Email Pain

My partner Albert wrote a post about email today. In it he says:

I just don’t see a way anymore of answering everything that hits my inbox and theoretically should get an answer.

It's a familiar tale and I sympathize with Albert. I have been struggling with this issue for years. I've blogged endlessly about it and you all have been very helpful with suggestions. I moved to gmail which has helped. I use labels and shortcuts which help. I use priority inbox which helps. But everytime I make a productivity gain, the volume eventually overwhelms me.

One of our portfolio CEOs told me an entrepreneur complained to him that "fred wilson never returns my emails." That hurts to hear but I suspect it is more true that I want to admit.

Like Albert, I am sorry. I wish I could return every email I get. But I can't and I don't. In the past I've suggested everyone out there just keep trying. I'm beginning to wonder if that is good advice.

I've thought about getting an email assistant. But I am worried that putting more capacity into the system will simply create more volume that will eventually overwhelm the increased capacity.

So I've decided to adopt other approaches to be more available to entrepreneurs, like office hours, meetups, more skype chats, more blogging, more events. I'm not sure if that is better either, but it's where I'm headed at the moment in my never ending effort to solve this problem.

#VC & Technology

Comments (Archived):

  1. Alexander Graf

    Maybe you should reduce the time spending with emails. If there is a positive correlation between mail effort and mail volume (as you said), it could be apply the other way too. πŸ™‚

    1. fredwilson

      i know. that’s party of why i’ve cut back on email effort

      1. davidmit

        Has it worked?Is there a (lagged) correlation between the reply rate and the volume?Therein lie clues to a variety of approaches to address this problem.

        1. fredwilson

          The out of office away message works great!

  2. Denis

    Have you tried keeping separate mailboxes for different purposes:- portfolio companies & USV affairs;- introductions from connections;- friends & family;- general public inquiries.That way you at least can dedicate time to specific areas.

  3. Fred H.

    Fred, for better or worse, your increased visibility is undoubtedly the root cause of this problem. While technology can help, ultimately (IMHO) you’re going to need an assistant. I do applaud you for making yourself more available through other channels. But as the old saw goes, there really are only so many hours in the day…

  4. LIAD

    Seeing the email vs Replying to the email – are distinct issues.We can process information very quickly. Even with 1,000 emails a day I don’t think you miss what’s coming in.Both you and Albert refer to the problem as relating to replying/answering and not seeing.Social graces/convention and the urge for reciprocity have caused us to feel duty-bound to reply to everything that comes in. Someone holds out their hand – we feel rude not to shake it.Things needn’t be that way – we don’t feel obliged to respond to every @ message on twitter.If you can’t win the game as it stands…..just change the rules.

    1. Fred H.

      Liad, you DO suggest an alternative, but I’m not sure how viable it is for high-visibility people such as you and Fred. Part of what we’re seeing now is the whole Lone Ranger mentality that’s arisen over the last 25-30 years.When I worked in the US Senate back in the 1970s, the Senator would not have dreamed of answering all of his own mail. Yes, he saw every KIND of message that came in and had a hand in drafting the prose that would be used by staff to frame the reply, but he had half a dozen people who worked full time on correspondence and 10-12 more who spent major parts of their day working on it too.What worked back then would work now for many high visibility personalities. You guys need personal assistants, including some who do nothing but wade through your mail and help you frame responses. I’d MUCH RATHER have a response that says: “Fred has asked me to respond to your email. Unfortunately, at USV we do not fund companies such as _______ because ______ and while we wish you well in your endeavor, a 15 minute meeting over coffee wouldn’t be productive at this time.”

      1. LIAD

        I agree.I remember reading that Bill Gates received 1m+ emails per day. Discount 95% for spam and you still need an army to wade through them. At some level tech solutions just don’t cut it and you need to delegate out to others.I wrote a post a few months back about an auto-responder I got from Chris Sacca (Micro VC) – was clear to see he crafted the response originally with sincerity and gratitiude. Was nigh on receiving a personally written one(for the record I’m not at the stage where I suffer from email overload. If anything I want more of it. More opportunities. More ideas. More work – BRING IT ON)

      2. Fernando Gutierrez

        Totally agree, a direct response is better that a canned one, but that’s better than silence.Fred, I know you don’t like it, but you’ll need an assistant someday.Also, the solution of just insisting and sending things again only makes the problem worse. You love because it stops the email before it’s sent but then you agree to have the same email several times on your inbox!

        1. fredwilson

          i have an assistantshe has a full time job already

          1. Heidirose2

            Sounds like you need more assistants!

          2. daryn

            Assistants can do lots of amazing things, their value is immeasurable, but some things are best done yourself. I think that’s how Fred feels about first touch with entrepreneurs and others trying to contact him via email or otherwise.Fred -> how do you handle phone calls?

          3. Donna Brewington White

            Maybe your assistant needs an assistant?

          4. ShanaC

            Maybe you all need an email only assistant so that your other assistant can get more done?

          5. Prokofy

            Yeah, you’re right about how increasing capacity only increases the flow, so don’t do that.But one trick is to make three Google reader accounts for yourself, and log into them on different days. So when you log in as Prokofy it has all the content on one topic, Dyerbrook all the content on another, etc. They sit there all ready for you.The reason for that is that the Google page fills up so much that you can’t fit it all on one page, so make three accounts and fill up its topics and key words.

    2. Matt A. Myers

      I appreciate these discussions.The way I see it is if I ever get so busy I will want a quick way to skim emails. Do an initial ‘Clean up and Filtering’ first round … decide emails I want to reply to (and do so quickly if they can be done quickly), or delegate other emails off. Then I’d take a break and do other stuff so my brain doesn’t slow down and has some time to process what it’s seen.Then I’d go back.I don’t think people will be offended, and maybe even pleased that someone on your behalf has read the email (because say Fred told them it was worth replying), and that the person you delegate it to will know roughly what you’re missing or needing to know to be able know. Eg: If it’s a 5 page email …. then the person could reply asking for a summary, or elevator pitch length message, type of thing.

    3. awaldstein

      Great response.But it still holds that the call or email that you don’t respond to may be the opportunity that you don’t want to miss. The tension of being too busy to connect with opportunities is probably just part of the process and part of the price of being accessible.

  5. seankelly

    Have you tried any collaboration software?You could move all your work/portfolio communications onto one and then keep your Gmail inbox for the non core emails. At least that way your portfolio CEO’s would feel they have a more direct link to you.I had the same problem so I built one. It works.

    1. baba12

      I bet he has a separate email address for the portfolio companies and another one for the investors in USV etc.For the many minions there is the email that is publicly known.

  6. kirklove

    I can only imagine the demands on your time. Let me know if you’d like to grab breakfast or lunch sometime and discuss a proposition I’ve been thinking about for a little while.

    1. CJ

      How about you send him an email? πŸ™‚

      1. Alex Murphy

        daily. LOL

      2. Mark Essel

        He just did with that disqus comment πŸ˜€

  7. Alex Martsenyuk

    although gmail priority box helps the issue one of the more radical solutions may be changing the email address all-together every now and then. I think the problem with email waterfall is that it is so easy to just send an email that everyone does. If there was some added effort in reaching out (finding the new address), the sender may reconsider.

  8. RichardF

    I think you need a public email address with an autoresponder. The autoresponder tells people you cannot respond to every email and if they have a proposal for you to email it to one of your associates who can filter it out.Then have a private email address that is for other VC’s, portfolio co’s and other trusted people.

  9. baba12

    Technology solutions or the solutions you have suggested you follow or may follow are not real solutions.You are unwilling to address the two fundamental problems you face.1.Time and 2.Your exposure.There is only a fixed amount of time in a give day and to a large degree you are maximizing what you accomplish in that given time so no matter how many labor saving productivity gaining tools you may deploy you are at most going to increase your capacity by a few percentage points at best.The exposure you have created for yourself by choice and some that you can’t control is more of a exponential number. Trying to put boundary values around that are difficult and thus you find yourself in this “pain”I think your approach to slowing that exponential growth through the various means you are using or plan to use more of is a practical and pragmatic approach to dampen the exposure yet still manage to capture the image.You could also become exclusive with limited amount of exposure but would that be something you want and would you still achieve the growth in wealth for USV doing that.In the end it comes down to that question, what are you in it for that you are willing to tolerate the pain…Maybe yoga has an answer for your pain…

  10. CJ

    A low-tech solution to a high-tech problem. Tell them if it’s really important to send you a letter by post. πŸ™‚ You can judge the importance by those who take the time to do it.

    1. Dave Pinsen

      He can also hire a service that will convert those hard copy letters to e-mail. So, he can still sort through them electronically, but the volume will definitely decrease to a more manageable level.

      1. Mark Essel

        Brilliant ideas combined. Great idea Malcolm and nice polish Dave.

        1. CJ

          Indeed and like Andy, I’ll take my payment in Pappy as well. πŸ˜€

          1. Mark Essel

            I’ll send the bottle:1) if you build it2) and it works well

          2. Dave Pinsen

            It’s pretty much already been built. Fred just needs to set up an account with them and then set-up an auto-respond on his e-mail directing new correspondents to mail him a hard copy letter instead.

          3. Mark Essel

            we could skip the middle man and charge for each message (Andy? and others have suggested)the problem:attention doesn’t scale, but Fred desires an open line of communication to all takersthe solution:this comment section for public messages worksa similar private message board with no guarantee that recipient reads it

          4. CJ

            I was looking into them before in part of my opt-out of Postal mail initiative. They could stand a good site redesign and simplification but otherwise I think the idea is sound. Still trying to figure out if it’s worth it to me to spend $240/year to get rid of junk mail clutter in my house.

          5. Dave Pinsen

            I’ve heard some folks use it as a way to manage postal mail when they’re traveling international for extended periods. In that case, the fee might make more sense. Maybe not so much to screen out junk mail.

