A tweet by Remy Sharp sparked my thoughts about being an introvert and starting a company. I don't hate human beings, but I do tend to keep to myself. How has this impacted my ability to run a successful business?
Launching a product is hard
If you don't have a good network, launching a product is hard. Without an immediate audience to provide feedback and help promote your idea, you're stuck waiting for users to trickle in. That means it takes longer to know what's good, what sucks, and what's missing. The birth of your product is a critical time, so the last thing you want is to have a lot of downtime and lack of feedback during this period.
When I launched my first SaaS product, that's exactly what happened. I promoted the service through my blog, fed some cash into AdWords, and waited for it to get recognized. I was expecting users to pour in, but that didn't happen. It took some time for things to really pick up, and I attribute that to my lack of social interaction.
Being an introvert, I wasn't tapped into social media the way many startups are. I didn't hang out at trendy bars with my tech friends. Working from home, I wasn't good at meeting people with similar interests. I thought I could let technology do all the marketing for me.
It seems that, when you keep to yourself, you end up underestimating the need to connect with people. In hindsight, I made a lot of mistakes because of that. Perhaps the best lesson I've learned out of all this is that you need people, whether you like it or not.
My product should have failed
By most accounts my product should have failed, but I had one thing that saved it. I'm much better at email than I am in person or on the phone. Because of this, I was able to connect with users who asked questions or signed up and build their trust. I had support emails pushed to my phone and would respond at all times of the day. My commitment to fast and friendly support was my saving grace. It kept things going as I learned how to market and grow a SaaS business.
As it turned out, I wasn't actually an introvert. I was just better at typing than I was at talking.
Once I learned to use that to my advantage, everything changed. If I was good at email, why couldn't I be good on Facebook and Twitter, too? That got me out of my shell so I could engage people better online, which has helped significantly. It also encouraged me to get out there in the real world and do the same thing.
Networking is a way of life
A very successful person once told me that networking is the key to success. "It's not what you know, it's who you know." This is unfortunately true in the world of business. If you think you can be an introvert and still be successful, you're in for a rough ride. Of course, nothing is impossible, but why make it harder for yourself? People aren't all that bad.
If you disagree with that last sentence, perhaps you've been hanging out with the wrong crowd. Find like-minded people that share similar interests. Go out of your comfort zone to reach out and meet people that are more like you. This can be difficult if you're no longer in high school or college, but it's not impossible.
That same successful person also told me that networking is a way of life. It's not something you force yourself to do just once a month at a local meet-up. It happens anywhere and everywhere you go. Instead of avoiding people, smile and act friendly. Offer to help them whenever you can. You never know when or where you'll spark up a conversation with someone who will change your life.
It's probably impossible
Is it impossible to be an introvert and an entrepreneur? Unless you're marketing your product directly to cats, I would say your odds of success are unlikely. I wasn't the most outgoing person and I definitely ran into issues. Fortunately, I was able to realize my aversion to social interaction and work on fixing it.
That was years ago. Since then, I've grown comfortable walking right up to people and introducing myself. I've given presentations to small and mid-sized groups of people. I try to be more active both online and in person. I attend local meet-ups, conferences, and other social gatherings a few times a month.
Although I used to be fine with the idea of being an introvert, I've learned that it's not the best personality to have when you're trying to run a business. It's the equivalent of being a lifeguard that doesn't know how to swim. Sure, you might be able to rescue a few people, but your odds of succeeding will be much lower because you're lacking a mission critical skill.
Photo courtesy of Dr. Wendy Longo.