Most times I write tech posts, or professional posts, this time I decided to write something more personal.
I’ve been asked why I moved to Sofia countless times that I decided to write a blog post about it.
The short answer: FOR LOVE!
The long answer:
In 2007 I moved back to Israel after many years in Australia. I didn’t know yet, but I was about to spend the next 7 years there working with various startups. Some of my endeavors were more successful some less, it was an interesting journey.
In 2012 I join a startup as a co-founder, responsible for marketing, sales and biz-dev. The company had 25 products and I recommended we focus on one. As I started to market it, I saw the product was lacking and knew that with the right app we would get acquired. So instead of marketing I ended up being a developer and weekend marketer.I spend 90% of my time writing extension for browsers in C++, building mobile apps, and websites. And not long after, as I predicted we got some interest, and I was able to negotiate a very impressive deal to get acquired.
I was happy and proud, I felt I made it. However in a short time, everything unraveled, the company had structural issues (I had daily discussions about this with my co-founder much before the acquisition offer arrived, but I was a minor shareholder and joined him, so it was impossible to put my foot down) and at the same time my engagement to my girlfriend quickly deteriorated. I was even able to raise some funding to try and save our company, but it turned out the investors weren’t honest with us. It was a nightmare, and I ended up hitting rock bottom without a company, and a broken heart…
SF, Europe and other places
I was in a constant self-debate what to do next, where to go. I was thinking of moving to SF but wasn’t sure I was ready for that. I started working with a cool company in SF, building various systems for them. I consulting and travelling between Israel and USA and various other places as I was working remote.
In one of my travels I had to go to Stockholm to work with a designer. I happen to miss the direct flight out of Israel, and the only other flight out connected through Belgrade. I had a 9 hour overnight connection and remember this crazy Serbian guy that lived in Tel Aviv. We went out that night and at the end I was captivated. Amazing nightlife and the incredible Balkan women, so stunning and friendly, exactly the cure a broken heart needs!
On my way back from Stockholm I booked two weeks in Belgrade to investigate the matter further. I found Balkan people (Serbian only at that stage) very nice, helpful, friendly, and intelligent. I decided I have to check the local tech scene, as I’m a geek. I booked meetings with various companies, startup accelerators and what not.
Coming from SF and Tel Aviv I have certain expectations, or world concept of what tech companies look like. While visiting the various companies I notices some do seems have a fun work environment and offices, but most had developers stuff up in rooms, like they were cattle. Many of the offices were gray and sad, I literally felt like this is the place that souls go to die. 95% of the companies were doing outsourcing and the tech community was bootstrapping itself. I was excited to have found an interesting opportunity!
I decided to take a brave step and move there. I flew back to Israel packed my things, and in late 2014 I gave back my flat, sold my car, packed all my possessions and moved to Belgrade. I decided to officially move to Serbia, but still visit Israel, the US and several other places until I decide for good where I’d like to spend the next few years of my life.
In November 2014 I left Israel and landed in Belgrade. I was house hunting, connecting with people and understanding the scene. During my first week, a friend of mine organized a fun night out. She also invited this girl who was about to be her roommate and a setup for me.
That night my future’s friend roommate and I, really hit it off, and we are together ever since that first night. Dragana turned out to be a great listener, always there to support me and be there for me as I come and go from Serbia and get obsessed about building products and technology discussions.
In 2015 I was building teams in Serbia, hiring people and flying all over, trying to decide if I can stay to live in Serbia, move back to Israel or move to the USA. I was living in Belgrade, but I was in something like 10-12 countries. It was super difficult and our relationship started to take the toll.
I was considering staying in Serbia longer, as we already had an apartment there and I did work with people in Belgrade, but the more business I did there, the more I realized how hard it is. While I found great people, the legislative restrictions and the government that make is very difficult to do business, I just couldn’t live there for the next 5 years, as much as I wanted too.
So what do you do? You have an amazing girl you’ve found and you want to build a life with her. You also really like the Balkan but cannot do business in the place you live? You look for alternatives.
And that’s when Sofia came into the picture. I’ve been to Sofia many times, had friends there and knew the tech community was super active. Dragana was looking into exchange programs and Sofia was close enough to Belgrade that she can continue coming back and forth. Sofia is also going through some transformation, the city is re-developing, and I’m seeing many tech guys starting to build products and not just services. It’s very exciting to maybe be part of such a community. I also knew it was EU which made it lots easier to do business with and on top of all that, the best ski resorts in Eastern Europe (It’s now almost in June and I’m in a ski resort, I’m an addict). So late 2015, we decided we are going for it, and will move permanently to Sofia.
It took a lot of research on my end, and lots of paperwork, frustrations and nerves but in early April 2016 our home was finally only Sofia, and not any other place. So far I’m really impressed with Sofia. Sofia has 1% unemployment, loads of very talented people and you feel the tech community is growing. I’m very optimistic about the future in Sofia!
I would like to sign this post with a big thank you to my girl. She is always there for me, listening to me talking about all sorts of ideas, work, my constant travels, my self obsessed workaholic nature (I tend to work 12-15 hours a day), and at times I forget about her, yet she is there to take care of me, and give me lots of love and support. Thank you my love!