Build your startup team while traveling the world with Michael Alexis

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Guest

Michael Alexis

Owner & CEO
Team Building

Teambuilding.com provides teams around the world with unique online and offline team building activities.

Sean has founded multiple companies and done multiple 8 figures worth of business.

He’s currently advising, consulting, and investing in business just like yours.

He knows where you’ve been, and he knows where you’re going.

Book a call with him today to see how he can help you get there smarter, faster, and in a way that aligns with your life goals.

Timestamps

0:00 – Introduction
7:22 – Working as a nomad
14:51 – Living in other countries and culture
26:34 – Working while travelling
31:22 – Finding friends and building network
35:18 – Living a minimalist life
44:57 – Michael’s focus at his company
51:15 – Team building
54:53 – Follow up with Michael

Transcript

Read the transcript
Sean Weisbrot:
Welcome back to another episode of the We Live to Build Podcast. I’m here today with Michael Alexis, the CEO and owner of TeamBuilding.com We are very similar in that we are nomads and entrepreneurs, and that’s one of the reasons why I brought him on today. Maybe we will also talk about minimalism. I think we’re also very similar in that regard. So, thank you for taking the time to talk with me, Michael. I appreciate it.

Sean Weisbrot:
Why don’t you tell everyone a little bit about what TeamBuilding.com is and we’ll go from there.

Michael Alexis:
Sure. Thanks for having me. Teambuilding.com, nobody has ever been surprised that we read team building events for corporate groups. For all of the pandemic, that meant virtual events over Zoom. We do them in person as well. So, examples would be online, we have tiny campfire. We send people s’mores kits in the mail in advance that bring everybody out a Zoom call for camp games, ghost stories, etc. Or in person event might be the great walk off. We do guacamole making competitions at people’s offices, outdoor scavenger hunts, museum, tours, et cetera, et cetera. The goal let employees have, like, a time together, fun, connection, happiness, etc.

Sean Weisbrot:
Cool. Thank you for the introduction. I just have to ask, have you ever done a virtual reality-based team building exercise for a client?

Michael Alexis:
Not VR based. Externally, we’ve done and tested some stuff internally, so possibly in the future.

Sean Weisbrot:
Do you mind talking a little bit more about what you’ve tested? I’m curious.

Michael Alexis:
Yeah. So, I’ve got a favorite game of all time, which is an Oculus called Population One shooting game. It’s a little bit, it’s just compared to Fortnite for VR. That is one that I play outside of work and have noticed that there’s very strong kind of squad and team dynamics in it. So, we recognize that as like, hey, there’s something here to capture, right, beyond being on a Zoom call on us talking. If we’re in VR, it’s like we’re doing something together. We’re talking over the headset in a way that feels very organic in person. That is like, more advanced than what we would do for a team, but frankly, probably too violent. But as we explore the options, it’s like, oh, what could we do as an escape room? Or problem solving, or games that are a little bit more familiar to team building and collaboration and working together?

Sean Weisbrot:
So originally, I wanted to talk about just minimalism and travel. Being a digital nomad. I also kind of want to spend some time talking more about team building because that’s also a very important thing for company owners to be thinking about, especially someone like myself. I also run a remote company. We’ve got twelve people, including myself, fully remote. I’ve now just met my third person from the team after four years, because I’m living in Europe now, and two of them are based in Europe. We’ve tried this VR stuff because we don’t really know how else to do team building which is one of the reasons why I was asking you if you thought about that.

But I guess I’m curious to know what made you want to start this company actually.

Michael Alexis:
Previous career was as a lawyer. And I did some other kind of corporate stuff before that. And when I moved into the startup world, I was doing marketing. It was remote and I was working alone. I started to recognize and appreciate just how much the social component of work plays into your life and your happiness and your wellness. And so, seeing that for me, seeing how it can expand to other people became very clear very quickly, especially with the virtual ones. Because of the time we were in Pandemic hit, pretty much everyone in the world was stressed, right? Like everything around us was stress or stress or stress. Some of the early testimonials or feedback comments that we got from guests were like, wow, thank you so much for 90 minutes, I forgot everything feed that’s going out of the world right now. So, we realized that it’s more than just connecting people. It’s like letting people feel good during the work day and beyond.

Sean Weisbrot:
So, when exactly did you start this business?

Michael Alexis:
Team Building itself started really the day the Pandemic hit, March 9, or whatever it is, when everything went down. Prior to that, we did have companies that sit underneath it. So, we’re operating independently as the GreatGuacoff.com, which is the Guacamole maker competitions at offices, we have museum hack. We had one called Gingerbread Wars, which is we bring gingerbread kits to people’s offices during the holidays, and you make themed houses like Zombie Apocalypse. There’s something fun.

And so, each of those independent brands were operating for anywhere between the low end, kind of six months, and at the higher end, a couple of years before the Pandemic started, we knew that we wanted an umbrella brand for them. We were able to acquire TeamBuilding.com, but had set up a site, weren’t actively using it yet. We were looking for the right reason, because it’s a massive amount of work to shift your company, your team, your marketing, everything, towards a new brand, especially one that looks very different than what we were doing previously.

