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The perfect email (davidgcohen.com)
170 points by ColinWright on Nov 6, 2012 | hide | past | web | favorite | 41 comments

Original email writer here. I generally agree with the comments about how it could have been improved. In hindsight, it was probably too wordy. My impression is that David processes emails more "deeply" than the average person, so I think he could handle the wordiness. Others would probably trash it more quickly. I did get a very thoughtful response from David which actually helped us immensely. As a result of taking the path he suggested we've now got a great business going, and the main problem is hanging on to the rocketship it has become. Obviously, a high-class problem to have.

It took me a couple of hours to write the email. Definitely time well spent.

> It took me a couple of hours to write the email.

It always takes longer to write short emails, which is why so few people do it.

I tried to explain this just yesterday to a colleague who complains about my long emails. He said this obviously demonstrated I had no logic in my brain. It was an annoying day.

Writing a short email is easy. All it takes is actually knowing what you're trying to say.

IMHO, this is simply not true.

Practice makes perfect. Writing short, concise pieces of text that express your thoughts in an easily digestable is really hard, a challenge of its own (despite what you want to say) - it's like a form of "professional" art, that few master.

Do you happen to recall what the subject line was? Seems like an important detail that has a big impact on first impression.

The subject line was: "Real time location and status startup struggling with the Infrastructure vs Application decision"

Also, on reviewing the email, there was some formatting which may have helped the readability and draw attention to the central question. There was a fair amount of whitespace between the paragraphs and the main question was center-aligned and in bold.

Completely out of context, but I have visited your website http://www.criticalarc.com/ and I was very surprised to see this pixelate image on the home page http://www.criticalarc.com/_content/index/slider/2.jpg.

Thanks. We'll sort it out.

Sounds almost gimmicky, which it probably is not: Would you mind providing a screenshot of the email?

Not gimmicky, it's empathizing with the end user.

It took me a couple of hours to write the email

This seems weird when someone else says it...but I relate!

To a job well done!

Well done! I felt it used a lot of the points from this article on how to cold email people: http://www.ashmaurya.com/2012/08/cold-emailing/

The key to getting attention is to talk to someone about something they are interested in -- and everyone is interested in themselves.

Reading the email, it really felt as if it was from someone who already knew the OP well. If I'd read something like that about myself I would have question my first impression that this was a stranger -- surely we'd had coffee or something at some point? Met at a conference?

In the same way that mimicking body language influences someone, the email was couched in all kinds of casual point about "this is how we are alike".

Hit them right in the tribal monkey brain.

Basically: "He made it all about 'me' and that's the thing, as an investor, I love the most."

In all seriousness if you truly want to know how to do something great, go to someone who has done something similar successfully before and soak up their knowledge. At the end of the day though, if you want someone you don't know who has never heard of you to invest in you, you have to stroke their ego a bit.

Indeed. In the words of Dale Carnegie:

“The royal road to a man’s heart is to talk to him about the things he treasures most.”

This email also exemplifies many of Carnegie's other maxims.

I wouldn't call it perfect. You have to shift through all the verbiage to find the points you want. I think that email could have been refactored to half the length.

Busy people want short emails.

I'd be interested in knowing what the subject line was for the email.

If the intended recipient thought it was perfect, then he achieved his goal.

We all have different preferences for emails we received, clearly he nailed it for his target.

As someone who is often very nervous about sending "cold" emails to this degree, I really appreciate that you/David posted this.

It really helps paint a better picture of what a good easy-going email should look like, in this case/scenario. I feel like I often over think more "important" emails like this and re-write them over and over. It's good to finally know that if I'm just more myself, it will probably stick out more than if I try to sound like a robot and someone I am not.

Thanks again! :)

I used to run a marketplace business and much of my role was getting in touch with partners to get them on our service. Obviously the value we added was key but I started A/B testing email to see if it made much of a difference. I found that the shorter the email, the quicker the reply I'd receive. I worked it up to about a 50% improvement in the end. Honestly I just learned that people want you to get to the point, lay out the key facts and make it clear what you want.

If you know the person look at saving any niceties for after you've made your point. It doesn't look so false if you save any of this for after you've made your request and and you're actually interested in how their job is going.

