Why Introverts Make Great Entrepreneurs
I am surrounded by introverts. I was raised by one, married one, gave birth to two more. I love introverts. But boy, am I not one of them. I suspect they're intrigued by me–I imagine them wondering How the heck can she talk so much all the time? Can't she just like, close her mouth once in a while and think these thoughts?
(Spoiler: as a matter of fact, no, I cannot. As an extrovert, talking is how I think.)
I had a beloved, brilliant college friend named Joe who could sit in the dark for hours... thinking. I’d knock on his door. He’d say “Come on in.” I’d enter a pitch-dark room and say “Joe, where are you?” He’d say “Right here!” And I’d turn on the light and see him lying in his recliner and think I’d interrupted a nap. Nope. Just a three-hour think-a-thon by himself in the dark. That is an introvert. Is this also you?
When individuals are starting a business–people who come to me saying they want to either start their own thing, or get a “job” to pay bills while they’re waiting for their business to take off–they almost always ask me if I think they have the personality to make it. And what they’re really asking is “Can I do this if I’m not extroverted?”
Fact: Introverts sometimes make the best entrepreneurs. Because here’s the thing: what makes an entrepreneur has nothing to do with personality style, and certainly nothing to do with whether you think loudly or quietly. Nothing to do with whether you have a degree, or huge piles of money. It has everything to do with grit.
I was listening to a podcast about Sara Blakely, the founder of Spanx, recently. (For those of you living in blissful, bony ignorance, Spanx is a line of shapewear that has the magical ability to move all your weird creases and bulges into a pleasing arrangement.) Blakely was talking about how she made it work when she first started her business. She was able to get it into some big department store; I think it was Macy's. She went into the Macy's and noticed that her line was in the back of the foundation section buried behind the nursing bras or something. No one no one would ever find her stuff back there unless they were looking for it. So what did she do? She actually grabbed one of those T-stands, stripped off whatever was on it, and moved the t-stand next to the register decked out in Spanx products. As customers lined up to pay for their stuff, they’d say “Oh, wow, those look great!” but no one was buying them. So haunted that register and as people were coming up to pay, she’d look at her own product and say, “Wow, this is amazing.” And with that little bit of social proof, people would put one garment in their stack to buy.
So she called all of her girlfriends and asked them to go to their local Macy’s and do the same. See, she wanted to be on Oprah because she knew once that she was featured on Oprah it would go crazy because her products are amazing. She sent samples to them but they said they couldn’t feature her because she hadn’t “hit a certain revenue level.” You know what she did? She bought all her own inventory out of all the Macy's stores, to hit that “revenue” level. And guess what, she went on the Oprah show and last year Spanx had $400M dollars in revenue. Because she made it happen.
Paul Graham started the YCombinator, an incubator for startups. They hear pitches from would-be founders and pick the most promising and give them space to get their startups off the ground. The Ycombinator has helped the likes of Airbnb, DoorDash, Strips, and Instacart. Paul Graham said this:
“A lot of would-be founders believe that startups either take off or don’t. You build something, make it available, and if you’ve made a better mousetrap, people beat a path to your door as promised. Or they don’t in which case the market must not exist. Actually, startups take off because the founders make them take off. The most common unscalable thing founders have to do at the start is to recruit users manually. Nearly all startups have to. You can’t wait for users to come to you. You have to go out and get them.” – Paul Graham, Y Combinator
It has nothing to do with your personality. Nothing. You can even have a product that is already out there. What is the single more important thing you need to succeed? You need to want to make it happen. And most people can do it once they have something really important to sell, something really important to do, a purpose, a really big Why; what is called a BHAG (a Big Hairy Audacious Goal).
And that’s why I love training people who want to be career coaches. Because every single one I train is doing this for reasons bigger than themselves. They do it to help people. To help people get jobs. To put food on the table. To take their families for the vacation of the lifetime. To be the example to their children of working hard. To have the dignity of work. And I’m not good at it because I’m extroverted, I’m good at it because I love it. Don’t think for a minute introverts can’t run their own businesses. Introverts are naturals at maintaining boundaries. They think before they open their mouths, making them likely to be tactful and diplomatic. They tend to be close observers and hence insightful. And honestly, if you could choose either charisma or compassion but not both, which would you choose to be surrounded by? So the answer is: Yes, Introvert, you can run your own business. You don’t need to be loud. You just need to be determined.