I have had the good fortune of being nestled in the startup world over the past two decades. I have gone through the ups and down, trials and tribulations and the feast and famines of entrepreneurship. I have learned one irrefutable fact: entrepreneurship (at times) is nothing short of an all out war.
There are many similarities between the dynamics of war and those of a start-up. The market is the battleground, the CEO the commander and the competition (again, at times) the opponent. The blueprint for success in war if applied correctly to your business can make you a winner on the corporate battlefield.
The secret is a 2,500 year old war manual called "The Art of War" by Sun Tzu. It teaches you knockout strategies and still holds the most relevancy when it comes to winning wars.
The book is a treasure trove of lessons and strategies for the business world. Here are the four lessons I found to be the most relevant for startups and businesses to help you gain a competitive edge:
1. Scout and research.
An army general studies the battleground and his enemy's strategies thoroughly before taking action. An entrepreneur needs to study his market and his competitors/industry with meditative attention. An entrepreneur should research the market thoroughly. A proper SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses Opportunities, Threats) analysis of their market will gain the maximum when launching a product. You will capitalize on the available opportunities in the market and also take advantage of your competitors weakness.
2. Limit your focus.
A commander who spreads his troops too thin is bound to have his line broken easily. A thin line of attack has never won a war because it lacks the killer blow. In the same vein, if an entrepreneur focuses on 10 different things at the same time he will not be able to achieve success in one of them. You must have a bulls eye framework. Focus on the three most important matrices in your business and dedicate all your resources to them. Success will be quicker and easier.
3. Move fast.
Deliberation is bound to lead to an unconditional surrender. A great general decides on objectives and maps out with speed to deliver an execution plan. This way he gains as much territory as he possibly can making a swift victorious end to the war. Similarly, a smart entrepreneur after mapping his objectives does not hesitate or deliberate on the action but moves fast to have the first mover advantage in his market.
This makes him certain to gain as much market as he possibly can before his competitors come up with a competitive plan. On the contrary prolonged deliberation is a trait which will be brutally exploited by your competitors. They will capitalize on the opportunities you first discovered in the market.
4. Adopt diplomacy where needed.
In war and in entrepreneurship it is sometimes necessary to hand the olive branch to your competitor (more often then not it has worked for me!). Adopting diplomacy can lead to strategic gains you may have not imagined even if you fought a tough battle. The one you see as your main competitor initially can potentially be your strategic partner and when both of you join hands.
On a personal note, every time I start a new venture the first thing I do is pick up the phone and ring all the competitors in that sector. I explain that I am looking to enter the market. And explain that although we may be competitors soon I am willing to bet we can find ways to collaborate. More often then not they hang up the phone on me. However, there are always a few that are willing to work together. Super helpful when the competition is so fierce. One less on the battlefield is a win-win. Those are the best working relationships I have found.
Whether you decide to forge forward with brute force of bearish behavior a tactical plan is necessary for all start-ups.
**Abhik Shome contributed to this article.