The cold emails that got me meetings at Twitter, LinkedIn and GitHub

October 8, 2013 — 54 Comments

And why I stopped asking for intros

 

mainImage

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 john@companyname.com, johnsilver@companyname.com, jsilver@companyname.com, john.s@companyname.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.

rapportive

This is how my email looks like at Rapportive

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.

Coldemail_prospects

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.

 

coldemail_blog

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.

Coldemail_prospects2

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.

Why now?

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.

  • Sean Lewin

    Fantastic.
    Very focused and minimalistic approach that brings results.

  • http://www.simpixelated.com/ Jordan Kohl

    Thanks for the great examples! I think this strategy could be applied to a lot of different networking ideas. Another great resource, is Ramit Sethi’s email scripts: http://www.iwillteachyoutoberich.com/blog/ramits-definitive-guide-to-building-your-network-with-scripts/

  • erikb85

    I think your article is way better then the one linked from Noah Kagan’s blog. It’s more specific.

  • Alex Leeds

    I similarly see a (surprisingly high) 20 – 30% success rate with cold emails, and use them a lot. Cold emails make sense when you’re trying to reach potential early adopters. But when I’m trying to connect with specific individuals who are drowning in email – such as VCs and some senior execs – intros seem to be more effective to cut through the noise.

    • IrisShoor

      Hi Alex,

      I tend to agree about preferring intros to VCs/ senior execs. However, I have to say I’ve never tried use cold emails when approaching investors, etc. I think it might work well (even better than intros) when there’s a very good reason to meet them.

  • J. B.

    Makes total sense that including “Scala” would help a lot. Scala is a pretty niche market still, and it has a reputation for being pretty complex, so if you have something that is targeted at Scala users, you come across as a serious product.

    If I saw an email that said you were focused on Haskell or Lisp, I’d be similarly interested (even if I wasn’t actually using those languages!). But if I saw an email that said “Javascript” or “C#”, I’d ignore it, because everybody does that.

  • http://www.startupmanagement.org/ William Mougayar

    I use a very similar approach. Well played! Great post.

    • http://www.localsandvoyeurs.com/ Brandon Burns

      You are everywhere on the web. :-)

      • http://www.startupmanagement.org/ William Mougayar

        :) sometimes…

  • Alon Shacham

    Incredible post, as usuall when it comes to you. Thanks Iris.

  • Nir

    Good post. Cold emails definitely work great as is, but there are other solutions that have turned out to be very effective in the long run. A good example would probably be Twitter. I have pitched some key (cloud) industry players to join our Beta via Twitter. I mapped the most powerful users/managers from companies like IBM, Rackspace, Amazon, etc, and sent them a message, asking to pitch. They have all complied with these notices. I’m talking about people at high ranking and executive levels.

  • kiwiki82

    Nice article, thanks for sharing.
    no pun intended, but do you think that the fact that you are a pretty lady helps you out in having your cold emails accepted? You know the “girl in the nerds room” effect. :)
    Please don’t misunderstand me, I’m not trying to make a sexist comment!
    From what I can read from your well written article and the emails themselves you sure know how to do your job very well. I’m just wandering if, from a purely scientific point of view, there is a higher chance for your cold emails to be accepted if compared to those of another male co-founder.

    An experiment you could do is: write some emails for potential targets, all in the same thoughtful way your describe in your excellent article. Send half as yourself and have the other half be sent by one of your male co-founder. what do you think would happen? :)

    • IrisShoor

      Hi Kiwiki,

      I thought someone will raise this question. Meeting prospects was split between myself and my 2 co-founders (male). I sent about 33% of the cold emails. Their response rate was a bit better than mine, I don’t think it because they’re male but rather because of their tech roles in the company.

      An entrepreneur I know told me he A/B tested cold emails between male and female (same title, same everything) and got the same results.

      Would you answer a cold email you got from a female over one from a male? probably not.

      • http://www.binpress.com/ Eran Galperin

        Yep. I look at the title, not picture (which most often there isn’t any, if you’re just reading the Email). Account manager / business development / and other sales roles are typically a red flag it’s not relevant. A tech title would usually make me much more inclined to consider a response. The body text is a factor – the shorter the better, it shows me they value my time. Just the other day I got a super short mail from a sales guy, and even though I wasn’t interested I felt compelled to reply because it was so succinct and considerate.

        Very good article, btw :)

  • Gil Dotan

    Iris, great article, as always. I am definitely taking notes here :)
    I can add something that Guy Kawasaki said (which you already know):
    When you write an email, Kawasaki says it should provide just enough information to answer these five questions: Who are you? What do you want? Why are you asking me? Why should I do what you’re asking? What is the next step?

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  • http://www.jacks076.com/ Zarko Petranovic

    I found many useful things. Like your post.

  • http://www.johnlarkin.me/ John Larkin

    Great article & well written. Thanks Iris, though your twitter name means something very different when read quickly here in Ireland!

    • IrisShoor

      Thanks John :) And I think it’s too late to change my twitter name :)

  • ptrcks

    Great post, very helpful. Thanks for sharing, Iris.

  • Julie Munro

    I really enjoyed your article and was nodding a lot throughout it. Direct it to specific people with a specific message! That can applies to everyone! thank you!

