Sujayath Ali: An introvert entrepreneur confesses

Sujayath Ali

Does a typical entrepreneur need to be gregarious, outgoing and eloquent? Do introvert entrepreneurs need a unique survival guide? Sujayath Ali, Co-founder, Voonik, an e-commerce fashion portal, describes his challenges as an introvert entrepreneur…

 

My Co-founder, Navaneeth and I are introverts in the true sense of the word. When we started our company, Voonik, we wondered what shape the culture of our enterprise would take. A company’s culture takes after its founders and there we were – boring and shy introverts. How could we create an outgoing company culture and should we? How could we hire extroverts when we were introverts?

Well, we ended up founding our company on a new ground. We created the culture of ‘being nice’. A company for nice people to hang out and work together. It did not matter whether one was an introvert or extrovert as long as he or she was “nice”. And it was a concept that worked!

Yes, networking events can be a nightmare for people like us. Navaneeth and I tried attending a couple of events but we ended up talking only to each other. There were events which I attended but returned without talking to a single person.

Sujayath Ali

So, I decided to tackle my problem head-on. I converted my meetings into one-on-one interactions. I would introduce myself to a new person, exchange business cards with him or her and move on. No small talk and no chitchat. Then I would reach out to them when I was planning to travel to their cities. Introverts are best at one-on-one interactions and it worked out fine for me. I improvised further by planning regular trips and setting up ad-hoc meetings on certain occasions. Sometimes, I would say I was in their city, despite being elsewhere and arrange a quick trip when they were available. But there were days when I travelled to other cities and came back without a single meeting – it’s all a part of the game.

There are some advantages to being an introvert. It is very beneficial when it comes to fundraising as investors like to see ‘doers’ who get things done and not just ‘talkers’ who have grand ideas.

Then comes sales. People seem to believe that those who work in the sales and business development departments of a company should be extroverts? This is not true. Some of the best sales guys that I have met are introverts. They have a different sales playbook which is a lot more effective. They are not pushy but customers like that attitude. There is no unnecessary conversation, no jokes and no flattery. They just explain the value prop in a direct way and prove the value logically through spreadsheet models, case studies and testimonials. It works.

Though I am an introvert, public speaking has never been a problem for me. But this is not true for my co-founder. So, I end up taking up all the public speaking assignments. My co-founder manages the day-to-day activities of the company when I am out. The downside of this arrangement is that I have become the face of the company and not many people know about my co-founder. 

Finally, there are times when an introvert needs to show courage. Being an introvert cannot be an excuse for lack of courage. You have to take tough decisions. You have to deliver bad news. You have to communicate with your teams during tough times. There are no shortcuts here.

Like Ben Horowitz says, "Every time you make a hard or correct decision you become a bit more courageous, and every time you make an easy or wrong decision you become a bit more cowardly. If you are a CEO, these choices will lead to a courageous or cowardly company."

 

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