Understand your marketplace and where you’re needed.
Create a platform that is accessible to your target audience.
Work to serve both sides of the marketplace.
Help others grow as you grow- both as a company and as an individual.
Never forget that every person and their voice in your organization matters.
As a part of my series about “Lessons From Inspirational Black Men In Tech”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Guy Kamgaing, Founder and CEO of StarNews Mobile and a 20-year veteran of the African mobile space. Guy started his career by supplying network equipment to mobile operators and ISPs in Africa and other developing markets, and later entered the Value Added Services space by founding Mobile-XL, a mobile SaaS company, and creating the XL Browser, the first mobile browser using SMS as a content bearer, before data and smartphones became mainstream. Born in Cameroon, Guy holds an MBA from UCLA’s Anderson School of Management and a mechanical engineering degree from France.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I have been working with African Telcos for about 20 years. I recognized that there was a real need and desire for great, affordable content. Additionally, content creators in the region needed an platform that could help them reach their fan base. I took my understanding of the market, users and partners and realized StarNews could be the solution. Thanks to our strong partnerships with MTN and Orange, whom we both have group deals, we were able to penetrate the market and test our product with little to no marketing effort. We knew that the competition was present and worked to create a different product that is innovative and accessible to everyone.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began at your company?
Actually seeing the concept and idea evolve as the platform materialized. It’s one thing to say you’re going to create a product that will do certain things, but it’s really interesting to see it actually happening. It’s interesting to think you’re going to help influencers make money, but it’s actually very interesting and very rewarding when you are able to contribute to them growing their fan base and income. Being able to provide them with this opportunity is as interesting and rewarding as I could have ever imagined.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
One of the mistakes I can pinpoint is thinking things will happen faster than they actually did. When you’re not conscious of that and what your timeline actually looks like, it may be easy to get into activities and expenses too early on. The lesson I learned is to never jump the gun. Take your time, understand you have to move fast, but you should never move faster than you, your organization and your product are capable of.
Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?
One of the hardest things I had to do was take a consulting assignment just so I could fund the business from that. I had to go overseas for a while for that. That was probably one of the hardest things I did. I knew if I managed to get through it would be big- not just financially, but StarNews Mobile would go where I needed and would help people.
Like any startup, we’ve experienced growing pains but we are proud of our amazing teams, both globally and locally, who are dedicated to each of the countries in which we are present. Our main challenge today is continuing to raise the bar for our users and entertaining them with a great platform that’s affordable and continuously features great quality content.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
There’s been a lot of people, but my brother definitely comes to mind. He has always supported me, believed in me and also helped financially when I needed it. Also, I could not have achieved what I have without my friends, wife, kids, and all the others that have helped. I am forever grateful to these people for their constant support.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Your best teacher is your last mistake.” It’s relevant to me because if it wasn’t for the last mistakes that I made, I probably would not have been where I am today, in terms of patience and understanding. The important thing to do in business, and life as well, is to understand that you learn from your mistakes. They make you better. They prepare you better for the real challenges. If I hadn’t failed before, I probably wouldn’t be as tough or able to handle challenges that have come my way.
Ok super. Thank you for all that. Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview. The United States is currently facing a very important self-reckoning about race, diversity, equality and inclusion. This is of course a huge topic. But briefly, can you share your view on how this crisis inexorably evolved to the boiling point that it’s at now?
The crisis evolved to what it is today because there was less and less communication among people. I come from a culture that is very people on top of each other, forcing a lot of communication. Almost too much versus America, where it’s all about capitalism, individualism, and not caring to understand others. Not caring enough and not sharing enough is all too common. I think that’s the reason why all these things kind of grew and nobody paid attention and why we are where we are today. I would almost say it’s a good thing because now everybody is aware there’s a crisis and hopefully they can work towards resolving it.
This may be obvious to you, but it will be helpful to spell this out. Can you articulate to our readers a few reasons why it is so important for a business or organization to have a diverse executive team?
Simply put, America is diverse. Diversity is important because customers are diverse, the country is diverse, suppliers are diverse. In a country like America, if you don’t have diversity then you limit yourself as a business and also as an individual, in terms of outlook on life. So it’s really important for diversity to kick in everywhere within organizations, not just at an executive level, but at all levels of the company. This ensures you can really understand your audience, customers, suppliers, employees and so on. Overall, diversity in an executive team and at all levels of your organization can help you better understand the society you operate in.
