A former Microsoft CTO and a co-founder of an intellectual property licensing firm Nathan Myhrvold has once said:
‘Business is war! Its leaders are strategic commanders, who boldly snatch victory from the jaws of defeat - and who perform other acts of derring-do.’
And much likely so!
A startup trying to establish a business and win a respectable customer base has many parallels to a young army trying to penetrate and hold on to the new and unexplored territory. You are required to set goals, decent strategy and should learn how to pick your battles well. Many believe that modern day battles are not fought on the battlefields with arms and ammunition but in the boardroom with thoughts and ideas.
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The opening up of the international markets have created immense number of opportunities for domestic organizations to expand their businesses across the globe. Large organizations with big budgets and deep pockets can do that easily, but what about a young startup which is short on both funds and experiences?
Brave men of war like Alexander and NapoleonBonaparte have left the treasure trove of speedy movements, warfare knowledge and flawless communication operations as their legacy. The legacy of knowledge much like the one left by Sun Tzu over 2500 year ago but still current, a masterwork on military strategy, “The Art of War” has taught many lesson to the following generations.
Let us try to tap in the knowledge and wisdom left by Alexander, Sun Tzu and other great commanders, and apply those war lessons to frame the art of business for startup venture.
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Lesson 1) Advance Guard the Territory
An intelligent battle commander always do effective research on the lay of the land and create high points of most value, before charging into the battle. Many startups rush into the fray early, assuming that a quick progress will give them the advantage over the competitors. Like a manifest battle commander, a smallbiz entrepreneur should carry astute tactfulness to win a battle even before an arrow is fired or his first sword was drawn.
Lesson 2) Building a strong Camaraderie
All successful generals in the history had one thing in common- ‘they were a team man’. They respected their troops and never allowed their men to be sacrificed for personal gains or military advantage. They lead their men with example and commands their respect without demanding it.
“Treat your men as you would your own beloved sons. And they will follow you into the deepest valley.” - Sun Tzu
As an entrepreneur of a new startup venture, you will face insurmountable odds and risking almost everything to make things work. One more thing, you can not do everything! You would require a team, men and woman of strong character and competence who can collectively work and turn it around for you. Give them the environment, where the employees work together to achieve common goals of shared success.
Lesson 3) Thorough Preparation and Quick Strike
Lining up your Man, Material and Machine is critical, but so is the time to act. Some enterprisers get so much bogged down in planning and arranging that they never get to the point of action and suffer analysis paralysis. A battle hardened general ensures that his troops are well trained, equipped, prepared, and are not unwilling to act.
Lesson 4) Capitalize on your Strengths and Attack the Competitor’s Weakness
A winning military commander always knows the strengths and weakness of his troops. Likewise, entrepreneurs must be able to understand and leverage the aptitude of the current team, while offering the direction and the backup for minimizing the weaknesses in selecting the target markets.
“An army may be likened to water, for just as flowing water avoids the heights and hastens to the lowlands, so an army avoids strength and strikes weakness.” Sun Tzu
Instead of focussing on competitor’s strengths, an entrepreneur should focus on competitor’s weakness. This will remove the possibility of any direct, head-on attacks against their strong points thereby reducing the battles of attrition. This will further maximise your gains and minimise the use of resources and hence increase the profits.
Lesson 5) Use Deception & Anticipation to enhance Business Intelligence
To find and exploit weakness of your competitor, you need to have a thorough understanding of their manager’s strategies and capabilities. Besides, a similar in depth knowledge of your own weaknesses and strengths is required to succeed.
“Know the enemy and know yourself; in a hundred battles you will never be in peril” Sun Tzu
It is also essential to understand the the overall market and the present industry trends in order to have a better view of the “terrain” on which you’ll compete. On the contrary, if your rival is using a similar strategy against you, you must conceal your plans and keep them a secret.
Lesson 6) Limit your focus to Prime Objectives on a Single Front
‘Spray and Pray’is never a winning strategy in any war. No successful army or startup can manage more than 3-4 goals or priorities without becoming ineffective and unfocused. Rather than staying spread and resulting in jeopardizing the initiative, you must gather all your resources, prioritise the key challenges and attack them with all your might and vigour.
Lesson 7) Leverage on Partnerships and Shape Competition
Since ages, creative diplomacy is considered a better solution than waging a brutal war. As an entrepreneur, you need to understand that your fierce competitor can be your best strategic partner. This cohesive approach that paves the way for a win-win situation is popularly called coopetition is considered a key strategy for building a formidable business.
‘Those skilled in war bring the enemy to the field of battle and are not brought there by him.” Sun Tzu
“Shaping the competition” means changing contest rules and making the competitors conform to your actions and desires. It means taking control of the situation away from the hands of the competitors to your own hands. You can easily do that by the skillful use of partnerships. This will also ensure that the competition is limited. Besides, by taking control of all the key points, you will be able to make the competitors dance to the call of your tune.
With these ready lessons, startup entrepreneurs can easily outmaneuver and outsmart larger competitors to satisfy their unmet needs, emerge victorious and capture market shares. Their survival is completely dependent upon the positioning, planning, strategy and leadership, just like it did for mighty armies that rose thousand years ago.
I did extensive research to pen down the above mentioned points. Hope you like the article. Feel free to discuss and share your feedback in the comments section.