I come from a Marwari business family. My grandfather used to own mustard oil mills and multiple other businesses in West Bengal. My father, despite being a top-ranking engineer, had to join the family business. However, given the labour and power issues in Bengal, he along with his brother charted out into the sanitaryware and paints trading business, and then into marble and granite trading.
Now, despite hearing the business talks at home all day long, I was never really interested in joining the family business. Looking back, I think the reason for my lack of interest in business stemmed from me being on the slower side in understanding the fast calculations and having the razor-sharp acumen required to become the good business owner that most Marwaris are.
That is not to say that I did not learn some useful lessons, first-hand, seeing how my father and uncle went about doing their business.
The most important lessons revolved around the usefulness and preciousness of cash, which according to a Marwari, is the most important thing that matters in the business. Not just the quantum of cash, but also its velocity or the speed at which cash could be rotated or circulated.
The need to save every single rupee because that could be useful in the future was another key lesson I learned. That came from a Marwari’s immense respect for hard-earned money and its usefulness as a business resource in time of need than extreme miserliness.
Outside of money lessons and patience (we are generally an extremely patient lot), one of the most important ideas that I picked up from my father’s business talks and thought process was that of ‘mota-moti,’ which means ‘more or less.’
Mota-moti is like a ‘generally accepted accounting principle’ taught in the Marwari business school (call it the ‘Marwari GAAP’). It involves lump-sum calculations and approximations of a business opportunity based on the ‘affordable loss’ principle, which means a small loss or downside that you can afford, one that is bearable in the pursuit of a probable large gain or upside.
Marwaris use this rule of thumb of mota-moti in many decision situations to get over inertia. And we do not need elaborate excel sheets or long accounts to make these decisions. Just a sheet of paper and some quick mental calculations work. Because all we need is a mota-moti idea of what will work and what will not.
This rule of thumb helps in killing failures early and cumulate success by leveraging on what works. The rationale is to make quicker, though not reckless, decisions in a competitive environment.
The idea of mota-moti has been so much ingrained in my psyche that when Ben Graham or Warren Buffett talked about being approximately (mota-moti) right than precisely wrong while analyzing businesses or estimating their intrinsic values, I picked it up without an iota of doubt. And now my analysis and intrinsic value estimates are often back of the envelope. I am also fine working with less than enough information on businesses that look mota-moti clean and good. But I also ensure that my investment decisions are based on the affordable loss principle, and so I avoid businesses where I can lose big (more than I can afford) or that I do not understand.
Outside investing, I have tried mota-moti in my school Math class, but my teacher was not impressed. She wanted precise answers, and often I had no clue how to get them. And so I left Math at the first opportunity. But this idea has helped me in many other areas of life. My wife (also a Marwari) agreed to marry me because I was mota-moti fine. I picked up the job after college that looked mota-moti good to me. I quit my job to start Safal Niveshak because, mota-moti, it presented a low downside – high upside opportunity. I trust people who look mota-moti good in their words and actions. Ask me “How’s life?” and you will get a response, “Mota-moti, it’s good.”
Mota-moti is a great mental model (a Marwari’s contribution to Charlie Munger’s latticework) to look at businesses and life.
Things are never perfect. But if they are mota-moti good, you are lucky. Stop complaining and move forward.
The Sketchbook of Wisdom: The first print of my new book – The Sketchbook of Wisdom – is almost 90% over, and has already been bought across 30+ countries within 2 months of its launch. Click here to get your copy today. As I’ve heard from many readers, the book is ‘mota-moti’ good. 🙂
Dr.Sunil Mannual says
Thank you for a great post on back-of-the-envelop calculation. The point of being directionally right in investing and in life cannot be emphasized enough.
Your point on accepting less information when the management is clean is wonderfully put. As long as we are not partnering with a shady management, we are directionally fine.
A few years ago there was a presentation of Deepak Kapur on IIC where he emphasized the importance of recognizing the health of a business by just looking at the returns ratios and a few other things on a Stock Screener over a decade and not requiring an excel analysis. This again was about being directionally right.
I hope you are also doing fine, mota-moti.
Prathamesh Mone says
Would it possible for you to share your Mota moti calculations for determining intrinsic value of a business with us in a different article.
Mohan Lal Tejwani says
Very good article 👍. I am from Sindhi business family and I have done business in my life. We also say ‘ Kate sate etro ta bachnado’ means in Hindi ‘ Kat kut ke itnaa to bachega hi’. Well you have recalled us a great comman theory.
Every little thing is important Mota-moti . Thanks for sharing 😌🙏
SARAVANAKUMAR NAGARAJ says
Thank you Teacher, for the mota-moti Insights…
Most of the Business and its investments may have been easy to manage. Our great wealth lies in the way we learn and implement it effectively.
Unmesh Upasani says
Another marwari principle is as follows –
When I started my first job, my dad’s best friend (marwari) asked me “Tu paisa kitta kamayo hai?” meaning how much do you earn ? . From that day ON whenever I analyze any company, I ask this question “Tu paisa kitta kamayo hai?”. I am not a marwari myself. 🙂
Sujoy Dalal says
Very good Article Vishal Sir and I love the way you are spreading awareness about investing and principles of Warren Buffett and his Guru.
I am a new investor and go with basic principles of investment based of good fundamentals and comparative low valuation for buying however stuggle to decide on selling principles. I know I am very new and may eventually learn to survive.
Whatever I have learnt a little in last 1 year I am thankful to you and Ramdeo Agarwal Sir along with basic principles and ground rules from Warren Buffett and Benjamin Graham.
NAVIN VAGHAMSHI says
i like ” Mota-Moti” theory
VIKESH REDDY JITTAWAR says
Very good article.
Isn’t motamoti a Bengali term?