  11. William Mougayar

    I think that’s probably the way it is and that’s not going to change. I’m sure that you reply to the important ones, and to most other ones that are of interest.No amount of technology or processes would probably solve this, since it often adds management complexity.I agree that your approach about accessability is a good one. There are several touch points that someone can find you on, besides email.And I like your email style which is short and typically no more than 3 bullets. I heard you mention this approach as the one that will get your attention, and the smart ones should know it. If someone you don’t know sends you a long email, then that person is probably going to get what they deserve: a no reply. A no reply is sometimes as indicative as a reply.

    1. falicon

      Unless it’s a long bullet list of really great and specific feedback/action items about one of your products (I actually get these sort of emails all the time and LOVE them because they help me know people care about/use my stuff AND they give me lots of specific things to fix/work on/think about).BTW – side note, but I *think* you got bumped from our super early alpha…would love to get you back in -> should send you to the sign up page with the proper alpha invite already filled out (so you get right through)…and yes, anyone else that takes the time to read these comments is welcome to use that link too ;-D

  12. andyswan

    Responding to one’s own email is so pedestrian. Here’s an autoresponder process that will solve your problem:If I’ve never sent an email to this person, reply “no”.If I have sent less than 12 emails per year to this person, reply “probably not, but I might read this eventually”…send to assistant as low priority to be summarized into 140char or less and presented later.If over 12/year and not on whitelist, send to assistant with high priority and have him/her email the person back with confirmation that you have read the email, once you have…but you might not reply unless you feel there is a compelling reason to do so.If over 12/year and on on whitelist, fwd to your pvt blackberry email addy directly. Give pvt blackberry email only to trusted long-term relationships.I invoice in ounces of pappy.

  13. Jonathan Berkowitz

    I struggle with this problem.The thing that amazes me is SPAM (by the traditional definition) is no longer a problem for me – or I expect, most tech-saavy individuals. That’s what’s so emotionally overwhelming about the problem, IMHO. When I scan my inbox, see a collection of unread emails from names / people I don’t recognize, I know they’re not SPAM, they’re real people who have something to say. What’s more, referrals are extremely important to me – and how do I know, without reading the email, if the person isn’t a referral from someone that is already very important to me.I’ve resigned myself to the fact that I’m going to need someone to help me get through my mail, so that I can spend time with customers and partners. It’s no longer a technical problem, it’s an emotional issue.

  14. davidu

    I mis-parsed. Mark clarified. My post no longer applies, thought it was about how it’s important board members reply to their CEOs. πŸ™‚

    1. Mark Essel

      To clarify:”One of our portfolio CEOs told me an entrepreneur complained to him that “fred wilson never returns my emails.”Fred didn’t respond to another entrepreneur.

  15. Mark Essel

    Maybe a pseudo private blog channel would help your situation Fred where only yourself and partners and portfolio companies can participate. If it’s something that any USV partner or associate can handle, they’ll have the power to do so without making you the bottleneck.Control and defend when your input channels are wide open aggressively. I think you’ve made the right call with open hours, IM time (maybe IRC channel time?) – aka “office hours”.Asynchronous availability is very powerful but your (or anyone’s) attention doesn’t scale. Even at low levels it can be a distraction and costly to keep up to date with email. If you only parse email once or twice a week for a few hours it’ll create large pockets of time for other activities.

  16. thrill

    Well, Fred answered my emails – he told me, “No”, but he answered πŸ™‚ And, honestly, a simple negative reply allowed us both to focus our time on other things.

    1. Matt A. Myers

      Yes, you’re forced to be as efficient as possible when put inside contraints. Similarly as to why I find my sentences on Twitter sometimes getting summarized better when they’re too long otherwise.People use unnecessary words to add ‘feeling’ to them — but if you’re going through 1000s of emails a day, there’s really not going to be the time to express those feelings in words in all cases.

  17. Alex Murphy

    If you are looking for a way to manage new deals, use a CRM. Set up a salesforce account and then manage as leads, accounts, and opportunities.Put in the 20 fields like has for you to be able to get the basic information. Get industry, the 100 char idea, the market, the competitors, with links, and public available information. Then, instead of looking at the person’s email, just use your database.Set up an auto responder that tells Entrepreneurs to go fill out this form and that you will actually read the proposal, that you like the deals coming in through the transom and that you don’t want them to email you because you will probably miss their email.Then, start to add filters to move the emails from entrepreneurs out of the inbox. Not because you don’t want to interact with them, but because you have already replied and put the process of evaluation into a workflow that is more manageable and will expose the opportunities that you want to pursue.

  18. Foo

    I recommend that you get an assistant. If you get the right person, he/she will make your life much easier and you much more responsive. The trick is (like with any job) finding the right person. Probably someone part-time could work. Your biggest volume may be 8 am – 1 pm. Maybe a Mom who wants to get back in the workforce part-time or someone with a situation like that.

  19. Paul Carney

    What if you accepted communications only from a close group of trusted people?This is the classic node issue that many of us have seen in social networks. As you become more popular, your nodes grow. As humans, we can only be attentive to so many nodes.So what if the only way to communicate with you would be through a trusted person? You can maintain a smaller group of these folks who will vet the communication for you.It does mean that you will trust this group instead of using your own knowledge and experience, but if these people know you well, they will also be able to determine what you are interested in for further follow-up.Linked-In sort of does this, but under pressure to increase their network size, they have expanded the ability to connect with people directly, which I think is a mistake for this purpose.

