Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Asking the Profesionals: Capt Gopinath


I am a 45-year-old businessman from Gujarat. Currently, I have a trading business operational out of Mumbai and Gujarat. However, it is not performing as well as I had hoped it would. Moreover, my worries have multiplied as I have had a string of unsuccessful business ventures before starting this business. This has started affecting my decision making. I am worried that I might fail in this business as well, as I did in my previous experiences. How do I deal with this phase in my entrepreneurial venture? Please advise.

Captain G. R. Gopinath

INDIA today is a country abounding with opportunities and optimism. The 9% GDP growth rate of the past few years, coupled with rising incomes and progressive liberalisation, has inspired a wave of first generation entrepreneurs to the fore. Newage entrepreneurs, both small and big, are making a foray into diverse sectors and pioneering new opportunities and potential.

You can be an entrepreneur and achieve your dreams regardless of where you are right now. Do make sure you have a vision, a well researched plan in place and stay positive? It also helps to take a long view as you may have to take a step back to survive for the next day.
I often tell people that, we cannot let the fear of stumbling make us give up walking and moving ahead. I have not studied management nor do I follow B-School jargons. I believe in taking risks, pursuing challenges and innovating at every step. I largely rely on my gut instinct which is backed by exhaustive reading and discussions.


In a business the two most important activities are cost optimisation and increasing profit/income. It is critical to study the market, the opportunities to differentiate your product in the market and provide the consumer more reasons to acquire it than ignore it. To identify what you are doing wrong, you have to come clear on your own strengths, weaknesses and objectives. Specify your goals and the course of action you believe will lead to it. You refer to your trading business spread between Mumbai and Gujarat. You need to understand your business space, your competitors and above all your target consumer. Think for yourself. Disengage yourself from what everyone in your industry is doing or saying. Do your own research exhaustively on your market, competition and the product.


Unlock innovation. Start by taking a long, hard look at rules and behaviours inside your organisation that might be scuttling innovation in the first place. Don’t hesitate to challenge outlined assumptions. Do not restrict innovation only to the business product, work on your processes, structure, business model and even the market. Ask questions like “What if we do this differently?” or “ What if we target a different consumer base?” During the course, you can identify processes that will enable you to inch closer to your objective. Look for innovation from diverse and multiple sources. Innovation can stem from employees, partners, suppliers and also consumers, make sure that you are not ignoring any of them.

I was born in a remote village in Karnataka where my father was a school teacher. I studied in a Kannada medium school till class 7 .After graduating from the National Defence Academy I fought in the 1971 Bangladesh war and later served in the Indian Army for eight years. I knew I had to leave my sheltered army life and explore new opportunities but I hadn’t figured out what I wanted to do. I took premature retirement in 1978 and with Rs 6,000 in my pocket left for my village with plans to till my ancestral land. That decision turned out to be the turning point of my life. As luck would have it, a dam built on River Hemavathy had submerged our lands in exchange for which the government allotted us 40 acres of barren land which no one in my family wanted, due to its inaccessibility. I decided to live on the land and give it a try.

With loans from family and friends I started with agriculture which proved to be a constant struggle leading to perpetual debt. I learnt about sericulture and decided to move away from the traditional techniques and adopt modern sericulture practices which are cost effective, environmentally safe and sustainable in the long run. Finally, the gamble paid off, I made profits and was able to pay off my debts. The eco friendly technique of silk farming also earned me the Rolex International Award in 1996.

While there is no recipe for success, you should keep in mind that sometimes innovation is first met with hardship. Many times there is a lot of push back. It is important to remember why you started the business in the first place. If the dream inspires you keep on fighting, if not, it is better to change course. Most importantly, learn to assimilate failure. No failure or disappointment is a closed chapter. It is an invaluable opportunity to rectify errors, and move forward.


While planning is important for progress and success. It is execution which becomes the undoing of great plans and strategies. It is critical to motivate your team to identify with your vision and help them pursue and achieve their potential. A good thumb rule is ‘Ready, Fire, Aim.’

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