Dileep Agrawal, a Nepali Internet Service pioneer & Entrepreneur

Dileep Agrawal, Internet Industry pioneer

Mr. Dileep Agrawal, the Chairman and Managing Director of Worldlink Communication Pvt. Ltd., is a recognized leader in Nepal’s IT industry. A graduate from Bates College in the US, he started his entrepreneurial journey in 1995, while he was a third year student at college. He has created several successful enterprises over time. He was awarded Best Young Entrepreneur by Federation of Nepalese Chamber of Commerce and Industries (FNCCI) in 2004 and Best IT Entrepreneur by BOSS Magazine in 2006.

One of the most successful young entrepreneurs of Nepal, Mr. Dileep Agrawal, firmly believes that a country’s economy cannot develop without entrepreneurs and only those societies with free markets approach where they allow entrepreneurs to lead, will develop. He provides the example of China with communist regime developed only after it adopted the free market concepts. He is very troubled by the Nepali society’s perception of businessmen and entrepreneurs as evil people. He further adds that even in India, until last ten years, people believed that business person was a liar and thief who enjoyed the luxury by looting the general people. Profit-making process is considered an evil act in certain circles. He argues that this societal view still persists in Nepal and until this perception is changed, the entrepreneurial development and prosperity is far from reach of many Nepalese.

Son of a professor, he had to rebel against his father’s conception of profit-making being evil. And after some struggle he finally made his leap towards entrepreneurial journey that led him to his current position. He had already lived with his father in USA for seven years, when he got a scholarship to study in an American university. Once he joined his college, he shares that he became independent and that helped him in his own development. He gives the credit for his success to his college years, which gave him opportunities to understand about various disciplines, different people and cultures. This shaped his understanding about the world and its ways.

Dileep Agrawal believes that success is not achieved at once, but by challenging ourselves constantly. With such a belief, he constantly challenged himself to pavé his path to success. Though a biology major wanting to join the medical school, he didn’t refrain himself from venturing into the world of economics, psychology and philosophy. He believes that his diversification of courses helped him better understand life and helped him grow immensely.

When he was in his third year of college, he debated whether to carry on with further studies, return back home or find a job after his graduation in about a years time. During this time, he used to communicate with his friends via emails, but when he had to call back home, it was expensive. This very problem ignited the idea of starting the business of providing email and Internet services in Nepal.

He shared his idea of starting an email and Internet service business in Nepal with one of his brother who was then without a job. His brother joined his venture and helped him research the market. But, before the research finished, his brother got a job and discontinued to work with him. Without any discouragement, he carried on with his work on his own. Though being good with computers and technology, he chose to abandon his path of being a computer scientist unlike one of his brothers.

He started his business with a computer and a modem, which was special kind of modem used by NGO’s in the Africa for communication, as the normal modems could not connect US with Nepal via dial-up connections. It was a big achievement at that time for him. He did do some advertising of his business too but he had to return to the US to complete his studies. So, before he left, he made two of his cousins partners in his company. At the beginning, the company did get few costumers but it took the first CAN Info Tech of 1996 for his business to grow extraordinarily. The business grew so big that his partners had to ask him to come back from the US to manage it. After graduating from his college he came back and till this day he has been continuously growing the business of Worldlink Communication.

Making Worldlink Communication a successful business was not an easy task. He had to face lots of challenges. When he had started his business, the Nepal Government had not yet recognized the business of Internet Service Provider. Many people told him that he might end up in jail for running a business unrecognized by the government. But, this didn’t stop him.

Success is not achieved without some failures. He is no exception to the philosophy. He terms his first failure as the inability to find good human resource during the rapid growth period of his company. This inability created a huge problem to the management. He suggests to the budding entrepreneurs to plan for finding well-trained and committed staffs while planning for their businesses.

He terms his second failure to his inability to transfer himself from a technical person to a manager. More of a technical person then a manager, he had to step in to manage because the company was unable to handle the immense pressure of the rapidly growing company.

Despite of all the challenges and failures, Dileep Agrawal has proved today that people who continuously challenge themselves and persist on going forward will reach the height of success someday.

QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS (WITH THE PARTICIPANTS)

Q. How can you retain your employees in your company?

A: I cannot, because as you know most of the young people in Nepal want to go abroad. If you ask any employee in my company they would tell you that if they get the opportunity to go to the US they would go instantly. Companies like Microsoft and Apple pay 100 times more salary than what we can afford. So it isn’t up to us to make our employees stay. Any one who gets a better opportunity should opt for it.

Q. When you started the company was there any competition and how did it change the scenario?

A: There was a company that already existed called Mercantile, which started its operations 6 months before we did. They were charging high rates which Worldlink matched. They were charging Rs. 80 per KB. I saw the opportunity and thought to do the same because there was a good profit margin. I charged Rs. 50 per KB, which was still a high price with good profit. My father opposed me doing business because Mercantile was an established business and it would be difficult to compete with them. The scenario changed with NTC joining in the market in 1999 and by introducing ADSL services; the competition is very high today.

Q. Do you think it is advisable to have a bond/contract with the employee stating that the company would provide all the facilities but the employee would not be able to leave the job for at least 2/3 years? What would motivate staffs besides money to stay with the company?

