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The Quiet Startup: How to Go from Wallflower to Superpower

There has been a lot written about the power of an introvert as an entrepreneur – dubbed intrapreneurship. In a previous article, I shared a few of my own challenges as an introvert in business and in life, and how I’ve learned to embrace them.

Well, what if a company could also be classified as introvert or extrovert? As they mature, every company develops its culture and brand personality. And what if a company's natural modus operandi is introverted?

The Latin roots of introvert (intro- and –vertere) translate to “inward turning.”

A textbook introvert avoids large groups, enjoys solitude, doesn’t chase external affirmation, and listens more than she speaks. While there are shades of introvert, let’s agree most of us won’t seek out a seat at the front of the class.

Can companies turn in and still stand out?

Despite recent attention and writing about introverts in the workplace, is there a mathematical graph that shows how introversion might inversely or positively impact a company’s potential?

A Startup Has to Start Big and Stand Out.

Any introvert has a particular set of challenges. And, just like people, a business will have to build relationships, make the right connections and understand the world around it. A startup has an especially critical window in which to make its mark. Without understanding the market, establishing brand presence, and having a point of view, a startup will operate inside of a bubble that will never spur market (or world) domination.

From inception, a startup has to start big and stand out from the crowd. Startup founders are running at warp speed to get products to market, build out the team and bring in revenues. The challenges are many: recruiting, competition, growth, diversity, resources, sales, funding, culture, structure, etc. To stand out, the ultimate challenge may be who has the time?

Is Everyone Else at the Party, or Does it Just Feel that Way?

Friday night: the introverts are at home working (see challenges above!), while the extroverts are out getting down. In the world of business, there are so many “parties” that a company may simply not see value in spending the time or energy to go out. But in this analogy, the parties serve a purpose -- and it’s important to find the ones that matter. Sure, a business has to ‘get out there more’ but a show-up-at-everything approach may not be sustainable when bandwidth and money is tight.

I tell startups they don’t have to be a social butterfly or drop all of their money to sponsor events. It’s important to take the time to research the conferences, meet-ups and social networks most meaningful to growing the brand or connecting with target customers and potential partners. And having a presence at an event doesn’t always have to mean spending money. Get creative. Try guerrilla marketing tactics!

To get out there, companies also need to push themselves.

Startup life is busy and free time a foreign concept, especially in those precious first years. If a company comes to value branding and marketing as a real part of the journey, there will be less worry over time taken away from building products and applied to building networks.

Speaking of networks, don’t forget to tap yours. Startups have an incredible personal and professional network that can be easily overlooked, including investors, brand ambassadors, friends, family, customers and partners. Often investors, family and friends are more than willing to jump in and help with social amplification and public relations, if only asked.

On that note, always be networking. I’m often making valuable connections not only at professional and Silicon Valley events, but also at social and even school events. After all, you are your network!

One more piece of advice to startups: fake it ‘til you make it.

For now, define your brand personality and value proposition, and then get out there, network and be seen. Because in business, you can’t afford to be the best kept secret when you need to win.

Change What You Do, But Don’t Change Who You Are.

Introverts bring special skills to the table. They have the stamina to focus for long periods of time, demonstrate balanced and critical thinking (focus) and a kind of quiet power. This quiet power is true of companies too. Introverted startups need not appear bombastic when it’s not their natural state, but can still play to win. And if they apply introverted characteristics as strengths, startups will grow into their own.

Some famous tech intrapreneurs have included Bill Gates, Larry Page and Mark Zuckerberg. These leaders did not change who they were, but embraced their quiet power and worked hard at building brand presence. Their companies reflected a bit of their own introverted personality and yet grew to become market disruptors and dominators. Each of the three companies – Microsoft, Google, Facebook – is now a household name.

The lesson we hear growing up is not to change who we are, but embrace our strengths. That can apply in business too. A company that goes against its brand personality or culture is likely to regret it.

Examples include: 

J.Crew (I’m a die-hard fan), which suffered a drop in revenues when it strayed from its preppy, classic looks. And there’s the flop of New Coke. A quiet brand can try too hard to be edgy – remember the Carl’s Jr. sexy ads? And likewise an edgy brand can fail at quiet: in the 90’s, Las Vegas tried hard to push itself as a family vacation destination before returning to its roots with the very popular “what happens here, stays here” campaign.

Find Your Inner Superpower.

Ultimately, wallflowers can be superpowers. The quiet company can adopt proven strategies to get out there, and hire the right people, teams and expertise to help them do it.

Find companies you can emulate and find people you trust with your brand.

Make a plan, because 99 percent of the time customers and partners are not going to find your company and pluck it out of obscurity.

Extrovert does not = leader. Introverts are proven leaders as well. Introverted startups can also move markets by putting their own quiet power to good use.

Remember even wallflowers have their superpower. Time to get moving and embrace yours.