Introversion and extroversion are signature traits that ordinarily define how a person prefers spending his or her time. Introverts tend to prefer quiet, solitary, and introspective experiences, while extroverts prefer energetic, collaborative and social environments. Clearly, neither is inherently better than the other, but for introverts, entrepreneurship can be especially challenging.
Does this mean introverts can’t be entrepreneurs?
Absolutely not. In fact, there are some breakout examples of introverts who became some of the most successful business owners in history.
The introvert’s plight
Why do introverts struggle in an entrepreneurial position to begin with? For starters, entrepreneurs tend to do better when they’re charismatic, a trait usually associated with extroversion. Charisma helps you make more connections, inspire your employees, earn trust faster and grow your audience. Being social and outgoing also helps you meet new people at networking events (or even be willing to attend them in the first place); and the entrepreneurial lifestyle is an overall chaotic and noisy one -- something few introverts enjoy.
So, how are introverts not just able to survive, but to thrive? Take a look at these entrepreneurs, and how they've been able to use their introversion to succeed:
1. Larry Page
Larry Page co-founded Google alongside Sergey Brin -- and we all know how that story ended. Page served as Google’s CEO until 2001 and then re-assumed the position in 2011 (lasting until 2015, during Google’s migration to Alphabet).
At the time, many saw Page’s appointment as an odd choice, because he’s highly reserved, and as you can imagine, “geeky.” But Page’s quiet, intellectual nature allowed him to create an innovative new product and create a unique brand that still survives as one of the country's best examples of corporate culture.
2. Bill Gates
You likely recognize Bill Gates as the founder of Microsoft, and someone who is now worth billions of dollars. Gates started out as a solitary introvert, but he used the people around him to complement his own strengths and weaknesses.
In his own words, “If you're clever, you can learn to get the benefits of being an introvert, which might be, say, being willing to go off for a few days and think about a tough problem, read everything you can, push yourself very hard to think out on the edge of that area. Then, if you come up with something . . . you'd better learn what extroverts do, you'd better hire some extroverts and tap into both sets of skills.”
3. Warren Buffet
Warren Buffet, the founder and CEO of Berkshire Hathaway, is one of the wealthiest people in the world and a prominent figure in investing. He's also known for his level-headedness, intellectual persistence, and critical thinking. He’s introverted by nature but still manages to lead one of the most prominent businesses in the country.
He brings that intellectual level-headedness into his communication style, letting his introverted tendencies serve as an entrepreneurial strength.
4. Mark Zuckerberg
Facebook founder and billionaire Mark Zuckerberg was once described by COO Sheryl Sandberg as “shy and introverted, and he often does not seem very warm to people who don't know him, but he is warm.” Zuckerberg has been able to build charisma through his introversion, as contradictory as that may sound.
He surrounds himself with team leaders who complement his strengths, which has enabled him to build Facebook into the company it is today.
5. Elon Musk
It might be strange to think that a man who’s been described as the “next Steve Jobs” was once a reserved, introverted engineer -- but Musk himself is open about that past.
Somewhere along the line, Musk saw the power he could wield through communication and socialization and recalibrated his personal reserve to help his ideas flourish in an environment that traditionally favors extroverts.
What lessons can other introverts learn from these amazing leaders?
- Introversion doesn’t dictate your behavior. Just because you’re introverted doesn’t mean you can’t socialize. Take notes from Elon Musk or Warren Buffet, and work past your introversion by developing yourself into a more communicative, charismatic figure.
- There are some advantages to introversion. Take pride in your introversion for what it is. Introverts tend to be more contemplative and more thorough thinkers, so use those advantages to come up with better solutions for your business.
- Nature doesn’t predict success or failure. Neither extroverts nor introverts are guaranteed to succeed in the business world. Your success is determined by the actions you take, not by who you are as a person.
- You can always make up for your weaknesses. It’s possible, but unwise to try to do everything yourself -- especially if you’re introverted. If you know you’re not outgoing and don’t like engaging with others, find teammates who can make up for those tendencies.
Being an introvert doesn’t mean entrepreneurship is impossible for you, and it doesn’t even mean it has to be difficult. It just means you have a different set of skills and a different disposition that must be considered when you're building your team and your business.
Know your own strengths and weaknesses, and adapt or make up for them accordingly; with this approach, you’ll be successful no matter how you started out.
Jayson DeMers is founder and CEO of AudienceBloom, a Seattle-based SEO agency. He's the author of the ebook, “The Definitive Guide to Marketing Your Business Online.”