Home Articles What start-ups can learn from terrorists

    What start-ups can learn from terrorists


    Right now, terrorists are applying the most successful start-up strategies that I can think of. The thing that is so compelling about terrorists is that they are taking on the establishment and winning comfortably with far fewer resources than their entrenched foes.

    The unlimited supplies and market dominance of their competitors has not created any advantage. It’s irrelevant because the strategy of the terrorists is to create a new playing field. They don’t compete on the terms of the incumbent. So, let’s consider a strategic review of terrorism.

    The main product of a terrorist is ‘Fear’. So, how do terrorists take their product of ‘Fear’ to the market place?

    Terrorists launch large events, which create media and publicity. They use huge brand awareness generated through ‘newsworthy and outrageous’ activities. They cut out the need to spend money on communications or advertising. CNN and FOX will do that for free when your business is disruptive.

    It seems that Gil Scott-Heron had it all wrong. The revolution will be televised. 9/11 gave global brand awareness to Al Qaeda in one hour, for little more than the cost of some flight lessons and passenger tickets.

    Terrorists focus on core markets and dominate them (New York, London, Madrid, Bali). Terrorists engage in viral marketing. They network using western world technologies such as the ‘web’ to evangelise their cause. They recruit ‘believers’ to evangelise the brand to the point that they are prepared to die for the ‘brand’. And you thought Apple had loyal followers!

    Terrorists learn skills from their competitors (think CIA). Then, they use the competitors’ skills and assets against them (think Boeing 767s, mass transport, US flight schools, CIA, Halliburton, Hotmail, YouTube, Google Earth). This significantly reduces overheads and capital requirements.

    Terrorists raise venture funding from passionate radicals, rather than traditional banking sources. Their money comes from believers in the cause, who also provide knowledge capital. They think small, but have a big impact. They don’t try to dominate the world at launch, just important parts of it (such as the Middle East).

    Don’t confuse what I am saying here, I am not espousing the virtues of terrorism. I’m simply pointing out their tactical brilliance in a form that a start-up company should learn from.

    The battle is never won with resources; it’s won with strategy and creativity. And that’s the terrible truth about terrorism.

    Stephen Sammartino escaped his cubicle after 10 years marketing global brands. He is now founder of two start-ups, recently launching rentoid – the place to rent anything – www.rentoid.com