    1. andyswan

      …Paulie didn’t talk to people.With union problems……or a beef in the numbers……only the top guys spoke with Paulie about the problem.Everything was one-on-one. Paulie hated conferences.– Goodfellas

  20. Jheard

    Get a personal assistant to sort the mails and forward the important ones based on your criteria and create a series of canned responses for various

  21. Graham Siener

    As I said on Albert’s blog: I think we’re running into the boundaries of what we can reasonably process and keep in our heads. The analogy I’ve been thinking about is restaurants (having moved to Cobble Hill it’s hard to not think about them).At any rate, they are getting lots of business via seamless web and take out/delivery. What ends up happening is they either have ridiculous waits or diminishing quality of service in the restaurant to deal with the limits of the kitchen’s throughput.Glad to hear that you aren’t going the route of an email assistant, I think you’re right that building a larger highway just brings more cars — it doesn’t solve the traffic issues.

    1. Dave Pinsen

      “At any rate, they are getting lots of business via seamless web and take out/delivery. What ends up happening is they either have ridiculous waits or diminishing quality of service in the restaurant to deal with the limits of the kitchen’s throughput.”Another approach is to expand if you’ve got that much demand, and set up a separate shop to handle take out/delivery. One place that did that that comes to mind is S’Mac in the East Village.

  22. Fred H.

    So here’s a RADICAL idea and possible email business model…Part of the reason why there’ s so damn much email is that it costs NOTHING to send except your time to compose it. What if Fred set up a service so that outside certain people (portfolio companies, fund investors, REAL friends, etc.) everyone else had to donate the equivalent of first class postage (oh, hell, let’s make it an even buck) to the charity of Fred’s choice. For the buck you get a guaranteed reply.As he gets more and more famous he can keep raising the fee. When it gets into the REAL MONEY atmosphere (say about $20) that charity of his will put up a bronze plaque in the front office!

  23. schultzmj

    Fred – do you read every email but just don’t have the time to respond…or do you sort and manage them in a way that you do not even read a subset of the email you get because they are from someone you don’t know or whatever criteria you use?Not judging…just wondering.

  24. Dave Chase (@chasedave)

    Though my email volume is high now, there was a time when I was in a similar position during Microsoft’s heyday (1st half of the 90’s) and I was the only guy handling an entire industry (healthcare). My vmail box literally got filled everyday (even though it was on out-of-office mode) and I was receiving an insane amount of incoming email. I knew getting an assistant wouldn’t really solve the problem. My solution had some similarities with others’ suggestions.I had my vmail and email permanently on Out-of-office as that was the way I could have an auto-responder (this being ~’93 so there weren’t the tools we have now). I felt terrible about not responding to all of those folks so I got diligent about creating buckets of the inquiries I received and had an answer for virtually every possible request. In my case, it was steering them towards specific people, programs, whitepapers, events, etc. that would address their needs. I had my own mega-FAQ. A variation on this could work for you using your own FAQ, office hours, meetups, etc.. Naturally there were new things that I hadn’t already addressed so I’d regularly add to the list of programs, events, FAQs, etc. While relatively few ever received a personal response, I believe most people felt OK about the way they were handled. It certainly reduced my angst about not responding directly. My out-of-office message autoresponder/vmail was super long with tons of pointers and suggestions if their inquiry wasn’t already directly addressed.

  25. eldsjal

    Fred,How many portfolio companies do you manage and roughly how much do you spend with existing companies, versus new dealflow?

  26. falicon

    Couple of quick and random tidbits (all related to this post though):1. I *finally* got to quickly meet Fred in person yesterday at Betaday (Fred – I was the guy that mentioned I comment on your blog when you were picking up your badge for the event)…it was quick 10 second hi, but still made my day ;-)2. I wonder if, in the case of something like getting to a VC, crowdsourcing wouldn’t work…what I’m thinking is that people could basically put their case for “Why I need 5 minutes with Fred Wilson” up online, publicly…and the crowd of AVC comments could read/rate/discuss these requests (I’m sure I’m not the only one that would have a blast doing that)…the ones that get pushed to the top actually get some time with Fred…the rest still get valuable feedback and attention from the masses (and if/as the lists dwindles, they eventually get time with Fred too)…probably a lot of little details to work out there, but would be a fun experiment and maybe cut down on the “please talk to me” emails…3. I like cookies…especially no-bake cookies. πŸ˜‰

    1. falicon

      Sorry one more random idea to throw in there…ask Disqus to integrate with your inbox…for those that you’ve been actively engaged with via your comment board, they get moved to the ‘priority inbox’…for those that have at least posted 5 comments, they get starred…for those that are quieter (is that a word?) they get put into the usual stream of “maybe I’ll get to this someday”…

      1. Dave Pinsen

        That might be a cool feature for Disqus to add if they incorporated “likes” into the equation as a filter. Otherwise, supplicants might start spamming the comment threads here to get moved into the ‘priority inbox’.BTW, you should contact We Are NY Tech so they can get your profile up (though I doubt a regular profile there could cover all the projects you’ve been working on recently).