Good post. This is approximately what I've been doing for the last two weeks as I try to contact specific developers to come work at famo.us. I spend time researching them, including reading their github code, twitter and G+ streams, LinkedIn, personal blog etc.

If I can't find a solid connection between what their experience and the things they love to do then that is a signed that I haven't researched enough or that there really isn't a fit and that I shouldn't bother them and waste their time.

My favorite quote about email comes from Seth Godin:

"I don't want to get email from anybody. I want to get me-mail"

I don't understand why this was down-voted, the parent commenter clearly states that he is searching for employees and this comment states that he is interested in a job there.

Maybe the downvoter thinks he should have contacted the parent directly?

Edit: It's now back to positive, but I think HN could be improved by giving more private ways to contact people - the obvious way would be Private Messages, but this got me thinking about whether replies visible only to the OP and other posters in the thread would be a good solution - and yes, I know HN could implement a lot of other features before this one :) .

I actually disagree, I think the public medium by which we can see every interaction is what makes this place so good, if you want to be needlessly bitchy, you need to do it in public where everyone else can see it.

It keeps us in check and thinking carefully about our comments and stops a lot of degradation of standards, with regards to quality of comments.

Before sending my emails to co-workers and clients I check the first word of each paragraph. The mistake I tend to make is to start each sentence with "I" (not a native speaker).

Here, we have "I, We, I, Basically, I, As and Hey", and in the middle of the text there are far far more "I"s and "we"s than I find somewhat acceptable, either. Perhaps the rate is this bad in comparison to my language where the subject is given implicitly in affixes?

Regardless, how emails like this one can be seen as focused on the reader when you know less about the target audience?

I'm only guessing here, but I think that most of the angel investors that I know will trash such an email after reading the first sentence and seeing how much more they still have to read.

There's a magical formula to not make that happen.

You write a sentence that makes the person want to read the next one.

Even busy people like to read interesting emails.

Sure, but this email starts off poorly.

"We’re starting CriticalArc and we’re focussed on providing solutions to problems that depend on streaming status and location in real time."

Ever since the 90s, the word "solutions" just makes my eyes glaze over. To be fair, it gets interesting after that, but this is not a good way to introduce your company.

For me, that was an especially good starting statement, though with no cliffhanger as such.

It reflected the emailer's intention to not waste my time. Tells me who they are, and tells me it's not a sort of long-winded spam. Sure, I have skimmed it (glazed over?) and came back to it later after reading other parts of the email. But it gave me the option to bail out while promising interesting things if I am interested.

Before I hit "send" on an important email, I always try and stop for a second and put myself in the recipients shoes. If I was receiving this email, how would it make me feel? Would it make me want to respond?

And now I too am very curious what the response was, particularly whether location-based services are being over- or underestimated at the moment.

The response was that he generally advises startups in our situation to "dog food it" (i.e. build a solution on it first). That was the main feedback and it has worked out great for us. We have a high-value offering based on the platform as a result...and a long feature and product roadmap ahead of us.

On the topic of location-based services being over/underestimated there wasn't a clear reply from David. Our experience has been that there are great opportunities in solving problems for enterprise customers using mobile and location-based services. I can't really speak for the B2C opportunity.

"Groupon clones"... lol, this definitely is so 2011.

Isn't "advice" code for "money" these days?

Did he invest?

IMO this is too long, also not clear enough.

Single sentence per line. Or two small ones.

Clear ask on its own line, correct?

Thanks, Startup Founder

Startup Name and URL

email / phone

While I agree in general that shorter emails are preferable - longer emails draw you in more and can really show that the sender has thought things through, thus making you more open to reciprocating.

That's why you include a URL. Otherwise, maybe put 3 lines up top, and more info below which could stand on its own.

I don't get anywhere near as much email as a professional investor, but unless it's from someone I know and actually want to hear from, or someone paying me, if it goes on for more than 3 lines without being compelling, I just hit delete.

It's actually summer in Australia from between December to February...

Just look at the site: davidgcohen.com. The email (and subsequent link) is a pure ruse. No one with any technical competence would email such a person.

That email is way, way too long.

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