Mark Thomas Miller

Do INTJs make good entrepreneurs?

I can see why you’d be asking this.

The majority of advice given 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 media1.

Something I realized when building my company was that the advice givers – the podcasters, influencers, speakers, and interviewees – were often extroverts. And they were doing those things – influencing, speaking, interviewing – because of their extroversion. Then, they advised 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 entrepreneur, 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.


INTJ Weaknesses

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.

16Personalities

INTJs are autonomous, broad-spectrum thinkers and doers. We bring projects to completion. We love to build. But we’re glass cannons: we have weaknesses, and we need to understand and protect against them before moving forward.

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:

Your goal should be to stay below the red line.

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.

Action step: What business activity do you dread? Instead of fighting against it, is there another way to provide the same result?


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 buy a car, so I looked at dealerships’ inventories online. Once I found a car I liked, I walked into the dealership determined to make my purchase. The salesman never needed to persuade me (although the free popcorn in the waiting room helped).

I needed to purchase a licensing system for my WordPress plugin business. There was no selling involved – just a few landing pages and blog posts.

The economy is in a transitional phase from In Your Face to On Your Screen. While extroverts may be drained by this medium, introverts are much more comfortable in it. Think about the following examples:

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:

Extroverts sell with persuasion. Introverts sell with information.

Tesla (the car company, not the man) 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.”


Networking as an INTJ

The reason that most people say “Your network is your net worth” is because it’s an alliterative phrase.

Some types should focus on networking to grow their businesses.

INTJs should not.

That’s because networking is one of our natural weaknesses. We can spend months learning how to properly make small talk, understanding industry and company politics, and comprehending social cues, but that’s an inefficient use of our time.

Alternatively, we could play to our strengths by making and selling a great product first. That’s because our strength is product creation, and creating a good product leads to a network if done correctly. Networks are a byproduct of products.

Build something worth talking about, connect others with it in your own introverted ways, and the network will eventually build itself 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. Back up your hypothesis with intensive logical research in a quiet room!”) 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 dependence3.

Choose the option that works best for you.


Focus on Revenue Systems

One area of business that comes naturally to INTJs – perhaps where we have one of the best advantages – is system building. This can be applied to the revenue that we collect from our businesses.

Instead of trying to sell one-off products to the general population, we can build a system that maximizes our revenue from a handful of existing customers. Here are some examples:

Why do I talk about these approaches? Maximizing revenue from a single customer has been an age-old business strategy. They teach it in business school (source: I went to one), they teach it online (source: I’ve seen it in multiple courses), and it happens to be great for INTJs because we don’t have to perform additional outreach to continue making a living.

Revenue systems allow you to focus more on products and less on marketing. And INTJs are great at creating them.


Entrepreneurial Strengths of INTJs

Like I said earlier, INTJs are glass cannons. While we have some weaknesses that make certain activities difficult, we have a number of strengths:


Working 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 love to be engaged in multiple projects. 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 tackle7:

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:

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

INTJs love to jump from project to project.

It happens to the best of us: even 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. His employees pleaded him to focus on Facebook9.

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.


Existential Dread Over Products

I struggled, and sometimes still struggle, with existential dread about what I’m making. My work is interrupted with thoughts such as, “Is this really what I’m here for?” and “This is a waste of the little time you have left.” This can be a severe demotivator.

I now believe this is a strength.

In the tiny block of time that my parts are able to function as a coherent whole, I’ve reasoned that I should try to feel as happy as possible.

Therefore, I try to combat existential dread with states of happiness: I must perform enjoyable activities so I don’t waste the time I have left. I try to use these activities to create income, which provides me with even more freedom to chase my interests.

The most important piece of advice I can give to you, from INTJ to INTJ, is to pick a business that excites you. Don’t read this as a motivational quote; use it as a metric for your decisions.

As an INTJ, you are much less flexible than other personality types.

You know when you hate doing something.

You know when there are alternatives.

If you’re doing something you find tedious or mundane, you’ll just stop doing it.

Many other types don’t have this problem, but INTJs do. We shut down when we hate what we’re doing. So you need to find something that you can get excited about in order to finish a project10.

Finding what excites you isn’t just recommended by me – it’s the primary advice of tried-and-true entrepreneurs such as 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).

I’ve found four main ways to find what excites you:

  1. 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 to make a living?
  2. 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?
  3. 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?
  4. Wait. Seriously. Be patient and enjoy life. I’ve found that some of the best ideas come after periods of complete relaxation11. 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.


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.

Because I’m a socially awkward INTJ, I try to automate as much hand-holding as possible. My websites are like employees who sell products and assist customers 24/7. My email lists continue informing potential customers and leading to sales even if I take a week off. My systems make my business work even when I’m not: I often wake up to new sales, new subscribers, and so on, without having to work in the business each day.

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 more comprehensive yet simple products, and they require less manpower to operate. Many extroverts hate this level of detail and are overwhelmed by the intensive thought that must go into setting it up. INTJs frolic in it.

Don’t look at your introversion as a weakness. It’s just a roadblock that forces you to discover a hidden strength.


Stress & Entrepreneurial Burnout

INTJs may experience an extraordinary amount of stress, depression, and burnout in business. This is often caused by pushing ourselves to do tasks that cause suffering (see the picture inside the INTJ Weaknesses section near the top of this post). It can also come from overthinking, malnutrition, dehydration, and lack of sleep.

Aside from correcting the physical causes of these problems, it may be helpful to look at the following list of activities that can brighten your mood:


What if I don’t know how to do _____?

Teach yourself.


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.


Advice for Beginners

If I could write a letter to an INTJ who was just starting out in business, it’d contain the following points:

  1. Make a business in a space where you already spend your time.
  2. People who say to “Always be networking. Hustle 24/7!” likely aren’t doing it themselves. This is just unrealistic. Don’t listen to them.
  3. Don’t be so hard on yourself. You’ll get where you want to be.
  4. You’re not being lazy if you need to take a break to decompress every once and a while. (Some of my most profitable and productive days in business have ended at 7 PM when I wrapped up work to play Zelda.)
  5. Learn about your strengths and weaknesses. I really like using 16Personalities for this.
  6. Get enough sleep, exercise, and nutrition.
  7. If you don’t want to do something, find another way to achieve the same result.
  8. Running a company will occasionally involve menial tasks like filling out government registration forms. Don’t stress over these tasks – they can usually be completed online in less than 15 minutes.
  9. You are a human. Therefore, if it’s humanly possible, you can do it. Don’t sell yourself short.
  10. Focus on the projects that excite you.

Footnotes

  1. This quote comes from Todd Brison, author of The Creative’s Curse.
  2. Two articles that favor written communication over verbal communication come from the CTO of Hubspot and the CEO of AudienceBloom.
  3. 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.”
  4. For more information on this type of business model, look up “SaaS business” or “subscription business“.
  5. The most successful affiliate businesses promote products that the owner has used and loved. Don’t operate a scammy business in this space.
  6. Many thought leaders say that entrepreneurs should “Stop thinking and start doing,” but this is only partially true: INTJs must spend time to understand the issue before tackling it.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. This is the source on the Wirehog story.
  10. I’ve made money on products that I wasn’t passionate about, and it was soul crushing. I needed to spend hours per week supporting a product that I didn’t like – just because it had paying customers. Take your time and find something you like to do before proceeding.
  11. John Paul DeJoria, founder of Paul Mitchell and Patrón Tequila, goes on retreats by himself several times per year. He credits them as giving him some of his best ideas.