        1. falicon

          Hey thanks! Yeah – I actually ‘joined’ we are NY Tech yesterday thanks to the post and active comments here…there are so many people in and around NYC doing interesting things though…so might be a long time before I get picked (if ever)…still fun to learn about all the action everyone else has going on!For the Disqus integration…maybe it’s a magic algorithm that combines # number of comments, # of comments liked by the community, # of replies comments have triggered, and # of replies from the blog owner themselves comments have triggered…def. something interesting that could be done in there somewhere πŸ˜‰

          1. Dave Pinsen

            On the off chance it’ll help expedite things, I’ll put in a good word for you at the Simande client holiday party next week.You’re magic algorithm sounds like a great idea.

    2. Fernando Gutierrez

      The problem with crowdsourcing is that he would lose control on what gets to him. I’ve advocated the idea of the assistant because an assistant can be trained and can get to know you quite well. But with the crowd that’s much more difficult.Given Fred’s track record it’s obvious he sees things other people don’t, so I think that the further ther filter is from his control the worse the results will be in terms of missed opportunities… Although that feature at AVC would be really fun!

      1. falicon

        Well it would be a public page/feature so he would still be able to scroll through the list and contact anyone he wanted…and ultimately it wouldn’t be limiting the conversation, it would just be sorting it…’crowdsorting’ if you will! ;-D

  27. jfccohen

    Maybe create a new email service that links an email to the social networks of your recipients. In other words, if I want to send a note to Fred, the note arrives as a mini profile of me, the sender. Fred, you (the recipient), first see the number of “friends” we share…if you decide to click on me, then you see my note. The number of shared contacts can determine how relevant the note may be (quantity of shared industry contacts) and/or how important the person is (who the contacts are). If someone goes through enough effort to become friends with all of your contacts, chances are you would have probably heard of him/her already or will want to soon.Eventually, your entire email box get sorted by the sender’s level of relevance to you instead of time of their message sent.

  28. daryn

    Shying away from an email assistant is the right choice. While he might be able to help route traffic a little more efficiently, and reply to some of the more basic requests, it doesn’t really add that much value compared to the personal disconnect.I also disagree with putting hoops in front of people trying to contact you. As you know, my previous company Spam Arrest did that, and I realize now what an negative reaction that can cause.It would help to know which kinds of emails slow you down the most, or are the hardest to handle, and then figuring out a solution from there.I like the idea of presenting alternative venues for people to get your attention; I don’t know how much it will help with email volumes, but at least it guides people, and I think you can accomplish a lot more in a quick face-to-face/skype/chat than in a email chain that will likely go on for longer than it needs to.As far as office hours, I’d consider opening a simple IRC-style chatroom for an hour a week or so. You could even leave it open the rest of the time as a place for this community and the people trying to reach you to try and help each other.

  29. akharris

    The similarities between this and highway building schemes are overwhelming. When Robert Moses decided to reshape transportation in NYC (and, effectively, the country), he thought more better bigger highways were the key.Now, Moses had all kinds of issues that prevented him from seeing the damage he was actually doing by building highways (arrogance, racism, the fact that his motorcade never experienced traffic). But I wonder if there’s a lesson in there about the way we approach the problem. Increasing capacity (more highways) and adding shortcuts and coping mechanisms (access roads, pico y placa -… may be just as unsuccessful as anything Moses did. The heart of the problem is that, now that we recognize the problem of too much email, the solution requires such a huge shift in infrastructure as to make it potentially impossible in the short run – the same reason we don’t have light rail between NYC and JFK.That’s the problem someone needs to figure out how to attack. And whoever figures it out is going to have one hell of a business

    1. ShanaC

      I live by JFK – what is the airtrain then?

      1. akharris

        airtran is a monorail connecting a lightrail hub (Jamaica) to the terminals and parking lots. a true lightrail solution would link Penn Station and JFK the way NJ Transit goes to Newark.Insanely enough, urban planners in the 60s begged Moses to make the divider on the LIE about 10 feet wider so that, just in case they ever wanted to put rail there, they could. He categorically refused. Now, the value of the real estate there is so incredibly high that it would cost untold billions to do things right.You actually see the same problem with Amtrak in the NE corridor. The tracks were not laid with a view to the future, which is why they’re not straight, which is why the Accela only hits it’s “speed” of 200ish miles an hour once, for about 15 or 20 miles (forgetting the exact numbers right now).

