Hungry like a Dog, Running like a Cat

Have you seen the recent movie Queen of Katwe? In one of the scenes, when the talented chess prodigy Phiona (a child from the slums) is afraid to play in her first tournament against rich kids from other schools, the coach Robert tells his students a fable.

There was a dog who sees a cat and he thinks would make a very tasty lunch. The dog goes after the cat, chasing it all over the place, but the cat gets away. Why? “I was running for my lunch” the dog says, “but he was running for his life.”

Recently I happened to be part of a couple of invite-only iSPIRT sessions for the Financial Inclusion Challengers Circle (FICC). The FICC sessions are targeted at the FinTech/Banking corporates in India to raise awareness of and navigate the emerging digital revolution for financial products in India. There were 2 levels of sessions, the first was a kickoff for companies that were interested to know more about the market shift, and the second was for companies that were already part of the program and were presenting their approach. Both the sessions were attended by the CEOs & MDs of the payments and banking corporates in India. One of the CEOs said

“ Despite no background in banking, you are speaking about the imminent shift in the bankers language we understand!

The rabid hunger displayed by the CEOs was astonishing. These executives were not only actively listening to the digital transformations happening in India, they absorbed the market shifts (and some also validated them) and the potential impact on their industry. At the end of the first session, these leaders left with a conviction to return with a clear thought process on how they planned to navigate the market shifts and where they needed help.

The second session was even more interesting because these were the MDs who had formed a conviction from an earlier session and had returned a few of weeks later with an extremely articulate approach. The approach was very well structured, backed by good data insights, had a sharp focus on creating a winning product for a well defined narrow yet large size market. I can say that the hunger, the conviction and the metaphor running for life seemed evident as the CEO (and their team) were well prepared and vulnerably open for help.

In both these sessions, I glimpsed the hunger of the dog as well as some of the urgency of the cat with these leaders. Yet I do question whether these companies will be able to bring the urgency as well as the agility of the cat in their established organization and whether they will be able to shed their heavy & arcane investments (tech, model & mindset). It will surely be an extremely uphill battle for them to navigate the gradual and sudden1 onslaught from the natively digital global invaders entering this market.

However, I believe that successful startups embody both, the rabid hunger of the dog and the agile urgency of the cat. This attitude which easily permeates down into their lean organization provides them an inherent advantage that neither the big Indian companies nor the global digital invaders have. I strongly urge our ProductNation startups, insurgents, to imbibe & manifest this hunger, agility & urgency, to leapfrog over both the incumbents and the invaders, and to be aware and adapt to gradual & sudden market shits, be it FinTech, SaaS or any other category.

While Rashmi Bansal encourages entrepreneurs to Stay Hungry Stay Foolish, I would additionally like to encourage our product startup founders to be Hungry like the Dog and Run like the Cat.


1 A great read on Gradual & Sudden shifts. Do also go through the keynote presentation for the same.