Nov 28, 2022 - Economy

Sam Bankman-Fried's "underdressed genius" look

Sam Bankman-Fried, founder and chief executive officer of FTX Cryptocurrency Derivatives Exchange, speaks during an interview on an episode of Bloomberg Wealth with David Rubenstein in New York

Sam Bankman-Fried in a video interview with Bloomberg. Photo: Jeenah Moon/Bloomberg via Getty Images

"I think it's fair to say that in the thousands of female founders we've met, there's not a single one who has ever dressed like Sam Bankman-Fried," Nisha Dua, co-founder at BBG Ventures, an early-stage investment fund that backs women founders, told Axios recently. She was talking about Bankman-Fried's signature disheveled look — shorts, frumpled T-shirts, mussed hair.

Why it matters: Investors in tech startups have long gravitated to super-casually dressed young men. The FTX founder's fall from grace could be a moment to break the cycle.

  • "The seismic flameout of FTX...helps deflate one of the startup world's great myths: the underdressed genius founder," writes Jacob Gallagher in the WSJ.

Zoom out: The look isn't new, exactly, though SBF (as Bankman-Fried is known) perhaps took it to a new level. Mark Zuckerberg famously wore hoodies and T-shirts; his look's been emulated by many other young founders.

  • Go back further, and you've got Albert Einstein's hair, too.
  • The idea is that a genius founder is too busy being brilliant to care about how he looks, and it's part of the ethos of Silicon Valley more broadly — a meritocratic ideal.

Zoom out: Women got only 2% of all venture capitalist dollars last year, and Black founders, 1%. That could be driven by pattern matching, where investors are more comfortable with those who look like themselves — or those who fit a mold they’re familiar with.

  • "If a founder DOESN’T look like an investor, the next best thing is for the founder to look like what the investor expects the founder to look like," Claire Díaz-Ortiz, a scout for Kleiner Perkins and a venture capitalist, told Axios in a message.

Worth noting: SBF's look was reportedly deliberate. Told to cut his hair by a colleague ahead of one of his first TV appearances, Bankman-Fried defended it: "I think it's important for people to think I look crazy," he said, according to an account in the New York Times from earlier this year.

  • “Sam and I would intentionally not wear pants to meetings,” said the colleague. “Sam literally said to me, ‘The only people I think I’d wear long pants for are Congress.’"
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