When the VC Starter Kit first went online, the effect was swift, vast, and hilarious.
The spoof website launched on March 21 and claims to offer the unofficial uniform of Silicon Valley's elite, down to the comfy sneakers and leisure reading material. Almost instantly, it was all over social media and the press. There were stories on Axios, Recode, and Business Insider, and the traffic to the site ballooned overnight. In March, it had 93,800 unique visitors, with many more return guests, according to traffic analytics tool SEMrush.
The site is testament to the unhip fashion trends of the area's investors, so it's something of a backhanded compliment to be included as part of the offering. Even so, for the most part, the parody doesn't seem to have inspired any ill will.
"I can't decide if I'm honored or horrified to see Stratechery included," tweeted Ben Thompson, the founder and author of the newsletter, which is based in Taiwan and delivers tech and media commentary to inboxes globally.
VC Starter Kit's creator, Sumukh Sridhara, a product engineer at AngelList, tells Inc. he was inspired by a 2017 tongue-in-cheek commentary on the unofficial and "swaggerless" dress code of Silicon Valley VCs, written by New York City-based tech and culture journalist Ashwin Rodrigues for Fortune.com. After constantly seeing the bland outfit around his hometown of San Francisco, Sridhara decided to create the spoof.
The prices for different packages of the VC Starter Kit--which include a Patagonia fleece vest, black Allbirds sneakers, a copy of Peter Thiel's Zero to One, and other items--range from the $499 Partner Kit to "if you have to ask, you can't afford it." The Partner Kit includes subscriptions to Stratechery and other Silicon Valley staples like Wine Spectator, a luxury lifestyle magazine. The latter package contains a farm in New Zealand, where you can wait out the apocalypse, and blood transfusions from young people, a dig at Peter Thiel, who is reportedly "really interested" in the regenerative properties of parabiosis--that is, the process of infusing a younger subject's blood into an older body. To date, Sridhara says the site has made no sales.
The proceeds, if there are any, will go to All Raise, a San Francisco nonprofit that's working to increase the number of women founders and venture partners in Silicon Valley. An All Raise spokeswoman tells Inc. that the organization was unaware of the site before its launch.
Rahul Vohra, the founder and CEO of Superhuman, was also unaware of the mention--though he isn't 100 percent surprised. The email app promises to significantly speed up the email experience and redesign Gmail for efficiency, so it is used extensively in the tech world, Vohra tells Inc. He adds that that may explain why it was included in the Fund II Kit, which carries a price tag of $699. "VCs [and others] do their email twice as fast in Superhuman, and many see 'inbox zero' for the first time in years," adds Vohra. Ultimately, he expressed amusement by the parody.
"We laughed at lot," says Vohra, adding, "It's definitely an honor to be alongside VC stalwarts like Patagonia and Allbirds." Neither company responded to Inc.'s request for comment, but recent reports indicate that Patagonia is tapping the brakes on its puff vest popularity.
On Tuesday, the Ventura, California-based company announced that it recently began vetting companies for their social and environmental performance before permitting them to purchase vests through its corporate sales program. "We recently shifted the focus of this program to increase the number of Certified B Corporations, 1% for the Planet members, and other mission-driven companies that prioritize the planet," noted the company in a statement. The shift, it added, will not affect current corporate sales customers.
Atoms sneakers, also part of the Fund II Kit, are described as the essential footwear for managing directors. "We thought it was playful and a good parody," says Andrew Ettinger, who handles the company's marketing efforts. "Of course, not all VCs dress alike, but that narrative is funny."
Also based in San Francisco, Atoms have become popular in the tech world for their neutral colors, comfort, and fit. The company offers quarter sizes, and can deliver three trial pairs to your door for your home fitting-room convenience. Atoms' co-founders had previously received funding through Y Combinator, so they built early roots in the tech community, Ettinger says.
To keep up the momentum on his VC Starter Kit site, Sridhara has been retweeting the funny responses it has received from those in the startup world. "It's a three-piece Patagucci kind of day," tweeted an Australian fintech company founder, Alan Tsen, on March 30. A photo of Tsen donning three layers of Patagonia clothing accompanied the message.
It's a three piece Patagucci kind of day pic.twitter.com/Drq5tsPElX-; Alan Tsen (@alantsen) March 30, 2019
Others resisted the suggestion of the uniform. "I'll stick to my combat boots, 80s shirts and loud pants/clothes, thank you," tweeted Cyan Banister, an angel investor in San Francisco.
Sridhara says just under 12,000 curious clickers have hit the purchase button to test its functionality. If a visitor were to go through with the purchase, he says he'd fulfill the order. Still, it's already generated awareness for All Raise, and some onlookers have told him they've donated directly to the organization.
Rodrigues, the writer whose story sparked the idea for Sridhara, had his own take on the website: "Perhaps this, too, is a commentary on how corporate social responsibility is often little more than an empty gesture wrapped in PR," he tells Inc. "In which case, that's pretty funny."
Correction: An earlier version of this article misspelled the VC Starter Kit creator's last name. It is Sridhara.