As of today, I have managed to do certain things with my e-mail which I personally think are worth talking about:
- Setting up video-calls with Venture Capitalists
- Setting up in-person meetings with successful entrepreneurs
- Getting advice directly from founders who have sold their companies for $
- Getting replies from C-level people at Fortune 500 companies
- Getting feedback from founders of billion-dollar companies
I say all of this not to brag but to gain credibility. After all, there are hundreds if not thousands of blog posts out there about cold-emailing and tactics they use. I believe that I have refined my cold-emailing method to a level that I am satisfied with, and hence this blog post will outline some of the things I have personally done and used to get responses from really, really busy people. Hopefully, by the time you finish reading this post, you will gain a mental framework of how to approach cold-emails and how you can add your own style/personality/flare to them.
Disclaimer: I have only used this method to write to people involved in business — entrepreneurs, VCs, asset managers. I believe that writing to people in other industries (art, music, sports, etc.) may require a completely different skillset which I have not tested.
For the people who know me, one of the things which I constantly preach is the importance of hustle. I would define hustle as the intersection between persistence and creativity. This often entails using methods which are unconventional to get stuff done when conventional methods fail. This may seem irrelevant to cold-emailing, but you will soon see how it is probably the most important skill to develop for this purpose.
2. Professionalism — or lack of.
One of the things we learn is that we need to be professional when we write our emails to professionals. For most people, this usually entails long and formal self-introductions, lengthy sentences, and redundant pleasantries. I believe that this is actually something which you should deliberately try to avoid, contrary to conventional wisdom. Unless you fill your email with angry profanities, your email receiver is NOT going to be turned off by your “lack of professionalism”. Be brief and get straight to the point without dressing up your words. Be casual and do not use overly techincal/complex vocabulary.
I am a strong believer in responsiveness and the impact it has on leaving a good first impression. I know this because people have commented on my responsiveness when I meet them in-person or over a video-call. For me, this usually means that I almost always reply within 10 minutes or less unless I’m asleep.
I believe that this is one of the overlooked things in most cold-emailing blog posts. Many people touch on tips & tricks but dismiss the importance of having a clear and outlined process. Thus, I have created a 3-step process which MUST be adhered to before writing the email.
1. What is your purpose?
Having a distinct purpose is the most important part of this process. I am not a believer in “networking” just for the sake of it, without a purpose in mind. Even if your purpose is to potentially get a job, make sure you understand the fundamental reasons why you want to write this cold-email in the first place. Understanding your own goals makes it much easier to structure your email.
2. Identify your target(s). PICK WISELY.
Once you have clearly outlined your purpose, you need to identify people who will help you advance those goals. For example, if I want a job in Venture Capital, I would specifically pick out a few people who are working in Venture Capital and do as much research as I can on them. I believe in quality over quantity, which means picking out a few specific people and going extremely in depth into their backgrounds, versus sending out a generic email to 20 people at once. Find their blogs, listen to their speeches, understand what they are working on, find out what they are passionate about, find out what their schedules are like. All of this culminates in an extremely powerful and personalized email which will likely capture their attention.
3. How to get the email address?
This is a big question which many people constantly ask me. Below are some tools I use and my method:
Tools : I use primarily Hunter and sometimes Rocketreach. Hunter is a Chrome plugin that allows you to get a person’s email address from their LinkedIn page. Rocketreach allows you to search for someone’s profile and get their email address. These tools probably work less than 50% of the time and are generally quite inaccurate. However, I usually use it as a starting point.
Over the past few months, one of the methods which has constantly worked for me is my “Trial & Error method”. One of the insights I discovered was that company emails almost always have a specific structure. For example, it is usually one of the following:
By just knowing your target’s first name, last name, and company, you can almost always hit one of them successfully. I send my email to all permutations of my target’s emails and this has worked time and time again. Sometimes, your target is part of multiple organiztions/companies, so you would have to do this process again and again for different company email addresses.
Remember how I talked about the importance of hustle earlier? This is one example of how hustle can make all the difference, compared most people who will give up prematurely when they cannot find the email address publicly.
Now that you’ve got the process down — you understand your goals, you’ve identified your target(s), and you’ve got your target’s email address — all that is left is to actually write the email!