So, Pandemic hit the in-person businesses that we had crashed immediately, right? Like, all of the leads stopped. The clients who had booked events were canceling and asking for refunds. It was a very bad position for a business to be in. We knew that we had to switch to something. It seemed like the right opportunity to do virtual team building and to do it under teambuilding.com. So, March 2019 started to exist, within 24 hours, we had our first customer. Even with the kind of harsh hit to the previous businesses, we still finished out that month profitably, and then grew rapidly from there. The in-person businesses were in a handful of major US cities. So, New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, I think the one that might have a bunch of large corporations. And that was the right place for us to be to run events. But with Team Building, all of a sudden, we’re reaching people not just all across America, but all over the world. So, clients in the UK, and Australia, Singapore, on and on and on.

Sean Weisbrot:
So, you were saying off there that Team Building has about 80 or 90 people. Is that between those other companies that are under the umbrella as well, or.

Michael Alexis:
So, it all operates as one company. Now, the employees are collective group, and I believe right now the number is 90. We have full time staff who are the sales team, marketing, customer service, etc. Have all of our event hosts. Almost all of them are part time. There’s a few that are full time, but all as employees. And we’re somewhat seasonal as business.

So, for example, quarter four is quite busy for us as companies are not just doing team building, but they’re also doing holiday parties. And so, we’ll bring on seasonal staff, which pushes us up to more like, I think it was 180 last year, or almost 200 even with more hosts, more support staff, etc.

Sean Weisbrot:
Was this always a remote thing for you? Because I know you travel a lot, so I’m not sure.

Michael Alexis:
Yeah, it’s a pretty intentional choice for me. So, I guess, like, a lot of people who eventually become nomadic had started traveling early, right, like, right out of high school was let’s go. I visited Fred’s for about Japan, and I popped over to Korea the next summer, backpacked through a bunch of European countries solo, and then with work, had initially gone the direction of, hey, I just finished my undergrad, I’m not sure entirely what I want to do. I went to law school, I became a lawyer, and frankly, it wasn’t a very happy one.

I think it’s a great and important profession that didn’t fit for me. And one of the things was, I found it very restrictive. It’s very difficult to be a nomadic lawyer, because your clients want and often need to see you in person, right? Like, you have to be there to sign documents, to witness documents, to have like frankly, very important conversations. And so, I put myself through school doing freelance marketing stuff, returned to that, and have been remote ever since. So, marketing lends itself much more readily utilities to remote, work nomadic really be anywhere. Nobody cares where you are, as long as you’re getting results, right?

So, that was in 2012 or 2013, I think. Some going on ten years, during that time have escalated between traveling more, traveling less. Some that I would go and stay in New York for six months, or I’d go to China is somewhere I spent a lot of time. There were about two years off and on, and the two years before the Pandemic were the busiest, with really country hopping every one to three months. Australia, Thailand, Bali, when the Pandemic hit, I was in the Canary Islands with my partner. We already tried to stay three months, right? The European zone. Let’s just stay with as a Canadian, I could stay for three months before they boot you out. Pandemic hit, lockdown, no flights out of the Canaries meant that we ended up saving for seven months instead. And then from there, have become less nomadic. Very, very difficult, anybody listening who tried it, incredibly difficult to be nomadic during the Pandemic. Right. The number of quarantines and restrictions in different places that you can or cannot go. So, we’ve been a lot more stable since. I do want to get back to travel, but might be towards the tail end of my life at the moment.

Sean Weisbrot:
It’s interesting because we were at different parts in the way we were thinking, as you were relaying your story, where like, during the Pandemic, the first 18 months or so, I was in Vietnam. That’s it. I was in Vietnam. I didn’t leave for a year and a half, almost two years, and went back to America in June of 2021. And I stayed in Miami for almost a year, except for Atlanta for a week, because I hadn’t seen some family in five or six years, and I had no choice.

And then in May of 2022, I had my visa for Portugal, and I said, I’m free. I am going to travel. I don’t care if I get COVID in Europe. I am going to travel, because it’s been basically two and a half, three years since I traveled. The last time I traveled before I left Vietnam was, I was in Europe in 2019, actually, November 2019, for a blockchain conference in Malta. And then, I ended up going to Switzerland to meet an investor. And then, I was in Paris for a week visiting a friend, and then I flew back to Vietnam. So, from November 2019 to June 2021, I was, like, in one place, and I was, like, desperate to move.

And so, when I got to Europe in May of this year, I was like, okay, I’ll be in Greece for three weeks. I’ll be in Slovenia for two weeks. I’ll be in Spain for a few weeks, and then I’ll be in Portugal, and I’ll be in this part of Portugal, and I’ll be in this part of Portugal. And after traveling for three months, basically straight, I’m, like, looking for an apartment, and I just want to settle down because it’s been really difficult actually having a podcast where I want to record, but sometimes I have a place to record right now for this week, I’m lucky I’ve got a really quiet place that I can record. But there was, like, a month in Spain where I couldn’t record anywhere unless I wanted to pay €30 an hour for a meeting room and a co-working space, because the place I was staying just didn’t support it. Like, there was just no way. So, I’m trying to work on myself and my business, and, like, I can’t do that if I’m moving around so much. So, also kind of going back, it seems like you where I’m kind of, like, looking for stability again.

Michael Alexis:
Yeah, I think it helps a lot. I can relate to the podcast. Less than years ago, I had one about, it’s about writing. Like, how do you become a successful writer online or books or whatever. I remember I set up an interview with Steve Kim from Nerd Fitness. And I was in Beijing at the time. I was renting the department, so I woke up at 05:00 a.m. or whatever in the morning to do the call, so it’d be a reasonable time for Steve, and woke up to fail that all the power was off, and there was no way for me to record anything. Right. It was one of those I live abroad and I can’t fix it situation. So actually, chat with Steve since we connected in New York, we’re friends there, but never got to do the interview many years ago.

