IN “ZERO TO ONE”, Peter Thiel’s forthcoming guide to startups, he lets aspiring tech magnates in on an effective if unorthodox rule for making smart decisions: don’t do business with anyone who dresses in a suit. A slicked-up entrepreneur is inevitably a salesman trying to compensate for an inferior product. Based on this perception, Mr Thiel’s venture fund instituted a blanket rule to pass on any company whose principals dressed in formal wear for pitch meetings. The evidence suggests that Thiel’s bias worked: the fund was an early investor in companies like Napster, Facebook and Spotify. “Maybe we still would have avoided these bad investments if we had taken the time to evaluate each company’s technology in detail,” he writes. “But the team insight—never invest in a tech CEO that wears a suit—got us to the truth a lot faster.”
In Silicon Valley informality has long been de rigueur. But as the startup bug is spreading to innovation hubs across the world, hoodies, T-shirts and sneakers are the new corporate livery. The shift isn’t just a matter of comfort or convenience, but a change in how we conceptualise competence and professionalism. The thinking goes something like this: by stripping away the artificial appearances of showmanship, you can get to the truth about a product, person, or business. It is part of a cultural gravitation toward transparency—and a penchant for disruption in all its forms. People who have the confidence to dress informally and to disrupt traditional business codes, are perceived as more independent, innovative and competent.