5 Principles From Sun Tzu’s The Art Of War Relevant To Startups

Sun Tzu’s Art of War is a well-known ancient Chinese military treatise that has been studied and applied for centuries. Although originally written for war, the principles outlined in the text can be applied to a variety of fields, including business and startups.

Ancient wisdom should not be quickly dismissed, even in modern circumstances. The principles of the world have not changed much despite the constant evolution of our time.

Here are five quotes from the ancient text that can inspire and guide modern startup founders:

1. “Every battle is won before it is fought.”

This quote from Chapter 6 emphasizes the importance of preparation and planning to achieve success.

Before launching a startup, founders should conduct thorough market research and analysis to identify opportunities, competition, and potential challenges. This preparation is essential to developing an effective strategy and positioning the startup for success. Startups also need to have a clear mission, vision, and goals to guide their efforts and keep them on track.

2. “If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the outcome of a hundred battles.”

To be successful as a founder, you must have a deep understanding of your project’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. You also need to understand your competition, including their strengths, weaknesses and strategy.

Although this is obvious, it is much easier said than done. Having a superficial level understanding of any of them could be fatal, as the devil is in the details. Because of this, the best way to gain a deep understanding of your project and its environment in the early stages of startup is to do validation testing.

3. “All war is based on deception.”

Chapter 1 highlights the importance of deception in war. Although deception is not the right term for startups (since they are not in a conflict situation with most of their stakeholders), creativity and originality are crucial to success.

Successful startups use storytelling to create an emotional connection with their audience and differentiate themselves from their competition.

4. “Opportunities multiply as they are seized.”

Chapter 5 highlights the importance of opportunism.

This is likely to be even more important in the startup field: innovative projects need to be nimble and quick to respond to market changes, including emerging trends, changes in consumer behavior, and competitor moves. This requires a culture of innovation and experimentation, where failures are seen as learning opportunities and pivots are accepted as needed.

5. “In war, the way is to avoid the strong and strike the weak.”

As a startup, you can’t go head-to-head with established corporations. Instead, you need to differentiate yourself and provide more value to customers in areas where corporations struggle to do so. In general, these are dynamic new market niches that require rapid innovation and agility, qualities that large corporations lack.

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Startup companies are constantly striving to succeed in a competitive marketplace, and Sun Tzu’s The Art of War provides invaluable insights into how to do this. While the ancient Chinese general’s teachings may have been written warring against fellow countries, they contain timeless wisdom that can be applied to startups as well. Here are five principles from Sun Tzu’s The Art of War that are especially relevant to startups today:

1. Know Yourself, Know Your Enemy. Sun Tzu believed in spending the time to thoroughly understand your strengths and weaknesses, as well as the current market and other potential competitors. By doing this, startups can gain key knowledge of how best to develop their products or services, and how to position them against other offerings in the marketplace.

2. Plan for Every Contingency. Sun Tzu stressed planning for any event that could possibly happen, from victory to defeat. Startups should plan for potential changes that could occur, both good and bad, while knowing the limits of their resources and talents.

3. Make Your Move Quickly. Sun Tzu wrote : “He will win who, prepared himself, waits to take the enemy unprepared.” Quickly seizing the initiative and taking advantage of unfortunate circumstances can reap big rewards for startups.

4. Alliances Are as Important as Planning. Sun Tzu believed that an ally can give an edge in victory and should always be sought. Though having a partner may seem daunting and difficult, it can often provide the resources, talent and market knowledge necessary for success.

5. Adaptation is the Key to Victory. Sun Tzu taught that success via a static approach cannot continue forever, and the ability to observe and respond to the needs of the market quickly is what will guarantee victory. Startups should always be on the lookout for threats and opportunities, and adapt to capitalize on them for sustained success.

At Ikaroa, we understand these five principles from Sun Tzu’s The Art of War and how important they can be to help startups gain an advantage over competitors. We provide consulting services to help startups build their business, as well as develop software products and services that address the needs of today’s businesses. Contact us today to learn more.


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