Past ten days have been eventful, to say the least. I was invited by team WordPress to attend WordCamp Europe in Sofia, Bulgaria. It was for a conversation between Matt (Mullenweg) and me (an alpha adopter of WordPress software), where I deftly steered Matt into only answering (and not asking) any questions. The camp, obviously involved a long journey — San Francisco to New York. An overnight stay in NYC which also led to a chance meeting with Mack Weldon founder Brian Berger and a great cup of coffee at my favorite NY spot, Ground Support. And then off to Sofia via Munich.
To be candid, I didn’t know what to expect from Sofia & Bulgaria. Middle Europe is an interesting part of the continent and candidly, very hard to describe. The city of Sofia, which is the capital of Bulgaria has starred in the history of Europe, but the falling of the Iron Curtain left it with pock marks of communism — stark, concrete residential blocks. Architecture and town planning during the Soviet era was minimal, focusing on efficiency over aesthetics and elegance, almost brutal. Parts of Sofia reminded me of the propaganda films I saw growing up in India.
The bleak autumn afternoon, only enhanced the sense of melancholy. The city center however has a lot of unique and lovely historic buildings. Still, Sofia felt like stepsister of those other great East European cities, especially those in Hungary, former Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia. The most endearing quality of the city was the graffiti — which was everywhere and was quite artistic. I was also impressed by the conversations I had with many folks from Sofia-region who attended WordCamp. There was a deep desire to embrace technology as a way to leapfrog into the future. I am intrigued by Eastern Europe and the changes that are happening there. I want to go back but during the summer and for a longer period, as I don’t think you understand complexity in a rush. Sofia, will most certainly be part of that trip.
The next stop on this European trip was Stockholm, capital of Sweden. Stockholm and Sofia are a study in contrasts — each has its own unique charms — and a reminder that it is actions of men that change the nature of cities. Stockholm, clean and charming, comfortable with its past. Sofia, still finding its place in a new world, where old assumptions don’t work.
I took a day off to celebrate my birthday with a few select friends at a nice little restaurant, and spent time with our portfolio company, Narrative (I am on the board.) I met local entrepreneurs including TrueCaller co-founder Alan Mamedi. This is a company that I believe will be the next WhatsApp — big overseas long before it has a major impact in the US. It could follow in the footsteps of Spotify, the other great Swedish export. I did stop by at the offices of Spotify, and say hello to my old friend and the great music disruptor, Daniel Ek. He gave us the tour of the company — let’s just say it is gigantic and needs its own photo-story!
Stockholm totally captivated me — I walked for miles and miles every day, taking photos with my iPhone, stopping, seeing, enjoying the city. Stockholm is so rich in history and it is interesting to see so much of it. It also helps that pretty much everyone speaks English. It is not cheap — and the service has a different meaning in that country.
Stockholm is essentially made of islands and bridges and the whole place is very calming. The daily walks combined with seafood diet helped resetting my body as well and now I feel much more fresh and energetic. Minutes before leaving my hotel, I tweeted, “If it is a place you are sad to leave, then it must be a place you love.” Stockholm is that place.