Ask for one thing

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‘Hi Eamonn. We do x. Here’s our pitch deck. Can you please introduce us to the early stage VCs you know? Wishing you all the best. Y. ‘

I get cold emails and LinkedIn messages like this a lot. In many cases, they’re from people I’ve never met or spoken to before. In most cases, they’re clearly copy and paste jobs or bulk mailouts to some bought-in list of addresses.

Here’s the problem. This is what these emails look like to me: ‘You’re not important enough for me to actually send something personalised…’ or ‘I’m too lazy to do any research myself, so can you just go ahead and do it all for me….’ Neither are particularly flattering.

There are better ways to get what you’re after, but if you’re intent on sending cold emails and you can’t find a way to engineer a meeting or get an intro, here are some tips to increase the likelihood of getting a successful reply.

In a nutshell — make me want to read your message and make it really easy for me to help you out by just asking me for one relatively simple thing.

Make it personal — I can tell when I’ve been mail merged or ctrl-v’d. It’s like when someone’s mouth smiles, but their eyes don’t. Here’s a tip — don’t treat this as grinding. You should be thinking about how you build a relationship (more on what that’s important in a minute). One line at the start of a mail can be the difference between success and failure. If the company whose email I mentioned at the start had said ‘Hi Eamonn, I’m a huge fan of Lingvist and I know you’re on the board. I wanted to share some info on x…’, or ‘Hi Eamonn, We were both at Startup Istanbul, but didn’t get a chance to chat. I’d love to tell you more about what I’m working on…’, it would have at least gotten my attention.

Flattery works — we’re social animals. People have egos. I have yet to meet someone who didn’t enjoy a properly delivered compliment. Don’t fawn over people — that can go over badly, but here’s an example of how Brian Wong used simple flattery to get in with the CEO of American Express (who later invested in Kiip). Our brains light up when we read our own names, so use my grey matter to help yourself.

Make it short — you should never really have more than two paragraphs in a cold email. Stick in a link or two to relevant sites/content/decks. Don’t write an essay.

If you’re going to ask for something, be realistic — the example above is a textbook example of what I think of as a LMGTFY request. If your ask is lazy, then it makes me think you’re lazy and that’s not a look you want to go for. Instead, ask me for one thing — ideally one relatively simple thing that is really easy for me to do.

For example, if you’re sending a presentation, ask for feedback on one slide or a tiny section. If you’re going to ask for time, then think about the smallest possible unit in which you can get your point/ask across. I used to email potential clients and ask them for five minutes of their time — which was infinitely more successful than the ‘let’s grab a coffee…’ approach.

Intros deserve their own paragraph. If you’re asking for an intro to an investor or potential client, ask for a solitary intro and start small. If we’ve never met, spoken or don’t have any sort of relationship, I’m probably not going to intro you to a household name VC or massive brand. Those are people I’ve spent a long time getting to know — so when I risk expending social capital on an intro to those folks, I’ll do it for individuals and companies where I already have a strong relationship built over time. Instead, ask for an intro to someone who I’m clearly close to (who have I co-invested with, worked closely with, served on a board with etc etc) with a specific reason you want to talk to them. Help me out a little and I’m far more likely to help you in return.

Reciprocate — this one is optional, but is there a way you can reciprocate? If you’re going generic, try ‘if I can ever help you or your portfolio with anything, just let me know.’ Or be specific. ‘I see you invested in Paranoid Fan — one of my friends runs partnerships for (insert sports team here) — happy to intro you if it would be useful.’

All of these things will make me like you. Liking people is the first step to building a relationship with someone. Once I start to like you and help with your request, you’ve created a dialogue, which will make it much easier to ask for more help, guidance, assistance, intros and more over time.

Don’t complicate things. One email. One or two paragraphs. Ask for one thing. Be smart about what you ask for. Help me out — send me something forwardable. Think about something you can offer(no matter how small or generic) in return. Be personal. Be nice. You’ll like the results.



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