I had to take special notice when Marc Andreessen, co-founder of technology companies such as Netscape and Ning, and co-founder of the venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz, opined to the New York Times Magazine on why tech founders can’t be bothered to appear businesslike.
“When you’re dealing with machines or anything that you build,” said Andreessen,” it either works or it doesn’t, no matter how good of a salesman you are. So engineers not only don’t care about surface appearance, but they view attempts to kind of be fake on the surface as fundamentally dishonest.”
So, technologists are not supposed to care about their appearance, is that right Mr. Andreessen?
No doubt that the products engineers design must work in order to sell and to have users. But to suggest that aesthetics undermine authenticity is plain phony baloney.
Let’s look at tech giant Apple for an example. The company engineers software products particularly designed to run on their hardware, designed by product design engineers. No doubt that what’s “under the hood” is highly successful. But the product designs of the computers, phones, and now tablet computers add to the functionality and aesthetic attractiveness, making the items extremely coveted and popular for users, and driving strong profits for the company and shareholders. This is a simple but significant example of how critical aesthetics are to the presentation of a product.
As this aesthetic imperative can be tied into the importance of a product, the same can easily be said of a person, including Silicon Valley engineers and especially those who found tech companies.
Thinking like an engineer, the body’s surface is part of the human product. If it’s not properly addressed through one’s appearance and style, it can easily cause a personal engineering malfunction. A miscommunication of attitude can occur [you could appear overzealous or indifferent depending on your overall appearance], or an onlooker can misread your energy level [it could seem that your battery is in need of recharging], or maybe you don’t look prepared to be at the big meeting with the big venture capitalist [everyone should look clean and presentable]. Supposedly it’s all about your product. Bullshit. It’s about your product and you.
Tech founders, and engineers who may become rock stars within their company or go on to found their own startup, need to evolve a more modern approach to a businesslike appearance. While it’s definitely not about donning chalk striped suits, looking like you just finished a hike at Rancho San Antonio isn’t the answer either!
The looming argument about populist technology companies and their founders is that they look like the “everyman” because their companies appeal to all. The latter part of the idea may be valid, given the popularity of Twitter, Zynga products, Facebook, Google, and the like. But there is nothing quite so commonplace about the founders of these companies, and none of them qualify as an “everyman.” Just ask the average person on the street.
Just like in sports, people – especially current and future engineers who will shape the next generation of technology products and companies – look up to these tech company founders, who should consider carefully crafting – er, engineering – their authentic image and appearance. There’s nothing fundamentally dishonest about it, Mr. Andreessen. Engineers are highly creative individuals. The surface over the human body is a significant space to create and to tell a true, exciting personal story and shows that an individual has attended to all the details above and below that surface.
Joseph Rosenfeld helps high-profile individuals revitalize, manage, and be secure in their personal visual brand. Visit JosephRosenfeld.com for details.