And why I stopped asking for intros
Let’s start with the results – Takipi went into public beta about 5 months ago. Although most of our users reached Takipi through different publications and our blog it was also very important for us to get to some large companies and brands. As Takipi requires installation on production servers, you can imagine it’s not an easy sell.
To get there, I used both cold emails and intros. The results – cold emails produced 7 meetings at Twitter, Klout, LinkedIn and more – 5 installations. Intros – 9 meetings which led to 2 installations. I’ve been using mostly cold emails ever since and I’ve learned that with prospects, bloggers and advisors I get much better results.
Why cold emails work better than intros
Find the early adopters – using cold emails flushes out the people who are really interested in trying out a new product. Some of the people I met through intros really liked what we are doing but the last thing on their mind was to start using a new tool, their hands were already very full. I learned that people you approach through intros will probably meet with you as a favor to someone else but they won’t use a new product unless they have a good reason, time and will. If they don’t have the time and will, they won’t answer your cold email, so you can save some valuable time for you and them.
Reach exactly who you need – by using cold emails I was able to reach exactly the right people in the organization, and that usually made a huge difference. You need to reach certain people, not companies.
When I started out, it felt like I would be able get to any company I wanted. “Oh, sure, I know someone at Twitter/ Dropbox/ Evernote/ Foursquare” – I heard this from every other person I talked to and was sure that getting Takipi to those companies was just one step away.
C level intros,“I know the CEO/ CTO/ CIO of X” – unless it’s a very small company these intros usually consume lots of resources and don’t lead to the right person. You have a great meeting with the CTO, he refers you to someone else, who refers you to someone else who is usually, well, mmm, how to put it, not the busiest guy in the company. Or, in other words, after 3 meetings you get to someone who is not your ideal user but is basically someone who has the time to meet other companies.
“I know someone at finance/ UX/ sales” intros – I think you have better odds with cold emails. The tech guy (in our case, can be the marketing/ biz-dev or any other position) doesn’t see the person who referred you as an authority, so you go back to “I’m meeting you as a favor to someone”.
Who to write to and how to find them
I start out by making a list of companies I’m interested in. Although LinkedIn seems like the first logical place to start looking for contacts inside these companies, I actually prefer to first search other social networks. I found out that people who are more active on Twitter, give talks at meetups, blog or contribute to open source projects are more likely to answer cold emails and more importantly – more likely to try out new products.
I start by looking for the person who writes for the company blog. I look for talks on YouTube, Twitter accounts, presentations on Slideshare/ SpeakerDeck, projects on GitHub. If I don’t find the right person there I go over to LinkedIn and then Google the different people who might be interested in Takipi to see who has a more active social profile. If I don’t find anyone within the company who seems like a right person to approach – I move on to the next company. If it doesn’t feel right don’t do it, if you don’t have a good reason to approach this person – spare their time.
How to find the email address
If it’s not public, I use Rapportive and try out a few email addresses until I see which one is connected to LinkedIn/ Twitter/ Google+ or another account. For example, if I want to write to John Silver at CompanyName, I’d try firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com etc. until I find a match. Each company has its own email convention – firstname.lastname, first letter from the first name + last name, etc., so sometimes I look for a random email address of someone from this company (just Google “@companyname.com” or look for the biz-dev/ evangalist/ support emails (which are easier to find) and match the convention. Here’s the full guide to finding Anybody’s email address and this great spreadsheet which will help you be creative once you’ve exhausted the first few attempts.
Email or LinkedIn message?
I got better results with emailing than with sending LinkedIn messages.
What if you email someone and don’t get a reply?
Well, it’s time to email someone else at the same company. Some of my best meetings were with the second or third person I emailed within the same company. I usually wait about 3-4 days before moving on. I used to think it might be a bit awkward if my #1 choice says something, but the truth is that they probably haven’t even opened the email or they totally forgot about it.
Getting meetings with 4 out of 10 people you cold email
Nowadays, I get replies (and a meeting/ call) from about 30-40% of the people I cold email. With the the first batch of cold emails it was 0% (10 out of 10 never got back to me) and later on it was about 10-20% (about 3 positive replies from 20 emails). Here’s what I changed :
Subject – the more specific and to the point, the better
The subject line I use now is “Server debugging in Scala/ Java at Companyname”. I started with subject lines such as “new product”, “new way to”, “feedback for a startup company”, etc. Didn’t work. It was very interesting to see that once I added the “Scala” or “Java”, depends on what the company is using, it immediately increased the response rate. Adding the company name also helps as it highlights the fact that it’s a personal email and not an automatic one. People like hearing their name and the name of their company.
