One of my uncles who I used to work for, back in my struggling days, said this a while back, when I told him I was doing well in the markets “Share bazaar juva hai. Sirf bade dalal isme paisa kamaa sakte hain.” (The share market is a gambler’s den. Only the big brokers can make money in this field.)
This line hit me like a train and has been stuck in my memory ever since.
Why do some Indians think the stock market is a gambler’s den? The latest movie on Harshad Mehta partly answers this question.
While watching this superb series, my uncle’s statement rang a bell and I thought the market was indeed rigged before the introduction of demat. Not to say, some stocks are not rigged today. They are.
Just that it may be impossible for anybody to move the market like Harshad or the bear cartel did, back in the 80s and 90s. And if one follows the rules of good investing, based on company fundamentals, more likely than not, will create wealth. All that is needed then is hard work, patience, integrity, determination, a head for numbers & business analysis.
Does the small investor really have a shot at competing against the biggies? I try to answer this question with the example of my own story and a snippet from Steve Jobs’ famous commencement speech. This statement is something that I always find fascinating. I just love listening to this video, every single time.
“Of course it was impossible to connect the dots looking forward when I was in college. But it was very, very clear looking backward 10 years later. Again, you can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backward. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.”
Let me try to connect the dots now. My family moved to Bangalore in 1990, just when the big bull was locking his horns with the bear cartel in Mumbai. Dad, Mom, me and my 2 siblings. Dad suffered losses in his business within 2 years of moving here, and we went from being middle class to poor. Life was a struggle and there were times where we had to borrow money from reluctant relatives to pay electricity bills, school fees and so on. In my 5th standard, dad told me I couldn’t go for a 1 day school trip because he couldn’t afford 300 bucks. Yes, I still remember the amount, because as an eleven year old it was hard for me to digest that all my friends went on the trip, except me.
So after completing my 10th standard, in 1998, being the eldest of 3 siblings, I took up a job for 1700 bucks per month, with my uncle to make ends meet. He was old school and believed school won’t help me get through life. So to make ends meet, no money to pay college fees and the pressure from my uncle, I gave up and quit my education after my 12th, despite being a topper in my school.
Life’s struggles went on, and for 3-4 years I worked 2 jobs to support my 5 member family living in a one bedroom chawl. In 2004, there is this close friend of mine who landed a BPO job and started making 8 grands a month and here I was making just 4k a month after travelling 50-60 kms a day, by public transport, with no hope of a good future, if I was to continue with the same job.
Another issue was that I had previously borrowed at lower rates and lost 2 Lac rupees lending to some 8-10 borrowers at higher rates, without doing enough due diligence. Oh and that reminds me, diversification doesn’t help if the underlying investment sucks.
So with the pressure to make ends meet, with loans on my head and seeing my friend (another ex-struggler) I decided to get into a BPO job, in mid-2004.
Getting into a BPO would turn out to be harder and way more demotivating than I thought because whatever little English I had learnt in school, was gone because I was primarily speaking Kannada & Hindi for 4 years, in the job, in my uncle’s lending business.
In my first ever BPO interview, I could barely introduce myself. I was determined to get into BPOs so I could pull my family out of poverty. So the next 6 months I must have attended some 30-40 interviews, for various companies, at times almost giving up on the idea and saying to myself, “BPO isn’t for me. My spoken English is just too screwed up.”
But then, somehow I kept attending interviews, kept working on speaking English well, to a point where I could at least crack the interview. BPOs were booming in Bangalore, back then and under graduates like me were being hired left, right and center. Finally I got a call from a small time BPO and they offered me a salary of 8k per month. After finishing that call, I yelled “Yes”. This moment is something I remember vividly and will never forget. After many frustrating rejections, almost making it and being declined, I finally made it to a white collar job. Finally there was light at the end of the tunnel.
So after working in this small co. for 3-4 months, there was this colleague who said she was moving to a bigger technology co. I decided I wanted to get into this co. as well. Now, this was a technology giant whose interview I had already failed twice in the past. Anyway, this time due to an improvement in my English, due to 4 months of BPO experience, I cracked the interview with lesser effort.
