Do Your Homework Before Sending That Email

I saw this tweet today from our friend Arianna and I had a good chuckle:

But the underlying issue is not that funny. Someone took the time to send her a pitch email but did not take the time to figure out who she was.

I’m always looking for an excuse to delete a cold email instead of replying to it.

When someone sends me an email seeking to get consideration from Flatiron Partners, a firm that hasn’t been actively investing in eighteen years, I delete it. And I get those emails multiple times a month.

When someone sends me an email seeking an investment in something USV does not invest in; restaurants, movies, oil drilling, etc, I delete it. And I get those emails multiple times a day.

When someone sends me an email saying that they would like to come visit me in our office in San Francisco, I delete it. And I get those emails multiple times a week.

On the other hand, when I get a cold email from someone who has clearly taken the time to do their homework on me and USV, I try to answer it right away. I am not perfect in replying to every email I should reply to, but I do try and I do a decent job at it.

Some people figure that emails and pitches are a numbers game. In some sense they are right. But you can massively increase the hit rate if you do some prep work. And, in this day and age, it is not that hard.

#entrepreneurship#VC & Technology

Comments (Archived):

  1. Guy Lepage

    I feel very fortunate to have been taught to always do your homework before meeting people, especially before cold calls or emails. Seems like a lost art these days.>When someone sends me an email seeking to get consideration from Flatiron Partners, a firm that hasn’t been actively investing in eighteen years, I delete it.I’m sure you’re aware, but you could setup filters to weed out these emails based upon keywords.

    1. jason wright

      auto reply – ‘timing is everything’.

      1. Mac


  2. LE

    I just closed a deal that was so large that the amount of the deal (millions) had to be approved by Zuckerberg as well as my fee in the transaction. It all started with a cold email.

    1. Donna Brewington White

      That’s a nice transaction, LE. Is there a template for that email?

      1. LE

        Not really any ‘template’ (if I understand the question). But it all starts with some kind of emotional reaction and inspiration. The same thing that drives many of my comments here. I feel something or I react to something said (or the topic) and then put that feeling into words. It just comes out.What’s really interesting though is that it’s not like I was ever a good writer in school (high school or college) or good at fiction etc. Not in the least.Will also note that it’s not unusual for me to email people that I don’t know at all and without any agenda after just seeing or hearing something that they might find interesting or helpful. I think that is actually how I made contact with Tim Draper initially when I told him what my wife said about him. I didn’t have anything I wanted. Just figured it would be something nice to say and it might lead to something maybe and if not no problem.

        1. Donna Brewington White

          I meant template in a more general sense, which is exactly how you responded. Thank you, LE.I get really excellent response from prospective candidates, but from prospective clients, not as much. Although, probably more than the norm for my business. So always interested in how the pro’s do it.Recently, I sent out an email sharing one of Fred’s posts that I thought was especially helpful, without asking for anything. I figure if I do this work because I want to support startup founders and other entrepreneurs, then I should be motivated to be helpful even when there is no fee involved, right?

          1. LE

            Funny story. Once I actually got a client for ‘recruiting’ the following way. (Of course this is not what I do (recruiting) but I often just do strange things as a challenge to see if I can pull something off if I get an idea. I do this frequently for fun.).I was dating a girl years ago that I would go to medical meetings with. I noticed there were often flyers with job opportunities laying around. So the next time before I went with her I cold emailed a hospital and said that I was a recruiter and were they hiring any radiologists (it was a radiology conference)? They said yes. I then found on the internet an agreement for recruiting (btw this was roughly 2002 iirc) and sent it to them and they signed off and agreed to pay whatever fee that I totally pulled out of my ass literally. I then printed up some flyers and put them on the tables at the conference. Viola Physicians called me or emailed looking for jobs and I put them in touch with the hospital. Didn’t make money (one time thing I did like I said to see if I could) and didn’t want to do it for real but it was literally that easy.This follows on what I have mentioned before here ‘the assumptions of legitimacy’. I simply said I was a recruiter and both parties just took my word for that fact. No questions. No references. Sign here ‘ok’. I have done the same thing so much over the years. (It’s kind of scary which is why I am so skeptical and always question things here with my comments (and I hold back actually mostly).

