Hosting is not known as the most innovative business in the world. Competition in the sector is strong and the price is often the only difference between market players. Such is the environment in which a Bulgarian company is successfully rivalling behemoths like Amazon and GoDaddy - thanks to innovation and attention to detail.
Set up 17 years ago, SiteGround keeps on expanding its global business and is currently supporting more than 2.8 million domains and servers in several data centers in Europe, Asia, the United States and Australia.
Ivo Tsenov created SiteGround with a few co-students from American University in Bulgaria and Tenko Nikolov joined in a few months later. They decided to focus on foreign markets - the United States first - and their business gradually grew. So did their team.
In Bulgaria today the company has centers in Sofia, Plovdiv and Stara Zagora and employs more than 500 people: developers, IT experts, marketing specialists. The entire business is outside Bulgaria, with revenue coming mainly from the United States, Europe and Asia. What makes SiteGround stand out among competitors is its very good array of maintenance and software solutions.
Ivo Tsenov and Tenko Nikolov are two of the well-known figures in the Bulgarian IT eco-system, they are investors in other companies and people with a clear view on how Bulgaria should develop. SiteGround has a reputation of one of the best employers.
The sales of Bulgaria-registered SiteGround Hosting have been growing, reaching 142 million levs (72.6 million euro) in 2020; profit stood at 73 million levs. The company is solely owned by Cyprus-registered SiteGround Capital. Official data about the size of the company's global business is unavailable but according to unofficial information its market valuation currently stands at several billion dollars.
Capital discussed with Ivo Tsenov and Tenko Nikolov the development of their business, why the team matters and why they opted to stay in Bulgaria.
Have you ever considered selling the company?
TN: That may happen some day. At some point we may want to do something different.
IT: The truth is that every year we get an offer and we decline it, saying our price is higher. The last offer was a several billion one and we still rejected it.
The things we do affect businesses worldwide. Having a direct impact on the way the world works and having a positive impact is extremely rewarding for us. We design technologies that people use all over the world. And we are happy that those technologies help them be more successful online. At the same time we help our employees work what they like and become better at it on a global level, doing it from Bulgaria.
You have other projects besides SiteGround. How do you decide where to invest?
TN: We invest in a lot of things. In SiteGround, we invest in people. Outside SiteGround, we are looking for new technologies that can help the world become a better place, because we will be growing as population. On the other hand, we are looking for cool ideas - related to sustainable future, global warming, etc. In the end it is always people we invest in.
IT: What people do not know about us is that we are some of the region's largest investors in companies worldwide. We have probably invested in more than 50 funds and companies. As business angels we have investments in some of the world's biggest startups. We have at least five unicorns where we are direct investors and at least another 20 where we have invested through funds. None of them is based in Bulgaria but there are such startups in the region. There are great companies making cool things here.
The region as a whole has super potential. We have invested in Slovenia, Croatia, Turkey, Greece.
Have you ever thought of moving the headquarters abroad?
TN: The parent company is not Bulgarian. We cannot do what we do with a Bulgarian parent company because the regulations are old and don't fit our business. Bulgaria loses from the fact that we need to create local companies all over the world.
IT: But it is a fact that the largest number of our specialists is located here. Bulgaria has a lot of skilled people and that is a big treasure. And it is also a fact that they are not so good because of the Bulgarian education system but because they have talent, have educated themselves and many of them have graduated abroad and have returned to Bulgaria.
Where do you want to see Bulgaria?
TN: My biggest dream is that my children will want to live here. I do not know if that is possible and feasible. Our children will be able to study wherever they want. And if they choose to live in Bulgaria, that will be great.
IT: But in order for them to choose to live in Bulgaria, some things need to change and we need to start thinking in several directions. I believe that in the next decade there will be huge innovations and Bulgaria should be part of them. There are two areas for instance where I expect to see much progress: slowing down aging, and climate change. They need a lot of innovations, because if we are to live longer, there will be more people on the planet and that will require solving problems related to urban planning, food supply, etc. On the other hand, a lot of people do not care about climate change but it will soon become so evident that it will have an enormous impact on our lives. If, as a nation, we invest in these areas, I believe that there will be many unicorns here, which is equivalent to prosperity for the state. But that is not on the agenda now.
Is there a magic formula for working well with people?
TN: In my opinion the first step in the process is hiring the right people. And the right people for me are not those right for you. At any rate, good people are the knowing and able, those who want to learn and improve. And last but not least, their value system should be similar to that of the company. It has never been our goal to have 5,000 employees working while we go yachting and driving expensive cars. We are always in the office and working on par with our staff. And they see that. With time we have understood that the best thing to do is to hire the right people and let them do their job.
On this job-market do you hate losing people?
IT: That is part of the process. To retain two very good specialists you may have to hire ten people with potential and invest in training them. In the process you will realize that five of them are not the right people for you. Of the other five, some will leave and you will be left with two or three. It depends on the way you see it: you may suffer for losing eight or be happy for having two that will do the job.