My background is in Computer Science. I’ve been programming since I was a kid. Programmers aren’t typically known for their amazing social skills, myself included. I am an introvert. I’m not comfortable talking to people I don’t know, and I’m not very eloquent. My wife lovingly calls me an oaf. Well, if you want to start a business, that’s not really acceptable. I needed to learn social skills, quickly.
Eventually I got to the point where I needed to speak to people on the phone or in person. Gulp. I didn’t have a product to show them. I knew nothing about my theoretical product, my industry, or my potential clients. I was absolutely clueless. What to do?
Every time I spoke to someone, I’d get sweaty. My mind would race. I’d be scared to dial the number. My chest would get tight. What if they ask me a question I don’t know the answer to? What if I sound stupid? Anxiety and nervousness would consume me.
I still remember going to Loyola University in Chicago to talk to a psychology professor about Roompact. It took five email conversations and phone calls to set the meeting up. She was one of the few people in the country who had experience studying roommates. I considered many meetings in Roompact's early days to be make-or-break for the company. This was one of them. I didn't get enough sleep, which was usual for the time, so I brought a Red Bull with me and arrived to campus 15 minutes early. I gazed out to Lake Michigan as I chugged the Red Bull and rapidly repeated my talking points.
I went downstairs to the basement of an academic building for our meeting. I chomped on a piece of gum to mask the overwhelming smell of Red Bull. After a huge, nervous build-up, the meeting went fine. Adrenaline took over. My introversion did not get in the way of my passion.
There's a parable about a Greek named Milo of Croton. When he was young, Milo began lifting and carrying a baby calf every day. After stringing together many days, weeks, months of carrying the ever-growing calf, Milo is extremely strong – he’s able to carry a huge bull.
With social skills you don’t go from 0 to 100 overnight. You keep trying again, again, and again…and eventually, you’re not terrible at it. You incrementally get better and better.
You have to rip off the band-aid. Talk to people. A lot of them. Often. Sell them what you’re offering. Ask them questions. Today, some complete stranger could wake me up from a deep sleep at 3 in the morning and I could give a sales pitch for Roompact's software pretty darn well.
Keep practicing -- it gets easier, and you'll get better. Passion outshines introversion.