VC Cliché of the Week

How many times have you wanted to buy some time? Of course, you can’t buy time. At least not that I know of. If anyone out there has a time machine, I’d love to buy some time on it.

When people say they want to buy some time, it’s usually that they want more time to complete something or make a decision. And that time costs something and its more than just money.

As a person who is involved in financing startups, I often think of time as burn rate. If it costs a company X dollars to operate, and someone wants 3 more months, then it costs 3x dollars to buy that time.

But that’s only one part of the cost of that time. There’s the opportunity cost of not being in the market if it’s a product launch that’s being delayed. There’s the air time you are potentially giving your competition. And there is the continued burden on your team.

I am particularly nervous when someone wants to buy some time to make a decision. It’s rare that more time will give you more clarity on a decision. I prefer that people make a decision based on what they know now and go with it. More times than not, that will be the best decision anyway.

The worst case of buying time to make a decision is often an employee related matter. Managers often want to buy some time to make a decision about an underperforming employee. We all know how that story plays out.

I don’t mean to suggest that buying some time is always a bad strategy. The early stage venture business is all about buying some time. We’ll often put up a small amount of money to fund an early stage business 6 to 12 months to see if they can get to a place where we can get comfortable putting up significantly more capital. That’s buying time, but it’s really buying an option that expires in a fixed amount of time. As long as you are willing to let the option expire unexercised, it’s a fine approach.

Buying some time
is a common approach to business and life. At times, it’s a decent approach.

But often you aren’t buying time, you are wasting time.