Mike Lingle at Rocket Pro Forma
Step-by-Step Guide: How to Reach Out to Investors (Email Templates Included)
Founders always ask me if they can reach out to investors they don’t know without an introduction. It’s better to have a warm introduction—but cold outreach can work too. Below are the five steps I’ve taken in the past to make my cold messages as successful as possible:
Find the investor’s contact info
Keep your message short
Focus on them
Give proof of traction
Ask their permission to send them more info
I also cover LinkedIn outreach at the end of this article.
I encourage you to experiment to find what works best for you. Want to use my approach? Give it a try! Want to send your pitch deck in the initial email? Give it a try! For best results, send a few with each method in order to test which works best. Here’s the walkthrough:
1. Find the investor’s contact info
Investors want to be found, for the most part. Especially if you have a valuable opportunity for them. I usually start on LinkedIn, which a) allows me to reach out directly and b) gives me a map of who we know in common—and I can then ask these people for an intro. This strategy does require having a robust network on LinkedIn. My favorite thing is that LinkedIn will usually give you the email address of someone you’re connected to—just click the "Contact Info" button near their headshot once you're linked—and emails tend to get more responses than DMs.
You can also reach out on Twitter, Instagram, and any other social network where you see the investor hanging out. Look for places where they’re active, so you have a better chance of them noticing your message. I encourage brevity in all investor communications, and social media usually enforces this with character limits.
Not sure who to reach out to?
Start by figuring out which type of investor you’re looking for (read my article on Are You Actually Looking for VC Money). You can then search for that specific type of investor who focuses on your stage and industry.
I also recommend scanning CrunchBase and AngelList for the early investors of non-competitive companies in your space. Once you know who these people are, you can target them on social media as described above.
You can also reach out to other founders who have already raised money and ask for intros to their investors. This allows you to hear first-hand about their experience with those investors.
Finally, save your favorite investors for later pitches. If you’re going on Shark Tank, for example, don’t make them your first pitch. Instead, do at least ten other pitches first. That way, you’re practiced, smooth, and convincing by the time you get your dream investors. You can read more in my Reverse Investor List Strategy.
2. Keep your message short
Professional investors look at over one thousand pitches each year (think about how many that is!). They want to spend as little time as possible on their first scan of your startup. If they’re interested, you’ll have all the time in the world to give them more details.
The #1 mistake I see founders make is writing too much. These long messages are a signal to the investor that you’re going to take up a bunch of their time.
Instead, keep your messages short to investors—and you’ll signal that you’re respectful of their time. They always respond much better to short messages.
Here’s my actual email exchange with Tim Draper.
You and I spoke a few years back re: SlideRocket. Now I'm starting the funding process for a new SaaS presentation company, <Our Name>.
Briefly, <Our Name> is a simple solution for companies to manage sales and marketing presentations across the globe and across devices. Our current customers include NBC, HBO, Western Union, Hearst, DirectTV, and Dior. We are self-funded to date.
Can I send you our pitch deck?
And here’s the reply from Tim:
Yes. Please send it.
Notice how concise we both are? And we ended up getting the meeting.
3. Focus on them
Investors can bring a ton of value. When we raised our Series A for SlideRocket we got $2 million wired to us—it’s an amazing moment when you check your company’s bank account and see all that money.
At least as important, and possibly even more valuable, was the VC who joined our board of directors. This was a guy who had taken his own startup public, after which he became an investor and had worked with startups for the past decade. He helped us with strategy; tough decisions (of which there were many); and introductions to clients, teammates, other investors, and potential acquirers. He even helped us find a new CEO when we needed to bring someone in.
My #1 caution about crowdfunding is that startups may miss out on adding an experienced investor to help advise them (but we’ll cover that in a different article). Consider blending crowdfunding with a key investor or two.
Anyway, investors want to know why you’re choosing them so that they understand how they can bring value. Also, people love to talk about themselves.
I recommend including a bit of why you’re choosing this particular investor in your outreach, or at least a congratulations on a recent deal. This sounds like “I saw that you recently invested in <Company X> and we’re huge fans!”
4. Give proof of traction
Remember that investors are receiving hundreds of emails from other startups, but they’ll only invest in a few. How do you stand out?
You win by making it easy for them to invest in you.
Peter Thiel wrote a $500k check to Facebook because they had so much demand that their servers were crashing. That made it obvious to him that Facebook was going to succeed. How can you demonstrate something similar?
It helps if you have customers, revenue, active users, and growth. Note that in my email above I mentioned all the high-profile customers we already had.
But even before you have those things you can talk about customer validation, high-quality advisors, and world-class founders.
Who you are is usually the most important thing to investors, yet startups spend most of their time talking about what they’re building.
In fact, I often recommend that founders put the team slide at the front of their pitch decks. That establishes credibility right up front. Otherwise, the investor sits through your whole pitch wondering who the team is.
Don’t have a killer resume or a previous exit? Talk about what you’ve been able to accomplish in this startup. Buffer’s Team Slide noted that the two founders “took the idea to revenue in 7 weeks” and “took Buffer from 200 to 55,0000 users.” Instant credibility!
Read the Startup Pitch Deck Playbook for more examples of traction and team.
5. Ask to send them more info
This ties in with keeping your message short in step 2. Don’t include your pitch deck in your first message—and definitely don’t send any attachments without permission. Instead, ask if you can send your deck and schedule a call. I find I get much more interaction this way, plus I get immediate feedback on who's interested and who's not.
Think of it this way: Investors are unlikely to write a check in your first conversation. Instead, they’ll want to talk to you again, possibly with a larger group of people. You’ll have a few of these meetings before they invest, which gives you lots of time to explain everything about your business.
This takes the pressure off: You don’t have to explain everything up front.
Instead, drop a few sound bites. Let the info sink in. Provide more info as people ask for it. Hold back in order to make it easier for potential investors to absorb your opportunity.
Those are my top tips. Now let's look at some templates: