Nikolay Gorchilov is a co-founder of the Indian companies Extreme and Excitel, which are specialised in residential broadband access based on a Bulgarian model. Extreme started in 2009 by importing Bulgarian technologies and know-how. In 2015, the company created its own Internet service provider that services more than 200,000 clients. Excitel is among the leading independing Internet Service Provider (ISP)in Delhi.
Mr. Gorchilov, tell us about your company. When did you establish it and why?
In the period 2000-2005, Bulgaria created a mini-Internet revolution - neighbourhood LAN networks provided very fast Internet to each average Bulgarian household at an impressively low price. As a result, we rose to the top of the world rankings by speed, price and penetration levels. Bulgaria was one of the few countries where independent providers dominated the home Internet market. A similar model was adopted by several other Eastern European countries, but as a whole, it remained encapsulated in the so called Eastern Bloc.
After we exitted our business in Bulgaria, the logical next step was to find a developing market to export our Bulgarian residential broadband model to. While telecoms were busy building mobile networks, we wanted to lay the foundations of LAN operations based on the Bulgarian model.
So, in 2008, my partner at Orbitel Viktor Frantses and I found ourselves in India, and in 2009, we registered our first company there - Extreme Broadband Services. Plamen Petkov from Networx Rousse joined us. The company delivers Bulgarian technologies to existing home Internet service providers in more than 200 locations in India.
In the last 2 years, we have started a network of Internet Exchange (IX) points for traffic exchange between Content Providers and ISPs. Currently we're operating IX in Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai, Kolkata, Hyderabad and Bangalore, serving 250 Gigabit/s or around 1.5% of all traffic in India. We believe that within 5 years we will have the chance to turn into the largest Internet exchange in the world.
In 2015, we started our own Internet service provider. For about two years, the company has accumulated more than 200,000 households. Currently, we are in the Top 10 of independent providers. We are the largest independent provider in Delhi according to all indicators. Excitel still operates in only 2 cities - Delhi and Hyderabad, but we plan to reach every city in India in the next 3-5 years. Our business group is already working in Nepal and Bangladesh.
In Bulgaria you are also famous for your business project Orbitel. Why did you give up on it?
Orbitel reached a stage where state-level regulations and lobbying were much more important to the development of the business than entrepreneurship, innovation, or quality and customer service. As a result, I started spending more time with my lawyers at the responsible institutions than with my colleagues at the office. The telecom business is not the ideal environment for entrepreneurs, but for corporations with large regulatory departments.
How did you start your business project in India? How were you accepted by the local Internet service providers and competitors?
In India, we started from scratch. In 2008, most independent providers did not even have a web site, so, they were impossible to find. We started from a reference by a neighbourhood cable operator in Noida (one of the cities in Delhi’s megapolis) who introduced us to their wholesale supplier, to other clients of theirs, etc. We took part in several specialised exhibitions, such as Convergence India, together with some ISP equipment manufacturers, so, providers also started appearing.
It quickly became clear that hanging cables on the trees was not the most appropriate solution, so, we decided to transform several existing providers from different parts of India - Kolkata, Mumbai and Delhi. It took us 1 year only to convince them to try the Bulgarian model and 3 years more to apply it (as far as it is possible) and see the results. But all main clients started to expand tremendously. This unleashed a wave of providers who were willing to work with us. As a result, we gained a profitable consulting business, reputation and in-depth knowledge of the ecosystem, which are unthinkable for foreigners. This encouraged us to start our own Internet service provider in 2015, for which we came to India 6-7 years earlier.
Not many Bulgarian companies are active on the Asian market. What should they know about the Indian market and clients?
We should start by saying that whatever we say about India, the opposite is also true. Generally speaking, starting a business in India is a marathon, not a sprint. It takes time, perseverance and full dedication until things start working. In India, personal relations are usually more important than business logic. I often joke that in order for an Indian to trust you, you must first drink a ton of tea with them.
That is why in 2010 we moved with our families to Delhi - to have the opportunity to meet potential partners regularly, tirelessly, and until we make a breakthrough. They started looking for us in around 3 years - in 2013.
In an interview you say that in India, you are trying to organise the existing non-organised sector. What are you doing in this direction?
India is so diverse and chaotic that only a few companies have managed to succeed on a national level. Most industries are very fragmented and localised. The economy is dominated by the small neighbourhood providers of random goods or services. This is what I call an “unorganised sector”. We see our role in including the existing around 100,000 small local cable operators in our vision for a first-class broadband provider. We want to transform and turn them into the largest brand for home broadband Internet in India that will serve the 50 million middle-class urban households.