Silicon Valley's pinup boys

Venture capitalists and start-up founders slip into something comfortable for GQ.


Katharine Mieszkowski
May 3, 2000 8:00PM (UTC)

Too sexy for their cubes.

That's what GQ would have us believe about the guys of Silicon Valley. More than a dozen rakish start-up founders, jaunty directors of product development and fresh-faced venture capitalists grace the pages of the May issue of Gentlemen's Quarterly in an all-dot-commie fashion spread. But as scrubbed, shorn, clipped, gelled and coifed as these models are for their close-ups, none seems quite ready to give up huddling behind a laptop for a career striking poses on the catwalk.

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As hard as it is to say "fashion" and "Silicon Valley" in the same breath without a giggle, the magazine devotes a giddy 10 pages to casual shots of the likes of venture capitalist Steve Jurvetson of Draper Fisher Jurvetson, Andrew Beebe, CEO of Bigstep.com, and Dan Beldy, a partner at Hummer Winblad.

They're pictured doing what they do best -- schmoozing with one another at dot-com haunts like San Francisco's South Park Cafi, MoMo's and Buck's, the venture capitalists' favorite dive diner in Woodside, known for its over-the-top kitschy dicor.

The cover line plugging the feature is a bit overly optimistic: "Silicon Valley Billionaires Get Some GQ Style." Sorry. None of the guys, most of whom work for pre-IPO start-ups, can lay claim to the "b" word yet.

But the Net fashion fantasy gets one thing right: Silicon Valley isn't about showing how rich you are with how expensive your clothes are. Whereas Harper's Bazaar, in its recent "dot-com issue," found -- surprise! -- haute couture among the workstations, GQ has a more realistic take, showing real-life Internet biz guys in Puma, not Prada. Almost everything shown in the spread goes for less than $100, with only one suede pullover from Banana Republic approaching the high-water mark of $400. Also featured are the inevitable khakis by Dockers for $65, modeled by Beldy.

"I was a little disappointed they didn't give us the outfits for free," said Brad Benz, CEO of Zulusports.com, who looks comfortable in a gaudy Hawaiian shirt plastered with tropical sunset scenes in one full-page shot. Benz, who says he does indeed wear Hawaiian shirts around the office, chose his particular outfit from among the 100 options provided by the magazine because it matched his company's colors -- orange and black. (Note to marketers: Here's a whole new arena for branding opportunities -- the CEO's clothes!) In fact, Benz grew so attached to some open-toed black and orange sandals (Teva, $100) after hanging out all day at Buck's in them, he went out and bought a pair after the shoot, which he now wears to work.

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"I didn't think I'd ever say my name and the words 'GQ photo shoot' in the same sentence," said John Rodkin, CEO of Flyswat.com. Amused by the experience, he sees the shoot as a symptom of "this weird confluence now between the start-up culture and entrepreneurs and venture capitalists and the celebrity world." But he pronounced his outfit, consisting of a wrinkled, checkered button-down worn over a plain T-shirt -- "Shirt by American Eagle Outfitters, $32. T-shirt by Diesel, $49" -- "pretty similar to what I normally wear anyway." (Notably, the copy about his company with the piece is already out of date; Flyswat.com is in the process of being acquired by NBC Internet, where Rodkin will be general manager of the Flyswat division. Oh well, monthly magazines can't be expected to move on Internet time.)

The lifestyle porn in this photo spread comes not in the clothes or in the reasonably handsome businessmen modeling them. It's in the quotes from our pinup valley boys that accompany the piece. Just listen to these guys: "Now we've raised over $60 million in venture capital and are taking over a nine-story building," marvels one. "There used to be a lot of ideas and no money. Now there's a lot of ideas and a lot of money," enthuses another. And a third gives away this trade secret: "Everything we do is built toward taking the company public. It has always been our intention." It's enough to make building a company that describes what it does as "B2B [business-to-business] extranets for manufacturing industries" seem, well, fashionable.


Katharine Mieszkowski

Katharine Mieszkowski is a senior writer for Salon.

MORE FROM Katharine Mieszkowski

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