Be yourself. Dress up if you want to and it seems to fit the occasion. Don't feel pressured into wearing something that you don't feel comfortable in. Don't confuse inner qualities with superficial looks - but don't ignore the fact that first impressions matter.
Of course it could be a good anti-signal to show that you don't care about how you present yourself, but that doesn't mean you should go to investors in a bathrobe because someone told you to.
Maybe, but you can only take that so far. I think the thing to keep in mind is that clothes are communication, almost as much as what you say. The MBA, the punker, and the hacker all have their messages they send with their clothes. You can't avoid communicating, if for no other reason than that people will draw their own message from what you choose to wear. May as well make it count.
You can decouple what you say from your identity, but that can be fake too, sometimes.
That's also why I don't feel bad wearing a suit for investors, because I consciously choose to communicate that I'm dressing up for my surroundings.
I don't try to walk like I wear a suit everyday and I don't try to walk and talk like a big-shot businessman. I walk like I'm a geek who's wearing a suit to dress up.
There's very little fake about that.
What's fake is people who wear a suit (trying) to trick people into thinking they're established businessmen and people who dress down as 'counter-signalling' to appear to be confident hacker founders.
TL;DR; Fashion is about communication. Communicating a congruent message is 'real'. Trying to 'signal' with your communication is fake.
Jason's talking about good investors and he's right. Take YC - if you're talking to the YCers about your startup it's just absurd to place importance on "businesslike" apparel or indeed anything other than your startup. No doubt there are a few genuine exceptions (Tesla liked to work in formal dress) but for the majority of us that comes as a relief.
I thought what Jason's saying was a truism by now. Valley culture may not have permeated everywhere in tech but it's far more widespread than it used to be - widespread enough that the point about dress is probably a good litmus test in most parts of the US and Canada. And any place it isn't true, that's a problem. The Valley culture of being informal and focusing on the work evolved for good reason.
When you can rock up wearing a suit or a hoodie and be treated exactly the same is when dress no longer matters.
Last year a video surfaced on HN about technical founders in the 1970s who would end up with 2% of their companies after taking investment. From there to, say, Zuck controlling Facebook and wearing hoodies because he likes hoodies is just a massive, massive change. It's happening for historical reasons. And to the extent that Silicon Valley is the avant-garde of the economy at large and YC the avant-garde of the valley, we can project where the trend is headed.
A commenter said that Buckminster Fuller preferred informal attire but couldn't get away with it in his day. Technical/creative people haven't changed. What's changed is the balance of power shifting toward them.
But the point's not really about clothes, and I feel like the heart of Jason's post got lost in this discussion. You should be who you are, that is, who you really feel yourself to be, because to fake it for the sake of others' approval is to give up your strength and the best things about you. That puts you in a weakened position. Are you going to do as good a job articulating yourself that way? I doubt it. But suppose it works and you get investment from people who wouldn't approve of you otherwise. Then what? Is that a good place to be?
Maybe the dude in the story was secretly looking forward to finally getting to wear fancy shoes and a crisp shirt - in that case, more power to him. But the story was premised on the idea that he didn't really want to.
> I once had lunch with PG after having come back from a VC meeting. I had just moved to California then and was wearing business attire. PG stopped mid-sentence to ask me if I had on french cuffs and then told me how investors like startup guys to be scrappy haha.
Also, what does "dressing like a hacker" mean? Hackers exist outside the valley too and there's no uniform that I was issued. Maybe theyre on back order for the Chicago metro area? But in all seriousness, if you said "he doesn't dress like a doctor" it makes far more sense than "he doesn't dress like a hacker". I'm a hacker but I'm also a business owner. So what attire do I don? Hoodie and flip flops or open sport jacket and collared shirt sans tie? I feel that in this case many aspects of hacker culture are just fads and the old standards (like dressing well for pitches and interviews) will never go out of style.
I think you'd find it's different in Silicon Valley.
Which is not to suggest in the slightest that you'd be out of place in an open sport jacket and collared shirt sans tie. But if you prefer a hoodie and flip-flops, I think you'd find you could indulge that preference more freely here.
Nobody's saying it, just implying it.
at the YCom demo day, what do the presenting YCers wear?
A good question. Someone who was there should tell us.
I don't have a problem with jeans and sneakers, but there's that expression "never trust a programmer in a suit", and I do have a problem with that.
I'd like to hear someone explain why a suit (or whatever dress code) is better than what someone else chooses to wear.
It's obviously more traditional. Is there anything more to it than that?
And that's fine! If you don't care then you don't care. There's nothing wrong with that.
