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How startups are different: Limited time

The time value of money is at the heart of your startup and cash is your blood because it defines how long your startup has to live (if it is paying employees or paying for resources). This is especially true if you take investor’s money in equity financing. Investors always have other investment opportunities each with its own time-value - that is the value created over time of putting their cash to work into that opportunity. If they put their money into your start-up opportunity, over time, they will have a strong expectation they will generate the value your business plan forecasts at the time your forecast it. The cash you have and your cash burn rate therefore sets how much time you have to execute, to generate the results required and to create the value forecasted by your plan.

This is not the case in an established company that already has cash flow, customers and profitable operations, (unless you are a startup business unit within the established company). Most employees are not exposed to the concept of cash constraints and cash burn or the limited time constraint so day-to-day execution is largely independent of any awareness about time limits except those to which the team commits in the project timelines managed by their supervisors or those time limits imposed by management.

If a start-up team does not take investor money or if it self-funds, then the time-limit is driven by the good will of the employees, their willingness to work on the idea for free and/or the time the competitive market provides to you before someone else thinks of the idea and executes it. Therefore in startups, time is always limited and the team that knows this will feel a sense of urgency while executing. The degree to which the team understands this sense of urgency will greatly help them focus on just those activities that create valuable results and therefore business value.

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