Entrepreneurship for INTJs
The majority of advice in the entrepreneurial space is centered around extroversion. Our main channels of education – podcasts, social media, interviews, and so on – promote the message that only an outgoing “people person” can be successful at entrepreneurship.
But some of us aren’t like that. We don’t want to be networking – we’d rather be working on our projects and pushing ourselves to learn more.
And that’s okay.
The message told on the Internet — be everywhere, get in front of people, show your face on every social media — is not one size fits all. We only see that message a lot because it comes from people who want to be everywhere, get in front of people, and show their face on every social media.
Something I’ve realized over several years of building products is that the advice givers – the podcasters, influencers, speakers, and interviewees – are often extroverts. And they are doing those things – influencing, speaking, interviewing – because of their extroversion. They advise everyone to take the paths that worked for them: the extroverted approach.
An introvert should not be following an extrovert’s roadmap to build a business. They need to follow a different path to reach success – a path that’s rarely talked about because introverts aren’t doing the talking.
As an INTJ who has built his own products, I wanted to shed some light on the topic. This post contains the path I’d recommend for someone who wants to do the same.
It’s lonely at the top, and being one of the rarest and most strategically capable personality types, INTJs know this all too well. INTJs form just two percent of the population […] It is often a challenge for them to find like-minded individuals who are able to keep up with their relentless intellectualism and chess-like maneuvering. People with the INTJ personality type are imaginative yet decisive, ambitious yet private, amazingly curious, but they do not squander their energy.
INTJs radiate self-confidence and an aura of mystery, and their insightful observations, original ideas and formidable logic enable them to push change through with sheer willpower and force of personality. At times it will seem that INTJs are bent on deconstructing and rebuilding every idea and system they come into contact with, employing a sense of perfectionism and even morality to this work.
Despite these qualities, we have a number of weaknesses that we need to protect against if we want to find any kind of success in entrpreneurship: we prefer solitude to sociality. We don’t like “high touch” businesses. We dislike making split-second decisions. We can feel existential dread from career choices.
Most advice tells you to fight against these kinds of weaknesses. I disagree.
Tasks are much easier when you don’t battle against your default settings. I liken this method to a scale with three parts:
Basically, we should be pushing ourselves into being uncomfortable but not into suffering because of our work. That’s how we’re going to not only do our best work, but also stay content while we’re building our businesses.
This scale is different for every type. For instance, ESFPs would dread technical work, but they’d use their charm to socialize and sell their products.
ISFJs would dread negative customer feedback, but they’d excel in service-oriented businesses where they could support their clients.
Since you’re in charge of your business, you need to design its rules to amplify your strengths and hedge against your weaknesses. This, for instance, is the conversation that occurs in my head:
I dread networking and cold selling, but I know that people love my products. So how can I make my products the focal point of my business? How can I remove extroverted selling from my business plan?
Your personality traits aren’t weaknesses, but rather roadblocks that force you to take a different path from extroverts. Instead of fighting against your default settings, accept them, and get the same results in a way that coincides with who you are.
The rest of this post will help you find ways to do so.
Selling as an INTJ
Most advice tells you to sell by networking, shaking hands, knocking on doors, and so on. This advice likely originated from extroverts in the days of brick-and-mortar businesses.
The Internet completely changes this.
For example: I needed to get my hair cut, so I did a Google search and drove to the barber with the best reviews. There was no selling involved – just pixels on a screen.
I needed to purchase a licensing system for a piece of software. Nobody talked me through the process – I just read some blog posts and made the buying decision on my own.
I needed to buy a car, so I looked at dealerships’ inventories online. Once I found a car I liked, I walked into the dealership and purchased it. (The salesman didn’t have to say a single word.)
While extroverts may be drained by this medium, introverts are much more comfortable in it. Think about the following examples:
- When was the last time you bought a product from a telemarketer? (Or did you just ignore the call because it was from an unknown number?)
- When was the last time that a door-to-door salesman sold you an appliance? (Or did you make your purchase after looking at online reviews?)
- How much money have you spent on Amazon? On apps? On software? On electronic entertainment?
