I first met Andre on a freelance project in London, working with a creative, PR and digital agency on behalf of a beauty brand. Andre turned up as part of the Brazilian digital agency, wafting in the room as the cool creative director, immaculately turned out, friendly, very smart and engaging. I sat next to him and we got talking, and immediately had a lot in common. He has lived all over the world, and when I met him he was basically ‘homeless’, homeless in that whatever city a project came up in, was his next home. His belongings can be packed into a bag, he’d bought new clothes that morning for our meeting, and he was the best example of a ‘global citizen’ I’ve ever met.
He now runs his own agency ‘Sexy Beast’, which uses a 5-day sprint method to help brands all over the world, and he in turn is also all over the world, in a different city each month. He and his partner also produce @twofreeguys, making brilliant short content about the free things to do in different locations world-wide.
In short, he’s fascinating. I immediately asked if he wanted to be part of Masters of Many, as he seemed perfect for the #Mastersoftravel section of this site. I hope you enjoy the interview as much as I did conducting it.
How have you got to where you are today?
When I’ve tried to define my story in the past (when gathering my portfolio and showing it to companies and things like that), it’s been a struggle to find something that defines me. I thought that what defined me was my career in advertising and communication. However, what I quickly realised was that it was the love for the unknown. That is the thing that drives me, and is the reason that whenever I have a fixed job, it doesn’t last longer than about a year. I kid myself that ‘now it might be time to settle down and have a stable life and stay in one place’, but very quickly, the allure of travelling the world and seeing different things appears. The more experiences I have, the more I want to keep going.
I fell into this life because of my love for the visual, for design. I started as an art director, and I realised very quickly that I was in a job that was in high demand, and that I could travel the world it. For the last 20 years I’ve worked in the advertising industry, from art direction to creative direction. I owned my agency, and I’ve been a partner at different agencies, so I’ve escalated roles, but at the back of all of it has been meeting new people and travelling.
Through my work I have lived in about 8 or 9 different places, fixed for 6 months or a couple of years. In between I’ve always been travelling.
I originally went to school in hotel management in Switzerland, and then went to Florida and lived there for a year. Then I went back to Brazil and started to work in advertising. Then I left, went to Vancouver for 3 years, Holland for 2 years, Sweden for 2 years, then Japan for a couple of months. Then back to Brazil, where I created my own agency. That gave me a lot of pleasure, but at the same time it grounded me in Sao Paulo. I couldn’t leave because I had my baby (in my agency). It was hard, to the point that I decided to sell it and continue travelling.
Then I lived in Miami for a year, and then back to Amsterdam for a year. I then travelled for Cubo and Flag (both agencies) for two years, working for them. Then I came back to Amsterdam to work for Edelman, but I quickly quit my job (after 7 months), and now I am trying to create a studio that travels to solve creative problems. I’m trying to create something around travelling, which is my main love, using advertising, which isn’t my main love, but it’s something that I do well, and pays for my lifestyle.
So, one of the first things you studied was hotel management?
I was only 17, I finished school early. I could go anywhere in the world, and I knew I wanted to go to school outside of Brazil. I thought that if I did hotel management, I would still retain some of the broad principles of management, but it would also have travel embedded into it. But, I realised you had to be behind a front office for the first three years, and it wasn’t dynamic enough, so I left it behind.
How did you shift from that into creative work?
I lived in New York for a year, working as a model, when I was 19 or 20. It was the beginning of the internet back in Brazil, in ’95 or ’96. I was so impressed that you could learn the tools for free, like download a pirate piece of software, learn it in a day or two, create something visually and anyone in the world could see what you’d done. I was very enamoured by technology and in a quick period of time, I learnt some of the design tools, like illustrator, and also some of the coding technology, so I could actually build websites.
As I progressed I became more excited about the design and visual side than I was about technology, although it was still part of my world. When I was young, going to school, I didn’t care about the content so much, I just wanted it to be seamless and beautifully packaged – maybe it’s me making sense of something in the past, but it felt like at the heart of it, I like to get information to people in a beautiful way and get them to have a good experience with it.
When I met you, you were doing a role travelling to lots of different places, how did it come about?
It was modelled based on something quite brilliant that Flag has. Flag has a network of companies from Brazil, one of them is called Mesa (a table and chair). They are an innovation group, working for 5 days, bringing different people to the mix, travelling to the location where the challenge is. This group were working and having a lot of success and making strides in Brazil, making a lot of money and making good content. Because they were part of the group, I became friends with them, and said ‘why don’t we try to do a bit of what you guys are doing all the way around the world?’.
I speak different languages, it’s easy for me to travel around the world and rent Air BNB’s etc, so I offered a deal in which I would help them with their global challenges, but I didn’t want to stay in Brazil (because I can’t stay in one place). I proposed that I went where I wanted (not exactly where the challenges were), and live for a month in Bali, or wherever I wanted to go, work remotely with them, connect with people on the ground and work with them, and make it delivery based. So, as long as I delivered great work and ideas, would that work?
