Q: So COVID-19 brought a lot of changes in the workplace. Everyone is now working from home. You advocate and embody the concept of working remotely, with Yougig for example, which lets people work from anywhere. Youpal Group is also a distributed company so naturally a proponent of distributed labour. Tell us more about your vision of this.
The philosophy at Youpal Group is that we are a distributed company, which means everyone works remotely. The rules aren’t applied to where you are or when you work. It’s goal-oriented. That means that the company is happy as long as you deliver quality work, as per expectations and on time. People at Youpal can work wherever and whenever they feel comfortable.
Nevertheless, we have an office here in southern Spain. It’s meant for people who want to spend a few days here. We can arrange for accommodation. There’s gorgeous food in this area, not to mention a great office space where people can work at ease. So that was the plan, but COVID has put a hiatus on this part of the plan we had for this office. The possibility still exists, when things go back to normal, that anyone in the company can come here or work in the Stockholm office. That would be more suitable for those who like winters and snow, however.
We also have impressive offices in Dubai. Our people can even go to our office in Guinea… so there are plenty of opportunities to travel. Our ambition is to have a wonderful team of people who go anywhere and get inspired about anything. We want to work and foment the freedom of work for optimal efficiency.
To be healthy at work, it depends on two things. Right now, Covid is affecting people not only socially but also physically. Being in front of the computer the whole day and not being able to meet anyone is how most people are right now. In my own case, I got a neck problem recently and couldn’t even stand up as it would make me dizzy. So, I had to take some measures to address that. I used Yoga where you learn how to stretch but also learn to keep a good body posture while at work. I also learned some techniques where I can do some movements while in front of the computer.
All that helps a lot. But, also, having the opportunity of living near the beach and a dog who needs to spend a lot of his energy… that is also another release for me. It forces me to stand up, get away from my screen, go for a walk and a mental jog. This forces me to rethink how we can do things in this company and come up with policies, documentation and even training on this issue.
So, this is what I am doing in the office here in Spain. There are yoga lessons, a surfing instructor and I am slowly expanding on what should become part of this company’s culture. This should become part of our workflow. For those who work with us, it will become a habit. Healthy living, including physical activity and nutrition should be reflexes we have, much like we turn on our computer every day.
I even plan to go to India for a yoga retreat when this pandemic is over. This is how serious I am about adopting and achieving healthy practices for a good work-life balance.
Q: I asked this to your business partners as well – is Youpal the end of the road for you? Where do you see yourself either within or outside of the company within the next 5-10 years?
R: I don’t see myself anywhere else, because with Youpal I can do whatever I feel, whenever I want. My dream was to start a game development company, specifically for people with disabilities. The idea is to move the concept of game creation to something broader. That is, for example, how can visually-impaired people play a game together? I read an article which inspired and clicked with me. And I knew that’s what I wanted to do: make video games accessible to anyone.
I’m also interested in understanding how video games and virtual and augmented reality can be used for e-learning. These are the two main ideas floating in my mind. Youpal is the place where I can work on that and strive to make it happen. It’s also going to be beneficial to the company. So, I don’t see myself doing anything else but drive Youpal group’s technical evolution. I also have had so many extraordinary experiences and have friends working in the company, so I can’t imagine walking away from all of that.
On the other hand, I feel the company is going in the right direction. We are putting a lot of effort in our various verticals. We are also focusing on the streams that we feel are going to work out for us. I am optimistic that we have a long journey and that we will get where we want to go.
We have so many ‘crazy’ ideas. We look ahead towards the future and understand the changes. We embrace them. We really love it. As you know, the company changes constantly… we call it ‘normalised chaos’. We come from large organisations where there were fires to fight every day, so we are confident about working in this type of environment. That is, where there are plenty of stressful situations, but at the same time where we are growing fast.
It may be a shaky journey, but I am going to continue doing this. There are so many wonderful people backing us up here, so there’s nothing else I’d rather do.
Q: Let’s talk about the dream of 25 million jobs again. You went with Karl to Western Africa. Tell us about your experience and how you view the potential there.
I have a little connection with Africa, as I have lots of friends in Morocco. I often travel there to kitesurf, with my friends who have a kitesurf school in the country. So, we had the opportunity to meet some businessmen and political leaders in Guinea, as that’s where Karl’s father is from. We had decided to go on this trip because it was important for us to understand the market in Africa.
We believe it’s going to be the next part of the world to be completely digitalised. At the moment, they are in a situation where they have the right infrastructure, but there are gaps to fill in terms of education, training and skilling people to make the most of this potent digital landscape. There is the optic fibre running at the edge of the region. They have very good 3G and 4G structures, so the connection in the region is fairly good.
What they need now is the knowledge to build software and applications. We went to the Kofi Annan University where we met its Director, who’s a relative of Karl. We understood their programmes and training courses were focused on technologies from proprietary companies, such as Cisco or Microsoft. It was more corporate than purely pedagogical.
My experience in Spanish universities was with open-source software, for instance. I believe it is easier to teach. So, that’s where we came up with the idea of a collaboration and provide some IT training programmes. We wanted to have something similar to a foundation course where it would be easy for people to hop onto the IT bandwagon. They would have access to training, tutorials, etc.
Other than the educational plan we have, there are a lot of other opportunities we found there. We have only stopped because of the pandemic. This has put a lull on the momentum for us, unfortunately. But the I am still working on the educational programme and I have a setup for all that here. I can do live streaming etc.
I am starting with the video game programming course. It’s also a good way for me to stay connected to the young population. There are many of them out there who are interested in knowing how a video game is created. They may have a new idea about a video game and we can develop that together. This is all linked to our mentorship programme. So, we want to guide people to build on their ideas and make it a reality.
Our mentoring programme is the heart of the connections that we have within this company. We’re going to offer training and courses to attract people with interests in various topics. Whether it’s video production, video games, coding, project management, design, music production, robotics, IoT, or even drones.
We’re going to give away as much knowledge and learning as we can to attract this specific talent. When we know this talent is ready for the mentorship programme, we will get them to work on specific tasks, concepts or projects. We will help them understand the workflow in an IT solution enterprise. When they successfully complete the programme, they will be ready to start working in the real world.
We will continue supporting them throughout their journey from junior to senior positions. We will continue mentoring them if they want to stay onboard with Youpal. What we need is talent in the IT industry. There is a serious lack of that and that’s one way we want to address this shortage.
Q: Let me come to what I am going to respectfully call your ‘Peter Pan syndrome’. You’ve loved video games since you were little and that seems to still be driving a lot of your dreams. You are also among the few lucky people who have been able to realise the dreams they had when they were children. In other countries, there aren’t so many choices. Do you think everyone should hang on to their childhood aspirations?
It depends on everyone’s individual situation. Everybody has different priorities depending on their environment. I feel lucky that when I took those decisions to pursue what I am doing today, they were the right ones. I seem to have been dreaming in the right direction, ever since I was a child.
My personal experience is that you should never forget your dreams or your goals. Even if they are big, you should always try to get as close as you can. Even if the path isn’t straightforward, be sure to be chasing your dream. Make sure you are chasing your dreams slowly, but constantly. That’s my personal take on things.
As for being Peter Pan, I think I was always like that. But that doesn’t mean I don’t take things seriously. I have responsibilities like everyone else, paying bills and so and so forth. It is true, however, that I am the one with the most child-like spirit in the company, but that’s because I need to have fun with what I am doing.
When something becomes tedious and boring, it not only kills your mood but also your creativity. It’s also not good for the teamwork experience. When people are having fun, they are more likely to collaborate, to engage, to be creative. That’s why I am always making sure to keep this atmosphere around the company.