I was in my early 20s when I first came across the concept of starting a business… to sell it. The idea baffled me to no end. I come from a family of business owners. We’ve been doing this for generations. The thought of building something from scratch, only to pawn it off to someone who may not continue the ethos behind the founding absolutely astonished me. Are we really just in it for the money?
Businesses are difficult to start, painstaking to build and exhausting to sustain. Anyone who tells you otherwise is possibly smoking a hallucinogen, has an overactive imagination or lives on planet eternal optimism.
Starting a business to cash out really just doesn’t make any sense. A business is an asset. Cash, is well… just cash. Tech lore is full of stories of startups that get bought out by large conglomerates. The founder receives a large sum of money and goes merrily on his way having achieved ‘success’. This has even become somewhat of a ‘model’ for startups to emulate.
Is Cash King?
A sudden windfall, an inheritance, winning the lottery–all these external events do not promise longevity. What they do bring is a sudden burst of short-lived prosperity that is doomed to inevitably vanish.
When I was young, my elders often spoke of ‘resale’ value whenever they spent a large sum of money. I’ve rarely heard anyone in my generation speak of ‘resale value’. Why buy something today that is worth nothing tomorrow? When spending large sums of money, wouldn’t it be an individual’s or a business’ self-interest to purchase an asset that may appreciate with time; or at the very least acquire assets whose depreciation is not dire?
With each day that passes, I increasingly feel I inhabit a world where the present moment is all that matters. Forget about building or creating assets; let’s heavily markup the price on cheap trinkets, dress it up in some clever branding, cash it all in and enjoy our Instagram lives. There really is not that much substance in the business world today. Or perhaps, since businesses are ‘easier’ to start now than they were back then; it’s become a crowded space full of creating ‘wow’ moments with no long haul chance at sustainability.
Earlier this morning, I had the privilege of meeting the longest-living land animal in the world. If the Aesop’s Fable is anything to go by, it is not an animal known for its speed. But it is known for its staying power and quiet tenacity. In a world where everyone is rushing for the finish line of fast cash, the tortoise has other priorities.
In the animal kingdom, every creature has its own unique strategy for survival. Here’s what I learnt about the gentle giant’s recipe for long-term success.
Slow and Steady
Tortoises win the rat race by treating it like a marathon, not a sprint. Each footstep is slow and steady. They are not in a rush to go anywhere, yet they somehow magically wind up exactly where they need to be.
Tortoises also grow very slowly throughout their lives. They neither grow quickly nor age rapidly. They were born to outlast everyone else and live to tell the tale. Due to their slow metabolism, they can survive long periods without food or water in harsh conditions. They are not in any hurry to cash in, because they know that conservation and preservation trump the ‘live fast and die young’ strategy.
Tortoises carry their armour (and their home) on their back. Yes, it’s a bit heavy to carry around, but it protects them from predators who simply cannot break through that seemingly humble abode. Their sturdy shells prevent them from being a prey.
The business world has a way of equating ‘toughness’ with ruthlessness. One can be tough without being ruthless. Tortoises are pretty solitary creatures. They don’t gather in groups like vultures feeding off a dead carcass. Instead, they retreat to protect themselves when necessary. When the predator has given up, they reemerge and get on with business.
Most tortoises are herbivores, subsisting on a diet that’s full of greens. You can even catch them munching on flowers and cactuses. They are neither competitive nor aggressive. Instead, they are somewhat docile and peace-loving. Free from the rush to win the rat race, these old souls live stress-free lives.
You’d be hard-pressed to find a tortoise stressing out about their workload, investors or employees. They just take it slow and steady. This pragmatic combination of calm and healthy is yet another factor for their unusually long lifespan.
I don’t believe I’ve said anything revolutionary here. It’s good old-fashioned common sense that has allowed the tortoise to sustain the longevity that it is renowned for. In the animal kingdom–much like in business–one meets all kinds of beasts who utilise different strategies for survival.
But if you’re looking to build a business that lasts, emulating our slow and humble tortoise may just be the way to go.
About the Author
Dipa Sanatani is the Publisher at Mith Books and the author of The Little Light and The Merchant of Stories. In The Merchant of Stories, Dipa takes the reader on a personal journey–narrated through a series of candid journal entries–on what it takes for entrepreneurs and creatives to start their very first venture.