The guy from Flag is all about innovation and ideas, so he said ‘Let’s try’. He paid a decent fixed salary for me to try and develop Flag in that way internationally, so that’s what we did.
So, how was that? I know you have a partner as well, who was travelling with you, how was that?
My partner has been doing his PhD, so after he had done his required credits, he just needed to write his dissertation, so he could travel around the world and be with me to write. It was a bit of a challenge for him initially. For me, it’s not so disruptive to move, but for others they are able to move to other places, but they are not able to create a new routine for themselves quite so quickly. He may have benefited from a more stable environment, but I couldn’t give it to him, so he came with me.
Did you find challenges in terms of living that kind of lifestyle?
It was difficult for me as well to create a routine. There are a lot of things we take for granted. If you don’t have good internet in Bali, where do you go for example? It’s a challenge to find somewhere where the wireless works, but you’re not having people screaming around you in a café. So, sometimes just getting the basics to function in a few places can be a bit of a challenge. You’d arrive in a new city, and the hotel would say ‘high speed internet’ and then it’s down, so you’re like ‘how am I not going to work through today or this whole week?’. Getting the right basic infrastructure when you travel far can be the biggest challenge.
The second thing is to create a new routine, to put in the right number of hours of work, to collaborate and connect with the right people. When you are in a new environment with so many new things to excite you, sometimes you don’t want to do the work! I wanted to travel around and see the sights and take pictures and talk to people, and I’d leave behind a little of the things I needed to do for Flag and for brands. Marrying being in a place where it’s not just a holiday of discovery, but also being in a place where you have to work on a full-time project, without all of your tools with you can be a challenge.
Did you find any resources that helped you bridge the gap?
I tried to research as much as I could for the bare bones of internet connectivity, and I tried to look for collaborative spaces that I could rent and go to. I think it’s lacking still. I know that there are new start-ups in this space. One of them for example invites people to travel through 12 months and you pay for the whole package. For me though, part of it is not being told where you’re going to live when you get to Thailand for example, but at the same time it can be quite rough to get started.
I don’t think I went to a specific repository to figure it out, but I would go to the same communities online, like ‘Behance’, or ‘Working, Not Working’, both creative communities that spoke English and were a certain level around the world. I would also use my own network, so I would write to creative directors if I needed an art director in somewhere like Bangkok. When you go to the developing world, you have a lot of beautiful talent, but they haven’t had the chance to work on international work and they’re keen to get it on their portfolio, so you don’t have a shortage of people who want to work with you.
How do you think clients found working with a remote network of people, rather than the traditional relationship where your agency is local and focused on face time?
I think that it scares them a lot. I think that Flag has done it well. They have a solid base with offices in places like New York, but they position it with mystique, e.g. ‘our creative director travels the world and connects with talent’. If there is a small part of the mix that gives that type of experience, it adds to it.
I’m now selling the experience of a fully moveable pop up agency, so we’ll see how that flies. I think that a lot of people get cold feet with it, just in terms of execution if there are problems, maybe the creative ideation part would be easier. If they could call you whenever they have an assignment for you, that could work, but having a full-on retainer fee as you travel round the world would be incongruous.
I’ve followed a few people who have tried to establish a true pop up agency – there’s actually something called ‘The Pop Up Agency’ from Swedish and Dutch friends I have. After the beginning of the hype when everyone reports on it, the appeal doesn’t last too long. If you embark on a relationship where connecting and disconnecting is the norm, it’s unlikely that something lasts beyond a year, clients get cold feet. I think if it’s project based, or you enhance a new product, or something is based on innovation, or an audience they don’t understand, I think it can work.
Were there particular types of clients that you ended up getting when you worked with Flag? A particular profile or particular industries?
I was lucky I think. We never sold what I did as one of the key selling points, it was always about Flag and all of the experience they had, and then if it came to be mentioned it was more like ‘oh by the way, now that you’re not scared and you love us, this guy doesn’t have a fixed residence’. Now that I’m getting into the space where I’ll sell it as one of the main points, we’ll see how I fare! I think you either connect with very good marketers from very interesting brands that are evolved in the space of communication, who have money – or you go to start-ups. There is interest, but you need to be able to prove that you’ve done it successfully before.
You mentioned before that when you get to a location, you feel like you’re on holiday but you have work to do. How did you organise your time and get things done?
To be very frank, I think I still don’t do it very well. To me, advertising is an excuse to travel the world, and understand people, so even when I’m fixed here in Holland, part of my day is organising what I’m going to do on the weekend to discover Holland. I have used all of my money and my time to travel more, everything I own is in two or three boxes. My free time is focused on that as well.
