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Back in early 2012, I was trying to figure out how to launch my startup Pathfinder along with my co-founder. We were very naive at that at the time, even though I had previous experience in other startups.
I was delusional. I even sent what was probably the worst email possible you could ever send to any startup investor… to Ashton Kutcher. The email was long and awfully written. I expected him to have enough time to download a 10MB PDF attachment, because, you know, he probably doesn’t get that many emails and letters from random people like me.
So I have learned and grown so much since then, so here are some better ways to approach startup investors:
Avoid cold emails
If you’re asking for money directly in a cold email, it’s probably not going to work. You literally have to be the best thing ever, catch the investor in a good mood and get them curious enough to open the email.
Most successful startup investors I have talked to, just a very few of them admitted to only have invested in a single deal originated by a cold email, while the vast majority hasn’t invested in any startup like that.
Do you homework about the investors
Don’t spam. Analyze them and find out as much as possible of how they prefer to get approached by startups. Maybe they respond to cold emails, maybe they prefer a specific format when they get an email, maybe they like to try out the product first.
Build a network of introducers first
If you have no connection with any startup investor and you don’t know anybody from the business, build that first. Start meeting other entrepreneurs, especially the ones that have been backed by the investors you’re interested in.
The feedback you will get from them is going to be very good regardless if they connect you or not. And, if you get an entrepreneur deeply interested in your company, they will be likely to refer it to their investors. They know business angels and VCs are looking for great startups with warm introductions.
Nourish a relationship with them
You don’t go on a first date to ask that person to marry you (at least in most cultures). You have to build trust and a relationship with the investor. You should also figure out for yourself if you want that person in your business.
When emailing, expect no more attention than 2 minutes
Again, sending an email to Ashton Kutcher with a 10MB PDF attached will only make the cold email worse. Don’t expect investors to click on links or open PDFs. Be precise and straight to the point.
Starting with an NDA is a deal breaker
Normally, startup investors are not willing to listen to you if the first thing you’re requesting is to sign an NDA. They would rather pass on you and your great startup idea. I made another blog post about this.