That is, instead of persuading people with charm and wit, focus on informing them with all the data they need to make their purchase. I liken this to a simple phrase:
Tesla (the car company) adopts this introverted selling approach to extroverted car sales industry. In his post The Tesla Approach to Distribution, Elon Musk (widely typed as INTJ) writes:
Our Product Specialists are trained to answer questions about electric vehicles in general, not just ours. They are not on commission and they will never pressure you to buy a car. Their goal and the sole metric of their success is to have you enjoy the experience of visiting so much that you look forward to returning again.
Our stores are designed to be informative and interactive in a delightful way and are simply unlike the traditional dealership with several hundred cars in inventory that a commissioned salesperson is tasked with selling. Our technology is different, our car is different, and, as a result, our stores are intentionally different.”
A few months ago, I test drove a Tesla. Their specialist provided me with information about the car for over an hour during the drive. He came off as a fellow enthusiast of the electric cars (who wasn’t trying to push me into making a purchase), and this made him all the more enterprising. It was a delightful experience, I can’t wait to buy one of their cars in the future, and I’ve highly recommended them since.
Networking as an INTJ
In college, we were required to attend networking fairs and mixers. I remember standing in a twenty-person-deep line to talk to a prominent businessman and remembering how fake it all felt. (Surely others could feel it too?)
I didn’t feel any connection with this. After college, I chose to ignore mixers and engaged in one-on-one communication instead. I met people for coffee, I sent short-and-casual cold emails, I gave (genuine!) compliments over social media to people I truly appreciated. When I attended a conference, I sat in the back and approached speakers after everyone else left. When I used an interesting product, I would critique issues with the user experience, write up a small paper with fixes included, and send it to the CEO.
All of this worked light years better than mixers. I’ve been able to use these tips to meet people like the CTO of the United States, several ultra-successful entrepreneurs, investors, influential small business owners, community leaders, and so on.
My second tip for networking is fairly simple: INTJs’ strength is often product creation, and creating a stellar product leads to a network if done correctly. (Why would they pay attention to you if you don’t have something interesting to offer?)
Build something worth talking about, do some introverted promotion (I like subreddits, message boards, social media, etc.) and a network can form around you.
“Why don’t I see more INTJ entrepreneurs?”
I believe that the reason you don’t see more INTJ entrepreneurs is because they don’t care about being seen. After all, they’re INTJs. They’re not fireworks.
The typical entrepreneur making media appearances is an extrovert. Their strategies will drain you, just as your strategies (“Spend weeks in deep thought of a single problem! Disassemble the problem and piece it together using first principles!”) wouldn’t be a fit for them. There are tradeoffs to both approaches.
Neither is wrong.
Should I quit my job to build a business?
Divide your current net worth by your monthly expenses. This is roughly how many months you’d be able to survive if you quit your job today to start a business.
If this is too risky for you, I recommend hedging against your downside by starting off with a side business. You can quit your job when your side income overtakes your monthly expenses or it overtakes the income you’re receiving from your current job.
Keep in mind that you don’t ever have to quit your job. The success of your side business can give you the flexibility to find a company with a great culture and work with them out of preference, not dependence.1
Choose the option that works best for you.
Focus on Revenue Systems
For an introvert, the ideal business isn’t a high-stakes selling environment with one-off customers. It’s a business where you can use some ingenuity to make sure that customers either (1) return frequently, (2) pay on a recurring schedule, or (3) help you promote your products.
- Adopt a subscription model that collects monthly payments from customers. When done right, you’ll make more money each month, and then each year: a permanently increasing revenue stream. A successful startup built on this principle is ConvertKit, which is making over $800k per month and growing. Once you’ve obtained a customer, they will continue paying you over and over again.2
- Create complimentary products to increase your revenue from a single endeavor. For example, if you’re designing a video game, you could create merchandise or sell its soundtrack to increase the project’s revenues. If you expend energy to make the main product more popular, the complimentary products will sell more as a result. “A rising tide lifts all boats.”
- Affiliate programs can supplement your product revenue. Basically, if you recommend a product you’re affiliated with, you’ll get a small percentage of each sale.3 (For instance, if you’re developing WordPress plugins, you could promote your favorite website hosts to increase your revenues.)
- You can create a polar pricing model if you want to play the long game. You’d do this by offering products at both ends of the pricing spectrum. For example, Tim Ferriss (INTJ) sells his products for either nearly free or very expensive. Free products grow his audience, and expensive products are sold to his most dedicated fans.