          2. Donna Brewington White

            That IS funny.Think about when that was. A tough time.

          3. PhilipSugar

            Give thrice before you expect to receive is a great saying.That is what Fred, Brad, and Mark do on their blogs (yes maybe other reasons, but they are giving without receiving)There is nothing worse than somebody that only contacts you when they want something.

          4. Donna Brewington White

            I will take this as “words to the wise.”Thanks, Phil.

    2. jason wright

      fee and not shares? shorting Zuck?

  3. BillMcNeely

    I can’t tell you how many interviews and opportunities I have been privy to because I googled.You made it too easy you should have thrown up this link instead

  4. PhilipSugar

    Cold emails work. If you follow this principle: You should realize that the person you email owes you one or two less degrees of magnitude of attention than you have given them.So as Fred says just a cold email. Delete, put you on spam, block you. You never reach me again.An email that you spent an half hour preparing just on that email, not on a spam, well thought out, you get five minutes of my time.

    1. LE

      you get five minutes of my timeRemembering back in the day the attractive girl that came cold calling that I saw on the security cameras. Asked to see me. No problem send her up. Will note also that in the medical complex that I am in the vast majority of drug detail people appear to be young and attractive.

      1. Elizabeth Spiers


        1. LE

          What exactly is ‘ick’ about what I wrote?

          1. Elizabeth Spiers

            Deciding that someone merits a meeting because she’s attractive.

          2. LE

            You find it ‘ick’ ie digusting? In this situation it was a business that was 100% mine which I started with my own money. So I can do what I want with my time and attention. I see a pretty girl. I decide to let her come up and pitch me. If I want I can give her business. I am not in a fiduciary role and I am not making admissions decisions, deciding immigration or doling out life changing opportunities. I am not in public office. I am not making movies I can do what I want with my time and attention and I am sure she was glad for the opportunity no matter my thinking as to why I took the meeting. I don’t remember if I bought or not honestly. I might have or maybe not.My ex wife worked in ad sales. In one case we knew for a fact that at least several people were dealing with her because they had ‘the hots’ for her. We both laughed about it. If it helped her get the order then great. Nothing wrong with that (to either of us).People do things based on appearance. It’s a fact of life. I almost always dress in a tshirt and dungarees and have for years. When I ‘dress up’ (wear a suit) I get treated better typically. Nothing wrong with that.

          3. Elizabeth Spiers

            The fact that you don’t understand how disrespectful this is to women who work in your field is part of the reason why women have to put up with the epic amounts of bullshit we encounter as professionals who are just trying to do our jobs well and advance the same way men do. Whether you’re in a fiduciary role has no bearing on whether you’re behaving in a way that’s sexist toward women in your field.I run my own business, too. I have two employees, both male, and I have never treated them as sexual objects. I did not hire them because they’re good looking. And I have never, ever taken a meeting with someone because I thought he was hot, and neither has any other woman executive I know. It’s disrespectful and inappropriate.I realize you don’t know me from Adam, but if you want a second opinion on this, I have a suggestion: Joanne Wilson.

