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Divide and Conquer: What War Can Teach You About Business When launching a startup, going up against giant companies may be in your future. Here's how to trounce them in a grudge match.

By Adam Toren


All of this discussion surrounding the fiscal cliff and the latest kerfuffle over the debt ceiling has me thinking about one thing: war.

Though Republicans and Democrats finally agreed on an eleventh-hour piece of legislation to avert the cliff this time, the cynic in me is just waiting for the next grudge match. Though consistently frustrating, they're always pretty thrilling.

That's because the victor isn't always clear. Even with a Democrat in the White House, Democratic-backed initiatives don't always rule the day.

So what's my point? The underdogs in politics, just as in business, can win -- and they can win big too. Here are a few categories where it pays for startups to build-up reinforcements just in case they one day need to do battle with giants:

The battle for supremacy in war or in business begins with the battle for resources. Whoever controls the supply lines gains an edge that will allow them to outlast their opponent. In war, resources mean things like weaponry, soldiers and supplies. In business, your resources are your investments and human capital.

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Obviously, if you're better funded and staffed, you have a leg up on the competition. But don't be dissuaded if you're not financially backed. You can still triumph.

Nothing embodies war like the classic board game chess. Players oppose one another from across the table with all of their pieces exposed. Every move is out in the open, and the absence of luck makes chess a game of perfect information. The only thing a player -- or, for our purposes, a general or CEO -- keeps from his opponent is her interior strategy.

Before the game, she has researched, organized and planned an attack that will devastate her foe. This strategy of the chess grandmaster is your business plan. Only you and those you trust are aware of your ultimate strategy.

Where strategy is an overall plan conceived in the mind, tactics are precise maneuvers that effectively implement that strategy. To continue with the chess analogy, tactics involve specific moves that trap an opposing player. In business, your tactics are your day-to-day activities that move your business strategy forward. Each step you take should contribute to that strategy.

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The best steps, or tactics, will contribute to helping you achieve your strategy in more ways than one. This increases your efficiency, giving you increased time to implement your overall plan.

Victory and defeat
In war, a defeat is usually measured in depressing numbers like body counts and also by the consensus of major world governments. Some wars have clear losers, like the Axis powers in World War II. Other wars, such as political jousts, are harder to define in terms of winners and losers.

Business is similar, but clear defeats are certainly evident. For instance, a company goes belly up or loses market share. The potential for growth is unlimited. And though competition for customers may be fierce, there is sufficient space for plenty of success. So, keep at it.

Even the brutality of war has "rules" that have been put forward by the international community. If a country breaches these rules, it is made into an outcast. Likewise, entrepreneurs should follow an ethical code that supersedes their drive to succeed.

Related: Why Being "Good' Can Help You Build a Successful Startup

Businesses, like corrupt countries, may get away with unethical behavior initially, but ultimately they will be exposed and shunned. Luckily, the most successful countries are masters of diplomacy and strive to prevent conflict. Follow suit with your business. Act responsibly, sustainably and morally. Impressed customers will flock to your business and other companies will model themselves after yours.

What other war-time strategies would you suggest fellow entrepreneurs use when going to the mats? Let us know in the comments section.

Adam Toren

Serial entrepreneur, mentor, advisor and co-founder of

Adam Toren is a serial entrepreneur, mentor, investor and co-founder of He is co-author, with his brother Matthew, of Kidpreneurs and Small Business, BIG Vision: Lessons on How to Dominate Your Market from Self-Made Entrepreneurs Who Did it Right (Wiley). He's based in Phoenix, Ariz.

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