You might think getting the CEO of one of America's top companies to answer your cold email is mission impossible. It's not. Even a college kid can do it. Investor and SafeGraph CEO Auren Hoffman is proof.
Hoffman's success isn't a sign he was some well-connected wunderkind. He was just a random undergrad emailing from the computer lab at 3 a.m. Instead, it's a sign that getting a response from seemingly "unreachable" top names is easier than most people believe.
"One of the best-kept secrets in the start-up world is that you can access almost anyone you want to with a great cold email," Hoffman wrote on his blog recently. "Most CEOs and VCs personally read every well-formed email they get, even if they don't know the sender. This means that if you send a great cold email to your favorite CEO, chances are it will get read."
The key words here are, of course, "well-formed." Reaching a high-profile leader is easier than you suspect, but getting an answer still requires crafting a compelling message. Thankfully, Hoffman has tips:
1. Send it to the right person.
It shouldn't be rocket science to direct your email to the right person for your message, but Hoffman claims emailing ill-thought out recipients is surprisingly common. This "spray-and-pray" approach rarely works (and is also borderline rude in a world where everyone is dealing with inbox overload).
"If you are looking for funding for a SaaS business, don't send the email to the biotech investor. Send it to the SaaS investor. Sounds obvious but you'd be surprised how often this one simple thing does not happen," Hoffman says.
Once you've narrowed in on the right person, make sure you communicate clearly and immediately why you've chosen this person to get in touch with. "If you are reaching out to a VC, you could mention some of the companies she's invested in that you admire (and most like your company)," Hoffman offers, as an example.
2. Emphasize how they benefit.
If a big name responds to your email, it won't be because doing so benefits you. It will be because doing so benefits her. Make clear right from the start what you're offering.
"In a great cold email, the person receiving the email should benefit far more than you from a potential exchange. That's how you can pique their interest and improve your chances of a response," Hoffman instructs. "If you don't have something that will benefit the person you are sending the email to, you are better off waiting to send it until you do."
3. Keep it short.
Important people might read way more cold emails than you suspect, but they're still pressed for time. Respect that by writing a subject line that makes it instantly clear what the email is about. Hoffman offers "Invite to DaaS dinner on April 2 in SF" as an example.
When it comes to the body of the email, be just as direct. "Your email needs to be short, clear, and well-formatted. This means short paragraphs and lots of white, empty space. You want people to be able to quickly grok an email while reading it on their phone in the elevator (or the toilet)," Hoffman instructs.
"You also need to lay out exactly what the next steps are for moving the conversation forward," he adds. "Are you looking for a 'yes' or 'no' via email? Are you hoping for a phone conversation to really make your pitch? Or are you asking permission to follow up with your deck if the person is interested? Avoid ambiguity at all costs."
Is there more to crafting the perfect cold email? Sure, and Hoffman's complete post offers lots more tips and examples (including how to tell if someone is so famous a direct email is a lost cause and what to do to reach them anyway). But he insists these three fundamental points will get you most of the way toward great cold emails that greatly improve your chances of getting a response from your dream collaborators.