Cold-emailing is not dead. In fact, it's one of the best ways to network and find mentors, according to Jen Rubio, co-founder of New York City-based luggage company Away, and Sierra Tishgart, co-founder of Great Jones, a cookware company also based in New York.
The two founders sat down with Inc.'s Christine Lagorio-Chafkin onstage at the 2019 Inc. 5000 conference in Phoenix, where leaders of some of the fastest-growing companies in America are gathering from October 10 to 12. The two businesswomen talked about the many challenges they've faced in building their companies, from finding sources of capital to building a network and creating lasting relationships.
Rubio, who is mentoring Tishgart as part of Inc.'s Founders Project, mentioned Instagram DMs and cold-emailing as one of the many ways that aspiring founders have connected with her in the hopes of securing funding or mentorship -- two methods that Rubio endorsed with a few caveats: "Be clear and be specific," she said, adding that vague requests to "pick her brain" or for coffee dates are not winning strategies. Tishgart agreed, and stressed the importance of doing some research first and looking to see if there are articles or resources online. "Make sure there is a real purpose behind what you're asking," she said.
Both founders also added that while taking a slow and steady approach to building relationships with other founders may not lead to instant funding, it can lead to more meaningful and lasting connections, which are vital to building a company with staying power. Tishgart, a former editor at New York magazine, noted that when she was a journalist she didn't feel like she had any mentorship or growth opportunities. Now that she's a founder, that's changed, and she cherishes the relationships she's built with other founders who know what it's like to build a company and manage a team: "Getting to have a dialogue with someone who has experienced that and can relate to it is wonderful," she said.
Relationships within the company are equally important: "In the early days, what you are focused on each day is making that day successful and making the right decisions. I think the thing that can slip by is your relationships," said Rubio, noting that, when starting her company, she tended to dedicate her focus to hard business objectives like sales and marketing. But, she noted, "the first 50 people you bring on board set the stage for everything."
Which brings up another important point: when to let go. Which, according to Rubio, is never. "I don't think you can ever let go," she said. "My involvement now is different from when we were at the dining room table inspecting every shell and every zipper," she said, adding that the only way she "lets go" is by hiring a great team. Rubio's unwillingness to compromise on quality will serve Away well as the company branches out into skin care and apparel later this year. "We have to have the best product out there," she said.
Tishgart echoed Rubio's sentiment: "I am obsessive about it. Our company does not exist if our products don't meet the high standards that we have set."