I’ve always been interested in both the stock market and business, and our collective understanding suggests the one variable that what they both have in common is money. Like anyone else graduating college and starting to work full time, I didn’t have a lot of money when I started either. When I was much younger, I would always tell myself “when I save more money, I’ll invest in the stock market.” or “when I save more money, I’ll start my own business.” Boy was I misguided back then. We typically say that hindsight is 20-20 when we reminisce on the past and wish we could change certain scenarios. In this case, I actually played my cards right. 10 years ago, I didn’t realize that you could still invest without money, but I was unknowingly doing it all along. For you stock market nerds, I’m not referring to investing on margin. However, what I’m investing with has a lot of the same similarities as money. First, it’s finite. There’s a limit to how much money remains in circulation. Second, it’s quantifiable. I can define it’s quantity.
Have you guessed which resource I’m referring to? If you haven’t, I’m referring to investing with time. Now, you may be thinking, “I can’t generate a return in the stock market using solely my time.” If that’s what you’re thinking, you’re not wrong, but I’d like to offer you a different perspective. One component in placing a valuation on a company is to look at it’s expected future cashflow, further discounted to present-day dollars. Notice how I used the word expected. I didn’t say realized. What matters more than a cashflow statement is what investors “expect” the company to generate in the future. This concept is relevant with respect to both the stock market and business. When I first started trading, I wasn’t able to open a brokerage account with a very large balance (only trade with what you can afford to lose). I spent the first year learning and studying everything I could, followed by a second year of losing money. In the first year, I was investing my time into the education and skills required to invest in the stock market and generate a monetary return in the future. The key here is that from the onset, I 100% expected to make money at a future point in time, with the initial investment comprised of nothing more than my time.
This same concept applies for many entrepreneurs as well, particularly in the technology space where economies of scale are much higher since the upfront development work is greater and diminishes over time. Unless you’ve taken outside capital, you may have a greater abundance of time than money, which you expect to pay back at a future point in time.
I always joke when people say “I made a normal month’s salary in one morning of trading.” That’s the exception, not the rule. When that happens, I fire back with “Oh yea? I made a month’s salary in 2 years. Beat that!” There’s another group of people who abide by the all-too common phrase – “Time is money.” First, I believe that time is only money if you’re already producing money with your time. Which leads into the second point. I argue that time is actually more valuable than money. I can make money back and then some. Once time is gone, it’s gone forever. So who’s taking the greater risk? The person who’s investing with time or money?
I believe that what we’re seeing in the market today is a lack of understanding for what time is actually worth. We all say that we value time, but we don’t act like we actually do. Face it, you take time for granted every day. What could you have done instead of watching that 5 minute YouTube video your colleague sent? If you’re building a business, I could email 2 different prospect’s regarding business partnerships in that window. If I’m trading in the stock market, perhaps I could look at what oil futures are trading at if I’m planning on trading a stock in the oil/energy sector. There are plenty of businesses on the verge of bankruptcy who’s founders and CEO’s take the weekend off. We’re all guilty of it to some degree – it’s human nature. What matters is an elevated level of self awareness to recognize the extent to which you don’t use time effectively. At worst, you don’t want to look back years from now and regret not starting the business you had your heart set on because you didn’t feel like you had the financial means to build it.
If you want to start a company and really think you can do it, don’t let a lack of capital hold you back. You have your time, and that’s you chief asset. Don’t waste it.