Investing In 2013: It’s About Time, Not Location

Editor’s note: Bill Lee is the CEO and co-founder of Twist, an investor in companies such as SpaceX, Tesla Motors, and Yammer, and board member of Big Fish Games. Follow him on his blog and on Twitter @westcoastbill.

As an early investor and founder with more than 15 years experience, I constantly field questions about the existence of an angel/Series A crunch. Rather than join this debate, I tell investors and founders that it’s more important to focus on the next big thing and think beyond current trends, even in a tough financing/startup environment.

I look for ideas that haven’t been able to come to fruition, or a market that’s been underserved. I’m drawn to concepts that are habitual and pervasive, but still lack an efficiency that could not have been solved or elegantly addressed until now. So that’s why I will be spending a lot of time this year thinking about, well, time – the one thing we all wish we had more of.

“When” Vs. “Where”: The Transition From Location To Time

Even now, we’re in the midst of a fundamental shift away from “where” technology to “when.” While companies like Foursquare pioneered the location-based industry, consumers will now seek the tools that not only tell them where someone is, but when they will arrive or how it will save them time. Things like Apple’s Find My Friends and Google Latitude do serve a purpose, but location is only part of the value. That crucial “when” is the missing element.

My infatuation with Uber reveals this. It’s nice knowing where your town car is, but seeing its ETA is so much more valuable. Similarly, I see so many opportunities for adding “when” to a slew of consumer apps and services next year and beyond. I imagine a day when I know that my yoga instructor (whom I found via Zaarly) has left and is going to arrive at my apartment. When I order from GrubHub or Seamless, I’ll know when that pastrami sandwich is going to show up at my door. Let’s face it — do you really care where your food is? Or, do you really just want to know when it’s going to arrive?

The implications of time will not just affect our personal lives. In the U.S. alone, businesses lose $90 billion annually due to people running late for corporate events and meetings. Just think of the time employees can save when they know that their co-workers are going to be late for meetings — let alone what they could be doing with those precious new-found hours of productivity.

The Most Precious Commodity

But think bigger. Companies like SolarCity can use time-based services to better serve their customers and manage their workforce. Consumers get happy not having to block out a four-hour window waiting for some technician to show up while managers make better efficiencies of inventory and workforce. Advances in mobile and geo-fencing technologies will soon make the “wait for the cable guy” a thing of the happy past.

As we enter 2013, entrepreneurs should be maniacal about targeting pain points that improve our lives. Time is perhaps our most precious commodity and those that make it a fundamental aspect of their business will win – and win big.