Indico Bellum

Posted: April 1, 2012 by Bill Cunningham in People, Planning, Startup

Indico Bellum – a Latin phrase for “I declare war” used by a Chicago firm that helps make clients victorious in their business battlefields. The two largest booksellers on the web list over 1,000 books on “business and war” in their search engines. Military analogies inundate the business world – and many of them are incredibly useful in startups.

While our armed forces face life and death every day, the entrepreneur, in comparison, plays for much lower stakes. Still, the strategies used in military operations enable startups to achieve success.

In “Semper Fi : Business Leadership the Marine Corps Way,” Dan Carrison and Rod Walsh describe the importance of the recruiting process in the Marines. Every Marine worth his or her salt takes a tour of duty to recruit the best talent for the corps. The reasoning follows: if you send your “A” team out to recruit, you will get more “A” team players. Guy Kawasaki described the “Silicon Valley Death Spiral” where “B” players hire “C” players and so on until you end up with all of the “Z” players.

Who do you send to do your recruiting? Do you leave it to human resources or and employment agency? Do you or your front line employees go out and sell them on your vision?

Sun Tzu [circa 400-320 B.C.,] a native of the Ch`i State, wrote “The Art of War,” one of the first books on military strategy and concepts. Current authors adapted his work to business. McKinsey & Company use the 7-S philosophy on consolidating business units (Shared Objective, Strategy, Structure, System, Staff, Skill, Style), which is rooted in Sun Tzu’s honored work.

David Freeman’s “Corps Business” lists the 30 management principles that govern the Marines. He quickly notes they do not teach these specific principles one by one, rather they are instilled in each Marine as they transform from a new recruit to fully trained soldier. Freeman, while not a Marine himself, observed first-hand what makes the corps run like a Swiss Watch – finely tuned and accurate.

Mr. Freeman observed that decision-making and leadership are critical in combat (and in business.) The Corps aims for the 70 per cent solution – because making an imperfect decision in a timely fashion is better than not deciding at all. If you wait for the perfect plan, it may be too late.

McKinsey confirmed this experience in a study of software companies bringing out new products to market. In their study, companies who brought out products under budget, but 6 months late experienced a 24% drop in profitability over a 5 year product life. Those who launched their products on time, but over budget only experienced a 4% drop in profits. Of course, it would be wonderful if we could all launch products on time and under budget – but who has done that lately?

Freeman also found that the Marines’ extreme training was the best preparation for encounters they would face. Situations faced on the job should seem to be a piece of cake, when compared to the extreme training they have undergone. Accelerators like the Brandery, HCBC, eZone and UpTech can provide some of the extreme training prior to hitting the marketplace with their products.

The Marines also reward failure – one of the first tenets of a creative organization. Most businesses punish failure – or even worse – threaten to punish failure so that no one even tries to do something new or different. The Corps believes that you need to try it, learn from it and move on. If you are not pushing the envelope, then you probably aren’t creating value for the organization.

Take a look at your business and see if you can rally the troops to make your company more effective – and declare war on your competition! You can find these and other ideas at

Bill Cunningham is the CEO and founder of and shop foreman at the Greater Cincinnati Venture Association.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s