1. Subject Title
A good title is one that captures the reader’s attention. This is where your extensive research of your target comes in handy. For example, I discovered a project that my target was working on in high-school. I put the name of that project in my subject title, knowing it would likely grab his attention since he probably has not seen that name for many years. If you have done enough deep research, even a messy title could work extremely well: “Project X, School Y, Person Z & more”. Furthermore, if you got your target’s contact details through a referral from someone, put that person’s name in the subject title.
However, sometimes information is just not available. If you are unable to do super deep research about the person, the next best option is to be creative with your title. A bad title is one that reads “College student seeking internship in VC”. A good title is something like “Hustle Till I Drop” (this title actually got me a video-call with a VC).
Keep your opener to 2 sentences. Any longer will make the reader lose interest before your target even gets to the main part of your email. An example would be as follows:
“Hi, I’m Julian — a Cornell student studying Computer Science. I have been following your work (insert research) for a long time and it is really inspiring for a college student like myself!”
I believe that an opener like this is short and sweet. It conveys who you are and what you’re interested in, while stroking your target’s ego.
3. Subject Matter
After the opener, get straight into the subject matter: “The reason I am writing to you is because __________”.
This is your chance to shine. The deeper your research on the person was, the more powerful this part of your email will be. If your process was done right, this would probably be the portion of your email that convinces your target to reply/meet you. Talk about how your target’s work is relevant to whatever you are working on. Talk about your target’s background and how you are undergoing the same issues he/she underwent. Talk about your target’s expertise and how he/she is the best person in the world to be able to help you. This HAS to be compelling, or you will not receive a reply.
4. Call to Action
Once you’ve discussed the reasons of your email and why your target is so important, make sure to include a call to action. A good call to action is something like this:
“I’d love to meet you and have pick your brain about this. Would you be able to meet for a short coffee on 10th March, Tuesday, or 12th March, Thursday, afternoon? I’m happy to meet wherever is convenient for you. I’ll happily buy!”
PROTIP : Do NOT keep it open-ended. Set specific time(s) which works for you instead of “I am free everyday”. Usually, this leads to fewer back-and-forth communication between you and your target — something busy professionals really hate.
5. OFFER something back.
This is something which I believe distinguishes the top 10% of emails from the top 0.1%. You want to offer your target something in return so that they do not feel like it is not a pure time-sink for them. This is another place where hustle can play a huge role, and this is where you have the opportunity to really go above-and-beyond whatever is expected of you to impress your target.
For example, for one of my emails to a VC, I wanted to show him that I had technical skills and could be an on-demand web developer for his VC. I built a website for his VC firm (they did not have one) which featured all his portfolio companies and some statistics of their investments (shows that I did deep research). This really caught his attention and he told me during our video-call that he was willing to spend the time and chat with me because I had spent the time and effort to build a website for him. Even though he did not use it in the end, it was something which really stood out to him
This is a small example of the lengths one can take to impress your target, but generally you would not want to spend that much time and effort unless you want to achieve something badly. Other things I considered when reaching out to VCs was sourcing potential deals or potential technologies which they would be interested in. Reserve these big efforts for people you truly want to impress.
Here are some not-so-extreme examples of how you can offer value:
- You have read their books/articles/papers, can have an interesting discussion about it
- You have an unique background which could be of interest to your target
- You are willing to work on a project for them for free
- You possess a high level of technical skill and can help your target
- You are offering them the opportunity to be part of something new and exciting (to them)
- You are willing to scrub floors and wash dishes in exchange for attending a conference/course/etc (I actually used this one)
And that’s it! You have your perfect cold email. As you can see, alot of it boils down to research and hustling, so there is little I can provide in terms of a fixed template as to how to write your email. However, I do hope that the examples which I provided expand your mind in thinking about what is possible. Eventually, the best thing you can do is think for yourself and develop this hustler mentality on your own.
If you put in the work and the time combined with some creativity and effort, I am 100% sure that you will be able to not only get responses from your cold-emails but also build long-lasting relationships with these people. Hopefully sooner or later these intial emails can blossom into mentorships, job opportunities, sales, friendships, and so on.
If you’d like me to read your emails or provide some creative ideas about how to hustle, I am happy to do so.