Entrepreneurs gearing up for their first meeting with potential investors are sure to have a million different things on their mind that are stressing them out. Is the pitch the right length? Is it filled with jargon or ridiculous assumptions? Is the font on the slides the right size?
But there is one other that's often overlooked: Am I dressed appropriately?This post is brought to you by Gillette.
When you pitch a venture capitalist, you aren't so much selling your product as you are selling yourself, your team and you business plan. There are thousands of variables that can influence the way VCs respond to your pitch, and dressing appropriately - while completely unrelated to your product, team or business - will have a subconscious effect on their opinions.
Don't Distract the VCs
The point of dressing appropriately is to not only convey that you have the wherewithal to make the simplest of decisions, but also to keep the VCs focused on what's important - your product and your business. If there is any question in what you've decided to wear to a pitch, this will ultimately distract the VCs, preventing them from being sold on your idea.
Greenhill SAVP, gave The Wall Street Journal an example of very distracting clothing worn by an entrepreneur pitching him an Internet startup during the dot-com era. According to his story, a woman dressed in a strange green outfit entered his office unannounced and offered up a business plan. "You lost me at hello," Brotman told her.New York VC Steve Brotman, co-founder of
The woman was selling a product with "avocado" in the name, and was attempting to dress like an avocado. "I'm not about to do a deal with a lady dressed like an avocado," said Brotman. The lesson here? Don't let your product influence how you dress; VCs don't enjoy gimmicks.
Safe Bet: Business Casual
A general rule of thumb for appropriate dress when speaking with VCs seems to be "business casual." Here's a sample outfit that fits this profile, starting from the ground up: black dress shoes or boots (no sneakers, flip-flops or Crocs), a nice pair or jeans or dress slacks (no rips, darker shades work better, in my opinion), solid color t-shirt or polo (collared shirt with no tie could work also), and a black casual sport coat.
Plus or Minus 20%
While your appearance should not be distracting or influenced by gimmicky product promotion, if done right you can use it to your advantage. Boulder's Andrew Hyde of TechStars suggests entrepreneurs use the "20% rule" when deciding what to wear.
"You want to look 20% better or worse than your actual position," he says. "The key is to either look good enough to make them think you're trendy, or bad enough to make them think you're hungry."
humorous T-shirts for venture capitalists, says whatever you do, "Don't wear a blue shirt, or they will think you are mocking them."I would recommend going the safe route, but more confident entrepreneurs could use this tactic to their advantage. Hyde, who also co-founded a clothing line of
Unsure? Just Ask
But what does a seasoned venture capitalist think after being pitched hundreds, if not thousands of times? Silicon Valley investor Guy Kawasaki says deciding what to wear can vary from company to company, and investor to investor. While his advice is geared toward interviewing at a startup, it still applies to VCs as well.
"A good rule of thumb is to dress one level above the company norm: for example, for a T-shirt-style company, wear a collared polo shirt," he says. "If in doubt, ask what's appropriate for the interview."
This is probably the best advice on the issue. Ask. Try finding other entrepreneurs who have pitched your potential investors first before you ask the actual VCs you are pitching about what to wear - it could convey a lack of experience. Or it could convey an attention to detail and maturity.
What About Women?
Ah yes, women. Seeing as I am a male, I focused this article on the male entrepreneurs out there (who are statistically more common than women, at least in Internet startups). I don't want to leave women out completely, however, so I will offer this bit advice to the female entrepreneurs out there.
It's actually quite similar to the rules of thumb for men - business casual, don't over think it, and don't be distracting. What determines "business casual" and "distracting" are different for women than for men, but I defer to our female readers to provide some helpful examples in the comments below!
The truth is, there is no right answer to the question of what to wear when pitching VCs. Each situation is different, and different VCs care more or less than others about how entrepreneurs look. The best practice is not to over think it, and just rely on what is most likely to work - business casual. No suits, no ties, no problem. Most VCs are pretty laid back, at least in traditional startup cities like San Francisco, New York and Boulder. If you fail to spend your time working out the more important aspects of your pitch, what you wear will be the least of the VCs' worries.