Here’s a different example of a cold email subject – this time an email I sent to VentureBeat asking them to feature one of our blog posts. Got a yes.
You’re emailing a specific person, not a company
One of the main things I learned during my startup days is that there’s no such entity as a company. It’s a group of different people, each one of them has their own goals, interests and thoughts. Your customer is not the company but a person within the company. I usually try to refer to something they wrote about in the past, a talk they gave or a GitHub project they’re working on. If you don’t have something relevant to say, don’t, but usually you’ve decided to reach out to that person because of an interesting GitHub project he’d been working on, past experience, certain expertise and so on. There’s a good reason you’re approaching him/ her; you can mention it.
Why what we do can help your company?
This is not very different from the usual positioning of your product. I always find that focusing on which immediate problems our product can solve works much better than describing the entire product or the technology. I also discovered that adding examples to each scenario we presented helped to get more replies.
Keep it short but make it easy to find more resources
Nobody likes getting long emails. I usually try not to go over two paragraphs. However, I do want it to be extremely easy for the recipient to find out more without going to Google.
I add a one-pager and a screenshot. All lightweight files. If you don’t like adding attachments or think it might lead your email to the spam folder, then add them as a link.
I add a link to our video, embedded in the email itself.
There are at least 4-5 links in my signature – Twitter, LinkedIn, personal blog, company blog. I think people are always interested in seeing who’s behind the email. If you have a cool Twitter account, an active blog, interesting GitHub projects, etc., it adds some major points.
I don’t ask the recipient to do anything with the attachments (no “I’ve attached a one-pager”), if they want to read more they’ll find it.
Ask specifically for what you need, don’t try to it cover up
When I started to cold email prospects I asked for feedback, thoughts or advice. It didn’t work. I found out that the more direct I am the more likely I am to get a meeting. If I’m mailing potential users I write that I want them to try out Takipi on their production servers. If I’m looking for advice I try to be as specific as possible (“I wanted to hear your opinion on SaaS vs. on-premises”, for example). When you’re seeking help, people are more likely to answer if they feel they can really help you. When you’re very specific and asking something directly related to their domain there’s a much higher chance they’d be interested in meeting you.
Who is the best person in the company to send out the cold email from (who should be the sender)?
Do people prefer to receive an email from a techie/ product manager/ community manager/ co-founder or a CEO? For our audience (developers) a co-founder in a technical role worked best. A co-founder brought better results than the CEO or a non-founder employee.
You don’t want recipients to feel that cold emails is your go-to-market and that that’s what you’ve been doing every day. There should be a special cause for contacting them at this specific point in time. You may be visiting town, you may have just released a new feature which might be very relevant to them, or you could be facing a business dilemma. Once you have a good reason why you’re contacting them now, it puts the email in a different light.
What didn’t work?
Don’t cold email without a great website
This is the first lesson I learned about cold emails – if you don’t have a website (a real one, not a landing page), it’s extremely hard start a conversation with users. Many users do want to be beta users but no one wants to use a product of a company which doesn’t seem ‘real’ and professional. I tried to cold email a bit when we had a very basic mini-site and got zero replies.
No specific call to action
“Would love to hear your thoughts”, “Show you what we’re doing”, “was very impressed by your post and would love to connect”, etc., don’t really work. What worked best for me was being very specific – scheduling a meeting for a specific week, asking to demo the product and if they’d like to install it on their servers.
The double/ triple check
One of the techniques that other startups shared with me is to email the same recipient once, twice or more before giving up. The second email is usually sent about 3-4 days after the first one, asking if they’ve received the first email and making sure it didn’t land in their spam folder. The third email usually explains why you’re nagging them and why you’re so interested in them or their company. This didn’t work for me, but that may be because I’m targeting developers which are a different kind of audience. I would definitely give it a shot when emailing very busy people.
Some other great resources
Noah Kagan with “One of the best cold email I’ve EVER received” – not sure about the shoes bribe but the “I’m jewish” sure made me smile.
Scott Britton with some great Do’s and Don’ts. I like his A/B test results about introducing himself and the company (didn’t work). I got the same feeling as well. Nobody is interested in reading your bio or learning about the company’s (great) investors.
And a special thank you to Oudi Antebi who was the first entrepreneur I’ve met who told me to ditch intros.