Interview: Alaa Fadan - CEO, Telfaz11

Have a noble mission for your business, it will always be the north star that will guide you through the noise and distractions and will give you the push to keep grinding when things get rough. 

We interview VSQ portfolio company Telfaz11’s CEO Alaa Fadan who addresses how he’s chosen to navigate these unprecedented times.

Tell us about your journey leading up to building Telfaz11

My previous education and experience are in information technology, business administration and project management. I managed strategic projects and programs at Mobily where I built my ability to look at things strategically and from a bird’s eye view. 

In 2011, I co-founded Telfaz11 with the goal of becoming the definitive media company for the social age.  Our goal was and continues to be creative culture catalysts and help build an industry that was mainly overlooked and neglected by the Saudi community.

Today we have content on our network that spans over 17 billion minutes watched and 67 million subscriptions and follows across top performing social media channels in the region. Our fans can watch our content on many different platforms from short-form content on social media to more premium long-form content on SVOD platforms such as Netflix. 

How are you coping with the current situation?

I’m getting used to the new normal and trying to balance staying safe while trying to get back to a less restricted and confined lifestyle is always on mind. However, I’m enjoying the silver linings that came out of this pandemic. Being locked in with my family was a blessing for me - I loved being able to see them between my zoom meetings, having lunch at home every day, and spending more time with them in general. I'm also happy that I’ve picked up a few good habits. I felt that focusing on eating healthy and physical activity would be crucial for mental health and staying positive; so that’s what I did and I’m pretty happy with the results. 

How did you recalibrate Telfaz11’s operations amidst the pandemic breakout?

When it first hit, I made it a point to speak with as many experts and other business leaders as I could. We’re fortunate to have access to experts, colleagues and investors such as the VSQ team to help us navigate through these trying times whether through sharing thoughts on the markets and industries, conducting experience-sharing zoom meetings with other entrepreneurs, or just giving you the moral support when things are tough. 

Knowing that everyone was going through the same challenges gave us the courage to make some tough decisions and do what needed to be done in order to survive and adapt to this huge change in the market.

The first thing we had to do is put our growth strategy on hold and shift to a survival mentality. The uncertainty ahead of us meant that holding on to a healthy cash position was of utmost importance. That meant cutting costs as well as recalibrating to tackle immediate challenges that came between us and delivering a product to a customer, whether that customer is an audience member that wants to be entertained or a client that needs to promote their product. 

That led us to change how our production teams are structured, deployed, and operated to be more lean and agile, making it easier to adapt to clients’ changing needs, which required faster and cheaper productions during that time. So for the short-term we focused on products and services that had fast turnarounds and required smaller teams. 

What did you need to adapt or change in your business model?

Because the plan was to get leaner, we had to make sure that we adapted our business processes to be more efficient. However, a company can’t change all of its processes at once, and small/mid-sized companies, because of their limited resource capacity, need to be laser-focused on those that will generate the most value.

For us, that meant that we needed to simplify our offerings and reduce our business lines to the top two business lines where we saw the most value. That, coupled with strong financial discipline, have been serving us well during these times. 

Has this changed the way you're thinking about your business, if so how what happens for Telfaz11 after the pandemic?

Running a business during this pandemic is definitely a humbling experience. The business and financial models we built, as I’m sure is the case with many businesses, did not account for extraordinary events with effects of this magnitude. It forced us to take a deeper look at the infrastructure of the business that we’re building and really challenge it’s structural integrity.

It made us re-examine our business processes and focus on financial discipline. We had to reprioritize our offerings to make sure that everything we provided was up to our quality standards, which is pretty high compared to what’s in the market. It also alerted us to the value of having access to cash. Establishing relationships with banks and financial institutions and building company credit and facilities was not something that we focused on in the past. Now we believe that it will be important going forward as we get into bigger projects that require significant capital. 

As for the business after the pandemic, we are extremely optimistic - it has accelerated the shift from traditional to digital media and the demand for content, especially local premium content, has never been higher and will continue to grow in the upcoming years. We have seen the demand increase first-hand as a result of the pandemic and we are now structuring the business to serve the market with premium authentic content in the most optimal way. 

What is something that has surprised you during this time?

1.    Although we were very productive working from home, there was an instant energizing feeling that came from face-to-face meetings and being able to build off of each other when it came to creative sessions or problem solving. 

2.    I’m a fantastic cook.

Lessons learned, final words of wisdom for entrepreneurs, investors or the wider community?

Have a noble mission for your business, it will always be the north star that will guide you through the noise and distractions and will give you the push to keep grinding when things get rough. 

For us it’s being a catalyst for the local creative culture and economy, exporting our beautiful culture to the world, and affecting our viewers positively in any shape or form through our content.

Image credits: Telfaz11