister and two younger brothers.

It was really hard to stay in touch with my dad because it was the early age of mobile technology in Nigeria. Even when we had a phone, it was really expensive to call and all of that. So it was tough and for the first time, I started thinking that I really need to earn money. This is because I couldn’t stand my sister being hungry, she was in the same university with me. It was almost like it was a good thing that I left the seminary before my mum died. 

Even if I didn’t then, I would have left when my mum died. It fell on me to be able to provide for my siblings. My younger brothers were in secondary school, boarding house and my sister was in the same university with me. Money was really tight so I started thinking about actually earning money, and the only way I could see to do it in a legal way was to do business. So that was what informed me, starting to think about what to do, and about opportunities and how to do business.

What was your first business?

My first business was a phone booth in school. I set up a phone booth, and people would pay money for calls. Of course, it didn’t go well because your friends would tell you they would pay later and won’t. 

After that, I started a cassava farm. Obasanjo was the president then and it was during his cassava revolution thing. I was barely making profit on the cassava farm, so I was like, this isn’t going to work. After that, I started a photocopy shop for students. That was mildly successful, and then from that, expanded into typing term papers and assignments for students with computers, and all of that. So that did quite well.

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How many businesses do you do now?

Right now, three businesses. We have a real estate firm and I run it with my partner Toyin Omotoso, so we own the business halfway. The real estate firm, Buywell Properties is what it’s called. The second is Digital Nexus Interactive, which is a marketing consulting firm, so those are the two that I run with him. But I have another company that I own solely called Profit Marketing Systems that is where I publish all my books through, all of our educational materials. So you could say three businesses and I co-own two of them with my partner, Toyin Omotoso.

How can a normal guy like me, who is starting from zero, make 1 million dollars?

Well, the first thing you have to understand is that you can reach $1 million by ownership. Ownership is important in the money game, or formula, or whatever you want to call it. The more things you own, the faster you can get to a million dollars. And by own, I mean control, because ownership means control. The lesser you have control over things, the more people will make decisions over you. 

That’s why I am very big on it. When I talk about these things on social media, I talk about owning your own, starting your own, being your own person, because it helps you get to your destination faster. Now, it doesn’t mean that people who work for other people don’t get rich, they can, but you also know that those people, they own stuff even while they are working for other people. So you don’t necessarily have to be 100% independent for you to start owning. So ownership is important, you need to own businesses.

Businesses are the fastest way to create wealth. If you are starting from scratch, you need to look at your situation and start from a place your resources can start you from. Because a lot of people go, oh, I don’t have a million dollars, I can’t do this kind of business. Yes, some businesses would require you to have a substantial sum of money before you get in or before you start them, but there are businesses you can start where you are and that’s why I talk about online businesses. The internet has democratised everything, and has made the business playing field somewhat level, and you can basically start from nothing. 

I have many students who have said my teachings, programs and advice have basically helped them become wealthy or get on the road of being wealthy. I have one guy, Osaro Destiny who made N100 million in 2020 and his goal for this year is to make N250 million. I have Ayoola Dagunduro who did N233 million with e-commerce last year; I have Bruno Nwogu of affiliate marketing who made over N8 million between June and December last year. I mean, there are numerous stories like this if you are starting from scratch.

You have got to use the internet, because the internet gives you the leverage to grow into bigger things. Looking at myself for example, I started out by selling an ebook, had a publishing company, met Toyin and we started the Digital Nexus Interactive. Then from Digital Nexus Interactive where we made a ton of money to starting our real estate company. So, you see, we are growing from one thing to something bigger, all 100% self-funded all the way.

So how do you get to a million dollars? You’ve got to start from where your current resources and then build with a long-term view in plan. You can’t think of making a million dollars in two weeks, two months, or six months. You have to think in terms of 5-10 years in the future and then work towards that.

How did you hack this internet marketing business? I know you have other businesses, but a bulk of it comes from the internet. What was the winning formula?

I think I was fortunate that I learnt how to use the internet very early. I started using the internet in 1998 because my dad lived abroad. He had a drawer phone, a satellite phone that could connect to the internet. I’d use it to browse, do stuff, and he also had like a communicator, so I was fortunate in that regard, in that I had access to the internet very early. Coming into the 2000, I had a lot of ideas, and because I had used the internet for a number of years, it was really easy for me to figure out things.

Also, the fact that I started using the internet very early made it possible for me to be at the beginning of every new internet product that came out. For example, I was among the first set of people who signed up on Facebook when it went international. I was among the first set on Twitter and on Google when they launched. I have been buying things on Amazon since 1999. Everything that has come out, I have been right there and it was easy for me to quickly figure it out and learn it.  

In 2010, when I started publishing ebooks and selling them to organisations, I saw the need and knew that the internet was a future. I knew that in no distant time, lots of businesses would want their products and services to be advertised on the internet. I saw it because I could see it happening in the UK and US. So I said, I am going to start a digital marketing firm because lots of corporate organisations do not have the manpower or expertise to advertise online. While I had been doing this since 2003, been running ads since 2003, so I knew how to do all of that. 

So we started offering our services to businesses. In the beginning, many of them didn’t want to have anything to do with it because it was new, and they didn’t even understand it. But a number of them did and that was how we started and as more knowledge came into the industry and more people were spending time online than offline, our business just basically blew up. And as we already had a lot of success with the people we already work with, it was easy for us to get more clients as we showed them the results we had with former clients. We told them these are the people we have worked with, these are the results they got and we can get you the same result. Our digital marketing just basically blew up that way.

