What to Wear To... An Investor Pitch Meeting

By Meghan Casserly

When Alexa von Tobel raised a seed round of capital for her fledgling financial site LearnVest in the Spring of 2009, one thing she didn't worry about was what to wear. Her meetings with eventual partners in the $1.1 million round that included Rose Tech and Richmond Management were formal affairs, she says, meaning she dressed to the corporate nines: skirt suit, heels and polished hair. "I really think there's something important about dressing the part," she says. "There are huge decisions being made at these meetings. Show those decisions-and dollar signs-the right amount of respect and dress as professionally as possible."

For von Tobel, whose Manhattan-based LearnVest has since raised over $24 million, decisions over what to wear to investor meetings were a no-brainer. "I had two very specific outfits," she remembers, a dress and blazer combo and a pencil skirt, blouse, blazer affair, looks, she says, that both boosted her confidence and assured she would appear as professional and put together as the financiers she was meant to wow.

What To Wear: Pitch Meeting

What to wear to an investor pitch meeting?What to wear to an investor pitch meeting? "I've always felt it's important to mirror in a business meeting setting," she says. "If I'm going into a venture funds office and meeting a lot of partners I'm going to dress to match their corporate culture, but if we're meeting for coffee around the corner I won't be in a full suit." For von Tobel and other been-there-done-that entrepreneurs, the challenge of dressing the part is all about knowing your audience.

But for many other young female entrepreneurs, the "dress-up-dress-down" debate of what to wear when meeting potential investors can be a particularly fraught one-should you dress down to give the impression of a navel-gazing lady Zuckerberg? Should you go full suit and hope to be seen as a budding tycoon?

These questions are magnified when fundraising efforts take young entrepreneurs to a new metropolis with an unknown dress code. Dress depends on the audience and locale, says Ivy Exec's Elena Bajic, who was a winner of 2009's Pitching Across America contest and scored roughly $250K in angel funding. For example, she equates New York's financiers with the banking sector and so suggests a business suit, echoing von Tobel's sentiment. Divya Gugnani, whose Send The Trend raised $3 million in 2011 before being acquired by QVC, agrees, saying "East coast venture capitalists tend to be a bit more formal."

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"West Coast investors typically dress down a bit more so you can be more casual," she says. "Formal [dress] is rarely a necessity in the startup world." But just because tech companies are notorious for the t-shirt and North Face vest dress code doesn't mean an interview is the best place to show how laid back you are. Gugnani says she often wears a crisp suit jacket ("gives off the 'I mean business vibe'" she adds) with jeans and adds flair with a colorful or memorable accessory."

Von Tobel's M.O. is in line with Gugnani-while she sticks to a pulled-together look of corporate basics, she says she makes a point of incorporating one bold or brightly colored item to make the look memorable. If she pairs a dress with a blazer, the dress might be bright orange and the blazer black or navy. If she chooses a pencil skirt suit her blouse will be the pinkest of pinks. The pop of color isn't about distraction, she says, but of leaving a memorable impression once the meeting ends.

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Go for basicsGo for basics Other no-nos from the fundraising veterans include toning down your inner diva. "I think it's important not to wear a lot of jewelry in meetings," says von Tobel who applies the same rule to hair and make-up, which advises keeping minimal. "I keep my hair down, but make sure it's smooth and polished. No braids," she adds. "A pitch meeting is not a time to be trying out a new look.

"Just remember investors are judging you on your ability to market your company and brand," Gugnani says. For Send the Trend, that meant fashion-forward pieces that could be used as talking points with investors. "You should embody it 100% in your appearance. Let your appearance reflect [your business] and the customer you serve so potential investors can get a true sense of who you are going after for your target market."

But more important than reflecting your business, says von Tobel, is reflecting the magnitude of the meeting itself. "A nice way to think about it is to remember that you're literally talking about millions of dollars," she says. "Your role is to convince financiers of the value of your company."

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The Look:

Go for formal basics: suit pants, pencil skirt, blazer. Buy one full suit and choose pieces based on the location and intensity of each meeting.

Bold accent pieces can brighten up an otherwise formal look and leave a lasting impression of your personality. Stock up on pieces in bright, on-trend colors: sheath dresses, blouses, scarves and shoes.

Simple jewelry is best, this is no time to distract. Stay with classics like stud earrings and pendant necklaces-unless, of course, you're raising money for your Moroccan beadwork startup.

Hair: either down or pulled back, but keep it smooth and simple. This is no time to try out the inverted French braid you've been eyeing in the fashion magazines.

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