Sean Weisbrot:
What year was it that you’re in Beijing?

Michael Alexis:
I first visited in 2008, so Olympics year, big year for China. And then it was two years off and on between then and now. Although by now means before pandemic, of course.

Sean Weisbrot:
So, I arrived in Wuhan in July 1, 2008. So, I was there right before the Olympics, and I was a teacher at the time. I was 21, and I wasn’t able to go to the Olympics, but for some reason, my students were like, oh, are you going to go to Olympics? I’m like, how can I go to the Olympics? I’m here teaching you guys.

Michael Alexis:
Yeah, sure.

Sean Weisbrot:
But what was also really funny was I was taking pictures of, like, no, I was sharing pictures. I brought pictures from Miami to show my students. They were all college students. And the sky was so blue because America and they’re like, no, these pictures are fake. They can’t possibly be real. No, you look outside, the sky is gray. That’s what the sky looks like. No, guys.

Michael Alexis:
So, 2012 or 13, I spent quite a bit of time there, and it was the worst years in recorded history. Right? It wasn’t just, look at the sky. It was like, oh, you can’t see the building across the street. It was very bad and sad for the people that live in the environment.

Sean Weisbrot:
What was it that drew you to being in China for so long? Most people can’t handle it for more than, like, a few weeks, let alone a few years.

Michael Alexis:
I love it. I can’t wait to go back. So, 2008, I finished up college. In my final year, I’ve done two classes in Mandarin. And the professor was like, hey, does anybody want to go to China for the summer to continue learning and improving. So, when it’s part of that trip to Nanjing with 20 or so classmates. And then when that was done, a friend and I stayed for the rest of the summer. We taught English for a bit. We backpacked around, had a good time. I found it incredibly empowering to kind of live and work, and just be there, speak in another language. It’s very challenging. It feels a little bit like play life on hard mode, which still is interesting to me now, is particularly interesting to me at the time. Just needing to figure out it’s like, oh, you want to buy a train ticket? You better figure out how or food. Right?

Like, we showed up in China even after eight months of studying, the school realized that the only words that you were like, banana and rice, you obviously want to eat much more than that. So, yeah, learning how to navigate food, and from there, make good friends, and kept going back and got involved in business there, which was fun.

Sean Weisbrot:
I learned German through middle school, sorry high school, and I took a class in in college before I went into the study abroad in Salzburg, Austria, in 2005. That was my first time being abroad. I was 18. And I realized in the two months that I was there that the four years I spent learning German was absolutely useless, because my host family didn’t speak a word of English. And being in Austria, they didn’t speak high German the way I learned in school. They spoke Bavarian, which is slightly different.

So, what I decided to do was I knew about a few months before I left for China that I was going, and I decided to learn zero. I said, I’m going to just learn on the streets with the people, because, of course, we didn’t have smartphones yet, so you could do that still. So that’s what I did. And I actually met a few people who were from Canada, and they had studied for two years in school to go to China then and use their Mandarin. And they arrived two months after I did. My Mandarin was better than theirs, and they never caught up to me, even though they stayed there for years after.

Michael Alexis:
I think you said Wuhan. In July 2008, I think I was there in August 2008. So very likely that we were there at the same time.

Sean Weisbrot:
It’s very possible. It’s a huge city. People don’t realize, what was interesting for me as an American, especially growing up in Miami and then studying in University of Florida in Gainesville. Gainesville has, like, 100,000 people in it. So, imagine I spent four years living in Gainesville, and then I flew basically from Miami after, like, a month or two being there to China, which, like, I thought was going to be this nothing little village. And here I am defined as, like, 12 million people living there. What the hell is this? It was very different and very interesting. And I was basically lied to by my agent. They were like, yeah, this is an up-and-coming city. Everyone wants to move here. It’s, like, really difficult to get a job here. And, like, just you’re lucky I’ve got a job for you. And I’m like, okay, sign me up.

And looking back, I think part of me is like, I wish I never lived in Wuhan. But the other part of me is like, if I never lived in Muhan, I may not have ever learned Chinese. So now that I have this experience, I have a specific kind of not really a formula, but I have specific things I look for when I decide where I’m going to go next. Do you have something like that?

Michael Alexis:
No. We’re actually pretty unintentional about it. So, before the pandemic, we would. So, the path that I mentioned before, it’s like, what brought us to Australia was work. We were there for museum conference, part of the museum hack business. My partner gave a keynote and I did a marketing workshop. It was the first time in the Australia, because Australia is really far from Canada in the US. So got there, spent a little bit of time, and then realized that it was a great opportunity to visit other places that previously seen too far.

So, for example, it takes forever to get to Bali, right? From almost everywhere. If you leave from Toronto, New York, Los Angeles, even when I was living in Beijing, it was like another 10 hours or something to get to Bali. So, it just didn’t go, which sounds silly now, I’ve taken a lot of flights that are way longer than that, but Australia to Bali is like 4 hours. And so, it was such a no brainer to go there next. And then from Bali to Thailand, and then from Thailand actually went back to China with those direct flights to Chengdu. And then, there’s a great rapid train that goes across the country. So, start in Chengdu, stop in Chiang Sha, and then Beijing at the end.

