Dublin to Sofia, Bulgaria: A Powerful Week of Self-Discovery

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26 October 2017

Where to begin?

I’m typing on a balcony overlooking a dense forest speckled with the 16th-century rooftops of Veliko Tarnovo. A fluffy light brown cat has taken this opportunity to jump onto my lap and nap. It’s early morning and there’s a mild chill in the air, so this is a welcome addition. With her help, I’ve been converted from being a strict ‘dog person’ to a lover of both animals. This was a sign of things to come. Power Week has been a chance for me to learn about Enhancv’s values, discovering this company of friends. That was the theme of the week: ‘A Company of Friends’, and I was curious to see how would that translate into our upcoming activities.

My expectations to date had been shaped by reading a piece by Vassy, Enhancv’s Digital Strategist, about Enhancv’s Spring Power Week. The event was painted as a transformative period bringing new projects to life with small groups while building genuine and lasting relationships with the team. I couldn’t wait to experience this.

Not all Enhancers start their first day at Power Week, so I was thankful that I could ‘break the ice’ during a time of self-exploration and development. I’m hoping that this blog post provides you with an insight into what can a group that not only shares the same values but lives them and puts them into practice can achieve.

How I ate the tongue, eyeballs, and brain of a lamb

I had never traveled to Bulgaria so I had few expectations as I landed at Sofia Airport. Our CEO, Georgi, was waiting for me outside. Georgi, or Joro as friends call him, welcomed me with a handshake, a hug, and a smile that instantly put me at ease. Before I could digest my new environment, I was sitting in a traditional Bulgarian restaurant in the center of Sofia. We discussed the most pressing topic of the moment: food. The recommendation was to eat the tongue, eyeballs, and brain of a lamb. OK, that’s probably a bit much for most people. There was no pressure to eat it, but I had read so much about how delicious the local food was that it took little persuasion to make my decision.

With a risk of laboring on the graphics food in question, the eyeball was my favorite part.

I then had the chance to drop into the Enhancv HQ for a quick tour of where the magic happens. What a space! The building blended into the neighborhood so much so that I could have easily missed it. One stairway later and I’m struck by the chic and artistic space that spanned in front of me. From the developers’ room to the marketing room, you could tell that the team designed each desk and meeting area with comfort and collaboration in mind. What impressed me most was the fact that they retained the dated Bulgarian features which came with the building throughout. From the 70s fireplace to the rotary phone on the wall. Awesome.

Enhancv Dublin to Sofia, Bulgaria: A Powerful Week of Self-Discovery

Having worked in a number of US-based tech startups, I’ve had my fair share of free snacks and beanbags. This office said more about the company than any other I had worked for before. The values of this group, values I would see in action later in the week, were all around. That’s something that made me excited when thinking about building out the Dublin office. Actually, using the word office to describe this place was doing it no justice. 

I immediately felt as if I was part of something bigger than profit

Velina, Head of Talent & Leadership, collected me from my Airbnb, which was only a few doors down from her home. We traveled for just under 3 hours to reach medieval Bulgarian capital of Veliko Turnovo. As we approached the town the rest of the team greeted me. It’s rare that you meet a group who welcome you as warmly as they did. From the outset, they made sure they constantly spoke in English and they’d explain anything a foreigner wouldn’t understand. This meant that in almost every conversation I learned a little more about the great history of Bulgaria. 

Enhancv Dublin to Sofia, Bulgaria: A Powerful Week of Self-Discovery

Power Week began with a welcoming dinner at a restaurant called Shtastliveca, which served mouth-watering meatballs. The dinner was an opportunity for me to introduce myself. I covered all the details of who I was and what I had been doing prior to joining the team. Surrounded by a group of ambitious 20 somethings, where at 28 I was older than the company average, was certainly unexpected! Referencing experience I had as a former recruitment consultant and working as part of the Ad Operations team at LinkedIn generated some interest. But it was talking about my passions in travel, martial arts, and my fiancé Becky (fishing for brownie points) that triggered the most conversation. Following some laughs at my expense, we got the food and drinks underway. Joro set the tone for the evening with a toast on the company’s values and secondary to that its objectives. This struck me. He spoke from the heart and I immediately felt as if I was part of something bigger than profit. 

The first working day…

We based ourselves for the week in a coworking space Freedom21 in the center of Veliko Tarnovo. Like many of the restaurants nearby, the back of the office benefited from views over the cliffside homes and endless forest. At any point, you could go from problem-solving to taking in the vast scenery. It was a truly memorable place and for the busy week that was ahead, a place I was thankful for.

Enhancv Dublin to Sofia, Bulgaria: A Powerful Week of Self-Discovery

I spent that morning having breakfast with Vessy, Chief Strategy Officer, who was the first Dublin based employee. Eager to pick her brain on many topics, I filtered it down to some areas. That included what it was like to work remote for over a year, what the biggest risks to the business this year are, and how to say ‘thank you’ in Bulgarian. If the name didn’t give it away, Vessy is native to Bulgaria. But her dark humor and quick wit showed that 3 years in Dublin had put her well on her way to understanding our Gaelic ways.

The conversation was exploratory but productive at the same time. We talked relationship building, establishing credibility, process improvement, hiring for Dublin, and company culture. Setting the tone for how one-on-ones would go in the future, I left with almost more questions that I had going into the meeting. That was actually a good thing. In contrast to the hundreds of meetings I had before, our conversation shook the preconceived plans I had and forced me to re-strategize the week ahead to make a further impact once back in Dublin.

