Mauro Alencar, Geoff Edwards and Jeremy Brown launch DOJO in San Francisco

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From left: DOJO Partner/ECD Geoff Edwards, Partner/ECD Mauro Alencar and Partner/CFO and Operations Jeremy Brown
From left: DOJO Partner/ECD Geoff Edwards, Partner/ECD Mauro Alencar and Partner/CFO and Operations Jeremy Brown
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Take two. Industry vets Geoff Edwards, Mauro Alencar and Jeremy Brown who were last seen departing from newly rebranded San Francisco shop Fancy, are back on the scene. The three have launched a new S.F. agency, DOJO, bringing in a new partner—Brazil's ABC Group, but forging the same creative vision they had for their former shop.

In February, the three had joined San Francisco's Seismicom, rebranding it as Fancy, S.F., with the hopes of transforming the promotions shop into a new model agency. However, within a week of the company's launch, they realized things weren't as they seemed. According to DOJO Partner/ECD Alencar, their new agency partner "was biting off more than it could chew" and didn't have the promised resources to support Edwards and Alencar's plan. "We believed in our vision so much—it was a legitimate position but with the wrong partner," says Alencar. "Very quickly, when we identified there was no chance that was going to happen with our partner, we had to move on." Calls to the Fancy office led to a directory for Brandforce, the name of a promotions company that had previously been integrated into Seismicom.

"It's a very, very different thing when you're trying to merge visions with somebody," adds Partner/ECD Edwards. "You're basically teaching while you're doing, as opposed to having a white sheet of paper, which is what we have now." The blank slate comes courtesy the trio's new backing partner, Brazil's ABC Group.

Founded by the much-awarded Brazilian creative businessman Nizan Guanaes, ABC ranks 20th in the Ad Age list of Top Agency Companies, with nearly $280 million in revenues. It has also established a successful foothold in the States, as a backing partner in Pereira O'Dell, the shop run by former AKQA honchos Andrew O'Dell and P.J. Pereira.

Guanaes himself has had a successful advertising career—he was the founder of celebrated agency DM9 (now DM9 DDB) and has served as a Cannes jury president multiple times. He also has a long history with Alencar. He had given Alencar his first advertising internship at DM9 and now Guanes says he's giving him and the Dojo team the freedom to build their own enterprise. Terms of the partnership were not disclosed, but "They'll absolutely be completely independent," says Guanaes. "I have been very low key. I want them to be perceived as their own agency. If people are performing, doing well and know their business like no other, I don't think I need to get in the way. "

DOJO is essentially founded on the same principles the partners intended for Fancy. "We believe in a collective model in which we partner with the best in class to deliver the work," Alencar says. "We only bring the best minds to a project, the client gets the very senior people to be very hands on with their accounts, we want to partner with really good people in entertainment, music, technology and IT. We want to be able to do the quality of work that we've done before in our careers and to charge properly for that. We want to partner with our clients in success, so the financial model will be based on that too."

As for the agency's new shingle, "Dojo means the place of the way, a place where there are masters, where there are students, a place you go to get better, where you fight your ass off to accomplish something," Alencar explains. "Fight is a part of it—when you see our logo you'll see that" (the shop's marque incorporates the agency's name into a set of brass knuckles).

"There's a better way for agencies to run," Edwards says. "Doctors don't prescribe medication before they know what the symptoms are. And that's what a lot of agencies do, as opposed to a model that's leaner and more nimble that taps the best in breed to work on those specific assignments and when those are done, they go away. This modular system we think will be more effective."

"We understand and recognize that new companies say very similar things in different language," Alencar adds. "So we want to prove ourselves with the work. The stuff we're doing now has ad-like elements, it's definitely communications and advertising and will make people engage with brands for a long time. But people are going to look at it and go, Oh we can do that too?" The DOJO team, currently made up of ten staffers, is already well into its first projects, including a social networking and advocacy program for LG, an interactive assignment for Demand Media and a new marketing concept promoting the new album of a major recording artist, in association with Kerstin Emhoff and Paul Hunter's production company, PrettyBird.

"It was tough to see things happen the way they did," Alencar says. "It was tough to hear people saying things that were not true and not be able to address it and talk about it. But honestly, this was probably the most important year of our careers. It's a huge leap to go from being good at what you do to being a good businessman, and to running a company in the middle of a recession with a new vision and challenging people with that vision. We know the message was right. We didn't make a mistake on the vision. We made a mistake on the partner."

"Failure's an interesting thing, especially as it pertains to this business," Edwards says. "Because it's not going to stop us from taking chances.That's what this business is about."

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