The following is an interview by Rob Ford, published in FWA's Digital Pioneers, February 2014.
Your name, plus your original "web name/handle"
Andre Matarazzo. Never really had a “web name” – maybe except in the very beginning, around 2000: Xururu. Funny, didn’t mean much, was given to me by a dear friend, and it became my portfolio URL.
Once I’ve started Gringo (“a foreigner”, not derogatory in Portuguese), the local industry started calling me “the gringo”, though I was born in Brazil, therefore technically not a gringo.
Your first web encounter, year etc.
The web – it was all so mysterious to me. I had no idea how things were connected, networks, phone lines, modem… but I remember when living in NYC, I started seeing URLs pop up everywhere. It was so new, so confusing, so bloody looooong.
My first experience creating something for the web was building a site for my dad’s business in Microsoft Front Page in 1996. Naturally it was disastrous, full of broken links, no grid structure, zero usability, not the faintest idea of who I was communicating to – and hideous! I wish I still had it.
But what was so marvelous was that after the hideous thing was finished, I pressed a button on my keyboard (publish!) and called my dad right away: “type this in and see what you get!” and it was magical! That thing that was inside my head was now accessible all over the world; anyone could see it (thank God not too many people did, it would be a disservice to my dad’s business). Magical.
What our readers might recognize you most for, when you first hit the web.
I was lucky enough to join what was then the hottest digital team in São Paulo, inside McCann-Erickson, called Thunderhouse. We were just 5 guys cranking out sites after sites for every client McCann had at the time. Somehow, the little things we did from that hidden corner of the world got awarded at the world’s top advertising festivals, so we picked up a few gold and silver Lions, the Grand Prix at London Fest and a bunch of others.
I worked alone on a pro-bono project for Laramara, a Brazilian association for the blind. The screen was at all times completely black and you would navigate this bizarre video-game-like experience by following someone’s voice command, directing you where to go, where to click and music and other sound effects would drop people into new stages of the experience. All black – no interface, no nothing, just sounds. It was so ahead of its time. It was an experience that viscerally put people in the position of someone who is visually impaired, and that with the technology available in 1999-2000!
It was fun.
Your digital journey since
It all started at a tiny internet provider in São Paulo in 1997, where I’d learned the ropes for the first time. Again, another magical moment: to be presented with a copy (most likely pirated) of Photoshop, Future Splash (the old Flash) and some HTML editor. Quickly thereafter, I’d moved into McCann, due to the loving graces of Bob Gebara, my ECD at the time, and after a few years I’d decided to go work abroad.
I ended up at Blastradius in Vancouver in 2000, where a bunch of my idols of the time worked at (yes Famewhore and Arnaud Mercier among others) so I was in heaven. Loved Canada in every way and learned loads about interface design for larger structures at that time.
In 2003 I spent some time in Amsterdam for Blastradius and in 2004 went to Farfar, where again I was able to work alongside people I thoroughly admire. I’ve always made a conscious decision to go where I could be with the best and learn so it was a no-brainer when, after much pestering on my part, Nicke Bergström finally said “come over, we want you here!” – I packed my bags and left.
Farfar was a dream to work at: the most amazing projects, the largest production budgets, the wackiest ideas, the most cohesive and connected teams, and that overall feeling that you’re on top of the world – Farfar at the time was #2 on the Gunn Report, so awards were flying in faster than we could brainstorm the next solution. In fact, not being plastered all over the news with anything we conceptualized at Farfar felt like a bit of a defeat, so there was this positive - and very ethical – competitive vibe at the agency.
In 2005 I spent some months in Tokyo working on an assignment for TYO-iD, a production company, and fell in love with Japan, the good and the bad. It made me get in touch with pure beauty, poetry, feelings and a bunch of other things that we normally try to discard in order to be as pragmatic as possible and generate solutions that will for sure deliver. In Japan this tension between what can’t really be explained and the more measurable parts of a creative solution live really well hand-in-hand.
At the end of 2005 I came back to Brazil and started a small production company called Gringo. At first we were only interested in producing the best ideas for the best agencies in the world, but soon after, local clients came knocking on our door (helped by the always infallible news of us winning some cool awards at Cannes) and we started pitching. First came Absolut Vodka, and soon after Coca-Cola was on board with all of their digital work for their three colas brands. It was immense for us.
On our first year we were 3 people and at the end of the second, 45. And the rest is history. We started doing through-the-line work as the Brazilian industry matured and started looking for integrated solutions, grew to about 90 people, and later, in 2010 decided to partner up with WPP.
To be frank, this was a very turbulent time for us. Despite having many great things going for us, Gringo changed its values and our field of action also changed. I wasn’t sure I was getting from it what I set out to get when it all started. I’m talking about the things that really matter: having fun, doing amazing work, and having time to lead a somewhat balanced life.
I decided to let everything go and try to find what it was that used to make me get out of bed happy and spend the next 12h playing, scheming, testing, connecting.
I’ve spent the next 2 years at two incredible companies: Sapient in Miami as the CCO for the Southeast US and later Sid Lee, as their ECD in Amsterdam.
It’s now January 2014 and I am still looking for the perfect challenge. There are so many unbelievably talented and hard-working people in the world inventing what in 10 years will be our new reality. The stakes are higher today. Creative people, in advertising or anywhere else, are the engineers and inventors of this very world, designing and creating at an astonishing rate. The possibilities are so much more exciting than they were in 1997 when I’ve set out to build my first website.
What are you up to now?
Resting for a bit and looking for news challenges.
After 17 years of intermittent work in an industry that requires you to dedicate 90% of your waking hours to solve creative and relationship problems, I am excited to have the time to travel, read loads of books and papers, meet very interesting people who are ballsy enough to create their own rules and be flooded by brilliant ideas.