        1. ShanaC

          Truthfully, I don’t think that solution would work so well for anything onLong Island (note, technically both Brooklyn and Queens are part of thephysical Geography of Long Island, for those of you reading this who are notfrom the NY metro area)One of the reasons Jamiaca exists is because you can’t otherwise easilytransfer between the north shore and the south shore without it.If we were to do a pure light rail system (ignoring property costs in bothmy are of Nassau and the Closest Area of Queens -Far Rockaway -the smartestthing to do would be to extend my LIRR Line to curve back along the NassauExpressway since my trainline already exists!Either that, or build the A train further out from Far Rockaway.Then we could Ignore the LIE. It’s better than Sunrise, to be sure, but notby much….(I grew up having planes fly over my head….I have a semi-decent idea ofwhere things go…)

          1. akharris

            Sorry, but what do you mean “that solution wouldn’t work”? Light rail? I agree, it’s far too late for it. The distribution of towns throughout long island is the way it is because of the roads Moses built. That’s kinda the big problem.Similar thing on Manhattan’s west side, by the way. You know why there are no busses on the Highway? Moses built the bridges too low for busses to pass through – he didn’t want poor people messing up his perfection.

          2. ShanaC

            My area is way older than Moses. It wouldn’t work because of that fact -the part of Long Island that is close to the Airport has these issues because of when it was build.

  30. Max Finder

    It sounds like the other approaches you are adopting are going to net you more email πŸ™‚

  31. Guillermo Ramos

    Some suggestions:1) Hire an email assistant2) No answer to emails larger than 4 lines.3) Ask people to make a rational use of email4) Private email: portfolio, partners, investors, close friends, familyIt would be great to build an email service where the email sender could choose different email boxes predefined by the email receiver. For example: New Deal Flow, Portfolio Cos, Partners, Firends, …

  32. Dan Lewis

    You should put out an auto-reply for “some” (not sure how to define it though) emailers — new ones, e.g. Something to the effective of the above:* You get a ton of email.* You read it all but really can’t respond to most.* If you want to reach you about (a), you’re best reached by doing (x y z)etc.

  33. Mike

    Of course every entrepreneur wants access to you, but should everyone get it without some qualification? Probably not.For high volume folks like yourselves, there should be a requirement to answer some personal question in order to become “priority”. Otherwise you fall to the end of the line.That way you could act as your own filter.

  34. mattb2518

    At some point, you need other people reviewing/applying. That’s what government officials do. Not sure there’s any way around it. A personal reply from an associate is better than no reply.

  35. James Mitchell

    Fred, judging by your blog posts you seem like a great guy. But I would never send you a business plan, based your reputation for not answering emails and your comments that you don’t respond to a lot of emails. I simply do not need that aggravation. “Keep trying?” Am I supposed to send the same email eight different times?Brad Feld is a very busy guy but he has answered every email I have sent him, often within an hour or two.An email assistant could be a good idea if you can find the right person.James Mitchellwww.counselconnectnetwork.comP.S. I don’t mean to be harsh, I totally love you blog. I have recommended it to dozens of people.

  36. Douglas Crets

    I say that everyone should get into the habit of using only three sentences in an email.Andrew Warner’s emails have a tag on the bottom that say this, and all of his emails to me have been no longer than three sentences. I started writing back to him in three sentences, and it’s become a habit that I now put into other forms of writing.

    1. Fernando Gutierrez

      The problem with that is that it can create endless threads. Sometimes a longer email can save a few responses: messages with a structure like “if you mean A then X, and if you mean B, then Y” are more efficient than “do you mean A or B?” which requires you to wait for a response and then write back again.Dealing with things once can be more painful in the short term, but in the end saves time.

  37. Mark G.

    Fred,One other possibility following up on the Disqus/magic algorithm idea, you could have a public inbox separate from your private inbox where folks could send messages if they never heard back from you. Your readers/fans could review the messages and vote up the ones they thought would be most interesting to you. Then you could respond to only the most popular or important messages.Granted, the messages would be public, however for most initial contacts/pitches this should not be an issue and folks might benefit from the publicity.This way, folks would have a second chance to contact you if they didn’t make it through the first (de facto) screen, and if they didn’t hear back that time, it would be somewhat meritorious, based on the fact most people didn’t feel their message was compelling enough.Mark

  38. ShanaC

    Honestly, if I could find a non-email email that allows me to get stuff done, i would do so in a heartbeat. Emails don’t have the clean niceness of paper, and they are too open ended to allow much to happen.Blech.As much as I am supremely annoyed with Facebook recently, I actually hope their pseudo email works well so I can move away from the email paradigm. Even if it is the New AOL -I rather use that than be a slave to email!

  39. Andrew Greene

    What about some solution where we pay you (or your charity of choice) to read our emails?A micropayment for email access would help select only the serious people.

  40. M Dolores Harper Morgan

    I still can’t get my deleted mail. I did the going to settings, then to labels then at labels I was to hit show. But show wasn’t a hyperlink so I couldn’t hit it. I tried to do the putting trash in the search but it gave me nothing then to do the pull down in search but it doesn’t have that. Please help me get my mail back. I’m at [email protected]. Thanks Dolores

  41. Evan

    Doesn’t everyone know that the best way to get in touch with you is to leave a comment here?

