Mohamed Khalef,
Director of Country Managers

Tell us a little bit about yourself and your background. What experience do you bring to StarNews Mobile?

I have approximately 13 years of experience in the mobile industry. I started in 2008 at SFR which is a French telco and then, thanks to this experience, I met many people in the industry. Next, I joined Electronic Arts, then moved to Vivendi Mobile Entertainment, then Gameloft. All of these companies were focused on the mobile game industry. When I was working at Gameloft I moved from Paris to South Africa in order to develop the company’s reach in African countries. I stayed in South Africa but moved to a new job with Upstream where I worked as the VP of Business Development for three years.

Four months ago I decided I needed a change. I knew StarNews Mobile CEO Guy Kamgaing from my previous experience because I tried to sell him marketing content. So we were in touch and I told him I was looking for my next adventure. He told me to share my CV and it was a good fit.

What attracted you to StarNews? When did you join the team? 

I joined StarNews Mobile in April 2021. I chose to join StarNews for a few key reasons. First, it’s an industry I know very well and I think I can help develop the business in South Africa because I’m based here, but also in other countries because I have a lot of contacts in Africa. I also felt that StarNews could offer me a jump forward in my career. Today I manage approximately eight people, many of whom are based in West Africa. So it’s interesting to work with so many different people in different countries.

Additionally, StarNews provided a much-needed change for me. My past experiences were at very big companies with established processes. StarNews is a startup facing many new, exciting challenges which are interesting to me. I get to be part of it from the beginning. I can help develop processes, I can manage my team as I wish – with management approval, of course. But I am quite free. I have freedom that I did not have at the other companies. Plus, the project itself is quite unique. There is no other product like this on the market so I think we have a really good competitive advantage.

What is your role? How does your position help the company grow?

As I said, I manage a team of eight people based mainly in West Africa. They are Country Managers whom I oversee and support in order to optimize and launch partnerships, talents and content, products, and services. I am also in touch with our main clients to unlock new opportunities and grow our business. We work as a team. If they launch an idea that works really well in their respective country, I share the idea with another country manager to see if they can develop it within their country, as well. In that way, I’m a link between each country manager and the middle man between them and the management team.

One example of this working was our Ivory Coast with MTN project. I had already established a relationship with MTN so it was quite easy to talk about StarNews with them. We launched a really nice program that is generating revenue and growing, so I think MTN is trusting our product, which is great. So we’re trying to duplicate this in other countries. It’s not as easy as MTN Ivory Coast because other countries are not as quick when it comes to operations, but I think it’s a good case study.

What challenges are there in overseeing and supporting the country managers?

To work remotely is quite complicated. I’m in South Africa and some of the people I manage are in Congo, some Ivory Coast, some Cameroon, and so on. It’s a bit weird to say this, but you know in Africa you need to meet people to make things move faster. With COVID, it has been difficult although things are getting better. Still, things are taking much longer than expected. Just to get an approval you can wait months whereas before you could just go to their office, have a meeting, and sort it out.

As the Director of Country Managers, you have the opportunity to see the impact the company has on the continent. Why is StarNews important to Africa?

The model that we have is quite unique. As I’ve said, I’ve worked for many other companies. What they are doing is they have a project – it can be a game, video, music, whatever – and they are focused on one revenue stream. With StarNews, we create at least two revenue streams. Of course, we serve a product in order to generate revenue, so this is one. The second is that we develop the local economy by hiring local talents. So what StarNews is trying to do is to help local celebrities get a new revenue stream, as well.

Here in Africa you have YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, but StarNews is a new platform for content creators to reach a huge population. With MTN, we’re talking about 30 million users. 

What is the best thing about being part of the StarNews team?

I really care about the people I work with who are located all over the world. We have people in New York, Paris, Africa, Los Angeles. I really like working with people from different nationalities, different ages, different backgrounds. I think it makes for a really rich company. 

The other thing that’s really important to me which is great about working at StarNews is my freedom. I can manage my team, I can create processes. I am free on a day-to-day basis to achieve what I want and meet our target.

What exciting project are you currently working on?

At the moment, I manage South Africa as a Country Manager and this country is very challenging for several reasons from a business point of view. We have a strategy to penetrate the market and make big numbers here but we are facing many challenges. This is my main target and something that I look forward to – launching a proper service in South Africa and exit. The good thing is I know MTN is very happy with our product so I am confident we can be really big in South Africa. There are a few more things we’re working on with their support. 

In Africa, there are two countries that are the biggest targets – Nigeria and South Africa. Nigeria is important because it has a huge population. South Africa is attractive because it’s a good mix between the Western world and Africa. If you succeed in South Africa, you can succeed anywhere in the world. A great example is Brazil, which is a market that is very similar to South Africa, which can help you jump to other continents and develop even more. South Africa is the most developed country in Africa, as well. So it’s a big challenge and if you can manage to launch properly, you can get really big results. 

Where do you see StarNews in the next 5 years? 

Ideally, we’d like to master all countries in Africa and have a foot in other continents, especially Latin America and Asia. I think these are the next two continents that we should attack. In fact, I think in 5 years’ time it’s safe to say StarNews will have a foot in all of these continents.

While the model won’t change, we might face some control challenges because as far as I know, we don’t have an expert for Latin America or Asia working with us at the moment. So we don’t know what type of talent works, what type of content is needed. I think it’s small details like this that we will need to overcome. The model itself won’t have to change because it’s really good and will work anywhere. If it works with telecom in Africa, it will work anywhere in the world.