A: There have been few practices of contracts in businesses in Nepal. For example, Mercantile used to withhold their employees’ original certificates for a couple of years. Our company does not do that because I don’t feel comfortable doing that. But what we did was we had a contract with the employees that they would commit to work for a certain number of years. The employees are trained initially and paid but the contract clearly indicated that if the employee did not work for the agreed number of years they would have to return the amount spent on their training, and that kind of contract worked well for us. But eventually, if any employee gets a better opportunity they will leave paying the bond amount because the new pay would be 10 times than what we offer.

Since Nepal is a relatively poor country and the consumption pattern is very high, till date money has been the biggest incentive for people to get motivated. Only after the basic needs are fulfilled, the people will start thinking of other necessities.

Q. What factors do you look for while launching new products? How do you keep pace with the competitors?

A: The purchasing power of the Nepali people is very low. In Singapore, one pays US $100 every month for their Internet, television and mobile whereas in Nepal one pays around Rs. 1500 for the same purpose. Hence, when we launch a new product in Nepal, we always consider the purchasing power of the people and always focus in services with a low cost making it accessible to a larger mass. It happened the same with mobile phones and I believe it should be the same with the Internet.

In the context of competition, we always try to present our company as a standard one. We don’t want to look cheap. We try to become a low cost company but with a value. We aren’t as expensive as some of the companies but aren’t as cheap as NTC. So we have placed ourselves as a medium range company.

Q. What scope do the IT students of Nepal have after graduation?

A:  I won’t generalize. But in my knowledge, most of the IT colleges have ripped off the students. I am saying this because these kinds of courses need more practical knowledge than theory but the practical knowledge isn’t good enough. So when they graduate, they have all the theoretical knowledge but they lack in practical experience, which makes them unfit for the job. It is also the lack of awareness among the students. So there is a huge potential for the IT students but practical knowledge is necessary.

Q. Is corporate governance necessary?

A: No.

Q. Why do companies in Nepal do not get listed in the stock exchange and why is Worldlink not listed in it?

A: We think that our company should not be valued at Rs. 100 per share. In Nepal until NTC had opened up their shares and they listed themselves in the stock exchange at a higher price nobody had done it before. The concept here is that if the share value is Rs. 100 and if you are charging Rs. 200 for it you are ripping somebody off so you cannot do it basically. Bank and all do that because the law requires them to do so. Another reason is that being listed makes it more difficult to run because you need to be lot more transparent and there are elements that will come in as shareholders and give you a hard time. It happens with the banks and it would probably happen to us too. The other reasons are that there was no premium asked for the shares.

Q. Is there any way you could be the bridge between the IT graduates and the IT companies?

A: There is an opportunity for people to start a business, which can train the college graduates according to the employer’s specifications. This new business needs to assure that the employers and the employees get what they want.

Q. The daily newspaper The Himalayan Times talks about the ICT price basket and it shows a comparison of South Asian countries and Nepal is by far the highest and more than double the country that comes next that is Bangladesh and it’s not decreasing in the past three years in the same rate as other south Asian countries. So my question is why is Nepal’s ICT price basket not decreasing at the rate as other countries in the region?

A: That probably includes the cost of telecommunication in terms of cell phones, telephone lines, Internet and probably television. This shows Nepal very high as compared to these other countries. I would disagree with it because there were some studies done in the past by people where they took the standard rates for these services. For example, there are so many options for Internet here. Some packages are as cheap as Rs. 600-700 per month. So the person who did this reporting must have used some of the highest rate packages or they must be used the cost that is paid by the offices. In Nepal, people hardly pay more than Rs. 1500 for Internet services. So the packages offered are lower than Rs. 1500. The price of Internet in Nepal has been falling since last couple of years. The price might go as low as Rs. 600 per month but below that it would not make any business sense.

Q. What can be done to provide cheaper and comprehensive Internet access to the people?

A: The number one thing is the network. Few private companies provide services and NTC has monopolized the infrastructure and not unbundled it like most of the developed countries. Even in Pakistan and Bangladesh the infrastructure is un-bundled. That allows people to choose the ISP they want to use for their ADSL line. They are not tied to just one service provider. NTC do not have the capabilities to market their products and services and make new customers. That hampers the optimal use of the available infrastructure.

Q. When were you most scared as an entrepreneur and what should youth like us learn from your experience?

A: Initially my company was providing only email services, but there came a point when my competitors had taken a leased line. The cost of this leased connection was around Rs. 0.7 million a month and it was a big commitment at that time. But at that point if I had not taken the leased connection, I would have had to close down my business. The fear was not of the commitment. During the CAN Info Tech, Mercantile did not flash their prices but I did it and eventually the Mercantile came up with prices half of what I offered. When this happened, I was really scared that I would not be able to collect the 0.7 million to pay for the leased connection. Luckily things went our way and we could do it.

Q. Why is the connection speed not getting higher? How do you tackle the competition from mobile companies and other wireless providers?

A:  The main factor is that there is no network that can support higher bandwidth. Though NTC has such network, it supports only in and around its office and not far off places. The higher bandwidth price has been lowered but it is still not affordable to general people of Nepal. In couple of years the prices would drop further and we would get faster services.

Globally mobile has been the number one method for people to access Internet but this happens in a short basis. It is not used as the primary medium because of it instability and lower bandwidth. So, it is not a competition as thought.

This article is published as Last Thursdays program, a joint effort of Entrepreneurs for Nepal and Samriddhi Foundation’s  supported by Biruwa Ventures and Change Fusion Nepal. Read more stories of Nepali entrepreneurs here on this downloadable e-book.