19 May 2015 17:49 IST

Put a shark in your tank

Or how to profit from challenges to growth


Choose a job you like and you will never have to work a day in your life

Build a clear vision of the future. Vision with consistency of purpose holds the key

Welcome challenges. They are opportunities disguised.

Capitalise your business adequately

Back in the late 1980s the stock market was still unregulated but I had a particular fascination for equities; I had always dabbled a bit in investments. It also needed little finance as there was very little regulation and fairly easy capital adequacy norms those days.

So, with the contacts I had, I started a sub–brokerage, Giltedge Financial Services. I had two principals –- one, a broker in the Bombay Stock Exchange, and the other in the Calcutta Stock Exchange. This venture was profitable though I lost interest fairly quickly. I did not relish being a commission agent, with very little application of the knowledge one had acquired at business school, or so I thought.

Again, the biggest lesson I learnt was that you should not just be running after every opportunity to make money but rather that you should go after what your heart longs for (as Confucius says, choose a job that you like and you will never have to work a day in your life).

Clear vision

A clear vision, backed by definite plans, gives you a tremendous feeling of confidence and personal power. Both of these were lacking. If only I had stuck on, this venture could have been a different story. A year down the line the Madras Stock Exchange offered me a membership under the “professional quota” at a subsidised rate of ₹2 lakh or so. But, by then, we had decided to exit the business.

The only place where success comes before work is the dictionary, and this was another major thing we learnt from this experience, apart from the benefits of staying the course.

Before we quit, we tried out another innovation; though mutual funds were virtually unknown in 1986, we tried a small variation of that; going to offices and making presentations to groups of employees to invest together. We would then invest this in the stock market. A great idea back then and if we had only scaled this up and capitalised on it properly, it could have turned out to be a great business.

Adequate capitalisation

The markets were also against us as they were going through a downturn and without adequate capitalisation it was impossible to survive. We learnt the importance of adequately capitalising the business; a mistake that most entrepreneurs make. Under-capitalisation is far worse than over capitalisation, as you can neither gain from the growth opportunities nor ride out difficulties as our experience showed.

It is not enough for entrepreneurs to think of great ideas — there really is no dearth of great ideas — it is in the implementation, the putting together of a team and the actual ground level action taken wherein lies the difference between a great idea and a great business.

Often, in a start-up phase, entrepreneurs need to multi-task and be flexible in terms of their willingness to be office assistant to CEO, and everything in between. At this time revenues are hard to come by. While success is sweeter, especially if it comes after much struggle and a line of defeats, the process itself could become very frustrating and lonely.


Typically in any new business, apart from all the challenges and uncertainties, there are bound to be many unexpected roadblocks. Success, for most entrepreneurial ventures, depends on how entrepreneurs themselves survive these travails and, at the same time, steer the fledging organisation through the morass of uncertainties and hiccups.

In this context, here’s a story I love. The Japanese have always loved fresh fish. But the waters close to Japan have not held large quantities of fish for decades. So to feed the Japanese population, fishing boats got bigger and went farther than ever. The farther the fishermen went, the longer it took to bring back the fish. If the return trip took more than a few days, the fish was not fresh. And people did not like the taste.

To solve this problem, fishing companies installed freezers on their boats. They would catch the fish and freeze them at sea. Freezers allowed the boats to go farther and stay longer.

However, the Japanese could taste the difference between fresh and frozen and they did not like frozen fish, therefore the price it fetched was lower.

So fishing companies installed fish tanks. They would catch the fish and stuff them in the tanks, fin to fin. After a little thrashing around, the fish stopped moving. They were tired and dull, but alive.

Unfortunately, the Japanese could still taste the difference. Because the fish did not move for days, they lost their fresh-fish taste. The Japanese preferred the lively taste of fresh fish, not sluggish fish.

Staying challenged

So how did Japanese fishing companies solve this problem? How did they get to bring fresh-tasting fish? They still put the fish in the tanks, but also added a small shark to each tank. The shark ate a few fish but most of the fish arrived in a lively state. The fish were challenged.

Like the Japanese fish problem, the best solution is simple. It was observed by L. Ron Hubbard in the early 1950s: "Man thrives, oddly enough, only in the presence of a challenging environment." The more intelligent, persistent and competent you are, the more you enjoy a good problem. If your challenges are the correct size, and if you are steadily conquering those challenges, you are happy. You think of your challenges and get energised. You are excited and try new solutions. You have fun. You are alive!

Instead of avoiding challenges, jump into them. Find more determination, more knowledge, more help. Put a shark in your tank and see how far you can really go!

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