Women, networking, mentors, and dissent: Shark Namita Thapar tells all in her new book
In her recently released book, The Dolphin and the Shark: Lessons in Entrepreneurship, Namita Thapar, Executive Director, Emcure Pharmaceuticals and a popular Shark on Shark Tank India, shares many lessons from her entrepreneurial journey.
In December 2021, when the desi version of Shark Tank was released, it took the nation by storm. The show, aired on Sony Television, saw entrepreneurs from all over India, pitching diverse ideas, ranging from detachable sleeves and banana chips to STEM devices and momos.
The seven judges on the show, Namita Thapar, Peyush Bansal, Aman Gupta, Vineeta Singh, Ghazal Alagh, and Ashneer Grover, also grabbed the spotlight.
In an interview with HerStory, Namita Thapar, executive director, Emcure Pharmaceuticals and a Shark on the show, said, “I think it’s incredible what we have achieved in Season One. It gives a strong message to the startup ecosystem.”
She also took the online trolling with a lot of humour. “Right from calling my smile fake, calling me a fake feminist, the trolling has been endless. But, I believe if you are secure and happy with who you are, then you are a good sport and ignore the mean stuff. Some of the stuff is super-creative, and I have shared it on my Instagram handle,” she said.
Namita’s business journey, leadership learnings, and her Shark Tank India experience are part of her book The Dolphin and the Shark: Lessons in Entrepreneurship (Penguin Random House India) and offer both practical and emotional insights into her life as an entrepreneur.
In a conversation with HerStory, she talks about what prompted the book, the role of a mentor, encouraging a culture of dissent, and more…
HerStory (HS): What prompted you to write the book?
Namita Thapar (NT): I always wanted to write a book on my business journey and my Shark Tank experience. The time that I got while I sat with my son as he prepared for his board exams gave me the perfect opportunity to write this book. I used to write for hours together every day and I am proud to say that every word in the book is written by me and has come straight from my heart. I managed to finish the book – from start to launch announcement - in five months flat.
HS: Can you outline the reasons on how Shark Tank India has changed your life and outlook?
NT: Shark Tank India has been a fabulous experience and three things stood out for me. One, participating in the show made me realise that the common man of India is hungry and ambitious, and the sky is the limit with the right mentorship and capital. Secondly, after having grown and successfully run a big business, I thought I would be giving a lot of advice to entrepreneurs, but it was I who ended up learning from them. And finally, I didn’t know my co-sharks before the show but now I have found a new set of amazing friends in them; we have great fun investing, learning, and shooting together.
HS: What should one look for in a mentor and how invaluable would they be as an entrepreneur evolves and scales his/her business?
NT: A mentor needs to be someone who you deeply respect and would want to emulate. The mentor need not be older or even from one’s industry but someone who can be brutally honest with you and yet inspire you.
As you scale your business, you are often alone for crucial decisions. That’s where my mentors helped me get in touch with my inner voice and take better decisions.
My mentors also helped me shed my ego and made me a kinder and more authentic person.
HS: You spoke of the challenges of being part of a family business. Looking back, how does it feel now as you spearhead it to newer heights?
NT: In hindsight, this was the best thing that could have happened to me.
When things are not offered on a platter to you, you must find ways to make them happen. In my case, I achieved this by delivering business results, and most importantly by building a great team that kept on improving every quarter and year.
What I learnt during those times continues to stay with me even today. Not only does it help me grow my business but also helps me become a better leader.
HS: You mention ‘cold calling’ many prominent names in business, which led to fruitful and meaningful relationships as mentors. Would you say persistence is the key to success?
NT: I am a great believer in the power of asking. This, coupled with homework, hard work, and perseverance, has got me to where I am today. Most people, and women specifically, need to ask when they need help.
If you have this in place, and are guided by the right mentors, there is no doubt that you will be successful, not just in entrepreneurship but also in anything you choose to pursue.
HS: How can organisations emphasise on the need to encourage dissent as the way forward?
NT: Indians are conditioned to conform right from childhood and dissent is seen as disrespectful. However, at Emcure, we expect leaders to speak up, to give contrary views, and challenge each other as we truly believe that the best decisions emerge from such spirited debates.
While I have written a full chapter on this, some of the essentials for creating a culture of healthy dissent in organisations are:
- Hiring people who have the courage and conviction to speak up
- Celebrating dissent, through public praise and rewards
- Creating cross-functional teams
- Most importantly, basing dissent on facts and not on one’s personal opinions and biases.
HS: You have always batted for women entrepreneurs and invested in their companies. What are the qualities a woman entrepreneur brings to the table?
NT: Contrary to perceived wisdom, women have many traits that make them better entrepreneurs.
I don’t like to stereotype or put labels, but certain patterns do stand out. Women tend to be good listeners, which helps them in winning and managing customers. They are thoughtful and invest more time in the emotional connect that contributes to an engaging workplace.
Women are good at multi-tasking and can often carry several priorities – sometimes conflicting – simultaneously. And, last but not the least, they are not given to hyperbole. Women often give more realistic forecasts than their male counterparts and tend to deliver more than they promise, a trait that is admired by investors, customers, and employees alike.
HS: Do you think networking largely remains a boys’ club, especially in the startup ecosystem and that women need to network more.
NT: Yes, there are challenges in conventional networking like timing that are often not conducive for women, or networking topics that are often male-dominated ones. And yet, there is no one answer, everyone needs to find their own way of doing effective networking.
Technology is a great enabler and lets you network from your place, at your time; offline, women need to take initiative to practise their networking skills. Workplaces must plan events such that women can participate easily.
HS: In an ‘aggressive’ world where vulnerability is often seen as a sign of weakness, why is it important to speak about mistakes and count them as learnings?
NT: This is what my book is about: balancing the shark (aggression) and dolphin (empathy) that all of us leaders have within us.
Being able to talk about a mistake is not a sign of weakness but is a natural and courageous part of the debate and dissent process.
Talking about your setbacks makes you more relatable as a leader and your team tends to trust you more. You build a culture of empathy and one that naturally breeds creativity and innovation as people feel less judged and less afraid to fail!
HS: What are the areas in women entrepreneurship you are passionate about and why?
NT: There are no specific areas I am passionate about for women entrepreneurship. In the end, every business is evaluated on its merit and succeeds or fails irrespective of the gender of its founder.
Yet, I believe, more women should start up or at the very least become active participants in our workforce as they have many talents and abilities that uniquely place them to succeed at entrepreneurship, and at workplaces.
HS: You run the Thapar Entrepreneurs Academy. Would you say India is safe in the hands of young entrepreneurs?
NT: Yes, the next generation is bold, dreams big, and is hungry to find its place under the sun. Thapar Entrepreneurs Academy is doing its bit in guiding them by providing live hands-on learning in creating revenue generating and profitable ventures. On the support side, what would be wonderful to see is this becoming a part of school curriculum.
HS: Are you looking forward to Shark Tank Season 2. What lessons will you take forward from Season 1?
NT: Absolutely. Like last season, I will be looking forward to meeting, investing in, and working with the entrepreneurs who bring the three Cs of Courage, Competence, and Compassion to the table.
Edited by Teja Lele