Rethinking The Status Quo: Monty Mobile Founder Mountasser Hachem
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Today’s mobile operators are at an inflection point, says Mountasser Hachem, founder and Chairman of Monty Mobile, a Beirut-headquartered GSMA-certified open connectivity SMS hub and roaming broker. With their infrastructure, mobile operators are one of the enablers of the digital economy, but, paradoxically, the total consumer spend on mobile communication services has been in decline. The reason is that consumer behavior has changed, and consumers now prefer exploring different digital avenues for their communication, leaving mobile incumbents in a paradox of being replaced by many digital players, whose operations their own networks facilitate and support. “In fact, social media players are making billions of dollars using the operators’ networks, while operators are making zero,” Hachem says. “We are witnessing an era where many mobile operators are applying for loans, or requesting banking facilities. Many of them are even undergoing changes in management for not achieving their sales targets. I think that this explains a lot, that they are struggling with declining revenues.”
And Hachem knows quite a bit about the business of mobile operators. Founded in 1998, Monty Mobile works closely with more than 700 mobile operators around the world to facilitate the international flow of data, voice, and SMS across global markets. The company has 300 employees distributed over nine offices in the UK, Croatia, Belgium, Germany, Fiji, Indonesia, India, Lebanon, and the UAE, while 10 other offices are planned to be opened in 2019 to better service operators worldwide. On the basis of this vast experience in the sector, Hachem says that the expanded competition from over-the-top (OTT) providers and social media players, like Facebook, Google and others, has been causing a significant decline in average revenue per user (ARPU) for most mobile operators worldwide.
According to Hachem, these cloud-based players are offering innovative services at very attractive packages or at no cost at all, while adapting to the changing customer behavior much faster than mobile operators. In addition, the explosion of the internet of things (IoT), smart cities, and free WiFi have also put mobile operators under the pressure of adapting to changes in consumer demand.
However, the main problem, Hachem explains, is in the way in which mobile operators approach these big losses. “In reality, despite the challenges I have mentioned, most mobile operators still compete with each other using the classical way, which mainly depends on offering data packages or bundles,” he says. “Whereas in my opinion, they should recognize that this strategy is not profitable anymore.” And this is where Monty Mobile’s uniquely attractive proposition comes into the picture. Hachem explains that mobile operators are either not aware or not utilizing some of their assets in the right way. Those are customer data, value-added services, mobile advertising, mobile banking, credit services and finance, and other services. “For example, while social media players are making billions of dollars, the operators are doing nothing,” Hachem says. “While as a matter of fact, operators own the biggest pool of reliable customer data which, if monetized properly through customer profiling and data analytics, would allow operators to have the most accurate customer profiles which no social media player can beat. However, they are not looking into this as a new source of revenue.”
To that end, Monty Mobile has developed an advanced data analytics platform, in addition to its already wide portfolio of value-added services (VAS) that cater for every operator’s need to survive the new global market trends. “Our main mission at Monty Mobile is to increase operators’ awareness of their hidden treasures, and to support them on the right way to invest in such opportunities to maximize revenue,” Hachem says. “We are also ready to invest with them in some cases. It's time for operators to treat their subscribers as partners, and the best way to achieve this goal is by offering their subscribers rewarding incentives to encourage their engagement, and, thus, increase the operators’ revenue.”
More than two decades since starting building what is today considered one of the MENA’s key regional players in the telecommunication sector -Monty Mobile- Hachem’s relentless pursuit of growth opportunities continues. “All of our services generate good profits, and lately, we have started diversifying into VAS and enterprise solutions as well,” he says. “But if I had to choose the top, I would say roaming, SMS gateway management, and our wide group of in-house solutions, such as airtime credit loan, mobile advertising platform, data analytics platform, billing solutions, Top Up+, M-rewards and Promo Services.” Regarding roaming, Monty Mobile provides operators with solutions to offer their subscribers high roaming coverage with lowtariff packages that they can use while roaming anywhere in the world. “As we all know, roaming charges are extremely high, so roaming subscribers are happy when their operators give them a solution where they can ‘go global and pay local,’ and still use their own SIMs while abroad, without having to stand in long queues at the airports to get local SIMs aiming to avoid the roaming bill shock,” Hachem explains. “And this makes our roaming solutions a great success.”
Mountasser Hachem, founder and Chairman of Monty Mobile. Source: Monty Mobile.
When it comes to Monty Mobile’s SMS gateway management solutions, those have proved to be of great value to operators who suffer from SMS leakages on their networks, most of which they are not aware of, and which lead to huge losses. Monty Mobile’s solution guarantees a spam-free network and helps the operator to maximize its A2P SMS revenues. Other successful revenue streams which operators should not ignore, Hachem adds, include Monty Mobile’s in-house solutions designed and developed to cater for today’s dynamic market needs from finance, mobile advertising, loyalty campaigns to big data analytics. Since 2016, the company has also been hosting one of the largest private telecom events called RVS (Roaming, Value Added Services, and SMS) Operator Event– a semi-annual event gathering high-profile operator executives from around the world.
And looking at the current state of the telecommunications sector across the region, Hachem opines that new business opportunities are getting slimmer day by day, advising new entrepreneurs that “a change is seriously needed, and innovation is a must.” Hachem is as ambitious and cautious (understandably) as you would expect from a man who has been wrestling with large and powerful telecom incumbents for decades. “It was very hard for an entrepreneur from the Middle East to enter worldwide markets, and gain the trust of operators everywhere,” he says of Monty Mobile’s beginnings in 1998. “The high level of competition was really a challenge. On the other hand, unfortunately, many operators in the Middle East area preferred to deal with European telecom companies back then, despite the good deals we provided. However, with a wisely built product portfolio, high quality service, and a seriously dedicated team, Monty Mobile has come a long way in the telecom business, and is now proudly partnering with international operators from all over the world and competing amongst the top players in the field.”
As our conversation comes to an end, Hachem reflects on self-confidence needed for building a business anywhere, and especially in this region, admitting that believing in oneself, coupled with being patient and embracing change should always be part of a promising business. “It is by having the courage to take on big challenges, and to never give up that I have led the company to its current state,” he says. “I have always believed that a dream can come true, and have always motivated my team to be part of that dream, and this is why I apply a more human approach to my business. I constantly show my passion for the brand, and want my employees to feel just as excited about it as I am, and to feel empowered by my endless will, so it is kind of a ‘lead-by-example’ management style. In addition to that, I am also known as a challenge-taker who adapts to inevitable changes, looks for new ways to succeed, and leads the organization with a transformational mindset, accepting transitions, and even modifying the business model when needed.” Listen up, entrepreneurs- all of that is good advice to take to heart.