Let’s zoom out a bit and talk in more broad terms. It’s hard to be satisfied with the status quo regarding Black Men in Tech leadership. What specific changes do you think are needed to change the status quo?
To change the status quo, I think we need to start with communication, awareness, recognition and creating inclusive opportunities. Black men and women in tech have long been outnumbered by their white and Latino peers; however, we are starting to see a change thanks to social movements such as Black Lives Matter. This is leading to more recognition for Black-owned businesses and entrepreneurs across the nation. From a business perspective, we look at diversity inclusion from mid-management to C-level as well as with ideas. Additionally, there needs to be widespread recognition of diversity within the tech industry — innovation can come from anywhere, not just Silicon Valley but also the Sub-Saharan Desert. Building opportunities for like-minded Black men and women in tech leadership in order to gather and share ideas in a more structured way whether it’s through organizations or read-ups is also paramount. As a community, we need to highlight all of these challenges and opportunities to ensure our voices are heard.
We’d now love to learn a bit about your company. What is the pain point that your company is helping to address?
Sub-Saharan Africa has the least affordable data globally (75% of countries in the region remain above the target threshold of 2% of monthly income for 1GB of data), limiting bandwidth and entertainment opportunities for mobile users. The cost of a modest internet-enabled phone is equivalent to nearly 400% of the monthly income of the poorest fifth of the population. Because of this, quality content remains largely inaccessible.
It is also a challenge for local African celebrities to monetize their fan-base, especially in the pandemic as live performances are not an option. A lot of mobile services are not paying creators or the other platforms consume so much data that they aren’t suitable nor do their revenue models cater to the African marketplace.
Recognizing that African mobile users have limited streaming and entertainment opportunities due to bandwidth and expensive data, I created StarNews Mobile to provide underserved consumers with access to entertainment and create a new source of income for content creators.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
StarNews Mobile plays a critical role in supporting Ivorian artists because of our objective to target the underserved African market and to promote artists with growing fan bases. We serve as a platform for artists to promote their channels to new and existing audiences and work to help local influencers generate income from their content. StarNews celebrities are paid monthly via our subscription model where revenues are split between the operators (distribution), StarNews and the content providers.
We have been collaborating with local and international African celebrities such as Fally Ipupa, Serge Beynaud, Lady Ponce and Davido and have been focusing on the development of new content and expanding into more countries since 2019.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
Yes! We have several in the works and have recently launched a handful of partnerships that are bringing great opportunities to users, content creators and the local community! We’re excited to continue to expand our partnerships and project huge growth in the next few months.
StarNews Mobile recently announced its part in Snap Inc.’s Yellow Accelerator. StarNews Mobile was selected among eight other companies to join the program. StarNews Mobile will leverage Snap Inc.’s best practices and provide insight into the mobile streaming ecosystem in Africa.
StarNews Mobile partnered with Sony Music Entertainment Africa to promote Ivorian artists and help monetize their content. This provides resources allocated to filming, producing and editing exclusive artist content and broadcasting through StarNews channels; and the marketing efforts by StarNews and MTN through SMS and digital campaigns, as well as, the opportunity for artists to promote their channels to new and existing audiences.
StarNews Mobile recently welcomed the US Entertainment network Black and Sexy TV. With the addition of Black & Sexy TV to our network, not only is this the first time we have released U.S. entertainment in South Africa, but it is also the first time we have released serialized content on the continent. We are now offering fans previously unattainable content that they love and want.
The StarNews Youth Initiative Incubator: The StarNews Mobile Youth Initiative incubator provides participants with the opportunity to explore the digital film industry by offering equal opportunity to both skilled and learning participants in order to provide livelihood and open doors to new career paths. The incubator serves as a launchpad for people to come together, master new expertise and cultivate a thriving community.
What would you advise to another tech leader who initially went through years of successive growth, but has now reached a standstill. From your experience do you have any general advice about how to boost growth or sales and “restart their engines”?
