How do you catch the attention of prominent business leaders or investors who can help take your business to the next level?
To advance his mildly successful e-commerce business, a friend of mine was hoping to attract the attention of a certain well-known tech entrepreneur. But first, he asked me to take a look at the email he wrote to ask for the entrepreneur’s help.
When I looked at the email, I realized my friend had made some common mistakes. As I made a few notes on how to improve it, I decided this would also make a useful case study. So I got my friend’s permission to post his email (and my critique). Of course, the details have been changed to conceal his identity and that of the Unnamed Prominent Person.
This critique should interest any entrepreneur or startup aspiring to catch the attention of any business leader, investor or proinent potential ally. Check it out and let me know what you think.
(Paragraphs numbered for easier comparison.)
A letter from a struggling entrepreneur to a much better-known one
Dear [Name Withheld]:
1. I am an entrepreneur living in [City name withheld]. A few years ago, I came up with a great idea for an innovative product that allows [people with a certain type of problem] to easily [solve that problem]. I did all of the work on a prototype to get it to the production stage. I should have known that it is not enough to have a good idea; it needs to be marketed to the buying public and to people who can see the vision and push it forward. I have handled most of the production tasks myself, producing rough drawings and prototypes, and travelling to [unnamed foreign land] with my prototype in hand, to find a company to make my product.
2. I didn’t have a lot of issues moving my product from idea stage to production stage. The real problems, for me, are being able to speak to the right people in this industry. I have researched similar producers and major brands, and sent out hundreds of emails, only to find out I am not dealing with the decision makers.
3. I decided to reach out to you [because this person has been known to help aspiring entrepreneurs in the past]. I heard about you [where and how]. That’s when I knew you would be someone to help me move my business along, and get to the next level.
4. I am now selling my sandals on my own website. Xyz.com, and through [an impressively large international broker], as well as to one industry supplier in the U.S.
5. I was hoping you might have the time to sit down with me, have a look at my business, and come on as an investor or mentor, if you see it as something you would like to get involved with.
6. Please let me know if you have any questions.
Para 1: Your first paragraph provides WAY too much history. When writing to important people, you have to EARN the right to share these details with them.
(ie, Before they care about such details, you have to MAKE them care.)
Don’t begin with the history of your business. Talk about the present or future, instead. These are just details – go with the big picture first. GRAB their attention with something impressive or cool!
Para 2: This is good because you are now getting at the nub of the problem. Prominent people don't have time to go trouble-shooting on your behalf – but they may be intrigued if you can define one specific issue you need help with.
Para 3: I don't get it. You say he is the right person to move your business along, but the context you cite doesn't actually justify that conclusion. Why is this person the RIGHT person to help you with the specific problem cited above? Make the connection clearer. If possible, appeal to his business instincts.
Stress that there is a unique opportunity here to make a significant impact. E.g., “This is an important business, and it could be a big one. But I need some help with… xxxx.”
Para 4: This is great information that should come much earlier in the letter. More important than all the time that you've put into this business (detailed in your Paragraph 1), this paragraph proves you have done some very good work. You're not just a startup, you have traction.
Of course, your pitch could be made even better if you could share a sales statistic (or a cool customer story) that would really make him sit up and take notice. Do you have any of those?
Para 5: This sounds vague and naïve. Your target is very busy. You need to SELL him on working with you. And that means not making an indefinite drain on his time. I suggest you come up with a more specific ask, and make it clear that you’re not asking for a favor – this will be a rewarding venture for him.
(I say “rewarding” rather than “highly profitable” because you might be able to concoct an ask where part of his reward is satisfaction, reputation, or some other intangible that doesn’t cost you as much money.)
Para 6: Let’s try to find a more energetic, epic ending that whets the recipient’s appetite for more.
I don't mean to be hyper-critical. The original letter isn’t that bad. But it’s unlikely to get the desired results, for all the reasons stated above.
What’s important is that my entrepreneur friend knew what he wanted to do, took the initiative to write up a first draft, and then requested feedback on his proposal from someone he trusted.
This is how you get results. Ambition, Action, Reflection, OUtreach and Feedback. Entrepreneurs who do everything by themselves are unnecessarily limiting their own potential success.
Your thoughts are welcome.