That big fish eats the little fish is a known idiom, but when the big sharks help the little fish thrive, a new shark is born. Since the past two years, several unicorns have emerged from India and inspired aspiring entrepreneurs to believe in themselves. Oyo’s Ritesh Agarwal, Mamaearth’s Ghazal Alagh, Byju’s Byju Raveendran, PhysicsWallah’s Alakh Pandey are no less than celebrities as they have emerged from humble beginnings to reach the top of their game.
There was a time when reality shows warranted celebrities to up their television rating points (TRP). But in the post-pandemic startup economy that India has, restaurateur and entrepreneur Zorawar Kalra makes it to Jhalak Dikhhla Jaa, among celebrity contestants. Similarly, when a reality show was created for entrepreneurs with entrepreneurs as judges, one could sense the demand for seeing the faces behind unicorns on screen.
Of the 170 pitches Namita Thapar sat through during the first season of reality show Shark Tank India in 2021, she invested in 25 companies. Executive director of India business of pharmaceutical company Emcure Pharmaceuticals, Namita Thapar’s The Dolphin and the Shark: Stories on Entrepreneurship is a handbook for budding entrepreneurs. Published by Penguin Business, the book traces Thapar’s journey from an overweight, Gujarati teen with low self-esteem to a successful entrepreneur who went on to build a `6,900-crore global pharma behemoth of her father Satish Mehta’s company. “I joined when we were an INR 500-crore company with almost all our sales from the India market,” she writes.
How she ended up being a shark on the reality show amid her son’s board exams while also juggling meetings and 14-hour shoot schedules during the weekend, goes on to show the drive of an entrepreneur. The book is full with leadership and business advice, interviews with top business leaders, her journey as an entrepreneur while also being a parent.
She goes on to detail the four Fs of her funding framework that helped her decide which firms she wanted to put her money in—the drive and fire in the founder, foundation (they should be solving a deep-rooted problem), financials (founders who believe in cash flow vs cash burn) and fit (the venture should fit the investor’s expertise and personality).
Thapar states that her clear framework combined with a strong gut instinct helped her make quick decisions on investments.
The entrepreneur throws in golden takeaways for early entrepreneurs. Her leadership mantras include—define your purpose, less is more, hire teams smarter than you, execution is paramount. She tops it with interviews of top business leaders like Supam Maheshwari, co-founder and CEO, FirstCry.com; ace investor Sanjeev Bikhchandani, co-founder, Info Edge, and more.
While the economy and environment is right for many more big sharks to come up, one often needs to become a dolphin to maximise productivity and potential. Thapar reasons that all of us have a shark in us representing ‘aggression, ruthlessness and ferocity’ but we need a dolphin within us as well that represents kindness, empathy and vulnerability. Hence, the title The Dolphin and the Shark.
And this is why Thapar pens down her vulnerabilities as well. “Leaders are always expected to be Type A, show aggression and be in control,” she writes, adding the advantages of showing empathy. She addresses the trolls she faced during the reality show as she was accused of being harsh. She talks about the labels she acquired during the episodes as she repeated her lines, “yeh meri expertise nahi hai” and the “born with a silver spoon” label. She accepts her flaws like a true leader and flaunts them like badges of honour.
“If we cannot help someone, let’s at least not handicap them by labelling them. We need to lift and not label,” she says. As Khalil Gibran had famously said, “To belittle, you have to be little.”