How Tenko Nikolov Built Web Hosting Empire SiteGround
With a family history steeped in the legal profession, it was only natural for Tenko Nikolov to follow in their footsteps and pursue a law degree—but it was his grandfather’s gift of a computer to a 7-year-old Tenko that influenced him the most.
Tenko has been a computer-guy for as long as he can remember. Even at 13, on a computer that was a gift from his grandfather, he and his friend managed to hack into a large US corporation just for fun. After playing around for a few days, the duo decided to come clean and share their findings.
Within days, a representative from the company contacted the kids and offered to pay them for their work, as they were very interested in the vulnerabilities the two had exploited to gain access. “We didn’t want money,” says Nikolov, “we just wanted a server we could play with!” and that is exactly what they got. The company gave them a dedicated server and that spurred Nikolov’s 20-year love affair with all things hosting.
That love affair led to the creations of Nikolov’s company SiteGround, started in a university dorm and since growing to host more than 500,000 domains on their web servers.
100% Bootstrapped, 100% In-House
Very few technology companies build every aspect of their solution in house; even fewer do it without any private funding or investors, but that is precisely what SiteGround has done.
When the company started in 2003, it had nearly 33,000 competitors, each offering the same product for very similar price points. Nikolov knew that to find success, SiteGround needed a differentiator. “We wanted to do more than slice servers—we wanted to do something that customers could praise us for.”
Nikolov found that his competitors were offering reliability, performance, security, or affordability but no one was offering all of those features. Challenge accepted.
Building the Best
With a team of fewer than 10 people, Nikolov and his co-founders got to work building a hosting product from scratch and within two years, SiteGround was recognized as an industry leader.
The company now has servers in four data centers dispersed over three continents, and more than 400 employees who work either remotely or out of one of SiteGround’s five offices. Even after 13 years in business, the company continues to experience double-digit, year-on-year growth.
Innovating Before it Was Cool
Talk to any founder about and the word “innovation” is likely to creep into the conversation. However, at SiteGround, innovation was the backbone of the company long before it was a buzzword. It has guided product development and marketing and led the company to embrace ideas and accept failures.
For Nikolov, the success of SiteGround is based on two very simple things: a good product and good marketing. To get there, the team is constantly thinking of new ideas. “There is no formula,” says Nikolov. “It is a lot of late night thinking, working on those ideas during the day, creating errors and then repeating the process.”
Everything that SiteGround has built is the result of a desire to create something better in a way that no one else is doing it, and the only way to get there is through trial and error.
You may not expect a group of techies to be marketing wizzes, but Nikolov and his team are not just early adopters of many marketing strategies, they are blazing the trail.
When all of their competitors were optimizing their sites for the keywords “web hosting,” SiteGround began building individual web pages for each of the individual solutions they could accommodate on their servers. Turns out that users were just as likely to search for “Mambo hosting,” a popular website-building software at the time, as “web hosting.” SiteGround gained a ton of organic sign-ups, even more than their competitors could get through paid channels.
When the rest of the industry caught on to these practices, SiteGround pivoted to content marketing. Ten years ago, long before content marketing was a thing, SiteGround began producing free content that allowed their customers to get to know their brand through detailed tutorials and templates. Again, the company was converting at rate that far outpaced the competition.
In the past five years, their outreach focus has shifted to WordPress events. As one of only four companies endorsed on the WordPress.org site, staying in touch with the WordPress community is a high priority. SiteGround sponsors more than 50 WordPress events a year and attends nearly as many. The events provide a great opportunity to engage with clients and demonstrate their thought leadership status through talks delivered by official SiteGrounders.
Superior Product from the (Site)Ground Up
Growing from a small apartment in Bulgaria to a global company fueled by a workforce that speaks more than 30 different languages begins by building a single product and then continuing to build on that product to ensure it is always meeting the needs of your customers.
SiteGround developers are constantly working on new and innovative technology stacks and currently run the largest Linux container stack in the world. In addition to supporting WordPress, SiteGround also supports many other CMSs, an offering most of their competition shies away from.
Currently in the works is an artificial intelligence chatbot to handle hosting inquiries. Nikolov hopes that this will be the first chatbot in the industry capable of solving complex problems on its own, and will have the added benefit of troubleshooting issues faster than a human.
They’re Not Done Yet
Don’t look for SiteGround to be up for grabs anytime soon. As Nikolov sees it, there is still way too much for them to do. “If we thought we were done, we would’ve sold by now—2017 won’t be enough time to make all of our ideas happen.”
Tenko Nikolov’s Tenets of Success
- Dream big and never give up. If it’s not the right time, just wait and the right time will come.
- Hard work never hurt anyone.
- Don’t take yourself too seriously.
- Be stubborn in pursuit of your goal.
- Stay on the verge of what is possible. There is always a better product.
Aside from being Nikolov’s home, Bulgaria is billed by many as the Silicon Valley of Europe. As a small country of just over 6 million, much of Bulgaria’s workforce is tech focused, making it an ideal hunting ground for great talent. Early SiteGrounders brought in like-minded individuals and the team quickly became the envy of the industry.
Author Profile = Avi Valentine is a freelance writer who thrives on creating epic pieces for businesses looking to make their mark in a content-driven world. A recipient of the Charles F. Brooks Award for Excellence in Technical Writing, Avi enjoys telling the world about exciting people, products and businesses.