The Art of War Quotes for Business & Startups


There are a lot of Art of War quotes for business and startups that can help provide insight and direction. This article is for entrepreneurs and digital marketing to understand how battles are won with small armies and fewer resources.

The key principles of the Art of War can be applied to almost any area of your life – and to any discipline. There’s a lot to learn from The Art of War about business success.

While the book is a Chinese military treatise authored by Sun Tzu from the 6th century BC, the learnings from The Art of War are still relevant today.

art of war quotes for business

There are many quotes from the book that can be applied to startups and small businesses.

So let’s begin..

Art of War Quotes for Business & Startups


History is rife with examples where large, organized armies have been defeated by small armies that relied on guerrilla warfare – the David vs. Goliath stories of war.

Experts and scholars have decisively concluded that when applied appropriately, and supported by an excellent network of intelligence gathering, guerrilla warfare is extremely effective on the battlefield.

While all these lessons in battle tactics from history are still of great use to the modern day soldiers and generals. They also teach a lot to the modern day business professionals in strategy and tactics.

Innovation is more than just a buzzword for the David’s of the business world who are up against their own Goliath every day.

Since this innovation often comes at the steep price of a resource-crunch, the way out can be sought in these guerrilla warfare tactics – or, what we also call Growth Hacking.

“Know your enemy and know yourself, and in 100 battles you will never be in peril.” – The Art of War

Enemy is the competitor, and market research is military intelligence

Within the startup business environment, these words can be applied to competitors and target audience.

The word enemy is a little too harsh. But the fact of the matter is that both you and your competitor are after the same objective – growth in business.

The battle you have to fight is for the attention of your target audience. So the audience listen to what you offer and make a decision in your favor.


Intercepting messengers like the Spaniards did to the French may not be necessary to achieve that objective – this is the 21st century.

But you do need to communicate with your target audience to find out what real world problems are bothering them.

Thanks to social media, all you have to do is define your target audience. After that you approach them on the right platform.
Consider the example of what Airbnb did when they needed to reach out to the right audience to grab a bigger share of the marketplace.

They focused on where their target audience was. And they reached out to them before competitors did, which in this case was Craigslist.

So they hacked their own growth channels to deliver more by utilizing an existing platform to gain popularity among their target audience. And things do not get more guerrilla than that.

“Avoid what is strong, Attack what is weak.” – The Art of War

Get a grip on your strengths, and others weaknesses

Sun Tzu recommends avoiding the enemy’s stronghold and attacking his weak points for victory.


While the conventional warfare wisdom of western world has been focused entirely on the enemy’s strengths, it leads towards a very costly proposition.

When faced with a price-war with a competitor, to gain a decisive victory, you need to maintain your undivided focus on your strengths and the competitor’s weaknesses.

If they are spending too much money to acquire customers, you need to think of ways to reduce your costs to do the same, something like what Dropbox did.

Dropbox initially focused its attention on paid ads to acquire users. So instead of spending more on ads, they started a referral program.

That program awarded 500MB of free storage space to each party when one user referred Dropbox to anyone. “Free” data is the weakness of the user. And they give Dropbox the opportunity to infiltrate their contacts for it.

“In the midst of chaos, there is opportunity.” 

Startup hacking is not limited to the online world.

In a fledgling post-war economy in 1938, De Beers was facing the challenge of dwindling diamond sales. Instead of accepting defeat, De Beers set out on an ambitious trail to target people planning to get married.

The concept of the ‘engagement ring’ soon became ingrained in the western culture as the de facto symbol of love. And every young man on the verge of popping the question started saving money to buy the biggest diamond he could afford.


A similar example is Listerine.

While people previously just had bad breath, Listerine focused on the keyword “Halitosis” and campaigned on the same. So people now had a medical condition and not just bad breath.

“Let your plans be dark and impenetrable as night. And when you move, fall like a thunderbolt.”

The growth of your business depends on strategic insights into your competition to gain an edge. WhatRunsWhere, an online advertising service allows you to look up everything your competitors are doing online – their ad inventory buying, running schedules, and creatives.

It has been called unethical. But everything is indeed fair in love and war.


“Every battle is won before it is ever fought” – Sun Tzu

Strategy is the key to success

When Sun Tzu says, “Every battle is won before it is ever fought,” what he is really emphasizing on is the need for robust strategy.

Nothing can replace a good strategy.


PayPal’s strategy to target eBay Powersellers and increase its own user base through an influential set of users paid off well.

At the core of it, PayPal used the network effect to hack its own growth – the more people use its services, the more people would want to use it.

The strategy created quite a buzz and soon enough. PayPal’s user base exploded to millions of users.

This was not just an incidental growth hack but backed by strategy and planning. It involved finding where most of the potential target persona’s of PayPal can be captured, and how to capture them.

“What is essential in war is VICTORY, not prolonged operations.” -The Art of War

Be swift, be decisive, experiment fast

Using the intelligence gathered against competitors, and aiming for a swift victory instead of wearing them out is yet another example of eastern battle wisdom.


Pre-Facebook Instagram saw an opportunity. It was when Instagram listen to the users’ complaints about not being able to post pictures directly from mobile phones to social media platforms.

Instagram gave them a quick solution. Users could cross-post on Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare, Tumblr and more with just one click.

This was a big achievement in the early days of social media when posting photos from mobile devices was a nightmare.

Soon, the distinct photos with filters and embellishments gave Instagram the edge it needed in the crowded social media platforms space, acting as a free advertisement for the photo sharing app.

In conclusion

The Art of War has much to teach a startup entrepreneur in the art of startup growth and small business success.

It is just as applicable in the business world as it is in the battlefield. 

In the end, it is all about strategy and banking on that strategy to get the most viable results.

And herein lies the essence of winning that is common between war and a startup enterprise.