We all understand, instinctively, the timeless logic behind the "time value of money" — that a dollar received today is worth more than a dollar received a year from now. But the new world of business requires an instinctive appreciation of a different logic as well. Think of it as the "money value of time." Cutting-edge people and companies are rethinking the nature of their relationship with time. To them, time is every bit as tangible, every bit as measurable, and every bit as valuable as money. The way to assess your ability to compete in Internet time is to ask yourself how creatively you use time.
For example, when you're starting a new company or striking out on your own as a free agent, the one resource that you usually have in abundance is time. You might not have much money in the bank, and you probably don't have many customers yet, but you do have lots of time. And lots of other people are in the same situation. What if you could trade your time for someone else's, so that both of you could get bigger faster — without any cash changing hands?
That's the idea behind LassoBucks.com (www.lassobucks.com), a Web site that helps people turn time into money — sort of. Think of it as a new approach to barter, one in which the commodity being traded is the time of skilled professionals. To use the service, you register and create an "offer" by selecting a category — say, accounting or Web design or consulting. You describe your skill or service, the quantity available, the cost per unit, the start time, and the expiration date. If you're invited to join a trading circle (a community organized by location and interest), your offer gets posted. When a member of the circle accepts your offer, your account gets credited with the appropriate number of LassoBucks (minus a 5% cash transaction fee). You use that currency to buy from others the goods and services that you need to grow your business.
"Small businesses and freelancers have lots of variation in their schedules," says Timothy Fong, 31, founder of LassoBucks.com. "Sometimes, they're incredibly busy, and other times they're not. We help people put their excess time to use."
There are other creative Web-based approaches to time. Paula Bagasao, 51, president and CEO of Global Knowledge Services, uses the Web to make more time. Her company, based in Los Angeles, offers "rapid-research services" for information-hungry companies. "Clients often come to me needing information immediately," she explains. "The only way to do that is to work all night long."
But instead of hiring people who are willing to work through the night, Bagasao has managed to build a network of researchers on the East Coast, on the West Coast, and in the Philippines. Her firm's project schedules follow the sun, so her clients receive the information that they request faster than they would otherwise. "The Internet lets you work with really good people while crossing boundaries of time and geography," she says. "I could not have done that 10 years ago."
The Web even changes how you think about downtime. We all have interests and passions outside work. So why not find a way to generate value from the time that we spend on hobbies? Jeff Clow, 45, president of a consulting firm that advises such companies as Johnson & Johnson and Kraft Foods, usually surfs the Net when he gets home from work. But instead of searching on Yahoo! or shopping on Amazon.com, he expresses himself on Epinions (www.epinions.com), a buyer's guide that lets users post reviews of products, services, and events — and pays them every time someone else reads their review.
Clow, who loves books and restaurants, doesn't want to make it big on the Internet, but he does enjoy expressing his opinions. He also likes the competitive side of the Epinions experience — the way his views vie for attention with other people's views.
"I've told my family and a bunch of my friends about the site," says Clow. "They've all been pleasantly surprised. In fact, we kid each other about it: 'Hey, guess what? I made six bucks last week.' "
It looks like the Web is even changing family time.
Sidebar: Time — The New Currency
As founder of Lassobucks.com, Timothy Fong spends his time thinking about how to turn time into currency. Here are his timely insights.
What's so special about time?
"Time is precious. You can't get back the time you wasted yesterday. Those who can extract value from their excess time will make a huge impact on their business."
How does the Web help?
"We've seen how the Web saves time: You can buy a book at any time of the day or night. But the real power of the Net is its ability to help people network. LassoBucks's 'customers' do business essentially with one another — fluidly, dynamically, and with full accountability."
How does your service help people turn their extra time into money?
"Your excess time — your unused capacity — is perishable. LassoBucks helps you 'monetize' time — not by generating cold, hard cash but by creating a currency that helps you acquire the services that you need to grow. So, instead of paying for, say, printing or graphic design with cash, you pay with your time — time that may have otherwise disappeared. You're converting time into a new form of money!"
Contact Timothy Fong by email (email@example.com).
A version of this article appeared in the Jan/Feb 2000 issue of Fast Company magazine.