Matt Keiser, founder of the digital direct-marketing firm LiveIntent, learned in kindergarten that he was dyslexic. While Keiser says it sucked during school, he now credits his condition with giving him the tools he uses every day to grow his business.
-- As told to Liz Welch
I was identified as a poor performer and disruptive to class in kindergarten. My grandfather, a psychoanalyst, couldn't understand why. Then we found out why: dyslexia. I have very poor visual memory--it took me two years to learn the alphabet.
Dyslexics learn to create patterns and associate meanings to words or to topics. Often we're very good at deciphering large concepts, but bad at deciphering a sentence. Thankfully, my mother told me I wasn't stupid innumerable times. Research shows a disproportionate number of dyslexics are entrepreneurs and CEOs--but many are also in jail. There's a moment where you're given a choice between "I'm dyslexic and I can" or "I'm dyslexic and I can't."
Having no visual memory means I can't find things the way normal people can. I got a computer in my 20s and finally found a place where I didn't have to know where I stored something in order to find it. There's great freedom in the search bar.
Failure has been part of my life. Sucking really badly at so many things has made me compensate by surrounding myself with people who are great at those things. How do you sell your business model to the board and the sales team if you can't write? You have people on your team who are good at writing. My head of sales is an incredible people person who remembers everyone's name. I can't do that. I appreciate that he can. People don't like to work for somebody who's better than they at what they do. Instead, I invite them to take on all the tasks I can't do myself. It also allows me to do what I do best.
I question things that others take for granted. Since I see the world differently, I have to make sense of it so I can operate inside of it. People ask me, "If you could take a pill and not be dyslexic, would you?" The answer is no. I don't know what it means to see the world the way most people do.
Another way I learned to compensate was to read the first and last sentences of paragraphs of things to decide if I should read the middle. I can't ever get to everything, so I prioritize what I'm good at, which is having a global perspective and the passion and grit to get something done. And so as CEO, I find myself defending these ideas as my primary role. I like to push. That's how you grow your business.