7 Powerful Business Lessons From Machiavelli’s The Prince

The Prince is a book written by Niccolò Machiavelli that is famous for its ruthless take on how to govern the masses and dispatch political enemies.  Ok, there’s more to the book than that, but when people think of Machiavellian principles, they think of cunning and manipulative tactics.

While the book primarily focuses on politics, its principles can be applied to the world of business.

Now, I do not support deceptive or unethical behavior on this blog, so I want to be clear upfront that this article will not cover anything illegal or even unethical.  But there are some really powerful lessons in the book that can be used to catapult your business ahead of your competitors while still maintaining ethical boundaries.  Ok, let’s get into it.

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The information contained in this post is for informational purposes only.  It is not a recommendation to buy or invest, and it is not financial, investment, legal, or tax advice.  You should seek the advice of a qualified professional before making any investment or other decisions relating to the topics covered by this article.

Number 1. Build an Impeccable Reputation

“Everyone sees what you appear to be, few really know what you are”

-The Prince

A good reputation is essential to building a successful business.  That’s because a person’s perception of a brand will absolutely guide their buying decisions.  Have you ever seen a bank run?  That’s what happens when people lose confidence in an institution and what it stands for.

For another example, let’s go back to Chipotle’s e coli crisis back in 2015.  Their reputation and profits took a massive hit because people just stopped eating there for a time. 

The owners may have been conscientious people and may have wanted to do everything right.  But, as Machiavelli points out – people can’t see inside your soul to judge who you really are, so they’ll judge you based on public perception. 

And that is something that you must curate and protect at all times.  As Warren Buffett famously explained, it takes twenty years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin.

Number 2. Sometimes You Need to Be Ruthless

“It is better to be feared than loved, if you cannot be both.”

-The Prince

To build a successful business, you must not be afraid to take advantage of vulnerabilities or gaps in the market.  That often means grabbing market share from a competitor. 

If you are smart, fearless and take calculated risks that pay off, you will quickly gain a reputation among your competitors as someone who must be taken seriously and with respect. 

That creates a host of benefits.  First, it can put your competitors on the defensive, which means that you can continue to act with controlled aggression and find great opportunities. 

Second, they will be afraid to target you unless the absolutely must because they won’t want to be targeted back in return. 

Third, they may reach out to you for potential partnerships with the view that if you can’t beat ’em join ’em.  This could create lucrative business opportunities for you that would not have existed otherwise.

The bottom line is this.  Do not shy away from making tough decisions or taking risks when necessary.

By demonstrating your willingness to take bold action, you will earn the respect of others in the industry, discouraging potential competitors from trying to undermine your position.

Number 3. Create a business that has solid foundations

“A prince must build on solid foundations; otherwise, he is bound to come to grief.”

-The Prince

A successful business must have strong foundations, which include a clear vision, a well-defined, stable and large enough target market, and a sensible business model. 

This includes figuring out how your product or service is going to stand out from the crowd and stay there.

So invest time and resources in market research, product development, and strategic planning to ensure your business is built on a solid foundation that can withstand the inevitable challenges and changes in the market.

One thing you absolutely must consider is how your business will fare in a recession or down market.  Some businesses are just better equipped to handle these types of downturns. 

For a look at what these businesses are, check out my article on the topic here.

Number 4. Be Able to Adapt Quickly

“A prince must be able to assume various qualities as the wind of fortune and change of things command him.”

-The Prince

In today’s fast-paced business environment, the ability to adapt quickly is crucial. Stay informed about market trends, technological advancements, and changes in consumer behavior.

Be ready to pivot your business strategy or product offerings when necessary to take advantage of new opportunities or to address emerging threats.

There are lots of hungry, smart competitors out there that have their eyes keenly fixed on changes to the marketplace or consumer sentiment. 

Don’t let them eat your lunch – stay on top on evolutions in the market and make intelligent adjustments to evolve with it. 

Number 5. Surround Yourself With the Best People You Have Access To

“The first method for estimating the intelligence of a ruler is to look at the men he has around him.”

-The Prince

The success of your business depends on the people you surround yourself with.

Hire talented and motivated individuals who share your vision and values.  Invest in their professional development and create a work environment that fosters collaboration, creativity, and innovation. By building a strong team, you increase the chances of your business’s success.

And most people don’t like to talk about this, but it is just as important to remove toxic or unproductive people from your team. 

You can have ten great employees, but if one bad employee is constantly complaining and dragging down everyone else, they are real drag on productivity and morale and must be dealt with swiftly.

Number 6.  Become Comfortable With Competition and Learn How to Win

“A prince must have no other objective, no other thought, nor take up any profession but that of war, its methods, and its discipline, for that is the only profession which befits one who commands.”

-The Prince

Business is often likened to a battlefield, and as a business owner, you must embrace competition and learn how to win.

Develop a deep understanding of your industry, your competitors, and your customers. Use this knowledge to create unique value propositions, differentiate your products or services, and outmaneuver your rivals in the market.

Fostering a competitive mindset is just like anything else – it can be learned and honed the more your practice it. 

Constantly be refining your strategy to beat your competitors, never lost sight of what they are doing, and mercilessly pounce on any weaknesses your competitors may exhibit when the opportunity presents itself.

Number 7.  Become a Student of History

“Whoever wishes to foresee the future must consult the past.”

-The Prince

To build a successful business, it is essential to learn from history.

Study the successes and failures of other businesses in your industry, as well as those in other sectors. Analyze market trends, economic cycles, and the impact of historical events on businesses.

By becoming a student of history, you can better anticipate future challenges, make informed decisions, and identify opportunities for growth and innovation.  For me, the one that stuck in my head was never get addicted to revenue.

It’s a little tough to explain, but the basic premise is this. If you have found a niche or method of making money that seems to work pretty well, there is an incredible temptation to ride it for all it is worth and to stake your entire business on it.

But there is a risk that comes with that. Not only can your business evaporate when that income stream dries up, but you can get tunnel vision that steals away your ability to see bigger and better opportunities.

Amazon is a perfect example of this.  They rose to prominence as an online book seller and began to make some serious sales in that space. 

Rather than get addicted to the revenue from this income stream, they decided to expand and diversify to build a more resilient business.  They then became the premier online retailer in the world. 

But they weren’t satisfied with that – they refused to become addicted to even this massive income stream and pivoted to build a cloud business that now accounts for 74% of Amazon’s operating profit. 

Simply amazing discipline and vision.


So there you have it. Seven timeless lessons from Machiavelli’s “The Prince” and how you can use them to build a profitable and resilient business.  Hope this has been helpful!