How do you stand out in a crowded inbox?

Avinash Raghava

August 31, 2021

8

mins read

I am going to ask you to imagine standing in a large crowded room. It’s noisy. People talking over one another. But all of them are talking to a small group of people in the centre of that room at the same time. What do you do to get the group’s attention? You could yell. But then so could others, and probably louder than you.

Writing to a VC is like this experience. Just that it isn’t a free-for-all pitch session in a room, it is a dozen emails in an inbox. Those white, glowing unread emails all asking for one person’s attention. It’s hard enough to get those clicked, but getting them read all the way through is a whole different challenge. People across the world struggle with it.

And the ones struggling the most are first-time founders. More experienced entrepreneurs have learned the hard way. Unfortunately, there’s no class in business school about email writing.

So, let’s make it easier for everyone. Here are some of my suggestions to entrepreneurs when they’re writing to VC funds, big or small. I hope it helps.

First-time founders struggle the most. No one has told them how to write an email that will help them stand out.

Where do you start?

I am going to caveat this by saying, I know entrepreneurs are busy. They write to several VCs because ideas need to travel and not everyone has the luxury of time. And some need the capital immediately. I also understand that writing an email isn’t a core skill. But, the thing is that VCs too are busy people. If you want them to read your email, and respond to your pitches, you have to leave a lasting impression. If you want to get a callback, you have to be memorable. You have to shine. Here are a few things you must keep in mind.

Homework

Start with the basics. Most VCs have websites which spell out in detail what they believe in, the sectors they want to invest in and the people that handle certain sectors.

That is a good place to start.

Then ask yourself this question, “does my business case fit in their thesis?” If it does, then on to step two. Who is the right person to talk to? That could require work. The website should have some information, but that’s just scratching the surface. Your goal is to impress the VC and you, friend, will have to work for that. Hit the net. Find them on social media (Twitter and Linkedin), look at the times they’ve shown up in the press or have written a blog, and make a note of the things they have said.

Step three. What stage does this VC invest in? Are they a seed investor, do they like to come in early? Do they like to partner when the company is mature? Do they have an industry or geography they prefer? For some institutional investors, they enter the captable when the startup has raised an angel round already. There are resources all over the internet to make your job easier. Here is one by Tracxn, which lists seed-stage investors in India.

Step four. This is becoming extremely important these days. Some VCs prefer a warm introduction or a reference. It is always useful to find an early champion who will help you. This champion or believer will help open plenty of doors. Add other references, such as the names of customers who would vouch for you. Make a case that helps the reader feel invested.

What stage does this VC invest in? Are they a seed investor, do they like to come in early? Do they like to partner when the company is mature? Do they have an industry or geography they prefer?

Ask for what you want

Before you write the email, be clear on what you want. Do you want advice on scaling or solving a problem? Do you want to be connected to someone in the network or do you want capital? VCs love to help. It helps them grow their network and find hidden gems at good value. But you need to be honest and clear.

Writing the email

One of the common mistakes entrepreneurs make is writing emails fast. There’s nothing wrong about being quick, but it also leads to functional emails. The reason being, when people try to do something at speed, they lean into practice. Just like playing sports. Unfortunately, the practice most entrepreneurs have is writing emails to their team. The emails to the team are brief and to the point. They give instructions and directions. But the reason they work is that most emails are interspersed with calls and chats. VCs don’t have that context. Take a step deeper when you’re describing your business model.

Think about in terms of reading time. The sweet spot is three minutes. Essentially, it is a 600–800 word email. Take your time. Be effusive.

Now, comes the subject line. Be smart, describe what you do in as few words as possible. Include a reference there too, so the reader knows you come recommended.

Skip jargon

A common mistake people make is assuming that your reader understands your jargon because you’ve done the homework and they’re interested in your sector. Let’s consider an example.