          4. LE

            The fact that you don’t understand how disrespectful this is to women who work in your fieldWhich part is disrespectful? What I said or what I did or both?to put up with the epic amounts of bullshit we encounter as professionalsWhat I did has nothing to do with anything like that at all. And it makes no sense to hold against someone (who would never have the guts to ‘hit’ on anyone let alone take advantage of them) is not realistic. Will mention also that in another case (same business) a manager who worked for me saw a customer come in on the same cameras. He swooped right down and took care of her personally. They ended dating and have been happily married long enough to have kids that have graduated from college. Was he wrong as well? Only reason he did it was because of her looks. I remember that distinctly. He might have even given her a discount possibly.and I have never treated them as sexual objectsHow does me allowing a woman that I found (or thought was, after all you know it’s cctv) attractive come up and hear what she has to say treating her like a sexual object? I am missing that entirely. She was not an employee etc.And I have never, ever taken a meeting with someone because I thought he was hot, and neither has any other woman executive I know. It’s disrespectful and inappropriate.The fact that you did not do this (or think anyone you know did this) does not make it wrong that someone else did it (given these specifics).You seem to be reacting to the general notion of ‘men as pigs’ rather than the specific case here of what happened. Guy in his early 20’s, single, sees attractive girl and says ‘send her up’. Not exactly earth shattering in any way or even close.I think that you have to separate behavior by men that is clearly done in a way to coerce women to gain something from other behavior which is not and quite frankly harmless. All I did was meet with her. In my office. With windows and in full view of everyone else there. That’s it. It didn’t go further and if anything she was quite flirty and certainly acting more interested in me that she should have been other than wanting to get me to give her the order. To me that was pretty clear.I will also mention one last thing. (Hah now I forget what that was..)By the way what Joanne thinks (who I know btw) is not anymore valid that what you or any other woman thinks.

    2. Donna Brewington White

      What happens in that 5 minutes?

      1. PhilipSugar

        I engage. Otherwise, not. For instance you email me, I will engage. I get random “recruiters” lack of better term five times a day.

  5. LIAD

    fine line between doing your homework and freaking people out by stalking them over various soc med platforms.Dear X,Hope you had a great meal last night at xxxx (gleaned via twitter), your first course of xxxxx (gleaned via instragram), looks divine. You desert of xxxxx (gleaned via snapchat story) must have been sensational.I’m sure you are super tired considering you only flew into xxxxx (gleaned via 4SQ) this morning. Sorry to see your stock portfolio is down 12% this week (gleaned via Stocktwits).You must be glad your wife looks fabulous in her new bikini (gleaned via Facebook)…..etc……etc…….etc.My new startup…..—————Do your homework – but don’t be a freak.

    1. Donna Brewington White

      I’ve had to refrain from complimenting people on how cute their kids are — even when a photo is publicly accessible on Facebook.

  6. William Mougayar

    & I’m loving the suggested short responses that Gmail gives you. They come handy sometimes.There should be a notification back to the sender “your email was deleted by the recipient, after they rolled their eyes over it.”

    1. kenberger

      I LoL’ed at the second paragraph here……and then I realized: that response is actually being too generous. The fact is that a huge percentage of people (and sometimes bots) that send those types of requests are even more inept, disorganized, bad acting, etc etc, than you or Fred are giving them credit for, and ill-equipped to process things.If Fred were to actually reply, “sure, name a time!”, rather than delete each of those, he would be even further shocked to get about a 15-20% response rate back. I’ve actually been involved in creating relevant tests for this sort of thing, and am not guessing.I can also say that for Crypto Explorers, we quite frequently get malformed “inquiries” (sponsorships, partnerships, etc), where if you respond positively, you don’t hear back. You know that some of that is because it’s a minor league preparatory phishing attempt– the perps figure you’re connected to crypto, so you must be a whale

    2. Richard

      I built an app for this about 5 years ago. I called it betterhello. It’s use was for conference presenters to respond quickly and effortlessly to attendees questions.

  7. jason wright

    the blog. the movie. i can totally see that.casting will need to be handled with care.

  8. lonnylot

    Has a cold email ever ended up in a USV investment?

    1. jason wright

      has a cold email ever become some other firm’s unicorn?

