How to Cold-Pitch a VC over E-mail (and Actually Get a Response)

A lot of people will tell you that the best way to engage with venture capitalists is by getting a warm introduction to one of the partners. That is entirely 100% correct, and this article is not going to dispute that.

However… that doesn’t mean that cold e-mailing VCs is a complete waste of time. You’ll note that somewhere around half of VC firms publish their e-mail addresses online (here’s ours)… well, somebody is in charge of parsing through those inboxes. Prominent investors like Jason Lemkin will tell you that they will occasionally do deals that originate as cold e-mails. Box raised their first outside capital by cold e-mailing Mark Cuban. This tactic can work… but it’s hard.

The trick (as with most things, really) is to keep things simple while avoiding the kinds of errors that immediately ruin your credibility. To help you out with this, we’ve made some suggestions below. Read on!

Avoid The Obvious Mistakes

Most cold e-mails get deleted by the recipient after a few sentences, or sometimes after just a glance. The most common reasons for this are 1) the content or format is so bad that the very act of reading is painful, and 2) the sender has been so inconsiderate of the reader’s time that the reader can’t possibly imagine initiating a business relationship with this person.

To avoid this fate, here are some features that should NOT appear in your cold e-mail:

  • Extreme length (more than 1 or 2 paragraphs).
  • Extremely long walls of text.
  • Lengthy/cheesy/silly title (example: “Is Toba Capital ready to help us change the world???”).
  • Overuse of business jargon & acronyms (please don’t say you do “predictive analytics for big data” unless that is exactly what you do).
  • Lack of numbers / vague in general.
  • Written in all caps (or really anything that gives the impression that it was written by a crazy and/or screaming person).
  • Misspellings / poor punctuation.
  • Addressed to the wrong person (or you’ve misspelled my name).
  • The investment is in an industry that we don’t cover (why are you sending medical device investments to an enterprise software VC?).
  • Inclusion of zany factoids that don’t make any sense. Recently I received an e-mail that said “Did you know that only 7% of people in Generation Y want to work for a Fortune 500 company?”… what? I somehow doubt this percentage could be lower than, you know, the Generation Y unemployment rate.)

If you can avoid doing all these things, you’re already in the 70th percentile of all cold e-mails we receive. Nice! That means that the recipient will likely read your entire message.

Follow a Simple, Straightforward Structure

Here’s what we recommend:

  • Title: Name of your company, or Name + details of the raise (“TeleAmeriCorp — Series B — Raising $10M”).
  • One intro sentence: (“Hi, im So-and-So”).
  • Two to three sentences describing the problem you’re solving and how you solve it. The more concise you are, the better. It demonstrates that you’re a clear communicator.
  • Three to eight bullet points highlighting your traction, how large your company is, how much you’ve raised, any other important particulars, et cetera. Use numbers whenever possible.
  • One brief closing sentence with a clear ask (“Please let me know if this interests you as an investment and I’d be happy to connect however you prefer”).
  • Deck attached to the email.

That’s it! The message should fill a half-page at most. Adopting this sparse (yet content-rich) structure shows respect for the recipient’s time, yet packs a ton of attractive details about your company into a small space.

Remember, you have two goals here: To persuade the reader (usually an Associate) to engage you in an initial qualifying conversation, and to empower that same person to disseminate information to the rest of the firm with as little friction as possible.

Adopt The Right Attitude

Once again, Jason nails it:

Don’t expect a follow-up or response. Don’t go nuts with 70 follow-up emails.
But if the email pitch is perfect, and it’s an early-stage firm, you may get a response.
But—no VC has time to “meet for coffee” or “talk about your idea.” The email pitch has to stand alone, and just be perfect.

Cold e-mailing is a “wide net” approach, and you should treat it like traditional lead generation. Get your list of plausible investors (again, only ones that make investments in your particular domain), send one message to each (with slight modifications for each VC based on their interests), and assume you’ll never hear back from any of them.

If and when you do get a response, well, you should know what to do next.

Further Reading


Patrick writes frequently on Quora and tweets as @pmmathieson. For more information on Toba Capital, check out www.tobacapital.com, read the Toba Capital Blog, or follow us at @tobacap.