The “Little Black Dress” of Startups

Carolyn McRae is a Technical Marketing student in the current Startup Institute Boston class. She is a self-described debater, brainstormer, listener, problem-solver. She’s efficient yet creative, believes in simplicity, and is fascinated by influence.

When asked, “Why do you want to work for a startup?” I often hear, “Because x, y, and z. Plus, I want to wear jeans to work.” Sure, the cliché of entrepreneurs wearing jeans has grounds. Hit up a startup networking event and you will understand where it came from. So, why don’t entrepreneurs wear business suits? I have 2 theories. (1) We usually don’t have time. Shopping, accessorizing, dry cleaning… it all requires time. We’d rather be innovating. (2) Denim balances our sanity. We need our bodies to be comfortable because our brains are not.


Celebrities of the startup scene don’t wear branded suits or little black dresses. That being said, don’t write them off so quickly, dear editor at Vogue. As with most things in life, there’s more than meets the eye. I’m here to argue that entrepreneurs wear their own brand of LBD’s. They wear what they Learn, Believe and Do. Because entrepreneurial “superstars” dress themselves with their knowledge, beliefs and accomplishments, no one cares when they wear jeans. How do young innovators earn the intangible LBD, you ask? Learn. Believe. Do.

  1. Never stop learning. A valid measure of success for a startup is how much has been learned. Reflect on the ways you most enjoy learning and do those things regularly. Do you read news articles, books, blog posts? Watch seminars, attend conferences, listen to podcasts? Take opportunities each day to learn, and then accessorize yourself with what you’ve learned.
  2. Stick with what you believe. The all-consuming nature of startups will bring out the best in each of us when we believe in the work. Be honest with yourself. Do you have ‘business butterflies’ for Company X? Do you believe in their people, product and mission? Find the startup you wholeheartedly believe in and you’ll proudly wear it everywhere you go.
  3. Actually do stuff. “Talk is cheap.” It’s no secret: without action, ideas are just ideas. Entrepreneurs are admired for their ideas and execution of those ideas. Startups need doers and people will respect you for what you do, not what you wear.

There’s no timeframe for earning your LBD, but one day you’ll feel it. You’ll wake up, slip on a pair of Levi’s, and be able to proudly walk into a board meeting. Until that day, continue to earn some street cred. Learn, believe, do. Then, once you become a startup superstar, your knowledge, beliefs and accomplishments will speak louder than the denim you wear.