Sean Weisbrot:
I have to say, having been in China before the high-speed rail was finished, and then having experienced the high-speed rail many times over the years after it was finished, and then leaving China and experiencing transportation everywhere else in the world, I’m, like, depressed that the rest of the world sucks.

Michael Alexis:
A little bit. Yeah, the transportation system is incredible. Although, I imagine you’ve taken some of the overnight trains. There’s still a charm to do it, right? So, I did a group trip, I brought some friends to China, and we traveled around for two weeks. We could have taken the rapid train from Beijing, I think that one was Beijing to Chengdu, but instead took the overnight train because there’s something about the charm and talking to people and having meals on the train and all that. And then we took the rapid one back because you only have so much time in two weeks.

Sean Weisbrot:
In 2008, I had friends come to visit. That was the only time I had friends come to visit. Sorry. 2009, summer 2009. So, in ten years in China, only one group of friends came to visit. So, I’ll preface that. They arrived in Wuhan and we stayed there for like a week or so. And I had a girlfriend from Wuhan at the time and she traveled with us. We took obviously this high-speed train didn’t exist yet, so we took a train think to Gaelen, which for people who don’t know, Gaelen is a very beautiful mountainous town. It’s probably destroyed by tourism now; it wasn’t that bad in 2009. It was probably 8 or 9 hours away. It wasn’t a terribly great train experience.

And then from there we took a train to Chengdu. And the person who I bought the train ticket from at the station made me believe that it was only like 8 hours from Grayling, the Chengdu. But no, it was 25. And I thought my Chinese was good enough to express all of this and communicate this. My girlfriend was with me, but I guess she wasn’t, like, with me at the ticket buying station because I was like, uh oh, I got this, this. But it wasn’t until seven and a half hours into the train ride that I was like, okay, yes, we’re going to be there in an hour. And someone who could speak English overheard me and he was like, actually, no, we’re not even close. Like, there’s another 15 hours. What are you talking about? They’re like, well, this is the reality. And it explained. And then I went to the, I guess, the conductor or one of the people working on the train, and they’re like, oh yeah, we’ll be there at like eight in the morning. Because no, and the reason I was upset is because we didn’t get the sleeper car, we got the chicken car. Have you been on a chicken car?

Michael Alexis:
I’ve never called them that, but I know exactly what you mean.

Sean Weisbrot:
So, for people who don’t know that’s the train car that doesn’t have air conditioning. There’s fans. The fans are mostly broken. There’s also chickens running around inside and you’ve got these open little windows and you’ve got these hard seats and there’s six people in one little there’s three people with a little table facing three more people. And that’s the train car. There’s like a bunch of these tables and chickens and all that.

And I thought, yeah, we can handle this for 8 hours. But after 8 hours, realizing that it was going to be another 15 or so, I don’t remember how I responded, but I can tell you it wasn’t anything positive. We suffered for a long time for that, but Chengdu was gorgeous and the People’s Park was gorgeous. And there was this restaurant there inside of the park, and they had Kung Pao chicken. It was the best Kung Pao chicken I’ve had in my life. I don’t know if you’ve ever been to the People’s Park.

Yeah. China is and has been this incredible, life changing experience for me. I wish more people could experience it. As you said, it’s one of those places you look forward to going back to. I lived there for ten years. I spent my 20s in China. For me, China is my home, and having to leave China was really sad. It’s still sad. I miss China a lot, but I don’t want to go back. That’s one of the reasons why I’m in Europe now.

So, yeah, you’ve been traveling for ten or eleven years. How many countries have you been to? And besides China, what’s your favorite one so far, and why?

Michael Alexis:
I don’t know the exact number, and I guess never measured it that way. Frankly, part of it was like, I traveled a lot before China, right. So I’d go, hey, I’m in Europe. I want to visit as many countries as I can in Europe. Even if it’s just, like, a stopover in Luxembourg or something before you go on to Belgium, because, hey, at least I could say I visited Luxembourg.

I guess most of Europe, a handful of places in Asia, but once I went to China, I just kept going back to China. All other travel, other than, I guess, a couple of things that came up with work just stopped. Beyond China, there’s a couple of places that think of family in my heart. Korea is wonderful geographically, of course, very close to China. There’s something special in Korea with, it’s actually going to sound very cliche. The people make it so great. You can say that about almost everywhere you go. But my experience, the people that I specifically met in Korea were wonderful. And the food is so good, arguably, I don’t know if put it above or below Chinese cuisine, but they’re my two favorites.

And then the Canaries were surprisingly nice too. So, Canary Islands, where we were before the Pandemic, relatively small island. I think you can drive around the whole thing in like 3 hours. We made some stops along the way, but small cities, very happy to be there for seven months. And the Pandemic, if there’s any silver lining to it, at least for us and being stuck there was that there were no tourists, which meant that we could enjoy things like the beautiful boardwalk and the oceanfront and these places that are often bustling with people just in quiet and by ourselves. So, it’s quite serene, quite nice.

Sean Weisbrot:
How do you handle work as you travel?

Michael Alexis:
Sometimes very well, sometimes less so. The outside of Canaries was that for that seven months we were basically on dialogue internet from the 90s. Right. It was so difficult, especially with the previous company going to zero and needing to rebuild, sometimes we could barely do zoom calls, etc. And other locations can be much better in a location now that has Fiber Internet, even though we’re on a remote island. It’s like I don’t know how that exists, but it does extremely well. And better than kind of the town I grew up, and frankly, better than New York City and parts of it. There is a balance of trying to work and enjoy the places you’re in as well, which I would confess I’m not good at. I think we lean a little bit too much towards work.

