There is a television interview during the early days of Facebook where Mark Zuckerberg was in a t-shirt, shorts, and flip-flops. And given the relaxed and open-minded culture of startups, one may assume that it’s okay to show up to an investor pitch meeting dressed like Billionaire Mark. To quote Suranga Chandratillake, a London-based VC, “There’s a low bar, but you probably shouldn’t wear shorts. In any given week, I see people in t-shirts to suits, but suits and ties are rare.” Years later, Mark was in a suit being grilled by the Senate Committee on the touchy subject of data privacy.
From the example above, it is clear that your dress code is more likely to be dictated by the occasion than by personal fashion tastes. Let us look at three factors that will definitely influence the attire you decide to don to an investor pitch meeting:
The first thing you need to do before a pitch meeting is to research about the location. If potential investors want to meet near the ocean or in a hot location then wear light. You don’t want the thought of sweating to death affecting your pitching coherence. When invited to a golf course then find a way to get golfing shoes and a t-shirt, preferably a polo. The money guys may decide to hear your idea right in the middle of a groundbreaking event, especially for anyone in the real estate and construction industries. In such a location, prioritize safety by wearing a helmet and sturdy shoes. For instance, it’s common for women from the West to put on a hijab when doing business in Arabic nations. Even if it’s not obvious, what you wear in different locations may deny you points in the investor score list.
Do You Appear Trustworthy and Confident
You may have the best idea in the world but a VC will dismiss you for coming to a pitch in the wrong outfit. This is similar to wearing a ski mask to go deposit your seven-figure lottery wins. According to veteran VCs, being credible does not necessarily mean wearing a suit, wearing something sensible. For example, investors don’t expect a techy such as game developers to roll in with a three-piece suit. If you do that, it’s highly probable they will assume that you’re either a lawyer, the CEO or a finance guy representing a nerdy startup founder. Just put on something comfortable that reflects who you are.
Who Are You Pitching?
Just like when preparing for an interview, do your best to know the background of your investors. Doing this will provide hints as to whether they expect you in a suit or smart casual. Confirm whether they are conservative or radical. Some of these VCs such as Peter Thiel have written books where they’ve hinted on elements of a perfect pitch. I don’t think for example that you will dress the same as you would to a Gary Vee pitch when meeting Warren Buffet.
I am avoiding dictating to you the exact outfit to wear to a particular investor pitch meeting because it’s more of an experiment than an exact science. The secret is to read the room without entering it. No matter what you wear, remember to be hygienic, memorable, and comfortable and represent your brand.