"Investors don't want to meet you. They wanted to be introduced to you," 42Floors founder Jason Freedman has written.

"I was struck recently by the realization that I no longer discover deals--or even attempt to--anymore. Everything I have done comes via trusted referral," claims investor Paul Grossinger.

These are just a few of the chorus of experts telling founders that If you actually want a chance of getting a VC's attention, you need to be referred by a trusted mutual contact. In fact, TechCrunch's Ben Parr has gone so far as to call this "the golden rule for approaching investors" -- always get a referral.

But is this oft repeated rule always true? Not if you ask 500 Startup's Elizabeth Yin.

Good news for startup outsiders.

She recently took to her blog to share the lessons she's learned from wading through an amazing 20,000 pitches, and among her takeaways was one nugget of good news for Silicon Valley outsiders concerned that they don't have a toehold in the circle of top investors and founders.

"In the beginning, I thought referrals from others would be much higher quality than companies emailing in cold," she writes, confirming that even insiders start out believing "the golden rule." But startup orthodoxy and email reality quickly diverged.

"Sometimes this is true. But often it's not. It depends a lot on who is doing the referrals. It would turn out that 'famous' investors referring companies don't necessarily refer better companies. And founders don't necessarily refer great companies either - lot of founders are doing favors for their friends," she writes.

"On the flip side, there are some people whom you wouldn't have heard of whose referrals I value the most," she continues.

What's the bottom line? "In the end, it's a bit of a wash, and this is why I think you, as an entrepreneur, can now write cold emails effectively to capture the attention of investors," Yin concludes, linking to another of her blog posts on how to craft an effective cold email.

But don't get too excited.

The fact is, with Yin herself admitting she slogs through a truly incredible amount of email, standing out with a cold email (or any email really) is still going to be very tough. So this shouldn't be taken as a declaration of open season for ill-conceived or hastily thrown together missives. Getting a VC's attention is still super hard. It just might not always require an insider introduction.

What's been your experience -- is Yin an outlier or is it more possible than many founders think to interest an investor with a cold email?

Published on: Oct 20, 2016