My double pager in the Economic Times today (3rd August 2014) on how Startup entrepreneurs dress!!!

The complete text (with some EXTRA MASALA) starts after the image. PLEASE comment and give me feedback?!

I was recently invited to a rather private, ‘sit-down’ dinner with Cherie Blair and her team, who were in India to raise funds for her charity.

While the invitation really excited me, I gulped when I read the fine print. It said, ‘Dress Code – Lounge Suit or National Dress’. What made me nervous? It was the fact that I had bought my last suit in 2003 and eleven years later, I had to stuff myself to get into it. I told my wife, “I think Cherie Blair deserves a new suit”, but when the time came to go and burn some hard rokda (cash), the Marwari in me passed the chance. I said to myself, “The next occasion will be a year or two later, so just chill.”

So, when my contact at the Economic Times sent me a link of Banana Republic’s new ‘Startup Guy Look’ for the upcoming fall season, it was my time to chuckle and smile. My turn had come!

I think the ‘Startup Guy Look’ is so significant that it challenges the immaculate dress style of another British celebrity - Mr. James Bond and the entire concept of being successful. This is why:

License to Kill

Steve Jobs was (and is, in my idolatry mind) the greatest ‘startup guy’ ever born. He started, failed, started, succeeded, failed, started, succeeded and then went to heaven. When he presented on stage, the world stopped spinning. His devices (I am writing this on a MacBook Air) changed the future of Homo sapiens. He was Newton with another kind of Apple ☺ up his sleeve.

How did Steve Jobs dress on stage? Like a startup guy!

The Black Turtleneck, Jeans and Sneakers that he perpetually wore as a ‘uniform’ are now legendary. But little do people know that Steve wanted a similar ‘uniform’ for Apple employees after he visited Sony in the ‘80s. He was really impressed by the uniform of Sony employees but unfortunately, when he tried to implement the same at Apple, he was booed at.

Steve Jobs adopted the costume for himself and never changed his dress code. He was the James Bond of the digital world that wore this simple yet stunning ‘casual armour’ while he demolished his competitors single handedly and one by one.

Take Away: Wear what you believe in. It doesn't matter if the world frowns. Who cares anyway when you are busy becoming King?

Die Another Day

I followed the Facebook IPO like a hound. A few weeks before its debut on Wall Street, Mark Zuckerberg went to New York to meet the sharks of Wall Street.

Now, if you have been to Wall Street or even downtown Manhattan, you can spot a New York banker from afar (like the now forgotten Aam Aadmi workers with their trademark caps). Big Apple bankers wear US$ 2000-5000 suits (Rs. 1-3 lacs), stun you with their impressive charisma and rob you of your money.

Now imagine the shock when the highest and mightiest of the Wall Street Mafia met Zuckerberg for his Facebook IPO Roadshow and discovered him wearing a Hoodie! This was the same Zuckerberg who routinely wore sandals to work and even showed up once for a Venture Capital pitch in his pyjamas!

The hoodie in the face was a slap in the face for the Banker Gang. A very prominent analyst called Michael Pachter (whom I had personally met in a jacket and shirt), told Bloomberg that the “Facebook CEO's decision to show up for a meeting with potential investors dressed down in his trademark casual outerwear suggests that he's too immature to run a massive corporation. He's actually showing investors he doesn't care that much; he's going to be him. I think that's a mark of immaturity. I think that he has to realise he's bringing investors in as a new constituency right now, and I think he's got to show them the respect that they deserve because he's asking them for their money."

A couple of weeks later, when the Facebook stock debuted, it was hit by a technical snafu and then sank. I distinctly remember thinking to myself, “Shucks… I really think Zuckerberg should have followed protocol. He should have not shown his finger to Wall Street – they are the Gods of Money…”

Facebook stock debuted at US$ 38 and then fell as low as US$ 25 in the weeks to come. It was a classic disaster.

But, did Zuckerberg change his style and stop being who he was? Not at all! He continued being ‘Mr. Hoodie Man’ and went about his business as calm as an Indian cow standing in the middle of Dadar circle.

The Facebook stock quickly began its Himalayan ascend due to the spectacular quarter on quarter performances of the business, is now at an all-time high of US$ 75; and is being strongly recommended by analysts to buy!

Take Away: Zuckerberg chose to die another day. He wore himself. And so should you!

Skyfall

I run a mobile games business and have been venture invested for a while now. Given that I am in the business of ‘making fun’, I try and wear fun too!

So, it’s not uncommon to see me (or the 100 odd people who work in my company) to be wearing stressed (torn) jeans, tee-shirts (some with expletives written on them), crocs, keds, chappals and anything else.

The expectation in my company is, “Come to work with your brains and clothes” (anything will do except being nude).

In the past few years and board meetings, I have worn what I would regularly wear to work without thinking twice about the ‘occasion’.

