Time: Your Most Expensive Expense

Business people waste a lot of time worrying about spending money.  By conserving cash, the thinking goes, they are protecting their most precious and scarce resource.  As an investor in startup companies, I see this pattern play out again and again: leaders that invest too slowly in growth, believing this is a safe approach.

In today’s fiercely competitive landscape, squeezing pennies has simply become a losing formula.  In fact, the most valuable and scare resource is not money; it’s time.  A plan that fearfully conserves is actually far more risky than one of heavy investment in innovation and scale.

If you have a great idea to launch a business or a new strategy to grow an existing one, chances are that hundreds of others around the world have the same idea.   The question becomes, who will get there first?  Results in business are often binary – the winner takes all.  So any friction that slows down your sprint to the finish line becomes an albatross that restricts your ability to achieve.

Unlike time, money is a replaceable asset.  You can create more through revenue, loans, or investment.   Time, on the other hand, cannot be replenished.  While it doesn’t show up on accounting statements, it is your most precious — and limited — commodity.

Most people overlook the importance of speed.  They don’t consider the opportunity cost of squandered time, lost opportunity, or forgoing competitive advantage.  They don’t realize that most ideas have a limited shelf life, and that failure is too often the result of simply moving too slowly.

Concerned about spending, an entrepreneur recently asked me if he should spend an extra $10,000 on contractors to launch his product two weeks earlier.  My response: “What is the cost of waiting the extra two weeks?   Lost customers?  Slower company growth?  Handing over competitive advantage?  In hard dollars, if you have the rest of your 20 people working for an extra 14 days, what happens to the overall project cost?”  Turns out, spending “more” equated to actually spending less when looking at the big picture.  More importantly, it allowed this startup leader to hit the market faster.

Vince Lombardi famously said, “In my entire career, I never lost a single game… I just ran out of time.”  If you’re looking to seize the next level, worry less about investing in growth and worry a whole lot more about letting time slip through your fingers.  As you deeply consider the impact of waiting, you’ll want to strap on your running shoes and begin to sprint.