Hush Hush

Neither Seen Nor Heard

Using stealth has been a common practice in business for a long time. "It's a new name for an old idea," says Howard Stevenson, a business administration professor at Harvard Business School in Cambridge, Massachusetts. For instance, he notes, well-known real estate developers like Donald Trump often secretly buy options on tracts of land when they're trying to assemble parcels for projects. Stealth has an eminently practical purpose in those cases. "If everyone knew who it was," observes Stevenson, "the prices would go up."

Stealth is also the way to go when you want to get a technical jump on your competitors. Companies go into stealth mode when they need time to develop prototypes or obtain patents on new technologies. If you don't keep what you're up to a secret, Sommer explains, bigger rivals can pull the rug out from under you by loudly trumpeting their plan to do the same thing. "They can visionware you to death, and they have the dollars to do it," he warns.

Stealth is most important when being first to market is a significant advantage-especially when it's the only advantage a business has. That's one reason the strategy is so popular among Internet entrepreneurs, where even the most original business concepts often can be, and have been, quickly duplicated by rivals. "[During the Internet boom], there wasn't a sustainable advantage," explains Stevenson, "other than being first and trying to capture the territory."

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This article was originally published in the April 2001 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Hush Hush.

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