  • http://www.boltonstaffing.com/ Edsel Mendoza

    Thanks so much for introducing me to Rapportive. Your article was very helpful.

  • mmstll

    Impressive, Iris! Nice work. I’ve become sort of obsessed with the finite details of emailing new people.

    Shameless plug for how to find anyone’s email using AllMyTweets: http://www.seerinteractive.com/blog/how-to-find-anyones-email-using-allmytweets

    :)

  • http://insideaffiliate.net/ Josh Todd

    Fantastic article Iris! I’m curious, how did you track the different results to the different subject lines, etc? Just keeping a mental tally or was it something more sophisticated?

    • http://www.twitter.com/briannevillano BrianneVillano

      MailChimp allows you to A/B test subject lines while still letting the email campaigns seem like they’re coming from your e/gmail account.

      • SSigala

        I would also add that you can use a mail-tracking service like YesWare or Tout to track who opens an email (then clicks on a link). There’s a “free” plan, but the $15 or $30/month is well worth if you’re planning on sending more than a few emails.

  • Jodie Turner

    great article, thanks

  • Guy Dubrovski

    Great article!
    Thanks.

  • http://www.sprk-d.com/ Sprk-d

    Fabulous post! Thank you for sharing so many details here. How much time per day or week would say you spent doing all of this research? Did you do that yourself or have someone help with researching the right people? I’ve been gearing up for a similar exercise once our site redesign is complete and wondering how much time I’ll need to devote to this beyond our existing work load. Thanks again!

  • Alex_Cruz

    This was an excellent article. I wrote a cold email to Mark Cuban and a VC from Kleiner Perkins and got a response and feedback on my startup. I wrote an article about how I did this. I hope this can add to your cold email insights! http://alexcruz.me/how-to-get-mark-cuban-to-reply-to-an-email

  • Atulya Pandey

    Great article! I’ve found Yesware to be extremely helpful for cold emails as it notifies me when the person opens the email, lets me do A/B tests with different templates. And I can use it with Gmail!

  • Andrew Jervis

    Nice Article. Do you think this approach is more effective than cold calling?

    • IrisShoor

      Hi Andrew,

      I work mainly with developers so cold calling doesn’t work really well for us. I think it mostly depends on your target.

  • Spook SEO

    E-mails could be your worst and best partner for the business. They just
    have to look too professional to give your products a more interesting look.
    Also, when working outside the country, make sure that you are familiar with
    the way they operate. Sometimes, e-mails go directly to spam because they are
    offensive.

  • Hadar Eisenstein

    Great article!

    I also approach prospects every day, and it’s important to keep optimizing your emails, there is always something new you can try.

    The most important lessons I’ve learned;
    1. Appearance – the appearance of your email should be clean that will make the reading effortless.
    2. Length – the battle between the length and the details – I am always finding myself in this battle, and from what I’ve learned, we must make it short and on the same time to make the prospect to be intrigued along the reading. If there are details that are not necessarily important to share in my first email, I’ll keep it as another card for the upcoming email.

  • http://snooptank.com/ Pallav Kaushish

    Really great article Iris. Your emails are way better than what I write. I learnt a few things when I somehow got a reply from Noah Kagan on a long email I wrote to him. This was mainly because I offered him something that was not selfish and useful for him. I wrote about it here – http://snooptank.com/email-that-got-me-a-reply-and-the-chance-to-meet-noah-kagan/

  • Scott

    I’m currently doing international business development and this has been invaluable. Thank you so much!

  • http://www.inmediaconcepts.co.nz/ William John

    This post is good and delivering the great ideas on cold email

  • Tim Harry

    Wow! As an entrepreneur with many great ideas to pitch, I just had to say this article is quite awesome!

  • Zach Grove

    This article is on point. I’ve been using Rapportative to find email addresses by guessing firstname@company.com – but guessing all the other possible permutations after that gave me a serious headache.

    Definitely going to try this from now on:

    “Each company has its own email convention…so sometimes I look for a random email address of someone from this company (just Google “@companyname.com”)…and match the convention.”

    Then the permutations spreadsheet should help if that doesn’t work. Thank you :)

    Zach

  • mailhaim

    Thanks Iris. Very interesting & actionable – the ‘why now?’, being super specific in the call to action. Also setting up the right expectations – conversion rates are not high – keep trying & optimizing.

  • Guy who likes details

    The data that’s missing here is the number of cold emails and calls you placed. Without this, the conversion rate for both are incomplete and can appear misleading.

  • David S

    Cool. I wanna read this later! :D

  • http://levenax.com Justin Nichols

    Iris, how do you think this would work for Fortune 1000 CEO’s? What about day of week or time of day?

  • http://theclippingpathindia.com/clipping-path-service Clipping Path Service

    Your blog it gave me a lot of fun, I learned a lot from your blog you are looking forward to many more articles.
    Clipping Path service

  • http://www.sutro-research.com Mike Holubowski

    One of the best articles I’ve seen on the matter. What do you think about automating and scaling the process? Obviously not when trying to get the attention of an individual, but as part of a bonafide marketing strategy.

    Iris, could you get back to me and the audience about a strategy for cold email to larger groups of companies and customers? I’ve had success using tools like quickmail.io + limeleads.com, and hope to get the reply rates up.

    Does anyone have any feedback? Anything is appreciated.