  42. Steven

    I think if everyone limits their email to quick short emails, and you limit outgoing reponses to steve job style responses, you’d know more out of your inbox. Email etiquette for those who get a ton of emails is no joke and if people are sending in lengthy emails and not getting that not everyone has time to read these 3+ paragraph emails, then maybe they deserve to wait to see if they’d ever get a response

  43. calabs

    Well, if you’re convinced that your capacity will never be enough, then no technology, or even personal assistents, will work.Of course, your capacity can and will increase.The tool that you need (that we all need, really) is an email contextualization thing. GMail has made strides with their threaded conversations – but context is more general, and plastic, than a subject string.Actually, this problem gets to the very root of collaborative economic life. It’s a worthy problem and won’t be solved with a perl script. I’d be happy to take some Union Square money to work on it.

  44. George A.

    LOL,the last (but probably not the next) great wave of innovation will be in solving the I/O bottleneck between the human brain and the physical world. The physical world is moving at step function higher speeds and alas, we are still bogged down with the same old eyes, ears and nose.Technology won’t stop until there is a chip on the brain… brain plasticity is the answer:

  45. JAHoltzman

    Hi Fred:Being a well seasoned technology investor like yourself I am sure we can solve your problem fairly easily with some out of the boxing thinking. You complained that reading emails are time consuming yet conflicts with your true devotion to helping aspiring entrepreneurs. One way that you can help vet out ideas, pitches, and questions is by having a open forum section of your blog that uses user feedback to “win” the right for your commentary or an in person meeting/pitch. Essentially, you would allow for people to post their ideas, pitches, and questions publicly. Since you have a large following on your blog you can set requirements that again “win” for response. (A certain amount of comments, likes, points, or whatever the case my be) This will help weed out the emails and can award those who are devoted to taking the extra mile (the entrepreneurs you want to invest in anyway). They can market their ideas, pitches, and questions to their friends and family hoping to lead to more points to get your attention. This will also lead to free marketing for Union Square Ventures and your blog. It a win-win for everyone involved. Let the best entrepreneur win! This will also result in a happier Fred Wilson who can spend more of his time helping winners! Love your work and passion. Big fan!Best,Joshua Holtzman

    1. Afboy1902

      Come on people…Help JAHoltzman out by “liking” and “replying” to his post! Let us all earn the right for Fred’s Attention. Fred are you listening? Do you like the idea?

      1. JLRossman

        Yep you would basically be having your followers and fans as your virtual assistant! Your assistant can focus on helping you get your investments going!

        1. WarrenBuffetJr

          Yep your fans are better than at vetting ideas and questions than any algorithm Google’s priority mail application can do! We are the future!

          1. ZUBEN12

            Touche JAHOLTZMAN Touche!

          2. Gene1350

            What are your thoughts Fred!? Democratize your time to those who put in the effort.

          3. Ddonnelly12

            A true Democracy for Fred’s time! You can set aside a certain amount per week for this cause!

    2. Glitterful14

      Sounds like a PLAN!

    3. Jplotic

      Benefits to Fred:1. More time2. Cool ideas and comments rise that might have been missedBenefits to Users:1. Clear path to Fred (no more wishing and hoping..Control their own destiny not luck)

    4. Rocket813

      People vs. Algorithms….PEOPLE WIN EVERYTIME!!!!

  46. Donna Brewington White

    “I’ve thought about getting an email assistant.”I was hopeful when I first read this sentence because I’ve often wondered from a distance whether there were ways your influence could be maximized by getting more help. (Panel Pile Up comes to mind.)But then I realized that you may have meant an automated assistant.I know that a lot of the beauty of what you do comes from the fact that YOU do it. I honestly have no idea how you get so much done!I’m thinking that by processing your email and taking some initial action (and perhaps this is combined with your partners’ as well) someone would learn a TON! This could be a much more rewarding and beneficial role for someone than you might imagine. Not to mention the increased potential of USV capturing new opportunities.Of course, there would be ramp up time and ongoing training which would increase effectiveness in this role and the value to you.This role might lead to other responsibilities. The person may someday become a VC. Who knows.Might be a good on-ramp role.

  47. paramendra

    I “demand” weekly video blogging and monthly AVC MeetUps! :-)It was so very good to see you yesterday, Fred. A Mind Blowing Party

  48. gianna

    While technology can help, ultimately (IMHO) you’re going to need an assistant.E-mail is the only best way to discuss about,It has been used by so many professionals,many b2b is happening through email,,,priority inbox also plays a role in it..ecommerce web developer

  49. Tom Krieglstein

    Fred – someone challenged me to #InboxZero a while ago and I’ve been there for eight months now. Here’s are the 5 steps to #InboxZero I learned in the process >…

  50. Time Billing Software

    I think you have hurt pretty much by all the emails you receive. I would recommend you to block all those you think are spammers, at the same time, you must be sure about it, as you should not block proper genuine contacts. It will all be over, if you can use two emails, one for registering and public purpose and another for business purpose. The former being the free email, like gmail and ymail. Hope this helped.


    I wouldn’t be surprised if this could be improved significantly by changing the interface to the mail program. Not like this is feasible or anything for the immediate future, but a more efficient e-mail interface should be allow you to read and respond to more e-mails. Even if you can get a 10% performance improvement, thats 100 more e-mails out of 1000 that get read that wouldn’t have otherwise.