I just see it as weird that people use that notion of "not caring" as a badge of honor. My question to those people would be, why do you think it's weird that I do actually care?
I'll also add that as a member of a certain minority community, I've been criticized by peers for not sporting an "authentic" style, despite the fact that 98% of potential employers would likely send me packing were I to show up to an interview in said style. You don't know how someone will interpret your appearance, so unless you really know your audience, the smart money says "look good for investors" (or employers etc)
Dressing up to an appropriate level shows you care.
The thing about the good investors the OP is talking about is that, increasingly, they don't do this. There are two reasons why they don't. One (which applies to only some, like YC) is that they are technical people themselves. The other is that the ones who do it lose to the ones who don't.
That is the historical trend and it has little to with fads or fashions. It has to do with economic power shifting towards people who create things.
Highly relevant snippet taken from the quote you responded to. Please look it up if you are not familiar with the phrase.
Conformity isn't evil per se, but judging people for lack of it often is.
Interestingly, "conformity" is one of those words that no one uses about themselves. Like "tourist".
I also don't think tailored executive suits are what is being discussed.
Doing nothing is always still a move.
The general rule of thumb is try to dress 1 step above the average level in whatever setting, but no higher.
Much like calculus, really.
As for 'root mechanisms', perhaps "mechanisms" wasn't precisely the right word, but it's up there with game theory. It is typically applied to animals observed in nature- yet that said, we too are animals, and it takes but a moment's thought to recognize it in action among humans.
disregard the seeming lack of relevance.
This is a primary reason why you should really, really care how you look. I am not saying that it involves wearing a suit 24/7, but even if you are a hacker-type, in real life, those things matter.
Not too dressy but not a mess.
One walks in wearing a tshirt, jeans and sneakers. I'm like WTF?!
Second one walks in with the same. Double WTF?!
Five years ago you would NEVER see a Sand Hill Road VC wearing a tshirt and sneakers. Never.
It's the Zuck effect IMO. :-)
A uniform is by definition anti-individuality.
Unfortunate because some of us were dressing in jeans and t-shirt long before Zuck created Facebook. Some of us were also never Apple fanboys.
Believe it or not, some of us just prefer to stay away from major fashion trends. For better or worse, it's just not that important to us. We don't want the attention a hipster pursues and we're uncomfortable in the conforming not to mention confining suit.
Jeans an a t-shirt has been my entire wardrobe for a long time now (I had to borrow suits for special occasions). No one I work with or live with minds this (and I'm freelance). This is what I wear even for sales. If I choose to pitch a business idea some day, I'll probably do it wearing jeans and a t-shirt because I'll feel more relaxed and focused. I'm not making some kind of stand against suits on principle though. I just find them distracting. Ultimately though, if society tells me I absolutely must dress up for a specific occasion (funerals, weddings, maybe a pitch?), then I'll just suck it up and put on the suit.
I should mention that I find personal hygiene to be important though. I don't think you can assume that ultra casual attire equals poor hygiene.
If you showed up in a thong and pink cutoff shirt and barefoot with a pinterest-like curve any VC would run over their grandmother in the parking lot to fund.
VCs only care about one thing: returns.
That being said, I wouldn't go to a meeting in something uncomfortable; a suit to talk to investors feels like overkill.
They also just might want someone who's not afraid to step out of their own comfort zone for two hours. Seems to me we're getting to the point (or are past it) where "entrepreneur" just means "guy in tennis shoes working on a web service idea". Certainly seemed to be the vibe from that piece there. People are comfortable with 'pitching' all the time - 'pitching' their 'new idea' to 'investors', cause when you're casual like that, anyone could be an 'investor' you can 'pitch' to.
Don't get me wrong - there's a lot of hard working people out there working on great ideas (some of them not even involving a web api!). They're going to go through a hell of a lot of tough times, ups and downs, and doing a hell of a lot of stuff they've never done before.
If wearing a suit or tie or keeping your "weirdness" in check for an hour are the things that holds your endeavour back from succeeding, you had bigger problems all along.
Oh yes you are. You just avoided a bad investor.
In courtship, you should be grateful when the other person says something so egregious you could never stand to be with them. They just spared you a lot of trouble down the road.
Your view would make sense if founders didn't have a choice because all investors thought the same way. That's the world we used to live in, but not anymore.
You're also missing his larger point. You seem to think that not getting funded is the worst thing that can happen to a small business. No. Getting funded by the wrong people can be way worse. I think first-time entrepreneurs on HN need to get this fact through their head more than perhaps any other: it is worse to waste 1-2 years of your life on a DOA startup than it is to fail fast and get on to your next endeavor.
