In business, personal weaknesses can be a liability -- only if you don't acknowledge them.
While business culture typically favors those who speak loud and act fast, we often undervalue the power of introverts at work and in society, says Susan Cain, author of Quiet, (Crown, 2012). They tend to think through problems and consider decisions more carefully than extroverts -- traits that could help introverted entrepreneurs build companies.
Yet, activities that drive new businesses, such as pitching investors, cold calling prospects and approaching strangers at networking events, can be daunting to entrepreneurs with quiet, introspective personalities. How can they succeed at such activities and even manage to take advantage of their introversion? We asked several self-described introverts who've cracked the code to provide tips for how young introverted treps can win in an extroverted world.
Here's what they had to say:
1. Have faith. For introverted entrepreneurs confronting tough social situations, confidence in yourself and your company can be your most powerful asset, says 26-year-old Trevor Shaw, founder of Barkudo, a mobile-app company in Cleveland. "The thing that drives someone like me to overcome that introversion is to really, truly believe that the service you're offering is something that will improve the lives of the consumer," he says.
Shaw, who regularly pitches the Barkudo app to bar managers and restaurant owners, says he rarely felt nervous approaching potential customers after he fully developed his product. "You're getting in front of them because you truly believe you can help them," he says.
2. Use the buddy system. Omri Mor, the 22-year-old founder of the San Mateo, Calif.-based music marketplace ZIIBRA, always takes a friend along to networking events because he finds it easier to break into conversations and approach strangers with a wingman in tow. "Friends break down social barriers," he says. "If you see me at an event, you'll see me with someone I know."
Similarly, Skylar Graika, the 24-year-old president and CEO of Mukilteo, Wash.-based web services company ARC Agile Technology, works in tandem with his older brother, 25-year-old Casey Graika, with whom he started the business. Casey plays the extrovert to Skylar's extreme introvert. With his brother by his side during meetings and networking events, Graika finds it much easier to overcome some of the social barriers introverts face. "You can come up with the best project ever, but if you can't present it and get attention for it, then it'll go nowhere," he says.
3. Level the playing field. If you can't play ball easily with extroverts, change the game, Mor says. After approaching someone at a networking event, he suggests asking for a follow-up chat in a one-on-one setting. Introverts tend to interact more comfortably in small groups or one-on-one.
"I always ask [a networking contact] something personal at the end of our conversation, then I ask them out to coffee," Mor says. "I think once I'm able to have a one-on-one with the person, I gain more confidence and become more extroverted. I say, 'Oh, OK, they're just another person,' even if they're a CEO."
4. Treat your introversion as an asset. Introverts tend to rely on themselves, which can be an asset when starting out as an entrepreneur. "When you look at the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, an introvert is someone who gains their power or strength not through other people, but from themselves," says Shaw from Barkudo. "It can be an awesome thing for an entrepreneur."
While some entrepreneurs might feel overwhelmed without the immediate support of a team of employees, introverts often manage just fine on their own. "A lot of times it's you versus the world," Shaw says. "Being an introvert can be useful because you're comfortable being alone and on your own."
What are your best tips for helping an introverted entrepreneur come out of her shell? Let us know with a comment.