Visiting our CTO Joey in Hungary:
Our Friendly Team Retreat No. 3 in Budapest

Since Friendly came into existence, joint retreats have been an integral part of our team culture. This is especially true because we work completely remotely: Stefan lives in Thurgau, Lukas in Baden, Kathrin in Bern and Joey in Budapest. We work from home, from the coffee shop, while traveling or wherever we can work well and only see each other in our weekly Zoom calls. At least once a year we meet for a retreat. An extended coffee break together, so to speak, which we otherwise miss in our everyday lives.

As a self-funded startup, we watch our budget, so our third team retreat took us to Budapest in early August 2023, where we were able to spend a long weekend with our CTO Joey Keller and his family. After our arrival on Thursday, it did take a while until we could switch off from our tasks…

… but that changed at the latest when we had a barbecue in the evening in the Kellers’ family garden and then immersed ourselves in the fascinating atmosphere of Szimpla Kert. More and more colorful ruin pubs have been reviving formerly abandoned and dilapidated buildings for the past 20 years and have become an integral part of Budapest’s nightlife. We drifted in the colorful lights, fancy decor and a drink or two, celebrating our time together.

On Friday, after a hearty breakfast of Ieva’s scrambled eggs à la carte, we visited one of Keller’s Stenders stores. Joey’s wife Ieva runs a cosmetics franchise and we took the opportunity to store for some of the handmade soaps as souvenirs.

Then we set off for Lake Balaton (Plattensee), which is about a two-hour drive west of Budapest. We enjoyed a relaxing day in the picturesque surroundings with delicious lunch at Cheche Burger, swimming in Lake Balaton, coffee and nice conversations.

The lake made a strong impression on Luke:

“I was really impressed by Lake Balaton. It is 79 km long and almost 8 km wide, one of the largest lakes in Europe. From the Tihany peninsula we had a breathtaking panoramic view of the lake. The lake bottom conjures different colors on the surface, so the lake looks like a work of art. I like to think back to this moment.”

Lukas Sigel, our CCO
Lukas, Kathrin, Stefan and Joey at Lake Balaton in Hungary

Back in Budapest, an authentic goulash soup from Joey’s mother awaited us. We still had no idea of the violent thunderstorm that would hit the residential area during the night.

Saturday morning: fallen trees, crushed cars and missing pets all over the area. Keller’s dog also ran away and did not return for weeks.

We found a passable way through the neighborhood streets and drove to the city center to play an Escape Room. We couldn’t pass this up – Budapest was the first city to bring Live Escape Games to Europe in 2011. The concept originated in video games and was first popular in Japan before it was also discovered in Hungary (supposedly independently) and quickly spread worldwide. We played “Metro” by Locked Room Budapest.

The game director’s explanation of the waiver we had to sign was particularly entertaining: “It’s about you doing your best not to break the room and us doing our best not to break you.” Makes sense!

After 52 intense minutes, we had defused the bomb in the subway and were very proud of ourselves. It was an exciting experience for Joey:

“I really enjoyed the Escape Room. We had to work together as a team in a locked room to disarm a bomb. It made us realize how different mindsets and backgrounds can help us succeed faster.”

Joey Keller, our CTO

And we didn’t break anything.

We spent the rest of the day at ease. The afternoon was free and in the evening we took a boat trip to see the sights of Budapest from the Danube. A Prosecco boat trip. An Unlimited prosecco boat trip. But we don’t want to go into details.

For Sunday we had saved some highlights for ourselves. We visited the Párisi Passage Café, a beautiful coffee house in the “Párisi Udvar”. The richly decorated building was built in the 19th century as a luxurious department store. It is a monument to Hungary’s fascinating past with its Arabic, Moorish and Gothic style elements and was recently renovated.

From there, we walked across Budapest’s oldest Danube bridge, then through the Buda Castle District, and had an impressive view of the river and the city from the Fishermen’s Bastion. We snacked on lángos along the way, a Hungarian specialty that Kathrin describes as a combination of pizza and churros (a more qualified explanation can be found here).

As another highlight and almost conclusion of our retreat, we then visited the Széchenyi Thermal Bath, which is one of the largest spas in Europe with its 15 indoor pools and the impressive 3 large outdoor pools.

On Monday we happily made our way back home. We laughed, ate, talked, played and worked together and are already looking forward to the next retreat.

Kathrin’s conclusion of the trip:

“I value our retreats because they give me the opportunity to really get to know my colleagues personally and understand what is important to them and what makes them ‘tick’. This helps me to deal well with each other in everyday work.”

Kathrin Schmid, our CMO and CISO

Fun Facts

1 – Joey has official tour guide qualifications, which he eloquently convinced us of as we toured the city.

2 – Stefan had a theory that the rain was following him as a “rain maker”, which we were beginning to be firmly convinced of by the thunderstorms and unexpected showers every night.

3 – Last evening we played “The Crew”, a cooperative card game that is addictive, which you can see for yourself here.

The retreat in numbers

As an Open Startup, we also disclose our numbers to you here: This is what our retreat cost. Friendly generally covers all expenses for our employees on retreats. On this retreat, the Keller family hosted and cooked for us in their house for free. A big thank you for that! And of course we also bought each other a drink or two.

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