  9. sigmaalgebra

    On “Homework” and “prep work”:Okay, via the “capture” of 1/1/2011 of USV Web pagehttp://www.unionsquareventu…we see, from some “homework”, a crucial role for “traction”:But until its launched, with tens of thousands of users (ideally hundreds of thousands) using it, we are unlikely to invest. Okay. Now readers and entrepreneurs can understand.The full USV statement is:This is my second post on “other things we look for”.I hesitated to use the title Traction because its certainly one of the most overused words in the venture capital vernacular. But it is also the “shorthand” peope use to talk about how much uptake a given project has gotten in the marketplace.So the purpose of this post is to talk about how much “traction” we want to see in a given project before we will be comfortable investing in it.We have two rules:1.don’t invest in consumer facing web services without any consumers using them2.there is an exception to every ruleFirst, I’ll explain our first rule and also discuss how it applies to “enterprise facing web services”. Then I’ll talk about when and how we break that rule.The wonderful thing about the lightweight web services that are becoming the predominant form of software development these days is that they don’t take a lot of time and money to build. That’s why we see a new one launched every day (sometimes it seems every hour).But the corrolary to that fact is that the nuances involved in designing and building these services are ciritical. I love to point to Ari Paparo’s post on why delicious got it right and his service, which was built years before, got it wrong. It was just three small design decisions that made the difference according to Ari. Regardless of whether you agree or disagree with Ari’s analysis, it’s pretty clear that little things make all the difference in this new software paradigm that we call lightweight web services and most everyone else calls “web 2.0”.So, we may love the idea but until we see the implementation in a live setting (closed beta isn’t live enough for us) we do not feel like we can assess the social adoption issues that are so critical. We don’t care if it’s called beta or commercial code. As long as it has been in the market and we can use it, see how others are using it, look at internal weblogs, and external services like Comscore and Alexa, we can make a good assessment of the adoption curve.We are happy to talk to entrepreneurs long before they launch. In fact we spend more time doing that than pretty much anything else these days. We want to be able to watch a team take an idea from concept to execution. We learn so much from being able to do that. But until its launched, with tens of thousands of users (ideally hundreds of thousands) using it, we are unlikely to invest.Some venture firms look for revenues, even revenues above a certain amount, or in some cases, profits. Many want to understand the business model. We don’t need any of that to pull the trigger. But we want to see the most imporant thing – uptake. We think that’s the hardest nut to crack.So what about enterprise facing web services? We think they are not that different than consumer facing web services these days. Most of the important services that have been brought into the enterprise in recent years (, AIM, etc) have been brought in by workers who adopted them as consumers would adopt them and then got the enterprise to buy in over time. So we might have different adoption metrics (hundreds of thousands of users might be too much to expect from an enterprise facing web service in the early days), but we generally look for the same kind of adoption before we’ll pull the trigger and write a check.So that’s our general rule, show us the “traction” and we’ll be able to make an investment decision. Until then, we are happy to talk, learn, watch, and if you’d like, provide advice and counsel.So when do we break this rule? Generally only when we know an entrepreneur/team really well. In our current fund, we’ve done it twice. With Isaak Karaev and the rest of the Multex team in their new company, Instant Information. And Peter Semmelhack (aka the hacker) in Bug Labs. We still need to love the idea, but these are also bets on