How joining a startup in Brazil proved to be a life changing experience

Santi McAllister

When I decided to join Divibank in Brazil for my summer internship little did I know that it was going to be a life changing experience. I had always wanted to work for a Startup and was determined to make the most out of my 7 weeks at the company. I kicked off my internship by introducing myself to the team and further understanding the business model and financial service offerings in detail. I have to confess that I was nervous of talking to the team as I had recently started to learn Portuguese in Duolingo and I had never really had a conversation. The people were amazing! They were patient, encouraged my efforts, and did everything in their power to make me feel at home.

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It reminded me of a quote I read in the book from “Good to Great” that the dean of my undergraduate business school, Henry Bradford, gifted to the graduating class of May 2017. “First Who ... Then What. We expected that good-to-great leaders would begin by setting a new vision and strategy. We found instead that they first got the right people on the bus, the wrong people off the bus, and the right people in the right seats—and then they figured out where to drive it. The old adage ‘People are your most important asset’ turns out to be wrong. People are not your most important asset. The right people are.” After finishing my first week two things were clear, i.) the team consisted of the right people in the right seats and ii.) I was going to do everything in my power to contribute as much as I could to help the company liveup to its full potential.

The following weeks we worked alongside the management team to determine objectives with expected completion dates. These objectives would have been unattainable without the unparalleled support of all of the Divibankers. During the 5th week we presented the key identified recommendations Divibank should follow to continue scaling its operations. It was amazing to see how receptive the leadership team was to the recommendations and how decisive they were to execute - coming from the corporate world I was much more accustomed to multiple decision layers before moving forward.


Therefore, we agreed on performing a workshop on the 6th week to align all of the team members on what was agreed moving forward. The workshop had an amazing participation and it was great to see how all of the hard work of the last couple of weeks had paid off. I’m confident that all the analyses that were done by the team during this time will help Divibank better navigate through its scaling phase.

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Time has taught me that there is more to life than work! What made this experience memorable was the sweet spot between impactful work in a beautiful country, and extraordinary people inside and outside of the office. Supported by my Portuguese vocabulary repertoire improvement through Duolingo (I highly recommend this application) and the patience of my colleagues, I was able to immerse myself more into Brazilian culture and was even able to do a 10-minute summary in Portuguese of what I had been working on the last couple of weeks (something that seemed impossible a couple of weeks back). I also understood that Brazil is not only the 8th largest economy in the world, it is a country that stands out from the rest thanks to its friendly people (always willing to help), its beautiful landscapes (I can't even describes “Os Lençois Maranhenses”), and its top class culinary offerings (sushi, pizza, açai, feijoada, cachaça, pão de queijo, tapiocas, etc.).

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In terms of friendships, I was fortunate enough to meet people through colleagues at Divibank but also through friends that were working at other Startups, consulting, and VCs in São Paulo. I’m confident that the people I met during my time in Brazil will become life-long friends and our paths will surely cross again in the future as potential business partners. I want to share an anecdote, when I arrived in Brazil a friend of mine introduced me to the term “Saudades”, an untranslatable word in Portuguese that refers to a sense of loneliness and incompleteness. Now I understand that this term is rooted in Brazilian culture and in order to understand its true meaning one needs to experience this amazing culture. In hindsight, I’m leaving this beautiful country with only good memories and a desire to come back in the future. Finally, I would like to thank all of the team at Divibank for having made this a life changing experience and for making me feel at home since day one!

Muito obrigado, e até a próxima pessoal! Eu sentirei muitas saudades da Divibank e do Brasil!

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