EP. 16: How Tenko Nikolov, CEO of SiteGround, is Managing Happiness

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I’m very happy to welcome on the show Tenko Nikolov, the CEO of SiteGround. SiteGround is a web hosting company powering over 800,000 domains of customers all over the world. How did Tenko manage to grow from a tech support agent into the CEO of the company? Find out in the next episode of Managing Happiness!

Welcome to the Managing Happiness podcast!

My name is David Henzel and I’ve been an entrepreneur for my entire life. I’ve built and sold my company, which seems to be the dream come true for most entrepreneurs. However, I believe my greatest achievement is that I’ve managed to create and maintain a balanced life with my wife and daughter through the stressful days of starting and running the business.

In this podcast, you will listen to fireside chats with inspiring entrepreneurs who will share their experiences and lessons learned in search of work-life balance.

About Tenko Nikolov

At the age of 13, Tenko and a friend of his managed to hack into a large US corporation for fun. Instead of doing anything wrong, the two boys decided to inform the company about the breach and help it enhance its security.

Within days, a representative from the company contacted the boys offering them money in return for their know-how. Money wasn’t of interest to the young hackers. They asked for a dedicated server and that’s how Tenko’s love affair with web hosting started.

Tenko Nikolov was the 4th employee at SiteGround. He started working as a technical support agent back in 2004, while in his second year in law school. But one cannot resist true love when he meets it and for Tenko this was definitely the world of technology. Today, Tenko is the CEO and one of the masterminds behind the success of SiteGround.

In addition, he’s a proud husband and a dad of two. When he’s not at work, he loves spending time with his family and taking care of his newborn baby.

Vision, Mission, and Values

SiteGround is a company with well-defined vision, mission, and values. It was founded out of the need for better, faster and safer websites without web hosting constraints.

We believe in giving a damn about our clients, colleagues, environment and about our mission to give hassle-free web hosting solutions to our customers. We’ve always been driven by curiosity and passion.

Tenko and his colleagues have managed to build a very strong team over the last 12 years. Currently, SiteGround has 460 employees from all over the world. Throughout the years, Tenko and the team managed to incorporate their company values into the work environment which made scaling and onboarding new people way easier.

This (your company values) isn’t something that you communicate. This is an atmosphere that you create. […]

If you do it right, you don’t have to tell anybody about it. People will feel it.

For 12 years, SiteGround hadn’t hired any external management. They had always invested in the development of their own employees. In addition, each employee has a career path and knows where they can end up when they work hard. Over time, Tenko discovered that this approach to hiring and talent development was a winning strategy for the company.

You don’t need to sell the company values to that person because they’ve already felt them, they know them and they endorse them. If they are staying and they want to go on an upper position, they probably value the company and their job.

How did Tenko hack the security system of a US corporation at the age of 13? How does he combine being the CEO of a big tech company and raising 2 kids? Find out in our interview above.

Time Stamped Show Notes

[00:11] – About Tenko Nikolov

[00:55] – Tenko started out as a technical support agent at SiteGround and made his way to becoming a CEO.

[01:15] – SiteGround was founded in 2004 in a dorm room.

[01:27] – “SiteGround was founded out of the desire to make it easier for everyone to build better, faster and safer websites without worrying about managing hosting.”

[01:48] – SiteGround powers over 800,000 websites of companies of all sizes.

[02:05] – Tenko joined the company a month after it was founded and became the CEO one year later.

[02:50] – SiteGround has over 460 employees, growing with 100 people this year alone. The company has two physical offices – one in Sofia, Bulgaria, and one in Madrid, Spain.

[04:02] – “We believe in giving a damn about our clients, colleagues, environment and about our mission to give hassle-free web hosting solutions to our customers. We’ve always been driven by curiosity and passion. Our purpose has always been to make an impact, and not just score and reach targets. We’ve always loved what we do and we take big pride in our work. We’ve always tried to deliver more than what is expected, more than just working web hosting.”

[04:50] – SiteGround wants to change the stereotype of working at an IT company.