So, spending three weeks in the Greek islands is potentially incredible except barely left the hotel room. Mostly just left to go to the grocery store to get goods to come back and keep going. So not enough balance in the past. I think an exception to that is when we intentionally visit places that we have friends at and then spend more time with them. Have a good friend in Bali and would spend a lot more time together in China. Going to visit friends would be a really nice break from work.

The most challenging place that I’ve ever tried to work from is cruise ships. So, you can do the 3-4-5-6 days once around the Caribbean and that’s fine. And internet, I don’t know, it might be like $20 a day, which is expensive Internet, but it generally works. You can do your thing. I recently did a transatlantic cruise with a good buddy. Actually, there were five of us total, so group of people. And it started in Miami, it ended in Amsterdam. Barely any stops along the way. Mostly ocean days. Once you hit the middle of the ocean, it doesn’t matter how much you pay for Internet. It’s so painfully slow and similar where, had work that we really needed to be doing. And you’re in that rough spot, kind of like you on your chicken train ride, right?

It’s like, oh, God, we’re only eight days into this. There’s another eight days to go before we can that we could do something normal. We work through it and have it should give credit to, we have fantastic team smart hardworking people who are very capable and competent, aside from us. So, the business continues to run. It’s more were just the projects that we personally really wanted to work on, invest our time in that got delayed or shortened.

Sean Weisbrot:
To be fair, when I was on the train, I was a teacher. So, when I traveled, I had no work with me. When I was younger, I was like, I’m going to go to Thailand for a month. And I had zero work to do when I was in Thailand that month, and I could enjoy the hell out of my time. So, part of me does think fondly back on those times when I could travel for weeks or months at a time and didn’t have to work, but then at the same time, I wouldn’t be making money. So of course, I’d have to go back to work to make more money to be able to travel again. So, I think there’s a benefit in having a job that you can do no matter where you are. So, you can always make money and spend it wherever you want.

When I was in Greece in May, I had a friend there who I actually met in Shenzhen. He’s from Athens, and we’re close there for a few years before I left and all that. And I hadn’t seen him in like, four or five years. So, I was like, I have to get to Greece. It’s got to be my first stop in Europe. I missed this guy. We were really close in China, and it was really cool because I basically stepped into his life. I got to see his friends, I got to see the places he likes to go. I got to meet his mom and his dog, and I got to stay at their house for a few days. Otherwise, I was at Airbnb. But there was a part of Athens where, for his birthday, we ended up going to one of his friends’ weddings, which was amazing. Seeing a big fat Greek wedding, being invited to that. It’s not something that you would normally experience as a tourist, but like you said, I have spent the last 15 years building a network of friends. And as I go to new countries, I make friends with people when I’m there, and I keep in touch with them. And sometimes they stay there and I’ll go back and visit them. And sometimes they’ll move to somewhere else and I’ll go visit them there.

Sean Weisbrot:
So, for example, another friend of mine is from Belgrade. And when I was an HR manager in Shenzhen, I hired him to come over to China and work. And that was nine years ago. We ended up living together. We became friends. We both left that company after some time. We remained friends for a few years before I left, and he left. And then a few years later, he was living in Barcelona and I was in Israel. And I was like, hey, I’m going to go over to Barcelona and see you for a week or two. And he’s like, yeah, come on over. So, I went there and I stayed with him and his wife. And funny enough, his wife, she’s from Slovenia. They met in China. So, I kind of enabled him to find his wife. And now they’re living in Lluliana. So, after Athens, I went to Lluliana because I hadn’t seen them since Barcelona in 2018. And now they got a little boy, and they’re also friends with the Greek guys because they all met in China as well. So that was really cool to be able to spend that time with them. And from there, when I went to Valencia for a month, I actually lived with a guy I met on a digital nomad’s channel on Telegram five years ago. And it just so happened that another guy in the channel is also from Valencia.

And then there’s a Swedish guy also living in Valencia from that channel. So, I got to spend a month with them. And it’s just so cool to be able to travel and meet people you’ve known online for years or to see people again you’ve been friends with. So, it’s really cool to be able to just walk into their lifestyle and just see what they love about the places they’re in.

Michael Alexis:
Okay, now I’m curious. I found that having a network of friends all around the world is incredible for a very similar reason, but that it’s also been that I don’t have as high a concentration of threads in any place. Have you the same thing? Is that played into where you settled, etcetera.

Sean Weisbrot:
So, when I went to Vietnam, I only knew one person. And that person is now an investor in my company. But I met him in Shenzhen, actually, at, like, a private dinner party for, like, Crypto Bros. And they were all Chinese. They didn’t speak any English. They’re all in their twenties. They’re throwing $10-20,000 dinner parties, and one person will just pay for the whole meal for all the people there. It’s like crazy stuff. And he happened to be a guest, and I was a guest as well, at this one party. And we met, we became friends. And now, seven years later, he’s invested in my company. But I ended up moving to Vietnam. One of the reasons was because of him. And I built friendships that were there as well, but I’d actually been to Vietnam in 2011 first. So, I kind of had an idea of what it was like.

