How to make and accept email intros
Introductions are the 'bread and butter' of startups and VCs. It can open new doors and lead you to the right advice when you need it. But the etiquette is misunderstood or poorly explained to newbies.
Much of my time chatting to early stage founders is about how I can help them – often times, it’s not something I can provide direct advice about, but I might know someone who would be helpful. This is where a good intro is required.
This is a post written for founders about how I think about intros, and how (if you haven’t dealt with it before) to accept an intro someone gives.
The double opt-in intro: good for everyone
I generally operate on a double opt-in basis when doing introductions. They're a little more work for the person offering the introduction but generally better for everyone in the end (i.e. wont waste the founders time if the person doesn't 'care').
Imagine this (extremely made up) scenario; I have coffee with Alice, who is an early stage founder creating a business that helps people rent pets out by the hour (Pets.com, but the 2020 version).
Alice is currently raising money and needs investors, and also is looking for some advice about marketing for B2C marketplace businesses.
I have a quick think during the meeting: I’ll do an intro to Jane, a program coach for Galileo VC who also invests in marketplaces, and John, who has worked for a few (successful) marketplace companies in marketing and is currently VP marketing at some fancy marketplace startup.
Now, I know a lot of marketing people and a lot of VCs. But I won’t introduce you to every marketing and investor I know. That’s bloody annoying.
Firstly, not all of them are going to be relevant for Alice or care about renting pets out by the hour. Secondly, I don’t know if Alice is going to be a pain in the ass, or be a good intro who doesn’t nag. Every time someone gives you an intro, you’re “borrowing their brand” (as you’d say in marketing), and that’s not necessarily a small ask.
When I get home I’ll email Jane and John – but I won’t CC Alice at this stage.
The emails will generally be something like this:
Subject: Interested in an intro to Alice from Petsbnb (airbnb for pets)?
Hope everything’s going well.
[Intro] I met Alice [link to her LinkedIn profile] today, who runs Petbnb [link to your website – not a pitch deck or anything, don’t do that please]. [Summary of the business] Petbnb is aiming to be the Airbnb for people to rent out pets.
[Reason to respond] Petbnb has grown 30% MoM for the last 6 months and is looking to scale up with some investment. [Particularly for angels, I’ll mention the round size] They’re looking for a $500k seed round.
[Personal opinion/view] I think Alice is a great founder, not quite sure about Petbnb but she presents well and the company traction metrics are definitely up and to the right.
[The Ask] Given you’ve invested in a few marketplaces, are you interested to connect with Alice? Even if not for investment, suspect you might be able to give some great pointers.
[Confirmation that this is double opt in] Let me know and I’ll do the intro.
John will get a similar email, but probably more about how Alice has grown the business well but needs advice and guidance on effective marketing, and she could use a coffee worth of advice from him.
Now I wait for Jane and John to reply. There is no BCC to Alice, no sharing of their email, phone numbers, personal Facebook accounts etc. She has to wait.
Hopefully Jane and John get back to me. If you are on the other end of a double opt in intro, it’s common courtesy to at least reply – I don’t care if your answer is “Yeah sorry, not investing in pet businesses, burned too badly in pets.com”. But you can at least reply!
Usually it’s something like “yeah no problems, happy to have a chat with her”. Occasional variations include “I’m about to go overseas for a month but can definitely catch up after”, in which case I’ll do the intro anyway but highlight that Alice should follow up at <date> and that the person is going to be away.
Use those Gmail defaults if you have to.
After they reply yes: the introduction
So when the person says yes, then and only then do I email Alice and cc in Jane/John. The email usually looks something like this:
Subject: Alice (Petbnb) <> Jane (Seedster Investments)
As promised, connecting you up.
Jane [Linkedin] is a program coach Galileo Ventures [website], an early stage venture fund accelerator.
[Reason to connect: might be a repeat of my “Alice is struggling to grow the market but needs more marketing advice” to John] Alice is currently looking for a round, but I think that Jane may also have some great insights based on experience.
Over to you to connect.
Now for the thing people often do very poorly.