You have a successful digital marketing company, yet the company (Digital Nexus Interactive) is not as popular as the likes of Noah’s Ark, DBB, Ogilvy, 7even Interactive, Wild Fusion. Why? 

Yes, so the thing is, it was on purpose. We wanted to just serve a specific industry, the gaming industry alone. 

The gaming industry?

Yes. So, most of our clients are in the gaming, sport betting industry. NairaBet, EbonyBet, 1960Bet, Betland and we have done some work for MerryBet and others. We focused more on that niche because we understand what to do to make it work in that niche. So that’s why we are not as popular as a Noah’s Ark, because those are like general-purpose brands that serve many industries. 

A lot of our works are more like within the industry and people would just recognise us just within the industry. But we have also done some work outside of it, like we basically did a lot of Sam Adeyemi stuff online. We have also done some work for ThisDay Leaders and Company, which owns ThisDay Newspaper. We put it on the map. We’ve done lots of work outside but 90% of the work we do is within the betting industry.

As someone who has excelled in both online and offline businesses within the country, what are the unexplored opportunities you have observed?

Well, there is opportunity in a lot of disorganisation and Nigeria is in a lot of disorganisation. For education, there will be more and more need for informal education delivered online. I mean, we have seen the likes of Udemy, Skillshare, etc. there will be more and more needs for businesses like that. You can call it edutech. 

Agriculture is another, but I am talking about the distribution chain, not the farming side. Supply is a huge problem for agriculture and farmers. Anybody who can figure out a way to put technology behind it is going to make a ton of money on the distribution side. So, education, agriculture, the distribution side, sales and marketing also, especially using the internet are opportunities to tap into.  

You inspire a lot of people, including me, how does that make you feel?

It makes me feel happy and also conscious of the fact that I have to do a lot better. I mean, coming up, I was lucky that I met someone who held me by the hand and showed me the ropes of business. That’s my mentor, the publisher of Complete Sport, and Success Digest Newspaper – Sunny Obazu-Ojeagbase. 

I met him in 2009 and he basically changed my life because up until that time, I was doing well, but not as well. But meeting him and basically understanding business structure, how to be disciplined, how to focus and all of that, basically helped me to the peak time a lot faster. Because I had spent 2003, I had spent like 7 years just doing okay, but meeting him changed my life. 

I try to be that person for other people, because I came from a place where I had to come from zero and I know that a lot of people are also coming from that point, so I try to be to them, what he is to me. It comes with a sense of responsibility, so I want to teach and share my time with as many people as I can, every single day. So it makes me happy but with a sense of honour, and responsibility. I think this is a task that has to be done because my goal is to make sure that many people that are interested have some form of ownership and one way that I know to do it is through business.  

What do you want to be known for?

Ah, I just want to be known as the person who helped as many people as he could.

So what’s the biggest thing that happened to you this year?

I was really sick last year coming into this year. I was in the hospital for a month, so getting over that is like the biggest thing this year. If that is the only thing that happens this year, I am grateful. I was almost at the point of crossing beyond.

Damn. I am glad you are much better. So, what is the best achievement in life now? 

I would say my daughter. She inspires me to be the best dad anyone could ever have. You know, I try to be for her what my mother was to me. Which is why recovering from my illness is such a big deal to me because it gives me the opportunity to be around for her, long term, you know. So that’s it, I would say having my kid and being there.

When you talked about your daughter, there’s this way your face lit up. Is that how all parents feel?

Yeah. I guess so. There are some things you really don’t understand until you experience them and having my daughter is one. Now I understand how my parents must have felt when I was growing up and how they were really disappointed when you are venturing down a wrong path. It shows me that ultimately, parents basically love their children, no matter how much children think their parents don’t. I think parents just basically do what they know and basically hope for the best. 

So now that I have a kid, I have a child; I begin to relate with a lot of things I didn’t understand.

I see you have lived well, but when you look back, what’s your biggest regret in life?

Hmm, my biggest regret? I don’t know. Because a lot of things I would probably call regret have actually turned out to be the best thing that happened. I think that is actually why people say they don’t have any regrets. Because in hindsight, you find out that it was actually good that those things happened. 

I will actually toe the same line. I really can’t say that this is the one thing that I regret because the one thing I can say looking back now, I’m like man, it was good I actually did that. If I hadn’t done that, I wouldn’t have everything that I have now.

What is the biggest lesson you have learnt?

The biggest lesson I have learnt is that if you don’t own anything, you answer to everybody. That is why I talk about ownership all the time. Ownership and control, that’s like the biggest lesson.

I mean, look at the people with the most power in society are people who have ownership. Ownership gives you a lot of control and control gives you a lot of power.

Now of course, how you use that power, it’s now up to you. You can use it for bad; you can use it for good. Ownership is vital to everybody’s existence, no matter how small it is. Ownership is important, that’s like a big lesson because when you don’t own, you are basically subservient to other people. You are a cog in the wheel; you are a tool in the way. Because you don’t have control, you don’t have ownership, you have to let other people direct your life for you. And if you are unlucky, and the person who is directing it is either selfish or doesn’t care about other people, you are going to be driven into a ditch.  

That’s why I am so big on control, because at one point in my life, I didn’t have control. And I knew how miserable I felt, how miserable I was. At that point, I said I was going to do everything to make sure I have control over my life. I can control my life, my money, my business, my economy, basically. And my freedom too.

What song would you sing for a karaoke night?

If there was one song, it would be John Legend’s All Of You.

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