      Have you tried using the keyboard shortcuts for gmail? I haven’t myself, but you may be able to get an efficiency win with that.

  52. MikeSchinkel

    heh. So I was going to email you this but now I think it’s just better to post it here. :-)Would love for you to read, vote on (and if possible comment on) my Knight Foundation proposal: stars would be greatly appreciated, but only if its worthy.

  53. rosshill

    I see senior leaders or other generally busy people adopting platforms like Yammer because every reply they give is shared ‘publicly’ within the private context. By seeing the responses you often get a feel for how a person is going to respond to your question, and it also diffuses the busyness because others can respond even before the person you are wanting a reply from. The ‘busy person’ can share more value because it is more open than email.I have been toying with the idea of how an ‘open inbox’ could work and this is the closest I have seen in a practical fashion. Some things still need to be private, but most messages can benefit from being more open in a relevant domain.

  54. Steve Poland

    Fred- 80/20 rule says you will see most of what you need to. The good stuff/leads will find a way to you- how- how they currently do, by referral from people you trust. Entrepreneurs need to know who that circle of contacts is, then you can offload to those contacts. If the goal is finding the best opportunities, then this is the way to do it– maybe have an angel/advisory fund of contacts that filters first-time opps.Otherwise if your goal were to help every entrepreneur that approaches you for advice on their new widget- quit your day job and become a fulltime teacher.

  55. Duncan Logan

    It should not be about dealing with all the email that is coming in, it is about helping people understand which emails you want and which you don’t.Give some guidance,Please pitch to this address [email protected] am interested in X Y & Z at the moment. Please do not send anything regarding A, B, or C. Initial emails should be 4 lines with a link to a beta / website / and your Linkedin profile.state in the subject line Stage (Seed, A, B) Sector (Mobile, Game)

  56. Ken Galpin

    How about crowd sourcing parts of your email stream?What I mean is, take a big category of your email stream like business pitches. Offer submitters some substitute value for their efforts in reaching out to you. For instance, for those who put the word “PITCH” in the subject line you would commit to posting their pitch on a website available to your business contacts if the pitch has not captured your personal attention or interest within 72 hours. Many in your network would likely be interested in the crumbs from your table. This additional value would be much appreciated by those seeking attention for their opportunity. I am sure this would be twenty minutes work for your talented tech team to set up. You may also see similar ways to offer additional value to other parts of your existing email stream.

  57. Rob Rawson

    I have one slightly silly strategy that kills the volume of your email significantly. You request that all people emailing you use the words “UrgentforFred” in the email and after this tell you what they want very succinctly. Then you filter all emails without “UrgentforFred” into a “to read later” folder or just archive them or forward them to an assistant for further filtering. You add to this filter an automatic acceptance of key people in your life that don’t need to add “UrgentforFred” to each email.So anyone who doesn’t add this will not have the email read by you. Hopefully you still have it read by an assistant. If they don’t read enough about you to go to the trouble to add this to emails you probably don’t need their email. Also people are less likely to send an email if they feel perhaps it’s not that urgent/ important.Possibly the only way to go when you receive huge volumes is to get an assistant. Each time you tell your assistant what to do you create a new rule in the future when handling that type of email.

  58. Prokofy

    They have to get rid of the frames on email and put them as a big space on your desk top into which stuff comes and can be pushed around.But even if we have to just use what they have, I find that searching with key words in my Yahoo enables me to manage the flow, for example if you type in your child’s name every day you won’t miss the emails from school or texts they sent, etc.Now perhaps you can hear this. Second Life, or for that matter any world, with an avatar, becomes a way to increase bandwidth for yourself to handle the flow.So this is like making another you. This little guy has his own notecards and IMs coming in, he has his own friends’ list, he has his own house with media content where he can put a twitter stream, a livestream, what have you, he can have landmarks to go visit other people’s stuff like that, and it’s a little meeting place.Ok, you weren’t ready for that. Maybe next year.

  59. Derek Neighbors

    Sounds like the excuse train is running through your office. Do yourself and Albert a favor and seek professional help. Spend the money to hire David Allen to come in for a consult and allow you to Get Things Done. In your industry it is simply just unacceptable to not be able to properly communicate via digital means. I would also say that having an assistant to help with email is probably a must in your position.

    1. fredwilson

      would you want an email from an assistant if you were pitching me for a meeting?

  60. Scott Sanders

    Fred, earlier this year, you’d mentioned using Etacts as a way to help manage the flow. I’ve been using it and love it, despite some bugginess here and there. But the worst bug of all came up — they are shutting down.From”We have decided to pursue other opportunities and will be shutting down our service on January 31, 2011. Thanks for supporting us and for all you’ve done.”Is there any similar type of service out there? Love how Etacts pings me to follow up with people who either haven’t responded to me or who I’ve been out of touch with.Thanks!

    1. fredwilson

      i don’t know of a service with exactly the same functionality

  61. Charlie Chaplin JarosΕ‚aw