I have a confession to make: I am an introverted entrepreneur. It’s almost an oxymoron, right? Sort of like an albino tiger, introverted entrepreneurs have the potential to exist, and do, but they are extremely rare, and usually natural selection takes care of them sooner or later.
Think of the visual that pops into your mind when you hear the word “entrepreneur.” You probably conjure up the image of a hyperkinetic individual with an unbridled passion for an idea that absolutely must get to the marketplace and get noticed. Sounds a lot like an extrovert, right? These are individuals completely comfortable shouting from the rooftops so that people will notice them and their ideas. Richard Branson, Oprah Winfrey, Mark Cuban and even Kanye West all come to mind. These people are bold, loud and boisterous. All entrepreneurs must be like this, right?
Wrong. I am not like this at all. And sometimes when it’s just me alone with my thoughts late, late at night, it’s the one thing I wish I could change about myself. Trust me, I know this is a fault, or maybe “disadvantage” would be a better choice of words. Over the years, I have worked and worked at trying to learn extroverted behaviors. But I must admit, as hard as I try, my natural state still reverts back to introvert. It’s frustrating for sure, but it’s also what makes me who I am. I don’t think I will ever slay this demon, and modern theory dictates that maybe I shouldn’t even try.
Being an introvert does not necessarily mean you are shy. Rather, it just means you draw energy from being introspective and reflective. Introverts are characteristically good at listening, processing information and analyzing problems. These are all skills that are valuable in business and leadership. (There have been volumes written about this topic, including the recent book “The Introvert Advantage: How to Thrive in an Extrovert World” by Marti Olsen Laney.)
But can a successful entrepreneur also be introverted? My short answer is yes, but it takes some extra work. The business activities that come naturally to extroverts are challenging and sometimes painful for introverts. However, you don’t have to look far to find some shining examples of introverted entrepreneurs. Bill Gates, Warren Buffett and Steve Wozniak immediately jump to mind.
For introverted entrepreneurs to succeed, they must recognize their weaknesses and surround themselves with people and resources that can make up for their introverted shortcomings. In short, they have to learn how to work with what God gave them. If you’re an introvert, maybe pitching business to a room full of people is not your thing. Instead, hire an extrovert who thrives in that situation to do it for you. You can concentrate instead on one-to-one selling situations that may allow your introverted qualities to excel.
You can also join networking groups that encourage you to connect with like-minded entrepreneurs. It will help nudge you from your introverted shell and push you out of your comfort zone. For me, the Helzberg Entrepreneurial Mentoring Program (HEMP) has been a godsend. Not only has HEMP allowed me ample opportunities to flex my extrovert muscles, but it has bonded me with local business owners going through the same challenges and pains as myself. And believe it or not, it has also allowed me to connect with some other introverted entrepreneurs. Maybe we’re not as rare as I first thought?
On November 19, 2015, HEMP will welcome Apple co-founder (and well-known introverted entrepreneur) Steve Wozniak to Helzberg Hall at the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts. He’ll be the featured speaker at an evening celebration of HEMP’s 20 years in Kansas City. Individual tickets go on sale Sept. 15. Details about the event are available at www.HEMPkc.org or by calling (816) 471-HEMP.