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How to attract and retain talent? A chat with Yousician

Smart Teams.June 7, 2018
By Elisabetta Crovara

A kaleidoscopic writer and academic researcher, with an interest in urban culture, conscious living and future of work.


Last November 2017, Hubud had some very special members. 80 of them precisely, all belonging to Yousician – a Helsinki-based company that built a music education application that teaches users how to play piano, guitar, ukulele and bass. They are also working on introducing support for more musical instruments in the nearest future. Every year, Yousician takes the team together for a month to work and explore in an exotic location. This year, we gave them a hand in organising their retreat in Bali. In return, they brought inspiring buzzing vibes to the space… and gifted us a sweet acoustic guitar before leaving. It’s not the first time: did you hear about when they gave away 3000 ukuleles at Slush?

That’s right, holding a company retreat on a tropical island may sound overindulgent. But there are some very real reasons why it could be the change-making experience that a team needs.

Successful companies have shifted their focus from ‘hire and fire’ to talent attraction and management. This, however, takes a different mindset – one that Yousican has. That’s why, last April, we had a chat with Andrew Kolokolnikov, their Talent Business Partner.

Photo by Akseli Virtanen | Courtesy of Yousician

We pretty much talked about everything: from the best team building practices to talent acquisition strategies; from how to scale a company to conscious leadership management; from monkey business in Ubud to rafting adventures and hiking volcanic peaks. This article will particularly focus on what we shared about talent attraction, acquisition and retainment.

Talent retention in an increasingly flexible work environment

First of all, why did we choose to talk about ‘talent?’ Well, because especially from an HR perspective, talent is the core catalyst of all successful businesses. And successful companies not only attract talented people, they make them want to stay. Over the last few years, the average lifecycle of a job has dramatically changed. In 2018, is estimated between 12 months to 3 years. Moreover, according to a survey by Career Builder, 76% of full-time employed workers are either actively looking for a job or are open to new opportunities. Digital technologies and AI systems have automated the sourcing process: the talent pool is getting wider and more accessible. This brings HR teams and recruiters to a whole new approach to talent acquisition. The job market is not the only thing that is changing, also the desires and needs of employees are evolving.

By 2025, the Millennials, or “Generation Z,” will make up 75% of the workforce. They are looking for jobs that align with their values and purpose-driven companies. They are not just hunting for a salary, but for a meaningful mission.

Photo by Akseli Virtanen | Courtesy of Yousician

Yousician has championed to adapt and embrace to these changes. This allowed them to be competitive in the software development industry. “Nowadays,” says Andrew, “companies have all types of perks to attract employees. Massage at work, all costs covered, all types of benefits.” Yousician has those too – not yet free massages! However,” continues Andrew, “to attract the best talent, a company has to offer something special. I think we have that something special that gets people excited and it’s not only about benefits and perks, it’s about the meaningful mission.” That’s right: employees are shifting their mindset from the what am I getting paid for to the what am I spending my life for. It’s subtle, but huge.

That meaningful mission for Yousician is to make music education more affordable and to make musicality as common as literacy. How cool is that?

There’s more to add to their recipe of that “something special.” With over 20 different nationalities represented on their team, Yousician is also adopting one of the most crucial new global mindsets: diversity. According to LinkedIn Talent Blog, “78% of talent professionals and hiring managers say that diversity is the top trend impacting how they hire.” Today diversity directly impacts company culture and financial performance. What’s playing here are changing demographics that are diversifying the workforce communities, narrowing down talent pools for the companies that don’t adapt. On the other hand, diversity has made talent retention more complicated, since different cultural dynamics and needs are playing within the same team. Yousician has tackled this perspective as well, with the same secret ingredient that is adding that “something special” and exciting to their already meaningful mission. The ‘not-so-secret’ secret ’is called Y-Edu.

