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Mark Teflian has always worked at high velocity. In 1975, during summer break after his freshman year in college, he was hired by United Airlines to do some part-time contract work. He never went back to school. Instead, he became a vital player at Covia Partnership, which operated Apollo, UAL's computerized reservation system, as well as UAL's internal data and voice networks. When Covia was spun out of UAL, Teflian served for five years as the new company's chief information officer.

In 1996, Teflian moved to Nets Inc., an early attempt to build a business-to-business electronic marketplace. When Nets closed its doors, in 1997, Teflian and his team moved to Perot Systems. There, they formed Time0 and made Teflian its president.

Net Company visited Teflian, 43, at his office in Cambridge, Massachusetts to talk about operating in "time zero."

In 30 seconds or less, what does Time0 do?

We facilitate the creation of digital marketplaces.

What is a digital marketplace?

Every digital marketplace is different, but there are common, overriding characteristics. For example, digital marketplaces are new lines of businesses that are formed when competing or complementary companies come together to compete for the value of a customer relationship. Digital marketplaces also go beyond simple buying and selling: They involve customer service, order acquisition, fulfillment, clearing, settlement, payment flow, and more. Digital marketplaces provide many different types of services for many different types of customers—all in one business. Here's another characteristic of digital marketplaces: They reduce the time of each transaction between a producer and a consumer. By driving down transaction times, they drive down transaction costs. In fact, because they bring value to a large number of participants, digital marketplaces usually reduce the cost of a transaction exponentially.

Why the name Time0?

When we started this business, people were talking about "real-time systems." That was a couple of years ago, and a lot of what was being said about time and the Net was total myth. People were smoking Web heroin. The Internet is not real-time; email doesn't happen in real time. Besides, time isn't about unbridled change. It's about the velocity at which you line up your business, your technology, and your customers. In fact, the only time when "real time" really matters is when you want to produce or consume something. You don't need everything to happen at once, but you need everything to happen when you need it! So we named our company Time0—because business leadership is about managing lots of different pieces of time.

What's the connection between time — or "time zero" — and doing a better job of serving your customers?

For customers, real value is measured by the velocity at which you move through time. Value comes from shortening your time-to-market—your time to the deal, your time to the technology. The most important kind of time is the time that it takes to acquire and retain your customers. That's what "time zero" is all about: How fast are you retaining customers that you already have? How fast are you grabbing new ones?

Here's yet another way to think about digital marketplaces: They're flypaper for customers and vendors. If you organize information so that it serves your customers, they'll stick with you. In a digital marketplace, you're not offering customers a new catalog every year; you're offering them a new catalog every night. You don't post a new price every month; you post a new price every hour. Time is information, and information is time. Time and information, rather than money, are what people are trading on. Ultimately, "time zero" is about building the kinds of infrastructures that will help you serve customers along the dimensions of time and information.

To learn more about Time0, visit the Web (

A version of this article appeared in the Prototype Issue issue of Fast Company magazine.