people. And we’ve learned that its best to bet on people you know really well.I hope this helps. And I hope you won’t wait to come see us or start a dialog with us in some other way (maybe a comment on this blog?) until you’ve got traction. But we think its best that everyone understand what it takes to get us to pull the trigger and say yes. Right, that post could have used a spelling checker.IMHO, this issue of “traction” is the big secret in US information technology venture investing.Note the role for Comscore, etc.: There have been claims that commonly venture firms have their analysts looking for startups with the coveted traction and, then, just contact the startups offering an investment.So, really, an entrepreneur might just take literally the old Hollywood advice “Don’t call us. We’ll call you.”.But not all of US venture investing has such a view. Apparently much of bio-medical investing is quite different. E.g., there is the currentThe Quant King, the Drug Hunter, and the Quest to Unlock New CuresA billionaire and his very powerful computer are helping a pharma pioneer find the drugs of tomorrow. at…with how some VC firm that specializes in bio-medical did invest long before any revenue was obtained or any drugs were developed.A core issue is project evaluation:Many areas of US science, engineering, business, technology, and national security are willing to evaluate projects based on the core promise of the projects. Of course, to do this, the project reviewers look carefully and deeply at the projects. If there is some math or science at the core, then commonly there is expert peer review.The focus of information technology VCs on traction reported by Comscore is uniquely narrow.This absurdly narrow focus, really this blindness, sets up information technology VCs as losers and, indeed, from……the average return on investment has not been very good.Bluntly, the situation appears to be essentially uniform: US information technology VCs just will not, Not, NOT, NOT evaluate projects at much depth beyond traction via Comscore.This situation appears to be so uniform that it likely has just one cause, and that would be informal standards and agreements among the leading limited partners of the information technology VC firms.Or, with all the e-mail messages Fred is discussing, there are a LOT of entrepreneurs out there who look at their project, rightfully, first in terms of its fundamentals of the problem, the technology, the data, the market, the revenue model, etc. and, then, attempt to describe this thinking to VC firms.Waste. Huge waste of time, money, and effort, for both the entrepreneurs and the VCs. A diligent entrepreneur can spend a lot of time contacting VCs before discovering clear evidence that information technology VCs just will NOT evaluate projects and, instead, just focus on traction, significant and growing rapidly.Okay. Now all us entrepreneurs know that. Good.There are three big points for the entrepreneurs:(1) Contacting information technology (IT) VCs is (A) a waste of time down to (B) a threat to intellectual property.(2) The traction the IT VCs want could be revenue enough for a going business. At that time, equity funding is from not necessary down to a serious mistake. E.g., the founders get a VC term sheet, a founder vesting schedule (suddenly a founder goes from real ownership to owning nothing with some chance of getting back some of the ownership via a vesting schedule), the time, money, and effort overhead of a Delaware C-corporation, the threat of reporting to a BoD that (A) doesn’t much understand the company, (B) is loyal to their VC firm and/or limited partners, and (C) can fire the founders at any time for any reason or no reason.(3) To reduce chances of co-founder disputes and to keep down the traction and revenue needed to have a profitable company, keep way down the number of founders, say, to a sole, solo founder. The US is awash in sole, solo founders of Main Street businesses; generally IT should make being such a founder easier, not harder.So, the IT VC situation is strange, bizarre, something out of Alice in Wonderland. Then, not for the first time, the “flip side” is an opportunity of reduced competition from IT VCs!

