I’d like to outsource everything in my life that I’m not good at (and don’t want to improve) or don’t want to do.
This includes cooking, cleaning, driving, washing clothes, groceries, paying bills, fixing up my house and a few other things.
I’d like to buy time.
If I could buy time, I’d use it doing things I want to do and things I’m good at: hanging out with my family, writing, playing Minecraft, working (yes, I’d probably work more than I already do!). I’d probably do a few more side projects to keep the creative juices flowing. Probably learn a new skill or two of some kind. Maybe improve my guitar playing so I could jam more with my 9-year old son who rocks the drums.
You know what I’d like to spend more time doing? Thinking. The sum total amount of time I get to actually think about stuff in a day is very small–most of my time is spent operationally executing on things. At home, for example, most my time is doing stuff (waking kids up, putting kids to bed, feeding people, cleaning, checking homework, etc.) I don’t get to spend a lot of time thinking about how things are going, thinking about how my kids are doing. It’s kind of scary. Work isn’t much different: it’s a lot of decision-making and running around–but not a lot of deep thinking.
There are a slew of new startups emerging that focus on selling time. And it’s an area, as an angel investor, that I’m looking at seriously and trying to think through further.
Maillift writes handwritten letters for businesses. Apparently companies still send handwritten letters to prospects and customers, and it works. Maillift allows you to outsource that effort. Disingenuous? I can see how some people would feel that way. To me it’s just a smart way of buying time.
Another one that caught my attention recently is myDoorman, which helps with the delivery of packages. Everyone’s had the experience of having a delivery person get to their house and leave a message (or not at all!) about a missed package. Then you’re going to a depot somewhere to pick it up. Not convenient. And expensive in time. Instead, you can have stuff shipped to myDoorman and they’ll deliver the package when you’re at home. There are other services like this too, such as Luna and Parcel. This service makes perfect sense to me.
In the food industry there are lots of services emerging that deliver ingredients (like Blue Apron) or fresh-made healthy meals directly to your door. Again, this makes perfect sense to me. I don’t have the time to cook, and even when I do, I’m not good at it.
There are definitely challenges with these businesses. For one, most of them require a lot of labor, so I’ve got to imagine that the margins can be tight. The business isn’t automated–it’s truly “people powered”–which means adding headcount as the business expands. That’s not always the case, but it’s definitely an issue. The other issue may be the eventual reality of automation through robots and drones. I think we’re aways away from that, but eventually why wouldn’t we have a robot do the dishes, or a drone deliver goods to our door when we want it?
Differentiation is also going to be hard. How can you tell one clothes washing service from another? What about parcel delivery? And how do these companies expand cost effectively? The fact that the businesses are inherently local means a lot of grassroots efforts in small areas, with the hope of word of mouth. But there’s going to be local advertising involved, and a lot of knocking on doors. These aren’t necessarily easy businesses to scale.
Some might also argue that these businesses mostly solve first world problems. Perhaps, but consider two things:
- Tech companies killing jobs. There’s an ongoing and important debate about how tech companies are in fact killing lower end jobs. Automation, robots, drones — all replace people who previously did the work. But the companies that sell time (like some of those mentioned) are actually hiring more people to do the work. These companies benefit from technology (primarily mobile everywhere), but they’re not really tech companies. Is there a labor opportunity derived from the further division of labor we see emerging?
- Smarter choices. If there’s a way to deliver cost-effective healthy meals to lots of homes, I wonder how many more people (families in particular) would eat better? By outsourcing things to experts, we have the opportunity to make smarter choices (or more specifically, have smarter choices made for us). The same might hold true for things like finances/paying bills and other areas of our lives as well. Improving people’s lives is no small thing; some of these business could genuinely shift our lives for the better.
I want to buy time. I think lots of other people do as well. Time is one of, if not our most, precious resource. You never get it back once you’ve used it. And we collectively waste a lot of time. If I can outsource more parts of my life and use the time more wisely, then I’ll be better for it, as will those around me.