In a meeting in mid-2014, I had worn a very formal shirt, cufflinks, black trousers and shiny black leather shoes. (My younger daughter loved what I had worn that day. She said, “Dad, finally you’re wearing the kind of clothes my friends’ fathers do!”) Unfortunately, when the board meeting began, my investors were not that impressed. Sumant Mandal – my lead VC and board member said, “Alok, are you ok? Are you feeling happy about the business? We have never seen you in these kind of clothes before.”

I was shocked out of my wits! I was supposed to be attending a wedding reception early that evening, but had never anticipated that my board members and investors would interpret this as something amiss!

This reminded me of a contrarian view expressed by Michael Wilhelm – an analyst at the time of the Facebook IPO, who actually sided with Zuckerberg on his wearing a hoodie and went on to say, “If Zuckerberg had shown up in a suit, it could actually have signaled that Facebook was moving away from its winning formula, which could spook employees (and presumably investors) who like the way things run now.”

I quickly clarified and have now made it a point to dress ‘normally’ for board meetings! The big fat Marwari shaadi reception can wait.

Take away: Shakespeare said, “Apparel oft proclaims the man”. What you wear speaks about what you do. So don't dress to impress. Leave that to James Bond!

For your eyes only

Have you played with a Barbie doll? I’m sure you have – either as a girl growing up or as a parent having bought several “Barbies” for your kids!

What do you think exemplifies a Barbie doll? She is a role model and has had over 150 ‘careers’ ranging from ‘Pet Doctor’ to ‘Baby Photographer’ to ‘Flight Attendant’ to ‘Presidential Candidate’! But do you know what Barbie’s latest and hottest avatar is, yet?

She is ‘Barbie Entrepreneur’!

Now, Barbie Entrepreneur has her own Linkedin page and her motto as advertised by massive billboards in Times Square is, “If you can dream it, you can be it” #unapologetic !

Oh….chooooo… chweeet!

Note that this Barbie in her dress style, is a classical entrepreneur! She is wearing a very pretty pink dress, with a rather outlandish necklace and black heels. Pretty much what you would see Women Startup CEOs wearing (no hoodies please). I look at Entrepreneur Barbie and instantly recall Marissa Mayer (CEO of Yahoo) and Sheryl Sandberg (COO of Facebook).

Says Mattel spokesperson Michelle Chidoni, “We always try to make career Barbie a reflection of the times. Women entrepreneurs are more prevalent now and they're growing in number. [It's] a great way to encourage girls to also learn about this role."

Take Away: The startup guys and gals have arrived. They are storming the streets, the stock markets, the boardrooms and the bedrooms. Their time, their style and their chic has come! It’s now up to you to dress up or dress down!

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My guide to how to dress if you are a Startup animal:

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Can you please ADD your Startup Look and just describe what you wear and why? Don't worry - it doesn't have to look 'professional'!!!!!

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Enjoyed reading this article? You might dig this too!

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Replies to This Discussion

'What you wear speaks about what you do' - in a way .. yes .. sometimes not. why ? Because of the people (not capable but still) judging us even before knowing what we are. So .. wearing what we feel like is a hard thing to do .. but that's what entrepreneurs (even the struggling ones) believe and stick to :) Alok Sir - you made my Sunday :P Billion thanks again 

I usually wear a long/short sleeved crew-neck Ts and denim pants/shorts + sneakers/comfortable slip ons/flip flops...accessories (belt, watch etc.) are usually avoided. BUT not because I wanted to make a "startup guy" statement. I've been doing that for years -- I was in a profession that required me to wear suits at work. Very uncomfortable! :( I used to simply wear what was comfortable when not at work/over weekends. That thing just got carried over.

I personally think the "startup guy" by Banana Republic and "Barbie Entrepreneur" is a big miss. The "Barbie Entrepreneur" reminds me more of a female CxO of a mature company rather than a female startup founder. 

I think people should wear what they are comfortable with; as long it's not indecent. Period! It could be collared shirts and jackets for someone like Aaron Levie, or a hoodie for someone like Mark Zuckerberg, or <insert your style here>.

Last weekend I read one nice article on linkedin, loved it, googled more about the author and joined Robinhood....next day (sunday) on my way was travelling on a delayed train.....chcking out ET and liked the first look of an article.....and was surprised to see the same author's name....Alok Kejriwal.... :)

Alok, you got a fan in me......

Cheeky post.
Lets get back to work.

I am great fan of Alok – that goes without saying – and I agree with him about the (revolutionary) dress code for a Startup guy – for the most part at least.

However, having had a work experience of around 20 years – in various Companies, big and small, in Eastern India – and now in the process of a Startup – I have to admit that though I am most comfortable in casuals (esp. jeans & t-shirt) and would love to go to work wearing such, the mind set here is yet to be changed.

Most professionals (accountants, tax consultants, lawyers, Government Officials etc) – or even suppliers, do frown upon a jeans t-shirt guy. Not exactly love at first sight. So I still stick to formals, to play safe. Hoping things will change.

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