Photo by Akseli Virtanen | Courtesy of Yousician

Y-Edu: a company retreat as the winning recipe for talent acquisition

Y-Edu is Yousician’s one-month remote work retreat. It happens once a year, usually in November, when the weather in Helsinki, home of the company’s headquarters, is not particularly exciting. “Y” stands for Yousician, of course, and “Edu” for Education. As Andrew told us, “the concept is this: every year we go to some exotic locations around the world, in a timezone that allows us to work with the head office. Preferably in the sun and close to the ocean. We usually spend four weeks there, working, traveling and exploring. The company pays for the return flight and for the first week of accommodation. People are encouraged to come at least for the first week and then stay longer to take some holiday time.”

“The first week is key.” – continues Andrew. “It’s dedicated to team building, learning and development with focus on different types of activities. For example, in Bali we had a team dinner, two workshops on management and leadership practices. We also had guest speakers from several companies, like Uber and Pinterest, and one music teacher that is employing Yousician at his school. It was so useful to have them share their insights with the team.” That is why the retreat is called “Y-Edu,” because it’s an educational and development opportunity for all the employees, while also doing something exciting. Like climbing a volcano at sunrise or rafting down the impetuous Balinese rivers!

“Hubud helped to organize it and yeah, it was super fun, and great for team bonding. Even though I’m a member of the Talent team and I am supposed to know and connect with a lot people in the company, I don’t have the chance to get to know everyone at a personal level. We are almost 100 now, it’s a big number. Now I mainly speak with team leads, people involved in recruitment and with candidates over the phone. I rarely have the chance to speak with research and development and customer support team members.

When in Bali, I found myself rafting on a boat with colleagues I normally have less interaction at the office: that was great. We were working together on a common goal – racing other boats.”

This is what Yousician is doing a great job at: it’s planning a remote work retreat that has a balanced mix of education, development, fun and excitement. So far they’ve been to Greece, Tenerife, Thailand and Bali. We are so curious where are they going next. Andrew told us they particularly like South East Asia.

Company retreats in Bali

When they announced their retreat in Bali, the team got next level excited. “Because Bali is a dream destination. Many people think about Bali, but many of them have never been to Bali, and it’s something that you hear about all the time, like a mirage, like a paradise island. Everyone wants to go there at some point in their life.” When choosing their yearly retreat, Andrew and his team have to take lots of logistics into account and do a lot of research. The most important bits are: to find a sunny location, an infrastructure ready to accommodate the whole team and a place to work from. “That’s why we came to Hubud, because it has very good reviews and it’s one of the top coworking spaces in world.” And Ubud is small, easy to get around and to hang out all together. To move a team of 85 people to the other side of the world is not easy though. “It’s tricky. We spent 18 hours on two planes in total. Then we arrived in Denpasar and we traveled by car to Ubud, we were tired and jet-lagged. Then the heat…sometimes there was no air conditioning. We had to adjust. But it was totally worth it: an adventure that people experience once in a lifetime!”

Photo by Akseli Virtanen | Courtesy of Yousician

Yes, to organize a corporate retreat is not for the fainthearted. “It is an expense for the company, especially if you have a big team like us. Also, it’s a logistical nightmare. However, it has a great and irreplaceable value. It’s a solid building block of our employer brand and a great improvement for the team spirit, in particular now that we are scaling up and growing our team.”

A company retreat is great for team building, for talent acquisition and retention, for onboarding new members and for getting to know colleagues from other teams. It’s useful to train and offer educational and personal development opportunities for the team. And, if done in Bali, it becomes an exotic experience of a lifetime.

How Yousician organizes team retreats is just the way we think team retreats should be organized: they offer a chance to create a unified workforce of passionate employees that not only believe in the company they work for, but they buy into its continued success. And success directly correlates to their level of satisfaction. People want to feel part of a team and that has to happen while fostering authentic relationship building. They want to be part of a “tribe” where they can work together without forgetting their values and lifestyle. They don’t strive anymore for work-life balance, as if the two have to be separated. The new way, as we call it at Hubud, is to “put more life into our work.” And we think Andrew and the Yousician team are doing it right on point.


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