Why Do So Many VCs Say They’re Introverted?

I wrote a tweet a couple months ago:

Who knew that introversion/extroversion was such a hot topic?! It generated a lot of replies from people I respect. Here’s one:

And this:

And this:

The three replies above, as I understand them, all make a similar definitional point: A person can be introverted and still be highly social; it’s just that the social interactions drain them of energy and they need to re-charge alone afterwards. Fair enough and I appreciated the clarification.

Now, if we accept the premise that VC is an extremely social enterprise, does this mean that VCs who consider themselves introverts by this definition — capable of being highly social — do these VCs find themselves drained of energy at the end of most days?

Mike Arrington replied and said yes:

Brad Feld has also written about how he is “fundamentally an introvert” and, similar to Mike, the venture work stream drains him completely once a year:

About once a year I completely use up my extrovert capacity.  I drain it completely to zero. … The last sixty days have been awesome but extremely intense. My ordinarily full days had the Do More Faster book tour layered on top along with a bunch of other public appearances, interviews, speaking engagements, and events.  About two weeks ago I started feeling a fatigue that I couldn’t get in front of and the last two weeks pushed me over the edge.

For those for whom this is true, who am I to judge their career decisions? It’s hard to perfectly match career to personality; no job will ever be 100% perfect. And this dimension of social/energy is just one consideration on whether VC is the right fit. Both Mike and Brad have been extremely successful in tech and venture capital. I don’t know Mike personally, but I do know Brad, and I know that on balance Brad loves what he does. The VC job, on balance, appears to be a great fit for him.

My point is that, in general, most of the VCs I know are highly extroverted. And this would be logical, because people tend to gravitate to jobs where a primary piece of the job description energizes them, not drains them. So with respect to VCs and introversion/extroversion, I believe there are not as many Mike Arringtons out there as we may think — i.e., people who are “painfully introverted” who do the job well even though it leaves them “exhausted.”

Among this crop of extroverted VCs I know, some still call themselves introverted, which perplexes me. They’re highly social and do not seem — at least to me — not very drained by all the socializing. Yet they nonetheless refer to themselves as introverted.

What’s going on?

First, as mentioned in my original tweet, the “introvert” label has come to be associated with adjectives like thoughtful, intellectual, wise, evolved. Introversion may be a higher status description than extroversion. Extroversion is associated with smarmy networkers. I don’t read many extroverts declaring themselves proud extroverts in public. I do routinely read about people proclaiming their introversion.

I’m fascinated by the evolution of terms and connotations. As “networker” has evolved from being a cutting edge business skill in the Dale Carnegie era to now being term to describe the worst excess of that original skill, so too has “introvert” evolved from formerly describing a shy, awkward minority to now being a broad term that connotes a refined, thoughtful, intellectual air about life that seemingly a majority of people now claim.

Second, the comparison set. VCs in general are among the most extroverted humans on the planet. They (we) are professional meeting-takers, emailers, phone callers, conference attenders, deal makers with others humans. (To be sure, I appreciated the point in the reply tweet embedded above that 1:1 founder meetings is a different type of “social” activity than big group meetings, and VCs do a lot of 1:1 small meetings.)

When you work in venture, you’re comparing yourself to other VCs. I know VCs who take 7-8 calls/meetings a day and then a long dinner, and they do this 4 days a week. But, they look around and see another VC who does all of the above PLUS post-dinner drinks followed by an all-weekend conference, and the first VC thinks, “Gosh, I’m an introvert compared to that guy.” It’s LeBron James comparing himself to Steph Curry and concluding, “I’m not a very good three point shooter,” when LeBron’s 3 is better than 99% of all humans’ 3 point shot. So, it’s a comparison / frame of reference issue.

So, to recap my thinking here:

  • You can be introverted and be highly social. If this is the case, you probably find those social interactions draining. But you can do it successfully.
  • Some VCs are introverted, successful, and are simply drained by the social part of the job.
  • The vast majority of VCs in my experience are highly extroverted, which makes sense in terms of trying to align career with personality.
  • Many more VCs describe themselves as “introversion” than who probably are. Perhaps because of status considerations. Perhaps because of their comparison set.

Thanks to everyone who replied to the tweet and emailed me about it. Definitely pushed my thinking. Happy to hear any additional feedback on these points in the comments.

2 Responses to Why Do So Many VCs Say They’re Introverted?

  1. jseliger says:

    A useful article: link to theatlantic.com on the topic

    Reply
  2. Preamble: It’s a shame all the action takes place on Twitter now. I thought Twitter was for staying abreast of the latest news and reacting to it in snappy “soundbites”, so to speak, and blogs were for long-winded ruminations and conversations. This place is a ghost town compared to what it used to be.;-)

    Ben, your cultural milieu is alien to me, and I don’t know any VCs, but I did have some thoughts on the subject.

    This meme about introversion reminds me of the obsession with “happiness”; I always thought that happy people were too busy doing things that make them happy to think much about it.

    When someone who acts like an extrovert tells me he’s actually an introvert, I assume that he believes he spends too much time in his own head, which he probably does, even if he does a masterly job of being social.

    I can usually see the wheels turning in his eyes anyway, so I deflect such a statement by going into interview mode, asking him something (unrelated to the subject of introversion) about himself. He’s always happy to oblige with a detailed answer, and these are the sort of people who have told me all my life what a great conversationalist I am. Which is funny, because if I break the spell and talk about me, I see the light go out. (Is that a mixed metaphor?)

    By the way, the only recommended postprandial drinks in social situations are digestifs. Sicilian Limoncello is good for that.

    Reply

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