5 principles from The Art of War by Sun Tzu that are relevant for startups


The Art of War by Sun Tzu is a famous ancient Chinese military treatise that has been studied and applied for centuries. Although originally written for warfare, the principles outlined in the text can be applied to a variety of fields, including businesses and startups.

Ancient wisdom should not be easily dismissed, even in modern circumstances. The principles of the world have not changed much despite the ever-changing makeup of our times.

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 must conduct thorough market research and analysis to identify opportunities, competition and potential challenges. This preparation is essential in 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 result of a hundred battles.”

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

While this is obvious, it is much easier said than done. A superficial understanding of either can be fatal, as the devil is in the details. Therefore, the best way to acquire in-depth knowledge of your project and its environment is in the early start-up phases perform validation tests.

3. “All warfare is based on deception.”

Chapter 1 emphasizes the importance of deception in warfare. While cheating isn’t the right term for startups (since they aren’t in a hostile 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 emphasizes the importance of opportunism.

This is probably even more important in the startup field – innovative projects need to be agile and able to respond quickly to changes in the market, including emerging trends, shifts in consumer behavior and competitor movements. This requires a culture of innovation and experimentation, where failures are seen as learning opportunities and critical points are embraced where necessary.

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

As a startup, you cannot tackle established companies head-on. Instead, you need to differentiate yourself and provide more value to customers in areas where businesses struggle to do so. These are usually market-new dynamic market niches that require rapid innovation and agility – qualities that large companies lack.