The stereotype startup guy or gal is a high energy, always schmoozing, hard pitching and hand-shaking go-getter. But since 50 percent of the population are identified by psychological studies as introverts, that stereotype might need some examining.
But most people believe there's some sort of stigma about being an introvert, according to Nancy Ancowitz, author of Self Promotion for Introverts and blogger for Psychology Today. Ancowitz is a self-proclaimed introvert with a history in both large companies and her own enterprises. Many introverts, she says, "make great entrepreneurs." Introvert stereotypes include being more considered, looking inward for approval and guidance, and researching problems looking for perfect answers. These same characteristics can make great business leaders.
What advice can help the introvert succeed in a startup? Ancowitz says "When selling as an introvert, use your abilities as a good researcher to really know audience, know what matters to them, and figure out a product match before you go in. You'll be meeting with people, so rest up before social interactions with those you are selling to or speaking in front of. Prepare and practice because as an introvert you will think before you speak - as opposed to extroverts who speak as they think. So having a few lines ready, or thoughts composed in advance will be beneficial. Rest, prepare and practice is the magic formula because of the way introverts are wired."
That seems to work for Adelaide Lancaster, co-founder of In Good Company Workplaces, a community and workspace for women entrepreneurs in NYC that provides events, consulting, shared desks and meeting rooms. As a graduate student in a psychology program, Lancaster found out she was an introvert. In 2003 she formed a consulting practice helping women in professional transition. It was research and data driven. "As an introvert it was more comfortable being a resource instead of being in an interpersonal mode all the time. Now I'm in business now with an off-the-charts extrovert. Our focus is on entrepreneurs, and our consulting led into creating the workspace."
Lancaster gave me a tip for startup introverts. "While putting your business model in place, feedback is a critical component, but introverts may close themselves off to that - it might not occur to them to ask others for advice. They need opinions and iteration." Lancaster didn't talk to lots and lots of people, but she strategically chose 5 people to check in with and get advice from. She also notes "There's an opportunity cost if you're not connected to other business owners - if you over-emphasize research it can prevent you from finding easy solutions to your problems right, in your business network." Lancaster uses Twitter and LinkedIn groups to connect with business resources and share tips.
This connects well with Ancowitz's advice to "Get known as an expert, and build deep and meaningful relationships. Introverts do well with deep relationships and conversations rather than chit-chat. Be generous in introducing people to each other as well. Then it's easier for you to ask for introductions from your good contacts." She also notes "if you're an introvert there may be activities you'll like more than others, like writing or speaking to one person at a time. There are many ways to market with quiet activities like blogging, using Twitter, writing for newsletters, and doing guest columns that can help you promote yourself."
Any introverts out there? Share your tips and tricks in the comments below.
(Disclosure: I am quoted in Ancowitz's book as an expert and an NYU colleague. We both teach at NYU SCPS, but I did not hire her or have a business relationship with her. I report on the book not because of my quotes in it, but because it's an important guide for those who may have trouble promoting themselves, and that's why I agreed to be interviewed.)
Last updated: Mar 10, 2010
HOWARD GREENSTEIN is a social media strategist and evangelist, and president of the Harbrooke Group, which specializes in helping companies communicate with their customers using the latest Web technologies. @HowardGr