M-Theory: New for this fall, the imaginary male co-founder Melanie Baker September 14, 2017 Columns, Featured, M-Theory Well folks, Labour Day is behind us, the kids are back in school, and there’s no escape from pumpkin spice. We’re a bit tardy in having a look at the hottest trends for fall, but hey, I was on vacation. Among the more worrisome trends appears to be the ever-rising waistlines on pants. Have we not learned from our past mistakes? But it seems the must have for startups this season isn’t Taylor Swift’s new album or mom-esque jeans, it’s an imaginary man! I think these two entrepreneurs wore it best, don’t you? While trying to build their online art e-commerce platform, Witchsy, Penelope Gazin and Kate Dwyer kept experiencing sexist treatment (and attempted sabotage) from developers, designers, and more. (Seriously, sabotage.) I have not spoken with Gazin or Dwyer myself, but I feel fairly confident in noting that such experiences day in and day out are enraging, exhausting, and demoralizing. And that’s just during regular life, let alone when you’re trying to build a business. Totally not conducive to a fashionably bright smile. So they put their creative heads together and voila! Co-founder Keith Mann (get it?) was conjured up to take over contractor communications for the startup. “It was like night and day,” says Dwyer. “It would take me days to get a response, but Keith could not only get a response and a status update, but also be asked if he wanted anything else or if there was anything else that Keith needed help with.” Such a daring accessory choice. But très chic, n’est-ce pas? Any trend-setting entrepreneurial ladies who’d like to connect with Y Combinator, 500 Startups, and other incubator and investment organizations will surely be all over this imaginary man trend. After all, seems it’s damned near impossible to be taken seriously or get funding without a male co-founder. Basically, despite the optics of their strong support for female-led startups, orgs like the above mentioned aren’t quite willing to be avant garde enough to back ventures with only a female(s) founder. Or to admit it publicly. Apparently trying to pin some of these firms down on actual numbers regarding investing in women, or getting them to admit that they have different standards and criteria for female-led startups is tougher than scoring a guest designer’s capsule collection at H&M. If a killer business plan is the little black dress, a male co-founder is the to-die-for pair of stilettos. I guess the imaginary male co-founder is when no one notices that your Louboutins are knockoffs? Now, sure, I suppose you could go out and get a flesh-and-blood man, but why subject yourself to the inconvenience and expense when a resourceful gal can just invent one? Consider the hassle of trying to get a guy to believe that you’re only approaching him for a business relationship. As the Witchsy article outlined, men who are approached for pretty much any business purpose seem quite likely to think what you’re actually interested in is dating them. Besides, real humans are like rompers. So last season and hideously inconvenient. This fall the must-have accessory is the imaginary man. Not some meat-based, off-the-rack number. To ensure that you can invent the perfect man for any corporate occasion, here are a few additional ideas to spice up your startup look. Keith Mann types are fine for jack-of-all-trade founder functions, but sometimes you need more of a statement piece. The Silver Fox: Your pretend CEO or COO to offset feminine youth and silliness. References to kids in university and the new cabin cruiser at the cottage will give the whole company that middle-aged patriarchal polish. The Surly Genius: Cultural references peg him at under 25. He’s contemptuous, impatient, dismissive, and incapable of speaking in plain English. Only responds to messages around 3 a.m. Inseparable from his imaginary hoodie. The Money Man: Could be CFO, or just some variant of “Head of Finance.” At ease throwing around terms like “tranche” and “dilution.” Just as long as it’s clear that your investment’s in the safe, competent, and capable hands of those imaginary Y chromosomes. (Y Combinator… Y chromosomes … hmm …) The Closer: Clearly the only reason you haven’t yet hit the links (or strip club) with this VP of Sales is because he’s such a road warrior. At least one reference to “crushing it” in every email. Expectations of hockey stick growth? He’s your (smoke and mirrors) man. The Designer: His emails are sprinkled with German words and are in some font you don’t recognize. Clearly he’s the Frank Gehry of apps. Anyone will be compelled to do exactly what he says because no one understands him. But clearly his brilliance is poised to disrupt the whole world, unlike those girls who keep sticking their noses in. The HR Manager: Hah! Just kidding. Everyone knows only chicks do that. It all kind of makes me want to try an experiment. Could you found a company that only has an imaginary male founder? If he talks the talk and is by all accounts a smart young hustler, how long could you get away with growing a company with “him” at the helm? If you make it all the way to IPO, can you ever come clean? Although, maybe women only have themselves to blame if they get angry and frustrated about this. Because come to think of it, startup fashion has been making it clear for years who’s welcome to come out and play. Think about it: How many tech events have you been to that only hand out unisex (read: men’s) t-shirts? I guess where tech is concerned, it’s women that they think are imaginary. No matter how well accessorized with brains, ambition, and qualifications they may be. M-Theory is an opinion column by Melanie Baker. Opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Communitech. Melle can be reached @melle or firstname.lastname@example.org.