I'm the founder of Encore, which alerts executives to top opportunities and threats via machine learning (500 Startups company, acquired by Meltwater). I'm sharing tactical lessons I've learned about building companies, products, and teams.

004 The Art of Asking for an Intro

004 The Art of Asking for an Intro

One of my favorite things about the startup world is how generous most people are about making introductions. Everyone who is on this extremely difficult adventure of building a company knows that you can't do it alone, and there's always someone out there -- another founder, a potential customer, a mentor, an investor -- that can help you get through the tough times. 

Unfortunately, most of us actually suck at the process of getting an intro. It's not something they teach you in high school (they should), at business school (they really should), or at your job, but it's one of the most critical processes you can nail down.

Why is this so important? For starters, tell me if you've ever been in one of these positions before:

  • Someone offers to introduce you to a friend and you get super excited, but that introduction never comes. 
  • You actually do get an introduction, but the person introducing you mischaracterizes who you are or what you're looking for.
  • You email back and forth so many times looking for a right time and place that the meeting never gets scheduled. 
  • When you show up to a meeting, the other person has no idea what's going on or isn't really engaged. 
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Yeah, I'll raise my hand for all four. When a really good meeting could be the difference between your company having a good week or a bad one, you want to make sure the introduction is a quality one. And when you're getting 10 or more introductions a week while fundraising, you *really* want to make sure you're handling these as effectively and efficiently as possible.

Here are four important concepts you need to know:

Send a forwardable email

When you ask someone for an introduction, you're actually creating more work for them. No matter how happy that person is to make an intro, they'll always appreciate it if you make their life easier.

The first thing you should always do is to send the introducer an email that describes you / your company and why you're hoping to meet this new person. 

Try to write it in a way that allows the introducer to easily forward your email along. If not, you can include a blurb with all the information below that they can copy and paste into their own email.  

For example:

Wait for the "double opt-in"

Most people despise receiving introductions without being asked first. This is one of the most important norms to understand, especially with people as busy as founders, mentors, and investors. 

When you send the person a forwardable email or blurb, you should assume they will want to check with the other person if they're okay receiving an introduction. When I'm introducing a founder to an investor, I'll usually send an investor an email like this first:

This double opt-in process is a double-edged sword, but a net positive. The introduction will likely take more time and there's always a chance the person will say no, but it is much more likely that the person will be happy and engaged while speaking with you because they've given permission first. 


Send some quick reminders

Sometimes, the double opt-in process takes time: the introducer may have forgotten to forward along your email, or the person may be slow to respond. Either way, it's on **you** to send some quick reminders and see how things are going after a few days. If the introducer is actually happy to make the introduction, they won't be annoyed to get a friendly bump here or there to move things along. 

Respond first and offer times

When this is done wrong, it's one of my biggest pet peeves. 

When you finally do receive the glorious introduction, try to respond ASAP! Some simple steps:

A) Respond before the other person does.

B) Thank the introducer and move them to BCC.

C) Reiterate how excited you are to meet (and, if appropriate, what you're looking to accomplish).

D) Offer 3-5 specific dates and times. If possible, offer how the meeting will be conducted (a specific place to meet or a number to call).

E) If you can, show that you're flexible to change time or place if something is more convenient for the other person.

F) Offer to send the calendar invite if/when they confirm.

Here's an example:

After giving and taking hundreds of introductions, I've found that this is by far the most effective and efficient format. D) is where most people mess up -- oftentimes we assume that if the person we're being introduced to is busier than us, we should just write "please send me some times that work for you." But being too accommodating in this case isn't actually a good thing--it's more work for that person to look at their whole schedule for gaps than it is for them to check their availability on a few specific windows you propose. If they really are busy during all the times you propose, they'll usually still appreciate your specificity and respond with a few time windows of their own.

All of this seems really small, but it's really important: it will help shorten the amount of back-and-forths needed (and increase the probability) of getting a great meeting on the calendar that can change everything. And then... don't forget to follow up :) 

005 How to Find a Great Mentor

005 How to Find a Great Mentor

003 Before You Build, Be the Wizard of Oz

003 Before You Build, Be the Wizard of Oz