For this next phase, what I’m going to try and do is divide things more.
We are now travelling for a year, but also creating an art project, something that will propel me forward. One of the things that I love when I get to a country is before I spend lots of money doing things, I like to go and do the things that are free first. Even in Amsterdam, if you go from central station to the North part of Amsterdam, it’s new and gentrified, there are 2 or 3 ferries that cross, and it’s a beautiful crossing, and it’s free. I want to map free things to do in different cities, but instead of having a list, I want to create 20 second films, nicely designed and edited – with a blueprint of what to do. Over the year we’ve been travelling to different cities making this content. If I can become the guy who is unveiling the free, amazing, unique things to do in different cities, that would be great.
And how does your partner feel about going off on the road again, when he thought you were going to settle in Amsterdam?
He’s happy with that as well. He’s trying to get to his post doc, and it’s quite difficult – he’s been writing and he needs to get financing, and in the meanwhile, he likes the idea of travelling the world for a year, but both of us want to be precise in what we do.
The second thing I have done is to open up ‘The Sexy Beast’ which is essentially an anti-agency, with another friend in Helsinki. He and I feel like we want to be able to help startups and daring brands accelerate very quickly. It could be that the project is re-branding, or one product or service, something that puts your brand in an attitudinal space that is more conducive to working with younger audiences. So, what is Sexy? It’s beauty, courage, being unique.
The way of working is five days, on the client side, with them. We have a specific process that makes a five-day sprint where we go from a brief, to a prototype at the end, and we curate some of the people that come along on this journey. Not unlike some of the other agencies I’ve spoken about, but focused on communications. We’ve already sold seven projects, so things are going well.
I don’t want to become an Internet celebrity, it’s a tall order as these people have a billion followers. But, what if I find a niche? Somebody said a beautiful sentence, they said ‘are you rich already?’, and they said ‘I am. I make exactly one extra dollar a month from everything that I actually wish in that month. So, I am a rich man’. I love that. I saved enough money from selling my agency, so that if I now go on a different gear to lead a frugal life, that is living and what I want to experience. My ultimate goal and knowledge would be to collapse the two projects. It could happen with something as naïve and unpretentious as the ‘100 free things’, who knows?
What is it about travel do you think that is so important for you to have as a core part of your existence?
I think it’s a little about learning about myself. If I get out of my comfort zone, I learn about me. I become a more compassionate citizen of the world, more unbiased, look at different points of view. There is a natural part of this that is also about escaping parts of myself, so having a blank sheet to start writing every so many months is also very alluring. It’s a bit of running away from my problems as well I suppose!
Can you ever imagine finding your own holy grail location and wanting to stay somewhere?
Yes, I think so. I love Holland, so I wouldn’t be against ‘Sexy Beast’ taking me to different places for projects, and then coming back to Amsterdam as a base. I love the city and it has a lot of the values that I want to become part of my existence. I also love Japan, it’s my favourite country in the world, and I’d love to live in Tokyo. They are two very different cities, but I love the lifestyle they offer so much. In Japan, it’s a little more difficult to go around because they are so isolated, and for everywhere you have to take a flight. Whereas living in Europe, like Amsterdam, it’s so easy to just continue travelling. If I want to travel every weekend, it’s very possible to do.
I would not be able to live somewhere for the rest of my life, and I’d have a difficult time living in a place that is difficult for accessibility, like Melbourne, New Zealand, as beautiful as they are. I couldn’t base myself there, because that would mean that my life would be 90% there, and I don’t think my life could be 90% anywhere.
What tips would you give anyone else wanting to have a travel and work infused existence?
One of the traps is a start-up. I think that people think it will be something that will mean they can work on the go, but the reality is that when it picks up, and you’d want it to pick up, you’d need to be very grounded, for a long time to see it through. That’s the incongruous difference between Generation Z, who have been raised with all of the values of a global village, and travelling, but also want to create their own products and ideas and put them into practice. These things are difficult to match. Hopefully in the future, it will be that you can be anywhere in the world, and be connected, but right now there is a huge contingency of young excited people who want to travel and experience, and also want to do their own thing, and they can become frustrated because it’s different mind sets.
Advertising is an interesting industry. If you work with a visual form, you have a good opportunity to work anywhere you like and move around, as you don’t have to master the language. So, as long as you focus on your portfolio and you build interesting cases, and you show that you can solve problems, and stay on the top of your game, you’ll always have a place in the most dynamic agencies around the world. It’s a great way of travelling.
I also think if you have a passion and are good at articulating that, and having people follow you (as per the Internet celebrities we spoke about), it gives you so much freedom.
To follow Andre and his partner on their adventures, check out their Instagram @twofreeguys
For more interviews with entrepreneurs, flexible workers and people incorporating travel into their working existence, follow @mastersofmany