I have a friend with a great idea and even some revenue, but he is very self-conscious about his physical appearance because he is very overweight. Soon, he will hold initial meetings with investors who he’s spoken with over the email and phone. He’s worried that when they see him in person they will judge him on his appearance and not on his idea. I told him that it won’t matter but he still think his appearance will affect him. Are some investors very vain?
Yes, some are going to be negatively impacted. Others will not. Look at Reid Hoffman. In any presentation, 7% is what you say, 38% is how you say it, and 55% is body language (not body). If your friend is clear that it is about the company and the business opportunity, not about him, he can get past this. If he is concerned he should engage with a communications coach before he starts the pitch effort.
Well if they are and if they make deals on the basis of looks, I don't think I'd want to do business with them anyway. I'd advise your friend not to worry about it and just make his pitch. If he has advance knowledge that an investor or group of investors is known to make decisions based on appearances - don't let them participate in his opportunity! There are plenty of others out there who are more concerned about the deal than appearances - those are the ones I want to do business with!
I'll answer your last question first.
"Are some investors very vain?"
Yes. And some are not. I haven't noticed a heavy skew relative to the general population in investor vanity.
Physical appearance matters in life, unfortunately. Or, fortunately, if you have desirable physical traits.
Most successful founders I know are not "very overweight." But, that doesn't mean that successful overweight founders don't exist or that there is necessarily any correlation between weight and startup success.
But there could be. There has been academic research that shows a correlation between a man's height and his income. So there are unpleasant biases at play in society and investors are just members of the larger society.
But, the good news is that investors want to make money. They want to bet on jockeys who can make them money with as much certainty as possible. Your friend's job is to demonstrate how he will do that for investors and if he can, he has a chance to get funding.
If he isn't successful getting investors to write checks, there are many ways to proceed with building his startup. I've blogged a bit about that, in fact.
It matters more than he's a person who's self conscious about it, than it itself. Know what I mean?
Yes, physical appearance always matters to investors. But that's inclusive of not just body shape, but the professional dress, attention to detail, and appropriateness. It's nice to imagine that you're on "The Voice" and no one is judging anything other than your talent, but that's not the world we live in. Investors consider who will be selling your product/service, and appearance is very much part of salesmanship. That's not to say that a great salesperson cannot overcome bias about physical appearance. The salesperson must be aware of bias and compensate by being a superior salesperson. Why do you think pharmaceutical companies hire young, thin, blonde, tall females? It works.
There are many studies of how much people trust others based on their appearance. A very attractive person will regularly be trusted more than an unattractive one.
Will investors bother to learn why your friend is very overweight? No. They will, whether unconsciously or not, be biased by what they likely assume is some lack of control or follow through that allowed the weight issue to arise. Hopefully they are professional enough not to allow this bias to affect a financial decision, but they might project such fears onto control or follow through with the business execution, as inappropriate or untrue as that might be.
Your friend has legitimate concerns. His self-doubt will likely show, which is also problematic. But investors want to talk to the decision-makers. He will need to find ways to compensate with great salesmanship, dress neatly and appropriately, and not show doubt about himself when trying to earn investors' trust.
One of the things I learned attending private school, through experience, not as a vocalized lesson, is that you are always being judged by your appearance, especially when in situations involving money talk. Don't dress too luxuriously or people think you waste money. If the collar of your shirt is becoming threadbare, if you have a scruffy face, if your shoes are worn or ill-fitting, all these things, superficial as they may sound, really boil down to how much you pay attention to what others notice about you. A person who notices and manages all the details of their appearance is also likely someone who will notice and manage the details of their business. It's not always true, but it is the impression you make until people learn otherwise. Give strangers no opportunity to justify their fears. Learn the proper handshake method and strength. Keep your teeth gleaming white even if they're crooked. And so on and so forth.
Personally what I notice first is the condition and fit of someone's shoes. Everyone has the thing they notice first. It doesn't make it right. But being aware of how you're being judged helps you compensate. It'd be nice if folks were blind to appearance, but they aren't. And if you don't care, or if they're indignant like Meghan, then you may just not get the deal. Your choice to play the game or not.
Good luck to your friend. Help him look dapper and to exude confidence regardless of his nervousness about body image.
I suspect appearances matter for professional investors. I believe the entrepreneur matters a lot (as well as the product, etc), and they will like someone who is a good leader and seller, can sell the product to a company, can sell working at a risky startup to a valuable potential employee, etc. I think if he has great technology, they might invest anyway, bring in more workers, including a new CEO for the startup.