You will not get those years back.
It can be even worse than that: you can be 9-12 months into your DOA startup with your pathological dress-code-attentive investors, have a much better idea and a team capable of executing on it and not be able to pursue it because of your legal obligations to the investors.
Taking investors is in some ways worse than taking a full-time job. The law recognizes the real power dynamics in employer/employee relationships and, for instance, refuses to enforce noncompete contracts. The law sometimes views the relationship between founders and investors in exactly the opposite way.
Take on investors, by all means, if that's what's best for your business. But watch the heck out for psychos.
Besides, if you make something great that people want, your chance of getting funded is not so small, because you can apply to YC, who are looking for people just like that and have none of the prejudices you describe.
Making a great product that people want is the key, it's always been the key and always will be the key.
Don't forget though, YC has gotten alot more press in recent years (e.g. this http://news.cnet.com/8301-33617_3-57406737-276/y-combinator-...), and one might argue a little more competitive because of it.
That might increase the quality of what's coming out of YC, but it also means, as hard as the may try, they are always going to miss out on some potentially good teams/ideas/products.
When you dress, you are making a statement; not a fashion statement, but a statement of identity. If you put on a jacket and tie, for example, you are signifying to others that you take the occasion seriously, whatever that occasion may be. If someone looks at you and interprets how you dress, they are not being superficial. They are reading the message that you wrote. [...] Can one earn respect in other ways? Certainly, and one should. But that’s no reason to open a conversation with someone by saying, without words, “this is not important to me.”
You're shifting the agency away from yourself - to make a choice about what message you're going to send (by how you're dressed) - to others, making them out to be shallow for receiving the message you send and processing it accordingly, no?
The rule of thumb is, "other people aren't thinking about you, and if they are, they are wondering what you are thinking about them."
That being said, just like great design influences how people perceive your product, dressing right for the part is equally important.
I read a case study where chiropractors make more money when they wear a lab coat, stethescope, and all their employees wear scrubs.
Your "packaging" has to match your customers expectations
and the story going on in their head
Are you doing business? Wear at least business-casual! I believe it shows disrespect if you don't. As if this meeting isn't important enough to you to change out of your every day t-shirt.
Just tradition? Yes. But traditions exist for a reason. Sure some people in Silicon Valley may be cool and just care about your brain, but the rest of the world doesn't work that way. Try going to an interview wearing a Simpsons t-shirt and shorts and just try to get treated the same way as if you were in a suit.
Why is it more respectful to be dressed up if they are? You've simply restated that it is without explanation. What makes a polo shirt more respectful than a t-shirt?
You say there are reasons for the tradition, but you don't say what they are. Traditions may have reasons but they aren't automatically good so it would help the debate to actually know what you thought they were. Note that I didn't say anything to minimize the importance of tradition in general.
Nobody is disputing that people do treat each other differently because of how they dress. The question is, what's behind it?
If you are trying to sell something, your job is to make the person you are selling to like you and then forget about you because of what you are showing.
I do think there is a point to be made here, but in a more abstract sense than business presentations. Apple is actually a poor example because in their early days Jobs was often seen making presentations in suits.
I'm a fucking weirdo. I own it. When I'm alone or by people who get me I look and act just how I am and it's perfectly acceptable. But that won't fly with people I need to sell to or make a good impression on.
When I go to meetings or anywhere where I'll be networking or generally need to make a good impression I ditch my usual attire and put on the nice clothes, I don't talk as casually as usual, etc. am I faking it? Absolutely not! I'm sincere and polite. I make my good impression and as any relationship matures with these people I slowly introduce them to my eccentricities. It's a lot like dating. I think it was an episode of Seinfeld (or some sitcom) where one of the characters goes on a date, it goes bad, and the character remarks that you have to let the crazy out little by little, not all at once on the first meeting. It's kind of like that.
As humans we play a variety of different roles in our lives. We're girlfriends, boyfriends, husbands, fathers, students, teachers, grand kids, grandparents, friends, acquaintances, patients, etc. Each role requires us to behave differently. Being able to slip in and out of each role when appropriate is very healthy and far from insincere. You can play a role and still be yourself.
I get the nice sentiment of this article and it seems innocent and nice enough but I think it's just misguided. Being yourself doesn't mean you act the same in all your roles. You can meet with VCs in a nice suit and still be your same friendly, eccentric self. It's not about trying to be so,etching you're not, it's about showing respect for the guys you're meeting, showing that you want to be taken seriously, that you care, and that you take the meeting seriously.
