October 27, 2015

How I Overcame Shyness and Became CEO of a Networking Company

BoyToday, I’m the CEO of a career-networking mobile app, Trustly. But not too long ago, I was a very introverted person! How did I go from being a shy, quiet introvert to being the CEO of a company — especially one based on networking with people?

When I was 12, I was accepted into an entrance-exam school that serves a much larger  geographic area than my small hometown. Because I was from a poor town and had to commute two hours each way to school, I struggled with a sense of inferiority. I compared myself against the wealthier students. I didn’t want to play with other kids because they had new toys and clothes. I avoided going to parties because they would always talk about their favorite cartoons, and we even didn’t own a T.V. I never invited friends over because we could barely afford to feed ourselves. I was embarrassed to host dinner guests if I could only offer them small bowls of plain rice with a few cheap vegetables.

I quickly realized from being around the more successful families at the middle school that a higher education was the way out of poverty. I studied hard, and I was the first one in my family of rural farmers to go to college. At my college graduation, I admired the commencement speaker, who was also the student body [resident. He was popular and charismatic. He seemed to know everyone. I envied his ability to be comfortable around strangers and make friends easily. It was at that moment that I realized I needed to make a change. I needed to find a way to connect with people, because I was tired of being the insecure, lonely kid who couldn’t escape his poor hometown.

The very next day after graduation, I found a job through the university career office selling cable service from door to door. On my first day, I stood at the door for at least an hour, too afraid to even knock.

I had always been the guy who overthinks everything, so I told myself: “Why not be impulsive for once? Why should I think so much? Once I knock on this door, I won’t have to worry about it anymore. If they reject me, at least I won’t spend another hour on it.”

Finally, I knocked on the door, and a nice lady answered. To my surprise, she patiently let me finish my awful pitch. Once I was done, she kindly told me she didn’t need cable service. But I talked to my customer without getting kicked out!

FaceFor the next three months, I knocked on literally thousands of doors and talked to thousands of people. I made zero sales, but I succeeded in facing my fears. Those three months changed my life. They pushed me out of my comfort zone to do something I had been afraid to do. In the process, I gained confidence and I learned the importance of making the first move. To stop being an introvert, I had to force myself to be bold and impulsive.

Eventually, I became a successful enterprise sales professional and sold more than $50 million in software during my 10-year career, working with tech giants including Google and Facebook. Now, I’m building my own app, Trustly, to help people (especially introverts) reach out to their networks.

Here are some things I learned that might help you change from an introvert to an active networker:

1. Be Bold — Make the First Move

At parties and events, you might be sitting next to a person that you want to meet, but nothing is going to happen if you’re silent for the whole night. Conversations can happen easily. Just pick some boring topic or ask a question to start a conversation, such as “Can I borrow a pen?”

2. Get to Know the People in the Middle

If you know somebody who can refer you to another person, it is much easier for you to talk to that person, isn’t it?  We also built that into Trustly, so we can help you find potential referrals to the person you want to talk to by showing you who the connectors are.

3. Don’t Feel Awkward If People Reject You

TableDon’t blame yourself if people reject you. If you have good intentions and someone doesn’t want to meet you or talk to you, it’s probably not your fault. They may be distracted, busy, or just not interested. Don’t take it personally. Just move on to someone who is interested in knowing you.

4. Bring Value to Others and Pay It Forward

At the end of the day, relationships are about value creation. If you don’t bring value to an interaction, people will ignore you. Your value-add could be insights, support, or a helpful referral. If you look at successful people, you will find that most of them are well-connected in their industries.

Sometimes, it takes only a little mental effort to overcome the internal fears that keep you from approaching people who might be meaningful connections.

This article originally appeared on Trustly’s Blog.

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Alex Ren is the CEO and cofounder of Trustlyapp.com, a referral-based mobile recruiting platform. He holds a bachelor's degree and master's degree in electrical engineering.