Running on Empty – Written by Doug Neal

Now that I’m working at a startup again (the Center for Entrepreneurship at the University of Michigan is very much a startup) I’m finding an old habit starting to emerge.  You see, when I’m in startup mode and I’m heading into the office I will often not fill my car all the way up with gas.

Back when I was a poor college student I would routinely stop the pump part way through the vehicle fueling process but that was purely a monetary issue – If I had $5.00 in my pocket then the tank got $5.00.  “Filling it up” was not a luxury in my daily budget!

In startup mode, however, the reason I shut off the pump before the tank is filled is TIME!  It kills me to waste time when there are a thousand things that need to get done and believe me; in startup mode you are never ever done.  Now I know some people reading this will be thinking:  “Wait, your being inefficient. If you actually filled your car up when you were at the gas station then you would be making less frequent stops for fuel thus increasing your efficiency.”  That is true, but to the entrepreneur in me, it’s impossible to be patient and focus on the long term efficiency goals when I know there are a thousand things that need my immediate attention (and all of them are #1 priority).

Time, in many ways, is the primary commodity of entrepreneurs.  At the beginning of a project it is their first investment (their time) that gets things done.  As things begin to ramp the chaotic activities that drown out each day evaporates all time remaining.  Eventually, raising capital usually is done to hire more people to accelerate product development in an effort to beat the competition to a release date or take advantage of a specific market window – both of which are time related events.

More importantly, you need your team operating at warp speed in order to achieve success and how you organize your business environment will have a huge influence on how successful you are at creating this internal velocity (which is required before you can truly show outward velocity).  Keeping people focused, motivated and removing extraneous distractions are essential ingredients.  You can even do subtle changes in your environment that in reality may not have a dramatic direct impact on time saving but will help set the bar and keep things moving.

I’ve even heard a rumor that a certain Ann Arbor located branch of a major high tech Internet company adjusted the elevators in their building to run 3 seconds faster than the default configuration just to squeeze out more time efficiencies within their building!  If true, that is a great (and creative) way to get the message out to your team.

Ultimately, the entrepreneur that can actually create a technology that gives me more time at the end of each day will unlock untold fortunes and success.  For now, I’d settle for a business plan that creates a fuel pump that fills my car’s gas tank in 30 seconds or less!


3 thoughts on “Running on Empty – Written by Doug Neal

  1. Hi Doug, you are saying that the entrepreneur in you choses to think about the short term over the long term because there is a lot to worry about now. Assuming it is safe to assume that this is the case for all entrepreneurs in startup mode, do you believe that some entrepreneurs and startups fail because they weren’t paying attention to the brick wall in the midst of the fog? How can entrepreneurs be aware of the brick wall while they are so focused on their next step?

  2. Adam, you have correctly identified the basic conflict many entrepreneurs face when driving forward. Should they stay focused heads-down on the task in front of them or step back and look at the long term strategy and what they are trying to achieve (e.g. is the brick wall dead-ahead or is it really a paper-wall that can be punched through?).

    I don’t have an easy answer for this. In reality, it requires a balance of both — being able to switch from heads down mode to periodically forcing yourself to step back and “fill the tank” or look at the big picture. Good comment!

  3. Time is of the essence for businessmen and entrepreneurs. I can understand why you don’t have the patience to have your car be fueled until it becomes full. But it is true that I am also thinking why not impart a time in your daily life for fueling. It will save you from delays later on.

    Hewlett from Perceuse sans fil

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