Dhruva Rao interned at Artoo for two weeks in July, 2018. This piece was written by him, in order to encapsulate some of his learnings and experiences during his short stint here.
Most movie buffs would attribute ‘Artoo’ to the loyal and widely loved robot R2D2 from Star Wars. Sameer Segal, co-founder and CEO of the eponymous FinTech, mused that it represented the company’s unflinching loyalty to the dozens of banks and lakhs of underprivileged people that it served. Within a week of my internship here I realised that he wasn’t joking. I saw traces of the beloved robot in every employee working there, all the way from the software team and design guys to the sales team and account managers. Though Artoo doesn’t impose minimum employee hours or reward overtime, I routinely saw people clocking in well over the eight-hour workday and working to resolve issues at ungodly hours.
They know who they were working for — the poor farmer who could have escaped the vicious cycle of moneylenders if only he could have availed a good loan, and the village lady who could have broken free from an abusive household if only she could have found the money to buy herself a sewing machine. It is a shared sense of purpose that leads them to plough forward, and makes them a family.
I joined Artoo as an intern, with a desire to learn how to become a mobile developer. Artoo gave me a chance by allowing me to design an app for them that would allow them to switch their devices between servers (long story — I might get into that some other day). Though the task was challenging and was entirely new to me, I thoroughly enjoyed it. It taught me how to use resources online, consult people, and as a whole learn how to teach myself to do something new. Mentoring me was a brilliant developer at Artoo whose name is Sachin. Putting myself in his place, I would have probably gone crazy answering all the questions that I asked him. He took it upon himself to patiently explain to me the simplest of things as well as the craziest of concepts, even putting his own work on hold. I even got to have conversations with people in sales and product design which gave me a much better idea of how a startup works.
As intense as the learning experience at Artoo was for me, there were also a plethora of lighter moments; lunchtime at Artoo, in fact, deserves an article of its own. The midday meal is probably the only thing that divides the Artoo employees. Roughly half the people bring their lunchboxes from home and huddle around the 2*6 feet table in the center of the office — the ‘colly’ — while the rest opt to take a trip to the nearest eatery. In a matter of minutes, the conversation redirects from machine learning and behavioural science to Champak and Marvel’s Avengers. You would typically see Abhineet — the Indian Schwarzenegger (the veins on his muscles are bigger than my muscles) — taking over a fourth of the table, while Lohit prowls around taking a bite out of every tiffin, with Sameer occasionally dropping by, pulling someone or the other’s leg, or basking in the happy-glow-aftermath of a deal that he’s managed to seal. There’s also a once a week ritual at Artoo whereby someone brings doughnuts, gulab jamuns, or any other sweet, and leaves it on the ‘colly’ with a group message on the common chat declaring it open season. At that moment all diets are put on hold, all cheat days are encashed, and it is every man for himself. Artoo is united by its common vision but divided by food.
And speaking of common vision, something that I realised that everyone shares, is this streak within us, the desire to make a difference. My two weeks at Artoo was the closest I’ve ever gotten to discovering that streak. Suddenly, the high paying consulting job at McKinsey doesn’t seem that lucrative. Maybe I’d rather bring a smile to a million faces than earn a million dollars. Maybe I’d rather be remembered than just be a memory. Make a difference, join Artoo.