A Bay Area Guy Moves to Finland to Work at a Hot Music Startup
If there’s a career opportunity exciting enough, people leave their friends and family in sunny Silicon Valley to move across the world in the cold North. And join a music startup without playing any musical instrument. We caught up with Rob Pappas, who’s done just that by joining one of Finland’s hottest startups called Yousician, over a glass of kombucha*.
Despite having a cool job, Rob had his sights set on working in another country. “I have spent most of my life in the Bay Area. It’s great, the Bay Area is awesome, don’t get me wrong! But I wanted to do something different and see what it’s like to live somewhere else again.” By again, Rob is referring to his 6-month stint studying in Glasgow, Scotland. A perfect prep for the Finnish winters he will have to endure in his new position at Yousician.
The desire to work abroad became so acute Rob was willing to go work somewhere else in the US, in Portland to be precise. Get this — it was because he likes the climate there! See, Portland is very similar to Finland climate-wise with its cold winters, rainy autumns and mild summers. Rob says he’d even asked his manager whether they would let him work there remotely.
But then Jobbatical happened, thanks to a friend who mentioned it to him. Rob initially applied for a job at another company, but then Yousician’s job ad caught his eye. The hiring process was thorough and took a couple of months, but by June 2017 Rob was hired as the Talent Acquisition and was expected to start in his new job in Finland.
When Rob gave his notice in the US, you may imagine the manager’s reaction. “Man, that’s not very close to Portland, is it?!”
The Internet Was Not Helpful
After nailing that HR job at Yousician, Rob’s new manager said, “It’s kind of a big deal, to move all of your life to the other side of the world. Do you want us to fly you out, so you can see it for a week or so…?” To which Rob quickly replied: “No, I am good, I’ll just do it!”
“I’m satisfied with that decision today,” says Rob “I feel like these are the types of experiences that make life interesting. I think you water them down by showing up before. It’s almost fun, there’s a complete element of surprise when you don’t have high expectations.”
Rob says everything he learned about Finland on the Internet was not the slightest bit helpful. “The info was kind of dark and — not literally dark, obviously — as it does get dark here, but it wasn’t uplifting stuff. What I found is that none of it is really accurate. So I’m glad that it was more of an organic experience for me.”
Learning From the Best
Rob has a strong background in HR consulting. He used to work for a company called Connery Consulting — founded by Nancy Connery, the original HR person at Salesforce, one of the leading cloud-computing companies in customer relationship management (CRM). Nancy Connery was one of the three Oracle people Salesforce founder and CEO Marc Benioff took with him when he left the company to found Salesforce in 1999. Over nearly seven years at Salesforce, as the founding VP of Human Resources, Connery was responsible for recruiting 650 employees. Then she became an entrepreneur and started a boutique consulting firm that partners with high growth startups. This was the business Rob worked for, too. “At Connery I had the opportunity to work with a wide variety of companies — from one that was based around mortgage technologies to an oven that uses precision heating to cook the steaks in just a few minutes. My job was to help those smaller companies grow.”
Challenges in the Supermarket
“I didn’t think the language would be that big of a deal,” admits Rob. “I mean people do speak English really-really well and I rarely have an issue or can’t communicate to somebody. But what surprised me, is that nothing is written in English. In the first couple of days, that was probably even a little bit daunting.”
Rob describes how he even avoided going to the supermarket in the first days. “It’s going to be more challenging…I don’t really need to go!”
Now he thinks it is actually a part of the fun or challenge of going somewhere new. “Everything is just a liiiiitle bit harder. But in retrospective that’s all actually positive, it makes you better, more patient and more humble as a person.”
As far as his team at Yousician goes, Rob was and is still kind of shocked at how international and normal it has been. “Culturally, I thought it was going to be a huge adjustment. We are circa 67 people representing 23 different nationalities. But I think because of that, and it being an English-only office, that it hasn’t been radically different.”
Guitars for Everybody!
One of the cool things Yousician does for its new employees is buy them an instrument. Rob remembers vividly when an array of beautiful guitars was laid out before him. And then they just said to him, “Go, pick which one you want!”.
“I picked this really nice red and black one and was like “man, this is so cool!,” Rob remembers. To add to the coolness factor, the entire team signs the guitar after the newbie picks an instrument for himself.
When Rob found his brand new guitar signed by his team members when he arrived at the office the next day, he had to face the harsh reality. Rob does NOT play the guitar. In fact, he doesn’t play any musical instruments. “So I went, s%&*, I really need to actually figure out how to play this thing!”. Now Rob is trying to figure it out by learning to play…the ukulele. “Because it seems easier,” Rob admits.
The other thing Rob is passionate about is learning — the Finnish language. His method is to use three different apps when he commutes on a train. “I don’t have crazy expectations to be a rockstar, or to be able to speak fluent Finnish. I’m just starting easy, like being able to read a menu, to understand what the different items are at the grocery store. If I could do that I think it would be good. Also, there is this threshold I found with the expats, it’s really easy to get to that level and say ok I’m done. I hope I don’t get to that point. I want to at least try to continue to improve every day.”
Take a jobbatical — Become a More Complete Person
Rob has noticed during his time at Yousician that people there treat things with a human touch. “I think in the States it’s really easy to move at a very quick pace and not give much of a human touch to what you are actually doing. People get the reputation of being flaky or not very consistent in the United States. You get to know them, you think you are friends with them, but you don’t actually build concrete, good relationships. I’ve certainly seen people within my company doing a really good job bringing in this human interaction where they actually care and look at things through a really good lens.”
Words of Wisdom, From a Current Jobbaticler to an Aspiring One
To someone considering a Jobbatical, Rob has some words of advise. “If you are slightly open to change it’s really beneficial to stretch yourself. There are certainly people who would say, “No I can’t do that or I don’t want to do that, I have a family and friends at home and I don’t want to leave”. That’s completely fine, I have friends and family, I completely understand where they would be coming from.”
But Rob himself considers working in a new country and different culture beyond useful and not even necessarily from a career standpoint or professional level. “I think it makes you a much more complete person, because you struggle, a lot, at least I do, and I think that makes you really empathetic and more understanding. A person that can connect with people on a different level.”
Take a look what it's like to work at Yousician:
Yousician is also currently hiring, check out the six available positions — from a Piano Music Education Designer to Product Manager — at this hot startup now:
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*No kombucha was drunk during this interview.