But coming to Portugal again, I didn’t know anybody. So, I tend to normally just pick where I want to go based on where I think has the best potential for myself. And I tend to travel short term to places where I know people so that I know that I’m going to have, like, a fun time because I have a strategy for how to very quickly become a local in any place. But if I know someone that’s already there, it makes it better because I do my own research. But then also they’re like, oh, hey, by the way, let’s go meet this person, or let’s go to this restaurant. I’ve known the owners since I was five. These kinds of things that add a lot of context and love to the experience that you would normally never experience just as a person going by yourself.

Michael Alexis:
Yeah, sure. Plus, it’s nice if a friend invites you to the wedding that you just show up on your own. It’s a little bit weird.

Sean Weisbrot:
Yeah, well, I was supposed to leave a few days before his birthday. I didn’t even like, for some reason, he never told me his birthday in all these years. And he’s like, oh, by the way, my birthday is in two days. Would you mind staying? And I was like, of course, man. Yeah, of course I want to stay for your birthday. Sure. So, then we were supposed to do something for his birthday. And he’s like, well, all those plans fell apart, but my friend is having a wedding, so I got you and let’s go. Okay.

Sean Weisbrot:
So, like, just the randomness, I think, of these kinds of lifestyle is cool. So, one of the things that I think about that I think a lot of people are shocked by, which I think you are very similar to me in is minimalism. So, I have a backpack, and I have a 25-inch rolling luggage I recently upgraded. I had, like, a ten-year-old backpack and a ten-year-old duffel bag. And I said, I’m tired of carrying those things around, so I’m going to get something nicer. But at 36, that’s my life. Everything I have fits in those things. If it doesn’t fit in, it doesn’t go. How do you move around? Is that something similar for you?

Michael Alexis:
For the last ten years, it was, after college, I moved across the country for law school. Got rid of all my stuff. When law school ended, I got rid of all my stuff again. I was like, why even get more stuff? Because I probably wouldn’t get rid of it. Just started living out of a small backpack. I become much more sophisticated with it over time. So, the pack that I carry, the pack that I’m very comfortable to live out of, is just a 20-liter bags, like a book bag, right? Laptop bag. The one that I use is the Manal Daily, and the items that go into it are very intentionally chosen.

So, for example, the pants are from Patagonia. They’re more like windbreaker shell pants that fold up into basically nothing. They’re like 1/20th of the size of even just one pair of jeans. Same for the jacket, same for the shirts. It’s like two shirts, two pairs of underwear, one pants, one shorts, laptop, toiletries. It’s a very short list of things that lived with for a long time. Now that I settled, there’s a condo, there’s a bed, there’s furniture, right? Like, it no longer all fits in just a backpack. But I was a purist for a long time. Even when I moved here, coming through customs was very challenging because they said they pulled me aside, as they would if they thought that something you’re carrying was an issue or you’re trying to bring in too much value stuff through customs or whatever. And they just looked at my bag, and they were like, where’s the rest of your stuff? They said, this is all I got. They said, how could that be? And I would I’m a minimalist right on this guy that’s just, I don’t know, very happy and content with that lifestyle, but it’s very foreign to them, right?

This wasn’t communicating well, so they opened up. They went through every single little piece with the framework. And what they said to me was, like, we understand that you’re a minimalist, but I would take more of this on a three-day vacation, right? Like, if they would somewhere, they would have a bag and a side bag or a suitcase or whatever. And so, it got increasingly difficult as they would ask questions like, well, how long do you stay at that site? I moved here permanently. And on and on from there.

I think their particular concern was that there were strict quarantines at the time. And so, initially, coming into the country, it’s, like, 14 days. So, if you’re not of the mindset, and if you’ve never tried to live out of a backpack before, it’s like, oh, of course, this guy is going to need more stuff. Like, he’s going to have to break quarantine. He’s going to have to go and get things. And as you know, the reality is, actually, you can live out of that small bag pretty much indefinitely if you have kind of the right items with you.

Sean Weisbrot:
I have to concede the crown to you, because I have a lot more stuff than that. Like, I think I have two weeks’ worth of socks and underwear and shirts. But like two pairs of shorts and two pairs of pants.

I guess, because if I know I’m going to be somewhere for two weeks, I know that I can arrive with everything clean. And when I leave, I’ll do the laundry and when I get to the next exposed, it is clean again. So, I just don’t want to clean stuff every day or two.

Michael Alexis:
Yeah, that’s fair. I think part of it would be my lifestyle. I tend to just stay home and work. And so, if you’re not going outside and getting sweaty, dirty, whatever, you can just wear, a shirt, especially. They’re all like wall shirts or natural fibers or whatever. They tend to not get as stinky as fast. So, you can wear it for a week and then rinse it in sink and you’re pretty much good again. And then the shorts and pants and stuff are no problem.

Yeah, I think different preferences and optimizing towards them. My friend Tynan, so Tynan.com, is a lot more probably sophisticated and thoughtful about how he does it. Like, he wants a wardrobe that is a little bit more diverse. So, it’s a button up shirt that you could wear casually hanging out with friends or to a formal dinner, or to literally anything. Versus if I go to a formal dinner, I’m showing up at a T shirt because that’s what I have, that’s what I brought. That’s what I’m comfortable with.

Sean Weisbrot:
You moved there seven months ago, you said?

Michael Alexis:
I think a year and a half.