I feel like many times when people advocate for "being yourself" it's not so much about advising someone to be true to themselves but instead another form of this self esteem movement that pretty much feels that you're born great and you don't need to change a thing. Wrong! We all have things we need to work on. It's good to fit in with society. The fact is, there are actually very few people who are true eccentrics like Steve Jobs who meet with important people wearing no shoes and smelling like patchouli. Most people who do that are actually the ones who are faking it the most and trying to be different for the sake of being different.
I'm eccentric but you'd never know it. I fit in when I have to and it serves me well. I'm myself whether I fit in or not. And if there's one thing I've learned in my life as it relates to this, it's that it you're conscious of "being yourself" in any way at all you're probably not being yourself at all.
Most people who do that are actually the ones who are faking it the most and trying to be different for the sake of being different.
This reminds me of something my very brilliant uncle often says: "When one cannot stand out, one makes oneself unique"
(my translation makes it lose a lot in subtlety, but there are no real equivalents for the verbs used— it sounds much better in the original French: "Quand on ne peut pas se démarquer, on se distingue")
There is something to be said for building relationships through a gradual process of learning the eccentricities of the other person (over time).
Or are you staunchly against those things, too?
You have to understand the geniuses who see things in new light, those who are doing things in a new but better way will always differ from the mainstream. If we establish a culture that encourages conformity--to ANY degree--then we'd be doing a disservice to innovative culture.
That is, being "weird" or different to ANY degree is NEVER bad so long as you aren't hurting anyone. But the weird guy might be on to something and you don't want to ever miss out on that.
So we should encourage people to be themselves because being themselves could mean the difference between being awesome or being normal.
Smelling bad and looking bad are quite different things. When you smell back you are actually negatively physically affect those around you. Just like being a psychopath isn't mainstream and would be considered weird, but obviously that affects others in a negative way.
I'll eat my candy with the pork and beans... not because I'm trying to make a statement, but because that's how I've always been doing it, even if it's different from how you do it. No one has the right to tell me the way I've been doing things is inferior or bad. Only reality can decide that.
>Or are you staunchly against those things, too?
I'm not staunchly against those things and I never said I am. I'm simply staunchly for people being who they are and never faking to fit in. It never helps, and only hurts.
The interesting question is why is wearing a suit appropriate, other than because it's traditional?
Are those advocating wearing suits really saying anything more than "we prefer to stick with tradition"?
I don't find the suit thing any less ridiculous then if an investor specified that they wanted all board minutes printed in Tahoma because it "sharpens the mind".
It certainly is, and the fact that people go there shows how empty the argument is.
I'm still surprised at the consensus in this thread. Hopefully it's a random blip and not the white blood cells finally figuring out where we've all been :)
To me that suggests that whatever the real reason is, people aren't comfortable with it. We won't know until someone actually gives a reason though.
"... it's about showing respect for the guys you're meeting, showing that you want to be taken seriously, that you care, and that you take the meeting seriously..."
I may be interpreting this incorrectly, but those qualify as things that may make you a better person (in said situation) as you are showing respect for the other individual.
Wearing a suit is only considered by some to be respectful because of cultural conditioning. Unfortunately cultural norms are not objective.
I am 21. I have never worn a suit before and it's not because I actively choose not to or oppose it. I simply have never come to a situation where I was told why I needed to wear a suit. Therefore I have never been conditioned to do so as the norm.
But I can understand that if I do not show up on time, if I ignore or talk over others that these are objectively disrespectful actions because they negatively affect others.
If anyone is still stuck in the thinking that dressing up in a suit (which has no practical consequences to any matters on hand) then they are completely missing the point.
I'll show my fucking respect by doing my best, not being a dick, taking people seriously, and if people refuse to recognize that true respect simply because I didn't dress up nicely to conform to their cultural standards then it's their loss.
Unfortunately cultural norms are very strong.
> then it's their loss.
Sure, it is their loss. But if they're giving you a job, or giving you money, then you're losing out too. And there are a lot of social routines where certain costumes are expected - funerals, weddings, etc.
Good luck, because the clothes thing is infuriating. Just remember that a lot of people are stupid.
Your hypothetical situation is contrived. Plus you can always start your own company.
There are very few situations where your only option to keep your integrity boiled down to death and even then people have chosen death over giving up their integrity.
Racism was once the norm in the US. And yes it was deeply ingrained in society but it only came down because people started opposing it.
Stereotypes can cut both ways on stuff like this.
People have to trust what you say and what you do. How you present yourself partly determines how people perceive and trust you.
And I'm convinced that most people do the same, whether they admit it or not.
See how ridiculous this is?