Accepting the introduction: its up to you
It’s up to the founder to accept the introduction. Don’t wait for the other person (Jane/John) to reply. Just send a quick email, and get me the hell out of the conversation.
Convention is to accept it and move me (the intro-er) to BCC so I know you’ve accepted it but I don’t need to be involved further.
Here’s a good structure (you just hit reply, don’t make a new email or they’ll forget I introduced you and you’ll be loaded in with all the other crap in their inbox):
[Intro/thanks] Thanks Hugh for the intro (>BCC) [you’re showing Jane that you’ve thanked me and I’ll get this, but she doesn’t need to keep me in the loop].
[Confirm the ask] As Hugh mentioned, Petbnb is a marketplace to let people rent out pets. We’re looking for investment, but he also suggested you might be a great person to talk to about some of our challenges, [always hustle 😉 ] as we’ve been experiencing growing pains growing at 30% MoM.
[Show flexibility, and list any limits] I’d love to catch up and get your thoughts. Is there a particular time that works for you? [Example of a limitation] I’m off to SF in 3 weeks on 20 December but I’m hoping we can catch up before then.
This way I don’t have to be dragged into the inevitable calendar-shuffle of trying to line stuff up.
Things to avoid when accepting an intro
Please don’t do these things (in my opinion).
- Send back 2000 word stories
- Reply with a pitch deck, IM, cc in lawyers and accountants – it’s just an intro
- Reply with YOUR (Alice’s) calendar booking link: you are respectful of the other person’s time and want to show you are flexible to them, not saying “here, go book into my calendar”.
- Call them 5 minutes later after trawling the web for their phone number
- Suggest they travel 5000km in the wrong direction to catch up with you. The CBD is usually a safe choice if it’s not obvious where they are but everyone is pretty used to Zoom/Video calls these days.
- Connect straight away on LinkedIn – this isn’t Tinder people.
- Fail to follow up: if they don’t reply in a week (that’s a reasonable time – obviously except scenario above with them going away etc), send one follow up email a week later.
- DO NOT SEND MORE THAN ONE FOLLOW UP. You are not a spammer and you are not helping. Worst case, come back to me and say that Jane didn’t reply and I can chase her privately or file it away as something to mention next time I see her.
Got the meeting: sending a calendar invite
So you managed to sort out the meeting. Great! SEND A CALENDAR INVITATION. You may have zero meetings a week and be incredibly excited to meet Jane, but she is less likely to be the same. For me, my calendar rules my life (my partner and I even invite each other to events we have to be at…) – if it’s not in my calendar, I will 100% not turn up.
Here is how to send a good calendar invite…it’s a forgotten art.
Meeting title: Alice (Petbnb) <> Jane (Seedster)
Always list your name first, so that when Jane is scanning her calendar she immediately knows who it is with. She’s more important than you 🙂 . Good to include company names.
Location: <The actual location>
List the location in the calendar, even if it’s their office. Better to confirm than them have to find the email to check on the day. If it’s on the phone or Zoom (etc), just put “Hangouts link in description” or “Phone # in description” in location – that’s because most calendar clients will show location as the ‘subheading’. This also avoids the problem where Google half the time adds some dumb hangouts link by default.
Description/body: Alice: 0412 345 678 [or however you are connecting: zoom meeting info, hangouts link etc]
I personally always include my phone number, particularly if it’s in person, so that they can text/call/etc if they’re running late. Ideally when the time comes, Jane can just open the event and has all the info.
Then (obviously) make sure you invite them as well! It’s nice to tick the “modify event” box so that they can also add any extra detail or make it easier if they need to reschedule.
Finally, send a reminder the day before the meeting if it’s more than a week away.
If you book a meeting (say) 2 weeks in the future, it’s always nice to send an email the day before just saying “Hi Jane, Just checking you’re still available for our meeting 3pm tomorrow (Wednesday) at your offices. Let me know if any problems – looking forward to meet!”. Then if they have a calendar clash you haven’t wasted the time travelling.
If it’s about fundraising, it’s nice to send Jane the deck in advance, roughly a day before the meeting (can be with the reminder for example!). But that’s not really mandatory.
Nice work! You have got your introduction and had your meeting.