Choosing a Startup as an Introvert

by Forrest Peterson

Choosing a Startup as an Introvert

As an introvert, not every office environment is right for me.

I’ve had some miserable experiences where I've felt trapped, uncomfortable, and unproductive because of my environment and the working culture.

I’ve always been drawn towards startups because they have endless opportunities to learn and create value; however, the stereotype that startups are nonstop, highly collaborative, in-person environments exists for a reason… those are real!

Things to know about this introvert

There is a general misconception that introverts don’t like being around other people.

My colleagues are generally shocked and don’t believe me when I tell them that I am an introvert because I'm gregarious and deeply engaged when interacting with others.

I’ve even built my career around finding ways to make people’s lives more efficient, productive, and enjoyable. Because at the end of the day, I love people!

But in order to be most effective in every area of my life, I need time to recharge and reflect. I like to think deeply about my experiences and the problems I’m trying to solve, and I cannot do that in a crowded noisy office.

I often do my best thinking on a walk or journaling with a cup of tea on a Sunday morning so if a startup wants to maximize my value, I need some space and flexibility to recharge and reflect.

4 Things to Look for When Evaluating a Startup to Join

Flexible Work Culture

This is the most ideal state for a startup to be in. It signals to me that they trust their employees to get their work done by their deadlines however they see fit.

Even if I did not need some peace and quiet every once and a while, this is a great indicator that a company cares about you as a person as well as their bottom line.

When a startup realizes its employees have other needs besides sitting in a chair at a desk for 8 hrs, my heart sings.

I want to be here in the next several decades so being able to take breaks without taking time off to go to the gym or a doctor's appointment is hugely important to me.

The change of environment and context switch allows me to synthesize the work I’ve done that day.

Remote Work Friendly

Beyond working when you want to work within a flexible work culture, the ability to choose where you want to work is key.

I love connecting and collaborating with my colleagues in the office, but I find the feeling of needing to be “on” for them exhausting if I have to do that every day.

I need to have the flexibility to work remotely for at least a few days a week with no questions asked.

This allows me to spend time in quiet places where I don’t have to be as “on” and can focus on deep work.

Distributed Teams

I find that having a global team is a great indicator that office norms within the company are such that you will not be trapped in the office from 9-5. When people are in different time zones it’s only fair to switch off who has night or early morning meetings, which consequently means your work day is unlikely to have your boss constantly checking in to make sure you are in your seat from 9-5.

Even if the team is not globally distributed, not having everyone be able to co-locate for a meeting means the startup is going to have meetings on Zoom or some other web conferencing platform.

This, in my opinion, is the greatest gift to an introvert and completely levels the playing field for introverts to participate more in meetings.

Our defaults are often to listen, reflect, and share our opinions. Because of this, we often have a harder time sharing our opinions because we cannot get a word in.

During face-to-face conversations in groups, there is rarely a pause for introverts to reflect on what's been said because someone else has jumped in with their response the second another person has finished their sentence. Because we don’t have the time to reflect, we rarely share despite having a lot to contribute to the conversation.

When you are on a Zoom, there is a slight delay (whether it’s real or just perceived) where people wait to ensure the other person is done speaking. This small moment provides introverts the opportunity to reflect before sharing their opinion since everyone is taking a pause. It is now just as likely for the introvert to speak as an extrovert I've found.

Culture of Reflection

This is a big indicator not only that I’ll fit in for the organization, but also that the organization will be willing to change when faced with new information.

The ability and willingness to pivot signals to me that they are more likely to reach profitability. It signals that they have a culture of testing and evaluating what went right and what went wrong during a project, and that they’ll apply those learnings to make products or services more effective.

How I evaluate if the startup's culture is a culture of introspection is by the questions asked of me during the hiring process. Asking questions like “Tell me about a time when you were able to change or pivot a project when receiving new information or expectation? ” is a good indicator that they want you to use the new information you’ve learned to update your plan.

The best thing I’ve seen to signal this was at my current company, DevRev. Everyone has to complete what they call It’s a 15 question survey that asks you to reflect on your past experiences as well as prompts. Nothing has signaled more to me that a startup cared about reflection than this, and fortunately it came true.

Good luck out there fellow introverts! I hope you find your best fit startup too!