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The ultimate introvert guide to navigate start-up culture

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If you work in a start-up, whether you’re founder, employee or mentor, you have undoubtedly been exposed to the severe extrovert culture that reigns in this industry. 

Some even say that networking is more important than actually building your product or service. Hundreds of start-up events are organized in major cities – just this month, there are more than 300 entrepreneurship meetups available on Meetup.com in London alone! If you are an introvert working for a start-up, you know the struggle: there’s always someone to meet, drinks to have, and foosball games to play.

Who cares that the most successful tech innovators are introverts? Who cares that Steve Wozniak, co-founder of Apple, actually said:

I don’t believe anything really revolutionary has ever been invented by committee… I’m going to give you some advice that might be hard to take. That advice is: Work alone… Not on a committee. Not on a team.”

Despite reading this, we carry on organizing hundreds of team-building activities, networking drinks, and brainstorming sessions, in the hope of fostering creativity and innovation. We put our employees in open-plan offices, even if it makes them feel worst and more dissatisfied with their work.

That’s the reality of the start-up industry. So what can you do if you are an introvert?

1. Learn to say “no” to people

If you work in the start-up industry, there’s a strong chance that your colleagues and peers are a bunch of extroverts inviting you to karaoke nights, after-work drinks, and movies on the weekend. I’m here to tell you that it’s okay to tell them “no”.

Think about it this way. We all wake up in the morning with a certain amount of energy. After a day of work, we have lost around 70% of that energy. If you go out, you might lose the remaining 30%, or even more: let’s say 40%. You are now in the minus. The next day, you wake up with 90% of the amount you usually get. And repeat. After a while, your morning energy level might be as low as 30%.

I’m not telling you to say “no” every time someone asks you to go out. The best thing you can do is to learn which events you must attend, and which are avoidable. If the guilt is unbearable, remember that 99% of networking is a waste of time, and move on.

2. Plan every meeting with a clear agenda

We’ve all been to meetings where one person dominated the conversation, so much that in the end, nothing got done. If you are booking an appointment with someone, establish a precise timeline and agenda points to cover. As an introvert, you can only benefit from it. First, everyone can prepare accordingly. Then, if someone monopolizes the conversation – something that happens fairly often when dealing with extroverts – you can remind them of the agenda points.

Saying “hey, we still have X items to cover before the end of the meeting” can turn a useless session into something productive.

3. Accept that you’ll be uncomfortable

Entrepreneurship is uncomfortable, whether you are an introvert or not. As a founder, it takes courage to build something and show it to the world. As an employee, it takes strength to perform steady and reliable work in this constantly buzzing and innovative industry.

Introverts will face awkward moments – like that time where you stood by yourself in a networking area, or when you were trying to speak up at a meeting but no one listened. In the end, you must accept that fact and move on.

A few more things you could do to avoid social anxiety and burnout at work:

– Create an emergency self-care kit to crack open when times are tough
– Read “Quiet”, the book that gives power to introverts
– Practice mindfulness with technology, using mobile apps

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