- If your business is profitable and you don’t want to reinvest money back into it, you can invest it into other assets to try to make a passive return. Arnold Schwarzenegger (INTJ) did this before he became famous.4
When implemented, proper revenue systems will allow you to spend more time building and less time promoting.
Work in Solitude
Unlike extroverts, who do well in personnel-heavy businesses, INTJs perform at their highest level when they’re able to focus on complex problems without interruption.
Give yourself blocks of uninterrupted quiet time – it only needs to be a few hours here and there – to do serious, deep work. Many INTJs cite this as the technique that allows them to work on so many projects without burning out.
We Require Flexibility
INTJs don’t like to be tied down to one function. As you can see, each of the following INTJs works in multiple fields that allow them creative freedom and flexibility on the projects they choose to tackle:5
- Derek Sivers (INTJ) has been a musician, producer, circus performer, entrepreneur, TED speaker, and book publisher. He started an e-commerce business, CDBaby, automated the entire business through simple systems so he’d only have to work a few days per year, and sold it for $22 million (which he is giving to charity). He now spends his days writing and programming while working on various side projects.
- Paul Jarvis (INTJ) is a designer, freelancer, author, podcaster, and founder of a successful solo-business that provides digital products for creatives. He lives a quiet life on an island with his wife and pet rats, and he manages his entire operations via computer.
- Tim Ferriss (semi-confirmed INTJ) is a best-selling author and angel investor who has the (frequently) #1 business podcast on iTunes. The New York Times calls him “A cross between Jack Welch and a Buddhist monk.” and he has deep interests in everything from Stoicism to cooking and fitness.
Occasionally, INTJs can feel morally called to their line of work: the world needs better design, humanity needs more efficient infrastructure, etcetera. Due to the nature of morality, however, you don’t hear many lesser-known entrepreneurs discuss it, so I’ll need to pull from some more famous examples:
- Arnold Schwarzenegger (widely typed as INTJ) feels obligated to push his capabilities to the extremes – the reasons why he’s been a bodybuilder, politician, investor, actor, businessman, and author. His backstory is quite interesting, and it appears in the footnotes.4
- Elon Musk (widely typed as INTJ) has stated that the logic behind his companies is to do his part in accelerating humanity to find the meaning of life. To do this, builds the tools necessary to keep us alive: clean energy and transportation that allows us to expand our scope of the universe. Once we’ve amassed a better understanding of the universe, he believes we’ll have a better chance at understanding the reason we exist.
- Mark Zuckerberg (widely typed as INTJ) plans to use Facebook to connect the world into a living, breathing network of communication that permeates every community. He could use this power to lower the walls of discrimination and oppression. Interestingly enough, he keeps his ideas in a leather-bound notebook entitled The Book of Change, a practice which some find strange, but may sound similar to other INTJs.
Find what excites you – or what you feel morally called to do – and develop a long-term plan that allows you to work on it as a career.
On Additional Projects
While flexibility allows us to do our best work, it’s only good in moderation. Too much flexibility allows us to jump from project to project, never truly finishing anything.
You see this in Elon Musk, whose drive compels him to work on Tesla (both the cars and the solar energy division), SpaceX, OpenAI, Neuralink, and The Boring Company at the same time.
Zuckerberg battled with it during the creation of Facebook. While Facebook was blossoming into an empire, he almost ditched it because he wanted to build a different project called Wirehog.6
Having multiple projects isn’t a bad thing – in fact, it’s a way to quickly learn valuable new skills, create additional income streams, and gain insights – but we should recognize our inner desires and apply systems to keep our main projects under control.
Basically, you can work on multiple businesses as long as you’re finishing the ones you start.
The most important piece of advice I can give to you is to start a business that excites you. Don’t read this as a motivational quote; use it as a metric for your decisions. Finding what excites you is the primary advice of Richard Branson, Steve Jobs (who gives a succinct argument in that video), and Paul Graham (who has definitely worked with more startups than you or I in his lifetime).
Of course there are other ways to build something. I’ve built products just because customers were asking me for them. Yet, while they did increase revenues, I found that I was often unhappier because I didn’t take excitement into consideration before embarking on them.
I’ve found four main ways to find what excites you:
- Find the recurring events in your life. The white noise of adulthood can easily drown your inner desires. Don’t be afraid to go back to your childhood and teenage years and build up from what you’ve always loved doing. Find the topics that are consistently recurring throughout your life – the project that made you jump out of bed in the morning, the plans etched in the margins of your notebooks. Can you capture that essence in a new project?