Sean Weisbrot:
And when did you buy the condo? Was that a difficult decision for you because of the minimalism?

Michael Alexis:
Yeah, so I rented a place for about a year first or ten months, or whatever the term was, and probably would have been very happy to just continue renting, especially places here tend to come furnished. I found the same thing in China. Right. It’s like if you rented an apartment, there’s already been there, there’s a desk and stuff, which was nice, but buying, I guess I had a couple of things going for it.

One is it did seem like the ultimate investment in stability. There is something about when you’re renting where it’s still the landlord spot, right. And if they want to come in and do stuff or whatever. And also, being at a place where I was ready to get more things that I wanted and like so when I traveled in the past, for example, if I go in, if I go and stay in New York City for six months, I would buy a tempurpedic bed or a higher quality one, because to me, having high quality sleep for that six month was very, very important. If I rented a place, they would have super crappy spring bread. I wouldn’t sleep well. That would be six uncomfortable months. And so, buying a place where I knew that I was going to live for a long time meant, like, oh, it makes more sense to buy the very comfortable bed that I want to get a good desk chair, to get whatever it happens to be. So, investment in kind of long-term comfort, I think, is one way to put it.

Sean Weisbrot:
I can definitely appreciate that. When I was in Vietnam and I had a two-bedroom apartment, I specifically asked the landlord to take all of the furniture out of the second room because I don’t need another bed.

Michael Alexis:
Yeah, exactly.

Sean Weisbrot:
And so, I put a desk and a chair in there. There’s, like, $100 for the desk and, like, $50 for the chair. But I worked from there, and that was my quiet space. And I told my ex-wife, like, this is my space. I need to work here, so if the door is closed, leave me alone. And it worked quite well until she decided to ignore the door. But that’s beside the point, and I also had a bike, because actually, I got these things in her hometown. We were living in Nattrang. I don’t know if you know much about Vietnam. It’s like this beautiful little seaside town with maybe 250,000 people, and we were renting a four-story house. It was like, $500 a month.

And the house was like this ridiculous thing. And it had no real separation between the floors, so it was extremely hot all the time. So, I had to be in my room. So, the only place I could work was in my room. So, I had to get a desk and a chair for it. And I got a bicycle and all that because it’s seaside and who doesn’t want to ride bike next to the ocean?

And when I moved back to the city, I took that with me. It was a bitch to bring it back, and it was expensive, but it was worth it. And I ended up selling it when I left Vietnam. So, I understand that for sure. But I hate making those purchases because I know I have to get rid of them. And so, it’s annoying to buy them because you have to look for them, and then you have to wait for them to come, and then you have to hope you like them, and then you have to get rid of them when you’re done. It’s easier for me to justify tell the landlord, hey, can you just provide this stuff?

Michael Alexis:
Yes, fair.

Sean Weisbrot:
And sometimes to say yes. So, like, for example, looking for department right now in Lisbon, and the owner is French of this place that I found. She owns the building. She’s furnished everything herself, decorated everything herself. In the one that I want, it doesn’t really have like, a work desk. There’s like a kitchen table, like a table you can work at, how you can eat at. And like, normally I would say I’m fine to work there, but in the apartment upstairs, there’s like, a working desk with a chair. And I’m like, can you move that into my apartment? That would be great. So, I’m like, hoping she says yes, because otherwise I have to find something for myself, unfortunately. But, yeah, sometimes landlords can be on your side, and other times they’re not on your side. But one of the problems I found in Lisbon is that a lot of the places didn’t want to furnish and they don’t have air conditioning.

And so, I’m like, it has to be fully furnished, it has to be a modern style, and it has to have aircon. And they’re like, sure, one €1500 a month, please, guys, come on. But fine, whatever.

Sean Weisbrot:
So, I want to talk a little bit more about your business as we come to a close here. So, you have a team of between 82 to a hundred, depending on the year. At this stage in your business, what are you focused on the most?

Michael Alexis:
Yeah, so, a few things within the company. There’s myself and COO, Tasia, who basically co-COs, right. We run the company together and make all high-level decisions together. A lot of smaller decisions, too. And then we have a management team, where there’s individuals for the head of each department and then the folks that come under them. The management team is the one that we want to continue to develop the most.

So, with the number of people we have, with the amount of client work we do, with the complexity of operations now you just need more managers, and more specific ones. So, for example, one of the current managers has been essentially in charge of multiple departments. So, removing her from that so she can focus on one specialty. And then bringing in somebody who would take on, for example, the time success or client support management role, or whatever you would call it, bringing on a sales director, bringing on a management director who would kind of leave all operations to reduce the number of points of contact that we have.

Just like hiring well and systematizing. Beyond that and what that enables is more growth. So, with our business, yeah, virtual was very big throughout the pandemic. It continues to be pretty significant, although remote teams or teams that are still kind of working between cities and so on. But we’ve also reintroduced in person events in the last three months. And that has allowed us to continue growth. It has also, in some ways, doubled the complexity of the business. We’re running two businesses. One is a virtual business. One is in person events. And so, pursuing those in a way that will be successful for the long term.

Sean Weisbrot:
How do you discover that someone new needs to be hired? Basically, how do you discover that bottleneck? That point at which something is not working and the only solution is to put someone in charge of it?

