By Mike Durst
“Hey Deepak, how is India?” – “I have no idea, I’m Nepali!”
That was the starting point for my first trip to Kathmandu in 2011. Today, we have a team of nearly 60 individuals in the capital of Nepal, and we are constantly growing. How did this happen and why is Nepal a great place not only for culture, food, nature and the highest mountains on earth but for software development as-well?
Deepak was working in our Nuremberg office during his master studies at the local university. Being a small-town boy, I thought he is from India, which got me to ask the question from the beginning of this story. After he told me he is from Nepal, we had a chat about the economy, the culture, and the upcoming and growing software industry. ITONICS was in desperate need of skilled individuals, so a couple of weeks later we booked the cheapest flight (Oman Air, avoid at all cost!) and found ourselves in the dusty chaos of Kathmandu. Left aside the power outages, fuel shortages, and the busy chaos (at least from my perspective ;-)) on the streets, I immediately fell in love with the friendliness and positive energy that is all around. It seems like there is a very special spirit around, everybody is polite, shares a smile and approaches the daily challenges with a positive attitude.
The next day, we had the first meetings with a local software development company and discussed our current and upcoming challenges. After a couple more days, we had engaged a team of 6 and started working together.
A couple of months later, sadly, we realized that our growing team in Kathmandu had a lot of pressure due to multiple projects with other clients they needed to take care of aside from the engagement with us. As a consequence, we checked-out options in setting up a 100% subsidiary and run our own operation as soon as possible. Thanks to a fantastic on-site team, we found the perfect office space and were able to create a workplace setup at similar standards like in our offices in Germany or the US. This involved smuggling a lot of technical equipment as the latest tech was not available in Nepal these days… But now, everything is 100% official, we found a very professional local computer hardware import service 🙂
Today, we are still in the same building in Hanumanthan, Anamnagar, but from 7 individuals we grew to about 60 today. Again, we are running out of space so we’ll need to add another floor soon (after that we’re out of options as we occupy 3 floors and the roof already).
What challenges did we come across in these 8 years of doing business in Kathmandu? In the early years, specifically internet connectivity (speed and stability) was an issue. I do not remember one single phone conference without a few “your voice is cracking up… We can not understand you!”. All sorted now, these days we do high definition video calls and the connectivity is better in Kathmandu than in Germany most of the time. Due to the power outages (up to 14 hours per day) in the beginning, we had to invest in generators, batteries and other backup infrastructure. I remember being on the rooftop late evening looking down on a dark city with only a few buildings having electricity, mostly banks and government. Everybody else lighted candles and battery-powered lights. Romantic of course, but a huge issue for businesses. These days, the maximum power outage is a few minutes per day, and therefore no issues anymore.
In April 2015, a major earthquake hit Nepal killing nearly 9.000 people. We were very lucky to report no injuries, but only damaged or destroyed property among our teams in Kathmandu. After auditing the structure of the office building, we were up and running again just a few days after the earthquake, but the nation is still feeling the aftermath every day and it will take many more years until there is a back-to-normal in the affected regions.
More recent challenges are interlinked with the strong and unmanaged growth of Kathmandu: Street traffic is exploding, the airport has difficulties managing the demand and air pollution is terrible most of the time. Many expats call the city “Dustmandu” and clear views are rare these days. Public transportation is not mature at all, the government needs forever to make decisions and start acting, access to clean water is still an issue and the effectiveness of the administration seems at the lower end. It is still quite some effort to get a visa for a visit to Germany for our Nepalese co-workers, and the time -difference of GMT +5:45 is confusing (at least for the first couple weeks).
Aside from these challenges, we see a lot of well-educated, motivated, positive, energetic and hard-working individuals in our teams. The communication is open and honest, and due to a more or less intense exchange program, we have a lot of traveling between Germany and Nepal. Language is never an issue and on the culture side, there are a lot more similarities than differences. One thing I notice on every visit: Nepalis love music, singing, and dancing. And they do it much better than I ever could… One of our product managers from Nuremberg spent 6 months in Kathmandu and even some of our clients visited the Kathmandu office. Our teams do a lot of team building activities and support the local communities. Being over there, it is much more family than work 🙂
Looking back after 8 years and 10 trips to Nepal I can encourage everybody to invest in this amazing country and definitely plan a visit soon! Contact me any time for more info, Namaste 🙂