[05:05] – “We know the importance of having fun and not taking ourselves too seriously. So, everything we do, we make it count. Our mission is to make both our customers and colleagues happy […] and to continue changing the web hosting sphere so that everybody can actually have a website.”

[05:55] – Your values shouldn’t be something that you communicate only verbally. You need to incorporate them into the work environment and have people feel them.

[06:30] – SiteGround’s first office was so crappy that Tenko had to keep a bucket in his room to collect the water falling from the ceiling. Despite all that, employees loved the atmosphere and didn’t want to move to the shiny new building.

[07:50] – You need to do what you believe is best for your employees. They might resist the changes in the beginning, but if you do your job right, they will feel better off at the end.

[08:45] – Many of SiteGround’s procedures are based on negative previous experience. For example, developers don’t commit on Thursday or Friday, in order to have enough time to debug before the weekend.

[09:40] – “I try to avoid that employees work over the weekend. There is nothing that can replace a weekend with your family.”

[11:27] – “For 12 years we hadn’t hired an outside manager. We’ve always upgraded somebody from inside the company. This way, you don’t need to sell the company values to this person. They already know and endorse them.”

[13:00] – “It was a chaos back then. We wanted to do the right thing and there were so many right things to do.”

[13:45] – At SiteGround, they have 5-6 different career paths and when you join the company, you know where you can end up. When you don’t hire outside management and you give people the opportunity to grow, they feel rewarded for their hard work.

[16:20] – SiteGround measures customer satisfaction through the replies they get. Also, they participate in an anonymous survey for employers.

[17:50] – SiteGround was awarded a prize for Bulgaria’s Best Employer in 2016.

[20:18] – Normally, night shifts are considered something unpleasant. However, Tenko’s experience shows there are people who prefer working at night.

[22:00] –  Why don’t you sell the company? What keeps you in the game?

[22:36] – At the age of 13, Tenko hacked the security server of a US company.

[25:12] – “Turning your brain off when you’re running a big company is not an option. It’s always there, you’re always thinking of something. The question is can you actually disconnect and spend time with your family while you’re still doing what you do.”

[25:40] – Tenko used to work long hours, work at night and during the weekend. After he burned out 2 times, he learned how to avoid that. When his first kid was born, he decided that he would leave the office at 5 pm every day and he does it ever since.

[26:15] – In the beginning, Tenko was making a conscious effort not to work during his family time. Gradually, he got used to it and now he finds it fairly easy to put a boundary between family and work.

[27:58] – “Nobody can build up a good work-life balance for you. Every human being is different and what works for me won’t necessarily work for you.”

[29:30] – Tenko has been slowly learning to cope with stress and not let small issues get on his nerves. He’s much better at focusing on solutions rather than problems.

[30:23] – Kids teach you to be patient and help you to be a better leader and entrepreneur.

[32:45] – Which best practices from business do you apply to your family life?

  • Daily meetings with his wife
  • Speaking up about issues
  • Communication

[33:45] – “Communication is the biggest thing that keeps your family together. Then come love and happiness and everything else. If you don’t communicate, even if you love each other like crazy, it won’t last.”

[35:15] – Not speaking up about issues or speaking up without offering a solution can cause a lot of friction in a relationship.

[36:30] – “If you have to yell, your arguments are too weak.” – David’s father.

[37:05] – People who are late for meetings buy breakfast for the rest of the SiteGround team.

[38:35] – Which are the 3 books that have influenced you the most in life?

3 Key Points

  1. Company values should be more than spoken words and writings on the wall. They should be something that can be felt in the work environment.
  2. Try to promote people within the organization rather than hiring outside management. This way employees are more motivated to work hard and see the results of their efforts.
  3. Good communication is what keeps a family together.

Resources Mentioned

SiteGround – a web hosting company with 800,000+ domains.

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I’m a serial entrepreneur and I write about things I have learned along the way. I’m passionate about helping entrepreneurs and executives to find success and harmony in business and in life.

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