The Importance of Being Frugal With Time

April 12, 2017

If someone would’ve told 12-year-old me that I’d go on to found a startup in one of the world’s largest tech hubs, I would’ve laughed them off.

I was no adolescent programming genius – I was just a kid living and working on my family’s farm in the middle of Iowa.

Herding cattle, harvesting soybeans and cleaning chicken gizzards seems like a far cry from launching a digital business. But I’ll be the first to admit that life on the farm prepped me for entrepreneurship better than any traditional college class or accelerator program.

Though a number of lessons I learned growing up in Iowa have served me well in the Chicago startup scene, there’s one I’m reminded of on a regular basis: the importance of being frugal with time.

Taking a page out of my grandparents’ rulebook

On the farm, with limited resources at your disposal, frugality manifests in multiple ways.

Take my grandmother, who saved everything – from tinfoil scraps to the plastic bags sandwich bread came in – to repurpose around the farm. She wasn’t a fierce environmentalist; she simply wanted to save money. But my Iowa days also showed me that being frugal with time is just as important.

For example, whenever my grandfather interviewed candidates for farm jobs, he’d come up with a reason to have them drive. Was he concerned about their driving skills? Not really. Instead, he wanted to see if the candidate took the keys out of their pocket before getting to the truck, demonstrating that they would naturally prepare for tasks in advance. On farms (and in startups for that matter), time is our most valuable asset; my grandfather needed a team who was efficient by default.

Since founding G2 Crowd, I’ve taken this particular lesson to heart. Think about it: The majority of any tech startup’s budget is people. By comparison most other budget items are miniscule. For example, although I encourage the team to find the best deals when traveling, in reality having a team waste days on projects that should take a couple hours is much more expensive than a dinner during a conference. It is important in a startup to prioritize the amount of time spent on a task based on the anticipated benefit. The team often hears me say, we need this to be a “2 hour answer and not a 2 week answer”.

Again, there’s something to be said for being thrifty, especially if you’re growing a company on a borrowed dime or your own savings. The more you save, the more you can invest back into the business. But if you’re striving to scale up without sacrificing quality, you’ll save more money in the long-run by ensuring your team’s time is spent wisely. Startups have one major advantage over large incumbents and that is the ability to execute quickly. By encouraging your team to measure operational efficiency and awarding team members who take initiative to make improvements that save the team time, you will outpace the competition.