We hosted Matthew Esterhuizen at Surf Office Lisbon a few months ago, just after he’d fearlessly left the company he’d set up a few years previously to become a remote worker. He told us why he stepped out of his comfort zone and about his awesome side project of remotely creating a virtual reality game. Here’s how Matt turned the fantasy of remote working into a reality.
What’s your background?
I started out as a VFX animator 17 years ago and since then have owned two production companies, directed commercials, as well as VFX, and have supervised countless projects around the world.
What made you decide to work remotely?
After seven years of running my production company in London, I decided that I had stopped learning. I was just doing job after job and managing timelines and people. Creativity was stunted, and I had become pigeonholed into one type of media that was the most profitable. I went on a vacation to Bali by myself and ended up diving there for the first time and realised that life didn’t have to be stuck behind a desk.
I met a few people on my travels, who were happy, relaxed, and had steady work just from sitting in front of their laptops. Some were life coaches and some were running entire online empires. I realised these people had chosen to live their life without an office but still earn money doing what they loved. I figured that my world was totally digital, so why could I not do the same?
There is a whole world out there where money is not the only thing on offer. I was addicted to the experience of culture and new surroundings. In that vein, I decided to sell my company to my business partner, cancel my lease on my apartment, sell everything, pack what was important in a bag and leave.
Do you have any plans to settle anytime soon?
I have found that I do need some sort of anchor, at the moment that is my sister’s house in the UK. However, I love Lisbon and want to buy a house there and use that as my base of operations soon.
You’ve settled in Lisbon a bit before — what do you love about it?
Wow, what’s not to love! From the cheap beer to the delicious food, not to mention the amazing people and the 365 days of sunshine!
I love to surf, and I enjoy running outdoors - this is very easy in Lisbon due to the weather and space. I really enjoy the language and the mentality of the people here. I also feel Lisbon is a melting pot of startups and heralds a new digital movement in the startup ecosystem.
What’s your favorite destination to work remotely from and why?
Well, that’s a tough one as I feel I haven’t been to enough places to give that answer justice. However, I would have to say Lisbon and Sardinia.
Can you tell us about your VR project you’ve got going on?
I am currently working on a VR project that will be an intergalactic adventure game starting on Earth. I have teamed up with the head of Unreal Development at Frame Store London, and we are hoping to find a place in Lisbon where we can take two months out of our steady work schedule and dedicate it to pushing this project to the level it needs to be ready for investment.
We’re incredibly excited about this and can’t wait to push it forward and where better than the shores of Lisbon?
Where do you think the future of VR is heading?
VR will definitely become another medium of film, games, and interactivity. Technology and digital development marches forward in leaps and bounds, and everyday VR is becoming better and better. By next year it will be mainstream, and I’m excited to see what part I can play in the movement.
Any tips for anyone looking to go remote?
Become social! You need to understand that when you go remote you leave your social circle, your routines, and your habits behind you. You have to adapt and become vehemently independent.
This can be a lonely life, and you may often feel a little secluded, to avoid this I suggest being open and connecting with people wherever you are; in a coffee shop or a co-working space. It’s a wonderful opportunity to meet others, and you never know where this will lead.
Always travel as light as possible, don’t pack stuff you don’t need (smart shoes, heavy jacket, etc.) You can always buy the smaller items along the way.
Get to know the apps for travelling and that will make your life easier and cheaper. You will be shocked what deals are out there for flights just by using various apps designed for finding deals such as Skyscanner and Hopper.
Make sure the laptop you choose is right for you and has all the needs you require. I used to travel with two laptops, a PC, and a MacBook. This is very heavy and can be a pain! I found I was using one more than the other and sold the other one soon after!
Study the place you’re going to be remote working from via Lonely Planet so that you can enjoy the culture more when you arrive. Also, you might get so into working that you forget to get away from your laptop; try to remember you are in an amazing place and you don’t need to work like a dog all the time. Also, set your own times for working and try to make it into a routine. This will make life much easier!
Stay healthy too. Develop a sport or exercise routine that you can do anywhere.
That’s about it :)