Baobba, Gustavo Tanaka and Open Business (Empresa Livre) in São Paulo

Gustavo Tanaka and the Baobba team.

So here I was in São Paulo, fresh (?) from a 14hour flight all the way from Istanbul. All of 10,583 km if the board near Istanbul’s Basilica Cistern is to be believed.

I came here with very little knowledge of the place. I had not looked up the sights, I had not learnt any Portuguese and I was about to meet my lovely host, Carolina, for the first time after having had not more than 5 short conversations with her on Facebook. Yet it all felt strangely good.

My journey to Brazil feels like a bit of a journey into my own self. I came here because it kept coming up while meditating and I decided to just go with it without thinking too much (a process I often indulge in).

I specifically started with São Paulo to connect with Gustavo Tanaka and the group of people he was working with. I discovered (like Colombus and America) Gustavo through one of this articles that I really identified with. I have given up being employed, live a somewhat nomadic life, am embarking on the purposeful entrepreneur journey where business is a lot more than just a means of making money, eat a vegetarian and where possible organic diet (mostly because of the better impact that this has on the planet) and am increasingly opening up to spirituality. In short I am (almost) everything the article described.

I emailed Gustavo saying I was coming to Brazil and would love to help or be connected to projects on the same wavelength. He invited me to join their team in São Paulo, a team called Baobba, founded on the idea of a “horizontal startup”, an open business concept with no hierarchy. So here I was.

From here on, I can practically describe my experience as a trip into my own imagination.

Carol, being an architect who happens to have great taste in art and interior design was the absolute perfect introduction not only to São Paulo but to Brazil in general. We’ve bonded over street art, beautiful design, music, architecture, the highs and lows of love and the trials and tribulations of being overall introverts. One of my favourite experiences was going to Teatro Oficina – an absurd, in-your-face, overtly human, completely deconstructed brand of theatre created by José Celso Martinez Corrêa. If you’re anywhere near São Paulo, this is an experience you must go through.

teatro oficina
The beautiful space Teatro Oficina do their magic in. Currently threatened with becoming faceless real estate, which would be an enormous pity.

On my first day here I got dropped at Hiperespaço, the very cool communal space that Baobba operates from and where many great community events happen. Gustavo showed me around. The place has an open plan office where most people work from, several seating nooks for chats, meetings or just some time out, really cool wooden tables that dismantle for easy transporting and storage, a kitchen, a big multi-purpose space where they hold their main events and a smaller carpeted room downstairs that is mostly used for yoga, talks and other quiet, small events.

Hiperespaço, the place Baobba operates from. Top part is an open plan office, bottom a community event space.


Hiperespaço during the recent Hoffice Day
Hiperespaço during the recent HOffice Day (Home Office Day) when over 300 people participated in workshops over here.

Gustavo and I chatted about life experiences, work, and how the two have intertwined along the journey. After many years of working in financial companies he felt uninspired by what he was doing and one fine day decided to quit. Without any kind of plan or idea as to what he would be doing next.

He started to read. Anything and everything that attracted him from “Autobiography of a Yogi” to “The Power of Now” and “The School of Gods” with many other books in between. Eventually reading gave way to a yearning for action, leading to a string of successful and less successful entrepreneurial ventures that still left him with unsettled feelings and a growing amount of debt that he tried to ignore until it became too much of a mental weight.

Finally deciding to tackle his problems head on, he started writing, asking himself questions and unexpectedly, the answers flowed out. In a process that took 11 days, Gustavo wrote his book “11 Dias de Despertar” (11 Days of Awakening) currently available in Portuguese but in the process of being translated to English (I’m slowly getting through the Portuguese version so watch this space for more about this book).

Gustavo’s awakening process led to the establishment of Baobba (among other things), an open business where there is no manager, no junior, no interview to join, and a completely organic structure. You can read more about how Baobba started and how it all works here. The initial project, a nutrition portal, has expanded into 4 start ups: the original portal, a service linking people who make food with customers, a personal trainer platform and a grow-your-own food nature academy.

Gustavo Tanaka and the Baobba team.
The Baobba team featured during Gustavo Tanaka’s TED Talk about Baobba and Empresa Livre

Birthed around 5 months ago, the open business concept (Empresa Livre) attracts interest daily. People send messages and emails, call, drop in unexpectedly to see for themselves how it all works and get advice about getting their own project going. Aside from their 4 start-ups, Baobba has become an unofficial incubator for new ventures. Many who feel unsatisfied with the current model of entrepreneurship are watching it closely, observing, asking questions and waiting by the sides until a new, safe, successful way of doing things emerges.

Yet sitting and waiting until perfection emerges is exactly the opposite of the spirit in which Baobba was founded and the ethos with which it runs. Over here it is all about learning by doing, running experiments and only dealing with problems as they crop up, not before. Things happen very organically and experience is seen as by far the most powerful teacher.

The situation is far from perfect. Problems do come up, disagreements happen and hindsight sometimes points towards the existence of better decisions than the ones made. Yet mistakes are welcomed for the lessons they bring with them and the wisdom they add to the group rather than being avoided at all costs.

The Baobba experiment is still young and very much in flux, a flexible container that creates space for something new to brew. It is this very space that is missing in most situations, groups, workspaces. We are often so attached to the structures, the rules of engagement, the expected results, that we allow no space for the new, the better, more beautiful and definitely fairer way of doing things that we all ultimately crave. It feels amazing to be contributing in some way to this.