Jamming in the Jungle With Yousician

by Maria November 28, 2017

Think your job is cool? But do your perks include an extra month of sunshine each year? Join us backstage at Yousician—the music learning app that flies its entire team from chilly Finland to the tropics every year—and discover a whole new definition of #jobgoals.

The bar for team photos has officially been raised. Flying guitars or go home. Photo courtesy of Yousician/Akseli Virtanen

From giving out 3000 ukuleles at Slush to whitewater rafting in a jungle in Indonesia, it seems that Yousician, a Finnish company on an ambitious mission to make musicality as common as literacy, is always getting up to something eyebrow-raising.

That’s why I’m speaking to Andrew Kolokolnikov, Talent Business Partner at Yousician, with a tinge of envy. He and his team are currently on a work retreat in Bali while I’m sitting in Tallinn, Estonia, gazing at a dreary November morning.

An approximation of my view during our conversation. (Photo: aPhoenixPhotographer via Shutterstock)

This late fall gloom is precisely what Yousician is hiding from on the other side of the planet, in hot and humid Ubud, Bali’s cultural capital.

No big deal, you might think. Lots of companies take trips like this—until you hear that Yousician’s Y/Edu retreat lasts an entire month. It’s not exactly your average workplace perk.

We see your ping pong table and free drinks and raise you this awesome dragon fountain. Photo courtesy of Yousician/Akseli Virtanen

“Many companies do have work retreats,” Andrew says. “But no one else does this for a whole month. Our team is so international and many people are missing the sun,” he continues. “We have people from all over the globe—over 20 different nationalities. And even though they came to work in Helsinki, where the weather isn’t always so great, they have one extra month of sun with us.”

Finland: the place to be (for most of the year)

Mind you, it’s not that Yousician doesn’t love their hometown. Helsinki is known far and wide for its liveability, international spirit, and the opportunities it provides.

Andrew, having relocated here from his native Russia some ten years ago, is a fan. “Finland is my second home,” Andrew says. “It’s a very safe, predictable and stable place. I feel really comfortable and confident in this environment. That’s a great advantage of Finland—it’s a society that works. In a way, it’s the best place on Earth. Finland cares about people and that deserves a great deal of respect.”

Even so, in a city where winters are long and the shortest day of the year only lasts five and a half hours, the company doesn’t mess around when it comes to squeezing in some extra time in the sun. And that’s why every year, almost the entire team takes off somewhere warm to learn, work, and soak up that precious vitamin D.

“People who experience this together become more than colleagues,” Andrew describes one of the many benefits of the retreat. “They become friends, share memories and experiences. We go on adventure trips, like rafting on the river. I saw a boat flipping and thought, “Whose idea was this?” but it was so fun. I was in a boat with people I don’t often interact with, and we became a team. It was a very valuable experience.”

The team that jams together…

Not only do these annual retreats teach the gang how to work together to provide the best music education for their global user base—they’re also a fantastic opportunity to form lasting friendships through (what else?) the power of music.

“I think we jam together too much, overall,” Andrew jokingly admits. “Every night the first week, there was a jam session by the pool and I even heard complaints from other guests, because we were jamming all the time.”

No opportunity to make music is passed up easily. “There was a jazz band playing in the restaurant,” Andrew recalls one memorable post-dinner session. “They went on a break, and our people asked if they could play, so they entertained the audience for half an hour with different songs from Rammstein to jazz.”

Poolside jam session, Yousician style. Photo courtesy of Yousician/Akseli Virtanen

It’s worth noting that the musical instruments the team’s using (mostly for work, by the way, not just after-hours fun) during their stay were all bought on the spot in Indonesia. Before they head back to Helsinki, they’ll donate the instruments to local charities, further cementing the company’s reputation as fervent supporters of taking musical education to the masses.

“Music is a big thing, but it’s not the only thing that unites people at Yousician,” Andrew notes. “They have so many different interests and hobbies, and there’s always something in common with other team members you can find.”

One thing everyone here certainly has in common is a desire to put in the effort for their common goal, even despite the many distractions of working in the jungle (“There are monkeys on the roof,” Andrew mentions one such distraction. “We try to keep the windows closed so they don’t steal our mugs.”).

“Challenge accepted!”—this monkey, probably. Photo courtesy of Yousician/Akseli Virtanen

No, it’s not all outdoor adventures, jam sessions, and monkey business. Stuff gets done and work is taken seriously. Having listened to presentations by guest speakers like Casey Winters (a San Francisco-based startup advisor and consultant) and other growth experts, the team is now hard at work on a big project that’s so classified I’m not even allowed to know what it is—so you know it’s gonna be good.

Back to reality

By the time this article is published, team Yousician will have arrived back in Helsinki. “Finland is a great home base,” Andrew says. “It’s fun to go to places like Bali or Thailand, the “danger zones” with snakes and volcanoes, but it’s always good to come back home.”

What about next year’s retreat destination? Andrew doesn’t have an official answer for me yet, but apparently the people have spoken: “People were complaining about the heat, so someone said that next year, we will go to Pori in Finland.”

Pori, Finland—Yousician’s next tropical retreat? Stay tuned! (Photo: Riku Heikkila/Shutterstock)

For more envy-inducing photo evidence of Yousician’s Bali adventures, check out this album.

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