Better cold emails
February 09, 2024

I send a lot of cold emails.

I've been working on startups for almost 10 years now. During this time, I've cold-emailed a lot of different people for different objectives — angel investors, potential customers, Fortune 500 executives, founders, VCs, potential hires, you name it. And then there are follow-ups, sometimes tens of them.

I learnt very early on that I needed to get better at cold emails because, well, I sucked. Over time, though, I've gotten better. These are some of my principles.


The goal of a cold email is simple: get a response. Any kind of response. It might sound obvious when spelled out like this. But usually we tend to expect more, much more.

Maybe they'll book a meeting right away? Let me add my calendar link. Oh, they'd definitely want to look at my investment deck. I'll attach the 12-pager. Oh, and the 6-minute product demo? Yeah, how can I not?!

It didn't work for me. So started learning from the cold emails I was receiving, trying to find a pattern. I arrived at this format which works well for me.

Sample Cold Email

Salutation and signature aside, the format lays out a simple formula for the body: 2 sentences for the hook, 3 sentences for establishing the key facts, and one question at the end.

Every Sentence Counts

The reason the 2-3-1? formula works for me is because it forces me to cut out the fat from my writing. If I can write only 2 sentences in the hook, it better be a freakin' awesome hook. These restrictions make me think harder before I frame my sentences. This has a nice side-effect of sharpening my propositions.

I try to aim for a reading time of around 30 seconds for the entire email, which is a reasonable time you can expect a very busy person to spend on a cold email. Here's a handy tool to calculate that: Read-o-Meter. You only need to do this the first few times, and your mental read-o-meter learns pretty fast.

If you're looking to get better at writing, I'd start with Paul Graham's essays on this topic: Write Simply, Briefly, and Usefully.

What You Say >> How You Say It

Over lunch the other day, I asked a founder friend how many cold emails they receive (around 15 every day), and how many emails do they actually respond to (~1-2 every year maybe).

I'm sure you'd hear similar, or worse, numbers for any of your friends. The simple reason behind this is most cold emails you get are written with poor context, with people somehow trying to sell you things you don't even need. Which is also why most advice on cold emails doesn't work, because they focus more on how to write than what to write.

Your cold emails aren't going to work if you're not adding value to the receiver in some way. The only exception to this is when the receiver is paying it forward, so they're probably going to to help your regardless. I've found that the previous two principles work only when I'm reaching out to the person with something they will find relevant.

You'll end up sending fewer emails if you stick to this principle, but you'll most definitely have a better conversion rate.