The art and science of email introductions

Founders please read

Dave Haynes
Jan 22, 2017 · 7 min read

At Seedcamp, part of the value that we bring to our founders is our large extended network; investors, potential customers, experts, friends. Making connections to the right people at the right time, and in the right way, matters a lot.

The email introduction is the beginning of that connection. It’s the spark that connects the nodes. And in an average week I imagine that the entire Seedcamp team, in aggregate, is creating hundreds of sparks. So being efficient in doing so is crucially important.

Unfortunately, the best tool to make intros is still email and it creates a lot of back and forth. As I wrote in my last post, I wish we had a ‘Clara’ for intros, or a beautifully designed software product to take off some of the load. But I suspect that any shortcuts or additional software might strip out the all-important personal touch required.

So, in the hope of making everyone’s inbox better and time more productive I’m compiling a list of tips and etiquette that I think go a long way to making the email introduction process much better.

Asking for the introduction

Before you even ask for the introduction, you need to put some work in. A few minutes research will set you up for success.

  1. Make sure I’m the best person to do the introduction in the first place. Is there someone better placed to do the introduction? An intro to an investor is often best done through a founder they’ve invested in previously. Or there might be someone else who has a stronger relationship with that person. At Seedcamp we use Conspire, a smart tool acquired by FullContact last year, which helps you identify who in your network has the strongest connection with someone. If you don’t use Conspire then a quick check on LinkedIn should be a minimum.
  2. Be as specific as possible about who you want an introduction to and why. Sometimes it can’t be helped, but generally speaking, sending broad open requests comes across as lazy. Or worse, it gives the impression that you‘re unlikely to make the most of the introduction even if it happens. Don’t just send me an email saying, ‘can you introduce me to some brands you know’. Which brands will be most useful? Have you prepared a target list? Is it actually better for you to speak to someone at an agency that works with multiple brands? Is there a specific person or type of person that you ultimately want to be in touch with? I’m usually happy to help curate a list, but in that case you need to have put some work in beforehand.
  3. Ask nicely. This goes without saying. And don’t forget to say thank you either! It’s surprising how often this gets overlooked. By making an introduction I’m conceptually spending a small amount of social capital that could be spent on something else. And there’s a limit to the number of intros one individual can make.

The Forwardable Email

It takes a long time to write a great intro email and in almost all cases you are the one that has the greatest knowledge on why you want the intro and how that person can be helpful.

My job is to have as strong a connection with the recipient and be able to lend weight to your character and the reason why you want an email. But your job is to set the intro up for success by including all the relevant info to make the recipient want to get back to you.

So, if you send me an intro request, in most cases I’ll ask you to send me a . And by this I mean an email sent from you to me in such a way that I can simply hit ‘forward’, write 1–2 quick personal sentences to the recipient and then send.

This is where things often break down. It’s surprising how many poor emails I then receive. So I’m going to lay down exactly what I mean by this, with an example, to help you and to help me.

Your email needs to do the following:

  1. Be personal. The email needs to sound like you, in your tone and not like a paragraph from your marketing literature. You should also take into consideration who the likely recipient is and the tone or level of formality that they might naturally expect to receive.
  2. Be as specific as possible about what you want. Don’t just ask for ‘coffee’ or a few minutes on a call to ‘have a quick chat’. That sets the ‘time-suck’ alarm bells ringing for the recipient. If you’re fundraising then you want to ‘see if there is interest in the round of $xxx that you’re raising’. Too many people fudge what they really want through fear of initial rejection. But if it’s not interesting then why waste several cycles of introductions and info-exchange before that inevitable conclusion is reached anyway
  3. Add context. To understand a specific request, the recipient will need the right context. For example, the one-liner of that your company does, what stage you’re at etc. If it’s an investor introduction then a one-pager PDF is totally acceptable and may be more appropriate at this stage than sending your full 12+ page fundraising deck.
  4. Tailor the context to the recipient. This part is crucial. If you’re asking for several intros then the temptation is to just write one boilerplate email to save time. However, if you do that you’re decreasing your chances of meeting your end goal (and the chances that I’ll make the intro). If it’s an investor who just wrote a blog post about your sector then bingo, reference that. If they’ve worked in a role for several companies that fits the persona of the buyer of your product then point this out.
  5. Be as succinct as possible. You need to include all the info above, but you should do it concisely and don’t add any extra info that would naturally follow in a second email or meeting. You might think you have a great business, or the perfect product for the recipient, but resist the urge to write three gushing paragraphs about it. Remember, people have short attention spans and this email is just the trailer to get to the person to see your movie. It’s not the movie itself!
  6. Be instantly forwardable. The email should have a meaningful subject header and be completely new and separate to our previous correspondence, ie. no conversation or back and forth between ourselves that needs to be edited or deleted from the message before it’s forwarded.

Below is a boilerplate example to crib off. The first part is the personal intro I will write and the second part is the fresh email that you should compose:

The Double Opt-In Intro

On occasion, if I know both parties and am pretty sure there is a good fit, I’ll go ahead and forward your email straight away. But many years ago I came across the concept of the Double Opt-In Intro and it has stuck with me ever since. It’s not rocket-science, it just means that I’m not going to make an introduction without asking the recipient’s permission first.

But why?

Well first of all it’s just polite. We all get enough email through our inbox each day and I’ve just added to the pile. Secondly, if it’s not a good fit then without that second opt-in the recipient now has to look rude if they turn the request down. And if they take the meeting out of sheer politeness then I’ve just created a situation where you’re both wasting time that could have been better spent on something else.

Sometimes, if I have a strong suspicion that it’s not a good fit, but want to confirm this, then it also means I can still send the email, but leave an ‘out’ for the recipient that allows me to get some honest feedback on why it might not be a good fit.

PS. Be Aware Of Network Fatigue

We all like to make intros. For many, it’s a small way they can help. As an investor, it’s a part of my job where I can quickly make a small difference to the founders we back.

But both bad intros and a high volume of them can lead to network fatigue. This isn’t good for me, and isn’t good for you. And there comes a point when to maximise the long-term utility of my own relationships (and personal capital) it’s necessary to limit the number of intros made.

So, to summarise, you can help this by:

  1. putting in some research before asking for an introduction
  2. checking who is best placed to make the intro (many times that’s not me)
  3. writing a succinct, personalised and immediately forwardable intro request email
  4. understanding why the double opt-in process may take a bit longer, but is ultimately more effective

Dave Haynes

Written by

Doubling down on all things immersive tech. Director, Vive X @htcvive. Previously @TheWaveVR @Seedcamp @SoundCloud. Dad.