The challenge of the week

We returned to the coworking space and received our first challenge of the week. We arranged ourselves in groups of 3 tasked with identifying an idea that could be easy to implement, and significantly beneficial to Enhancv’s current service offering.

My name was on a pink post-it along with Deni (Culture & Communications) & Vassy so we, of course, named our team ‘Team Pink’. Brainstorming ideas was fun. I could quickly see how creative and passionate my teammates were about the existing product offering and how effective they were at articulating ideas. We closed on the idea of bringing video to our about section of the website. Granted, not the most innovative of ideas, but something we could pilot and integrate across all the businesses communications if successful. We went for it. 

Enhancv Dublin to Sofia, Bulgaria: A Powerful Week of Self-Discovery

That evening, with a view to getting some downtime after a packed day at the office, we booked into a City Walking Tour of Veliko Tarnovo. The guide naturally picked on me throughout the entire walk as I was the stranger, the foreigner, the one who needed to learn every aspect of Bulgarian history and pronounce 90 plus character Bulgarian words which ran across the top of nearby, historically significant, buildings. Retention of historical information that evening was at an all-time low. That said, I learned a ton of interesting facts from types of food and architecture to battles won. As the tour progressed, it seemed the neighboring countries which bordered Bulgaria all took something originally Bulgarian as their own. All said in good jest. I believe.

Listen when others speak, and hear when they are quiet

The next day we began with a presentation on ‘Listening when others speak, and hear when they are quiet’. It’s the basis of any form of effective communication, whether in person or online. But so many people fail to do just that. We were assigned names out of a hat and responsible for setting up and delivering a one-on-one meeting. As luck would have it I pulled Vessy’s name. I had an opportunity to continue where we left off after yesterday’s breakfast. I was mindful about using our time together wisely and this exercise was the best facilitator for just that.

Unlike the others, who had been working together for quite some time, Vessy & I were very much getting to know each other. This meant that our meetings, irrespective of format, were quite informal. This didn’t take away from the usefulness of our conversations together. I left feeling more confident we could achieve great things back on home soil.

Enhancv Dublin to Sofia, Bulgaria: A Powerful Week of Self-Discovery

That evening we celebrated both Volen (Co-founder & newly appointed Chief Marketing Officer) & Joro’s birthdays. The dual celebration placed us all first in a restaurant called Ego 2 and then in the local Tequila bar. Until the early hours where we laughed about Irish pronunciation and the terrifying martial arts defense moves some of the engineers were learning.

Orienteering trail around Veliko Tarnovo

What better way to come down from back to back days in the office than an activity day. The secret activity, which went from Plan A to Plan B due to the Irish weather I brought from Dublin, was revealed to us that morning. In our teams, we were to undertake an orienteering trail unique to each team and find clues to win points. We received a map with limited direction and told to go on our way. The team with the most points, displaying the strongest teamwork, would win. Clues in the form of QR codes were scattered around the city. We had to scan each one to reveal the next step. We ended up wandering around the forest that circled the town from the north but ultimately had a great time.

The activity exposed the qualities in each of us as individuals such as leadership, communication, competitiveness, and how well we worked with others. Coming last in the competition was a low point for our team, but as eternal optimists, we spun it down to being all too similar.

Enhancv Dublin to Sofia, Bulgaria: A Powerful Week of Self-Discovery

The activity was done and dusted by the afternoon and the day continued with a visit to an Ethnographic Village an hour outside of the city. This was my favorite part of the trip. It was like a history lesson on steroids. From traditional Bulgarian weddings, sweets, and clothing, to finding out about performed customs specific to each area in Bulgaria. This provided me a further insight into the ancestral past of the people around me.

On the last official day of Power Week, we completed our team presentations. The ideas from team to team were impressive. All of them were relatively easy to execute and had clearly defined impact matched with realistic timelines. It was clear that everyone invested the time needed to produce good work. It also highlighted what we could achieve with structure, accountability, and teamwork. The winning team comprised of an idea which saw an internal lecture series running to leverage the expertise of our team for the benefit of others.

Enhancv Dublin to Sofia, Bulgaria: A Powerful Week of Self-Discovery

After lunch, we returned to do our last group activity of the week, a classic trust exercise. As I closed my eyes, the team formed a circle. Before I knew it they were tossing me at the mercy of those around me. I was less concerned about trust and more concerned about whether everyone that circled me could carry my weight. But lo and behold, they did. We all took turns and it was a nice way to close out what had been a truly memorable and beneficial week.

The beginning of an end…

A week after returning to Dublin, everything is still replaying in my mind. From getting to understand what makes the founders tick to building meaningful relationships with my new colleagues, and after that week, friends. I can’t help but look forward to the next one. Unlike other onboarding weeks I’ve participated in in the past, there was a sense of achievement and personal growth after it. This validated the theme of the week, ‘A company of friends’. I hope by reading this piece you felt that too.

If you’re in Dublin and are interested in joining our team or know someone who could be a good fit, I’d love to hear from you. You can reach me on colm@enhancv.com

Colm Roche

Head of Customer Success at Enhancv. Spinning many plates including Product Management, Support, and Strategy. Ensuring customers realize their potential with our technology. We're also hiring in Dublin!

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