- Look to your future. What would you be excited to build, even if you currently know nothing about it? What have you always wanted to learn? Learning something from scratch is easier than you think.
- Ask yourself simple questions. What activities do you find yourself doing when you’re not working? What hobby are you spending the most money on? In what communities do you spend most of your free time?
- Wait. Be patient and enjoy life. I’ve found that some of the best ideas come after periods of complete relaxation.7 Only move forward after you’ve found a true interest – you’ll need that passion to continue working.
Your idea should not immediately feel like work, although there will be tedious, boring work involved. If you haven’t found an idea that excites you yet, keep looking. Don’t settle.
Passion Aids Marketing
When you do need to talk about your business, it’s good to be passionate.
INTJs can be bad at conversation unless we’re passionate about the topic being discussed. Then, our expertise and confidence shine through. Others see these qualities as trustworthy.
When you build a business you’re passionate about, you’ll be seen as “the person who really loves what they’re doing” rather than a slimy salesperson.
(For more on this, see the section about Tesla under Selling as an INTJ above.)
Introversion and Business Automation
Introversion is a detriment to entrepreneurialism, but it doesn’t make business impossible. It can actually lead to a long-term strength: business automation.
Here’s an example:
The extroverted approach to business is to get customers on the phone or meet them in person, then try to make the sale. While this approach can quickly turn a profit, it doesn’t scale without significant manpower (for instance, hiring a sales team and a call center). It seems that the extroverted solution is usually to tackle problems with manpower instead of strategic systems.
The introverted approach to business is to automate as much hand-holding as possible. Your website should be able to sell and assist customers 24/7. Your business systems should allow you to take a few weeks off without hurting its operations.
I intentionally build my products to have a small learning curve, thus, a smaller room for customer support. Customers, in turn, love their ease-of-use which becomes a differentiator against my competition.
I’ve found that introverted businesses tend to apply more efficient systems, create simpler products, and they require less manpower to operate. Don’t look at your introversion as a weakness. It’s just a roadblock that forces you to discover a hidden strength.
What if I don’t know how to do _____?
Teach yourself. Learning something from scratch is easier than you think.
What about hiring people?
If you’re focusing on automating most of your business with technology, you may not need to hire anyone. For instance, you can usually automate parts of your business with the proper design or technical skills.
However, I highly recommend hiring professionals to handle specific business endeavors – for instance, hire an accountant to handle your taxes. Delegation can be uncomfortable at first, but it relieves a great deal of stress.
If you need to hire people to scale your business, treat them with the utmost respect and appreciation. Trust in their intelligence and capability, and allow them the space they need to operate.
Also, I highly recommend focusing on why rather than what when issuing orders. “I would like you to do X because Y” gives them a metric on which to base their decisions.
Sometimes (especially in the beginning), you won’t have the money to hire someone. In this case, do it yourself until you have enough money to hire someone. Just remember to limit your suffering as much as possible.
In closing, I have only one thing to say: if you’re excited to build something, start building it. Start teaching yourself, sticking your neck out, and learning new things. You have so much more talent and potential than you think.
This is similar to what online entrepreneur Patrick McKenzie did when he joined Stripe Atlas: “Stripe is offering a very compelling mixture of impact and autonomy. I’m particularly attracted to the company culture of employees not being restricted to individual job descriptions, but rather getting autonomy and ownership to bring projects to completion. That appeals to the broad-spectrum generalist in me.” ↩︎
The most successful affiliate businesses promote products that the owner has used and loved. Don’t operate a scammy business in this space. ↩︎
Schwarzenegger grew up poor (in a house with a dirt floor and no running water), but became a millionaire in his early twenties before he was ever a film star. He reasoned that if he started multiple companies – a mail order business and bricklaying business – while he was young, he could invest the profits in renting and flipping real estate. He wanted to use the profits from these endeavors to ensure that his living expenses were covered while he devoted himself to his larger goals. Source. ↩︎ ↩︎2
Of the people on this list, Sivers and Jarvis are confirmed; Ferriss tweeted that he believed he was an INTJ, but has not taken the test yet; Schwarzenegger, Musk, and Zuckerberg are widely assumed to be INTJs. ↩︎