Don’t be afraid to get creative, learn from your mistakes and acknowledge where you went wrong before. Also, take a look at what did work for you. What worked for you previously isn’t necessarily going to work for you in the future, especially as tech is ever-growing, but being aware of how your audience is consuming your product and responding to it can help you recognize how you can continue to make your brand grow. Sometimes a standstill means you need to refresh your strategy. It’s okay to hit a plateau but be careful not to stay there for too long. Take the risks that are going to benefit you in the long term.
Do you have any advice about how companies can create very high performing sales teams?
Pay attention to your team. Every level of the organization is important, so identifying those that are positively going to contribute and reach their goals within the company is important. Recognize that not everyone is going to be a great culture or team fit and adjust accordingly. Additionally, leaders can make sure to provide feedback and measurable goals for their team to ensure all levels of the organization are engaging and working to better the company.
In your specific industry what methods have you found to be most effective in order to find and attract the right customers? Can you share any stories or examples?
For StarNews Mobile, my focus on attracting customers was more than just bringing them in, but catering to them. I wanted to provide a part of the world that is underserved with access to the quality content they deserve. There’s a need for celebrities to be able to reach their fan base, so attracting them to the platform serves one part of the marketplace, and on the other side of the marketplace, consumers are now able to view their favorite videos and content at an affordable price. Previously, this type of content would cost much more than the average person could afford and bandwidth was limited. So we worked to bring consumers what they need and can afford with StarNews Mobile.
Working closely with telcos has really helped StarNews’ user acquisition process. StarNews content is great and the data-free service is very attractive particularly when offering promotional packages and rewards to our users. StarNews Mobile has worked hard to keep users engaged and excited as word-of-mouth has been super helpful in sustaining a huge buzz about StarNews with very few users unsubscribing once they join our service.
Based on your experience, can you share 3 or 4 strategies to give your customers the best possible user experience and customer service?
- Providing quality content to a market that desires access. StarNews Mobile targets Africa’s market, with a population of 1Bn+ people, mostly receiving their daily info from a major telecom. Through StarNews Mobile’s carrier partnerships, including MTN and Orange, we are targeting and seeking to deliver great content to a footprint of roughly 400M people.
- Making content affordable in an area with limited bandwidth and expensive data plans. StarNews’ business model follows a Subscription Video On Demand (SVOD) model with technology that is both intuitive and easy to use. Depending on the country, StarNew either uses SMS or USSD code, to help the user to subscribe. Users do NOT pay for data to use the service. StarNews directly bills the user who pays a small daily or weekly fee (micro-billing from their airtime balance). Subscribers opt-in to their favorite channel, they receive a daily notification with a link. They just have to click on the link and stream the video.
- Providing a two-sided marketplace. In addition to making sure that consumers are able to access quality content, we are providing content creators with a platform that allows them to reach an audience and fan base that they were previously unable to reach. We’re bringing consumers the content they want and helping creators reach those consumers, it’s a win-win situation for everyone using the platform.
As you likely know, this HBR article demonstrates that studies have shown that retaining customers can be far more lucrative than finding new ones. Do you use any specific initiatives to limit customer attrition or customer churn? Can you share some of your advice from your experience about how to limit customer churn?
It is all about understanding what your customer needs and working to make it available and affordable. Don’t put too many roadblocks in the way of what your customer wants and how they can access it. We send out regular reminders to users so they can easily subscribe to their favorite content. Staying present and relevant while bringing the consumer great quality content that they want to see is critical!
Here is the main question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things one should know in order to create a very successful tech company?
1. Understand your marketplace and where you’re needed.
2. Create a platform that is accessible to your target audience.
3. Work to serve both sides of the marketplace.
4. Help others grow as you grow- both as a company and as an individual.
5. Never forget that every person and their voice in your organization matters.
Wonderful. We are nearly done. Here are the final “meaty” questions of our discussion. You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I want to empower the underserved people of Africa and the world. With StarNews Mobile and our community development initiatives, we are able to give back and provide content creators with new streams of revenue as well as mobile users with access to high quality entertainment content and news. I want to make the rest of the world aware of their needs. It has been a very rewarding journey along the way!
We are very blessed that very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar! He is a legend. During his 20-year NBA career, he earned six NBA titles, six league MVP awards and a career total of 38,387 points. He is also an inspiration to me because of his social consciousness, activism, wisdom in writing and mentorship. He earned the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2016.
Thank you so much for this. This was very inspirational, and we wish you only continued success!