Michael Alexis:
Yeah, good question. I think there’s a number of ways. The most direct and easy to identify is what am I currently doing that’s not the highest value thing that I could be contributing to. Right? So, for example, in the past, I did a lot of our content marketing stuff. At first, I was literally writing the articles, and then we hired a writer and I was editing the articles. And then she grew to be an editor as I kind of went up and up the chain. So, I’m still connected to our content and a marketing process, but she leaves a lot of it. And if you can really, as the head of the company, literally everything you do should be up for delegation. And if there’s not a current team member that can take it on, it does usually mean hiring or outsourcing or automation, or one of the alternatives, another way is just looking at other companies and what they do.

So, our sales process, for example, is pretty strong. We have a team right now, I think, six sales reps, as well as the management structure for that department, and the managers excellence and all the systems run very well. But we look at another company to go a sales director is a role we should explore that, like, what would it mean in our organization? What would it enable and allow? So, those would be the strongest two. One, delegating off what you already do and to look at what other companies do towards the same goals you have.

Sean Weisbrot:
If there is a position that you need to let someone go for, do you jump into that role and see how you can improve it while you’re trying to hire someone to replace it? Or how do you handle that vacuum?

Michael Alexis:
So usually, there’s already a fair amount, I shouldn’t say now, there’s a fair amount of redundancy built into the business. And that, for example, if there’s six or ten or whatever sales reps, clients, advisers on the team, if one person leaves, the work volume slightly adjusts, and everything continues to operate fine. Same with customer service in a way. Same with marketing or operations or event host or whatever it is. Let’s not say, so, that the individual contribution of everybody is incredibly important, and I wouldn’t suggest otherwise. But the team will always adjust and carry it on. If there is a larger vacuum and you need to identify what to hire for, I think that, I don’t know that we jump in directly in those cases.

The patient I and the management team are involved, very directly in a lot of ground level work. And so, our maintenance be already in tune with it and know what we need and know what we need to hire for. Which is helpful perspective. I think if you don’t know what your people do and how they do it and the challenges they go through in the day to achieve the results that you want them to. Then you’d be very disconnected from the business in a way that it’s not going to allow you to run it successfully and that employees are going to recognize. Right. I think that if you are willing and are actively involved with all aspects of the business, people can see that and appreciate it and know more that their work matters and is important. That’s a little bit of attention, but I think it’s a good one.

Sean Weisbrot:
How often do you do team building? And how often are you directly attending those team building exercises with your team?

Michael Alexis:
Yeah, so team building for clients literally every day. Right. Many events every day, every week, every month. Internally, we do a handful of different things. And I think team building can be, we could say team building events, or you could team building activities, team buildings, team building meetups, whatever it is, can be more expensive. But we do almost all of our own events internally, both as a way to connect people as well as a way to demo them, so that everybody knows what’s going on.

We have, in the virtual realm, 30 plus events. And so that’s probably the 30 plus internal team building events that we’ve done. And then as part of that, and in some cases, in addition to it, one of the best events that we found for our team is to do trivia that’s aligned with identity month. So Black History Month. Pride Month. Women’s History Month, where we’ll have an hour of trivia set up. It’s not just trivia questions, the puzzles and things that people solve together. And then it’s a way to do team building together. It’s also a way to educate and promote diversity. At the end, the winning team selects a charity or nonprofit, and the company makes a donation on everybody’s behalf to it. And it’s very good.

Aside from that, we do, I guess. I don’t know if smaller is the right word, but we could call smaller team building stuff for now. So, we do team lunches. We do each department will get together. We do elements of team building in our monthly all hands meeting. So, really, I guess the short answer would be a lot. We do a lot of team building.

Sean Weisbrot:
Sometimes, we’ll arrange team building and I’ll show up for some amount of the time, or sometimes I won’t show up at all because I want the team to focus on each other. I’m trying to balance that. Some of the things we’ve done in the past is we use Alt space VR. Only my CTO and I have headsets, so everyone else uses the browser-based version. But inside of there, we built our own worlds. And we’ve got trivia in there, and there’s music and some, like, darts and basketball and stuff that they can just throw around with the keyboard and mouse and all that. But we also have cards against humanity, and so sometimes we’ll play cards against humanity in VR. Which is hilarious, but also, sometimes I feel weird, like, especially because we have females in the team and they’ll play and they, like, take it pretty well. In fact, they’re probably more dirty than I am. Or maybe I’m just holding myself back. I don’t know. Have you ever played cards against humanity? Or would you say, as a CEO? I don’t think it’s right.

Michael Alexis:
I played it with friends. I don’t know that I play with staff so similar to you. I attend some of the team bond events and then I intentionally don’t attend others. An example of that would be we have an upcoming company retreat in New York, where fine, everybody in a meeting there. And so, there’s some of the evening social activities where it’s just let our team go to joy without the I don’t even know if pressure is the right word, but without us being there, so they could just do their thing. So yeah, very relatable. I get it. I also love the VR ID and the browser based.

Sean Weisbrot:
That’s cool. How can people follow up with you?

Michael Alexis:
MichaelAlexis.com is a good spot. I’m pretty sure my email is still on there. If you have to play population one, that would be a good place to connect. We can squad up, and yeah, not active on social media, so that would be a path down the wrong hole.

Sean Weisbrot:
Fair enough. Well, thank you, Michael. I appreciate your time and your energy. And don’t forget that entrepreneurship is a marathon, not a sprint. So, take care of yourself every day. And don’t forget to do team building activities with your team, because if you don’t, then your team will probably hate you and your company will die.