Learning from the mouse merchant

I used to love reading stories to my brothers while growing up! There was one story that I remember we read it together multiple times and wondered about how opportunities knock and what one can make out it!

To those who do not know about the mouse merchant story, sharing a brief below

There was once a very famous businessman who was walking with his friend in a local market. The friend asks him to share the reason behind his success, and the businessman says – “To be a businessman, one needs to be able to see the opportunity in everything”. He points to a dead mouse on the street and says “One can become a successful businessman even with just this dead mouse as well”.

A young lad listening to the conversation wonders if that was possible, but believes that if that successful businessman says it can happen, there would be some value in it. So, he lifts the dead mouse and walks. In just a few minutes, a cat pounces on the mouse and the owner of the cat apologizes and asks him if he can buy the mouse as his cat his hungry. He gets paid some money and the lad smiles 🙂 He had made his first income with just a dead mouse. Now, how can he increase it?

He looks around and sees a man selling ceramic pots and buys a pot with the money. He fills it with water and goes to the place where farmers are working in the hot sun. He offers them water and they pay him some money. He continues it for a few days and with the money he earned, starts distributing water in multiple places. Then, he hears the farmers mention about how cold it gets during the night near the inn. He uses the money to buy firewood and sells it at that inn, and slowly sells at multiple inns. He listens to the conversations of the people at the Inn that there was a ship expected in a few days that would bring a lot of merchandise. He uses the next day’s money to buy better clothes and reaches the dock early and makes a deal with the merchant to buy his entire shipment and that he would pay him by the end of the day. The merchant is happy and agrees. The young lad sells the merchandize at a profit to all the inn mates who come to buy the merchandise later that day. He uses the money to buy gems and makes a profit there as well.

The story takes us through a year of his life where he taps into every opportunity he sees to switch and reinvests himself with dedication and passion to continue to make money. In the end, he goes to thank the businessman who had pointed him to the dead mouse and shares his story, who in return sees his potential and marries his daughter to the young lad and hands over his business to him as well.

The beauty of this story lies in the fact that he was open to explore every possible opportunity, without bucketing himself to say – I am sales person, I am programmer, I am a farmer, I am a ________. We do that very often and bucket ourselves to play a particular role or work in a specific profession. Life has its own way of making us evolve, only if we let it.

Another aspect I learned was the way he adapted himself to every single opportunity. The product what he sold, the people he sold it to, the way he figured out who needed what and targeted them to make it easier for him to sell his offerings, the way he made the connections work was amazing! Something that we can learn in today’s context. We have many large and small businesses waiting to sell their products, looking for customers, looking for buyers. What is the buyer’s mindset? Who needs that product the most? Who will be willing to pay for this product? When we switch gears and think – we definitely can relate to a specific and niche target audience for the specific product.

Earning money through a business is not easy, and he was willing to change and adapt. Knowing when to adapt, evolve and reskill oneself is critical. He learned about so many different professions from farmers mindset, hospitality business, gems, rare merchandise from ships and was able to figure out right product pitch to make a profit.

In a business, communication is key. Keeping your eyes and ears open and being able to listen and act/react in a timely manner is critical. He did that at every step very beautifully. From listening to the businessman about the dead mouse, listening to the inn mates, negotiating a large deal with the ship merchant, story telling back to the businessman – these are not easy, but when it was necessary – he chose to adapt.

We come across so many opportunities every day. Do we act on all of them? Do we act on any of them? If we were that mouse merchant, what can we do today to make a difference in our lives?

Questions to ponder for entrepreneurs and small business owners

  1. Can you think of a way you can evolve your business or service offerings?
  2. Who is your target audience and how are you reaching out to them?
  3. What insights can you gain from your customer conversations?
  4. How have you leveraged your contacts to support your business?
  5. What do you do with your profits?

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