So from 2004 to 2008 or 2009, life was good at this tech co. I finished my degree, repaid my debt and kept moving up the corporate ladder. And suddenly one fine day, getting bored in my office, doing a night shift, I googled “How to get rich” and after some browsing landed on a blog titled “MyJourneyToBillionaireClub.Com” written by a Gujarati dude. The blog was more like an Indian version of Rich Dad Poor Dad. I still have one of his PDFs, which has the below table.
So after reading multiple blogs, over the next few months, I inevitably read about Warren Buffett and further googling led me to Prof. Sanjay Bakshi, India’s best teacher on the topic of value investing.
And after a few years of reading his blogs, I learnt on Twitter that he was doing a workshop for small investors in Pune, in 2015. The course fee was 20k and I felt it was too expensive. Nevertheless, I went ahead and paid, so I could attend the workshop. Thankfully, I focused on the value this workshop was going to give me and not on the price.
At the workshop I was blown away by how generously this teacher shares his ideas. It also taught me that a lot of money can be made in the markets, ethically, if one works hard and has his eyes on the long term, rather than on the short term. Meeting your teacher in person has a motivational effect at an altogether different level.
Another good thing that happened in the workshop was that I made a good lifelong friend, another blogger and an outstanding investor, who, a few years later motivated me to start writing blogs. And thanks to him, I came out of my shell, earlier this year and started sharing ideas I have learnt over the last decade.
Now, coming back to how you cannot connect dots forward, but only backwards, I wonder why I googled “How to get rich” that night, in my office? Maybe if I was born in some upper middle class family, I might NOT have searched that phrase. Or if I was one of those rich kids, I wouldn’t even be working in a job and would get through life without fire for success, in my belly. Just because I know what it is to be at zero, in life, I understand what it means when somebody loses his/her hard earned money, what it means to not have sufficient financial resources at one’s disposal. Thinking backwards I realize how these 2 dots (being poor in the past and googling that lucky phrase) connected and led me to my aha moment.
When I made that friend who I envied at that time, for getting that BPO job (we are still best friends btw and meet regularly), I did not know, some day, he would motivate me to get a job that would change the trajectory of my life. Meeting this friend in 2000 led me to a BPO job in 2004, which, in turn led me to Google on that fateful night, in 2009. There is no way I could have predicted this in 2000. Absolutely no way. Thinking backwards, all of this makes sense.
What would have happened if I hadn’t taken that girl’s suggestion and not attended the interview in the technology co.? I might not have had a job where I worked for 15 straight years. And worse I would not have googled my way to the world of equity markets, a world very different from the world of technology, a world I was familiar with opposed to equities about which I did not know crap. Without Google, I would not have reached where I have, today.
To give you a contrast, educated rich kids in my circle of friends still have naive idea about the markets and still have old school thoughts about the market being a casino, a lottery. In some sense it is. But then I have done well for my family from this very field, without “gambling”. I would classify making returns from companies like Nesco / Relaxo / Manappuram / Bajaj Finance in the past as anything but gambling. That I lost small sums in companies like Kitex, Sadhana Nitro Chem & Reliance Home Finance, is another story, which I will keep for another day.
What would have happened if I had decided 20k was too expensive for Prof.’s workshop? I would not have realized the impact hard work and creating win-win situations for the society we live in, makes in our own lives. I would not have realized, good karma comes back with compound interest (Prof. had tweeted this a few years back and this has stuck with me ever since)
Also, if I had decided not to pursue his workshop, I wouldn’t have made this investor friend, who motivated me to write, a few years later and this blog wouldn’t exist and I wouldn’t be doing all the serendipitous inbound networking, I am currently doing. When I started writing I hadn’t expected blogging would connect me to people who are so different than me and people whose assumptions I can help break.
The purpose of writing my story was to motivate small investors and tell them that they do have a real chance of creating wealth in the markets, over the long term. If somebody tells you, the market is a casino, tell them their thoughts are outdated and pretend to be deaf. India will go from being a $3 trillion economy to a $10 trillion economy (at least) in our lifetimes. In that space, there will be a lot of companies that will create wealth for their small (and big) investors. All we need to do is be prepared, continuously search for opportunities and bet big when the risk/reward equation is favourable. If I could do it, you can too.
-18th Oct 2020