An email we got said, “Our LVR is 2x our local competitors and our ACP is ~1.5x industry standard”. You may feel that it conveys everything you wanted to. But it doesn’t. All you had to say is, “We have been able to generate leads two times faster than our competitors in India and we are paid 1.5x more than standard industry rates. We’re that good.”

Simplify your business metrics. Make it accessible to everyone.

Be clever

Everyone wants to believe that they are special. Remember all the homework you did. Use some of it now. You can use a quote, the VC’s business philosophy, their ambitions, their interests, whatever suits you, in your email. It shows that you are interested in them, respect them and that you put in the work.

Don’t copy paste

You’ve done all the hard work and written an extremely smart email. You can’t spend the entire day writing smart emails to different people across the world. So, you copy paste. What worked at one will work at another. But the copy paste filters through. We don’t expect radically different emails, but attempt to personalise each email. Just a little. We’ll feel special. And your mail will look different from the rest of the clutter that gathers in our inboxes.

You’re now ready to send the email. Read it once before you do. Read it aloud if you can.

Follow up but don’t hound

A good VC will write back within five working days and take the conversation forward. But not everyone has the time. Some forget, some just don’t respond. It is good to follow up to see if your note was lost in the deluge of other emails. How do you follow up? A good way is to do that with an update. For example, say, “Since the last time we wrote to you, we’ve added two more high-value customers and have added a head of marketing to our team. Our annual run rate has just gone up. Things are moving fast. We would love to discuss more with you.” That creates a little FOMO. But despite all this, if no one gets back, move on. There are many others who will believe in you.

A smart way to follow up is to include an update. Make the reader feel that the longer they wait, the further they get from a good opportunity.

A right way

There is no one right way of writing to a VC. But this is one way that may help. Warning, don’t copy-paste this. Use it as a guiding light. If this isn’t your cup of tea, here is another outline to help you. Here is one by Adpushup. All I’ll say is the way they wrote the email was clever. I’ll let the blog do the talking for me.

Here’s our take on things.

Subject: SaaS for coffee? Ref: Girish asked me to write to you

Dear Avinash,

I am the founder of Wake Up Inc. I bumped into Girish at a party the other day and he asked me to write to you.

I run a SaaS company out of Mumbai. We partner with cafes and our platform monitors the amount of coffee bought, used and discarded during the day. Coffee is the biggest cost for cafes and we help them optimise these costs. This helps these cafes make more profits and grow their business. In the last six months alone, our customers have cut costs by 40%. Our biggest customer, Roar Coffee (you may have seen them all over Bangalore and Delhi), plans to use our platform when they expand into microbreweries.

We believe that our solution (with a few minor tweaks) can help the entire F&B industry in India and the US, a market that is collectively over $1 trillion.

We raised $100,000 from friends and family to get the business started. To scale, reach new markets and make critical hires, we plan to raise $1 million. I wanted to discuss the opportunity of your VC being a part of our round. We are in conversation with SaaSvestors from Delhi as well. Together’s team of extraordinary mentors and network excites us, and we believe we could be a good fit in that ecosystem.

I have attached a deeper one-pager on us and how we do things. If this has caught your attention, I would love to send you our deck and get on a call to expand things further.

Hoping to hear from you soon.

Regards,
Amitabh

WhatsApp:

Hi Avinash, My name is Amitabh, and I run a SaaS company called Wake up. Girish asked me to get in touch with you. We help cafes save costs through our unique platform. Mr. Leon from Roar credited us in his annual report too. I was hoping to write to you to discuss this further. Take care.

Why do we do this?

At Together, we’ve joined hands to help entrepreneurs find the right tools, with capital and expertise, to scale and grow. One of the reasons I wrote this long blog is that we’ve been getting emails, plenty of them. And even though they have a good story to tell, they’re not telling it right. I want to help these entrepreneurs tell their story.

If you have feedback or used an interesting way to get to a VC, we’re all ears. Write to us here. We would love to feature some of your emails on our post.