  10. Alex Moore

    If you’re a new entrepreneur reading this, and you’re thoughtful and deliberate enough to consider it, please, please do yourself a favor and RUN in the opposite direction.Learning that carpet-bombing 20 garbage-quality outreaches is an order of magnitude more effective than sending 1-2 “homework-done” emails has been a struggle for me, but it’s absolutely the right strategy. The 2-3 well-researched emails I sent to Fred that he ignored are one data point (we have exchanged emails and met since, but that was years later), and I have dozens and dozens more.Here’s some relatively rigorous data from the hiring world that shows you should not follow this advice.…The one exception – if you can get a high quality introduction, it’s worth it. Otherwise, don’t sweat the details; just send the emails!

  11. Victor Izmaylov

    Hi Fred!Thanks for the link to Fred Wilson Google search!I believe your Wikipedia page is outdated in its reference to your focus on Web 2.0 companies. You might consider revising to whatever the current Web/app phase we are in.Also, are you affiliated with (or related to) Fred Wilson Chess Books, also located in Union Square?

    1. Pointsandfigures

      No but he is an artist. (this is satire for people that read this blog a lot)

  12. LE

    I have told the story here before of how in the 90’s I got Tim Drapers attention in a cold email by telling him that my wife (at the time) thought he was good looking. (Later from that first intro he extended an invitation to interview and meet (which I passed on)..) My wife (at the time) really did say that. And the minute she did I knew exactly what I would use it for. I put it to use and it worked. How do you duplicate clever? You can’t. It’s a creative process.Honestly it’s really hard to boil down what works because there is so much nuance that depends on a whole host of factors who is doing it and who they are doing it to.My wife that I am married to I initially pitched (on a dating site; you know the place that other people hate that to me were the best thing in the world) as ‘I know I am to old for you but you seem really smart and interesting and I would be happy just being friends’. Now we are married. (That was true btw I really did think she would be nice to be friends with..)The big deal that I spoke of here in another comment started by acknowledging something obvious to the person that I was pitching. Later in that deal I went and did what they told me not to do. My thinking was they either wanted it or not and me breaking some corporation pecking order rule was not going to kill things. [1] I didn’t have to listen to them. And I didn’t and it was the right thing to do. All with cold emails. I laughed and told the corporate attorney he obviously didn’t understand how non corporate people operate or he wouldn’t have used those words because they simply spurred me on even more.Short advice for getting good at this? Practice everyday. More importantly practice where the outcome doesn’t matter. Send emails where you don’t care what happens. Over time you will see what works for you (even your name matters so free free to make one up ..)[1] Being a nice guy was not the thing that would make them decide to pay money.

  13. SK

    OMG this is my pet peeve. I had a call from someone in the business of locating offices for growth companies, didn’t realize we JUST moved into our new office!

  14. Pointsandfigures

    Assume someone does their research, and has a pitch for you. You aren’t interested. Should that person ask you for an introduction to another VC?For the record, I get a lot of emails that have done zero research as well.

  15. Simone Brunozzi

    I can predict the future! My prediction says that a lot more people than usual will cold email Fred in the coming days (perhaps I will too!). My prediction also says that most of these cold emails will be of a much higher quality than usual.How to win the game then? Perhaps email Albert Wenger instead 🙂

  16. Brandon Burns

    I think the bigger issue here is the assumption (likely from mostly young white men) that a woman wouldn’t be “management.”Laziness is one thing. But how many male investors get emails asking that they forward the request to “management”?This is pretty cut and dry unconscious bias, and should be recognized as such. That’s the only way it can be defeated.

    1. PhilipSugar

      I would point out it is just as biased saying that “(likely from mostly young white men)”.Just saying……this is what caused a lot of backlash. Or “whitelash” as Van Jones put it.Not debating whether it exists or we need to fight it, I am not young, but I resent getting painted with the same brush, as much as you do.

      1. Brandon Burns

        While I haven’t seen the numbers on folks who seek funding, we all know that the vast majority who *receive* funding are white men. Maybe not “young,” but for sure white men.It’s not fair to assume that what happened Arianna happens often. But if the majority of folks seeking funding are white men, assuming that most of the folks who’ve said something like that to her are white men is less biased, and more statistically sound educated guess.

        1. PhilipSugar

          Brandon I think you and I can agree on much more than we disagree.I agree that it is easier being a well off white man. I do.I agree that African American people get treated differently by police.I agree there are sexist people that denigrate women.But….that does not mean that all police are bad, all men are sexist, and all young white men are responsible. Pushing that agenda is no different than pushing the other.

      2. Elizabeth Spiers

        Meh. As a woman who gets emails like this constantly (even though I run my own business) they are absolutely mostly young white men. I think white men assume doors will be open for them in a way that men of color do not–because for the most part they have been. Men of color do not have the same experience and are less likely to take it for granted that they can just cold email someone and get a response.

        1. PhilipSugar

          Meh. It is attitudes like yours that get me not to care even though I do. Is that productive for you?

          1. Elizabeth Spiers

            Yes, because you’re giving me a screening mechanism. For you. You don’t understand what white privilege means because you think you’ve overcome obstacles and worked hard. Which is not what it’s about. It’s about the assumptions people in professional situations make about you by virtue of the fact that you’re white. (You never go into an interview as a white guy where someone assumes you got into a decent collge because you’re not white, for example.) These things matter, especially in the tech industry.So if you don’t understand that young white men in particular do these things because they’re oblivious re: what they’re owed, it’s because you have zero experience of not being white and not being male. And you don’t have to be That Asshole in the individual sense to understand why and how it happens.

          2. PhilipSugar

            And you for me. Want to know we got Trump? Look in the mirror.

          3. Elizabeth Spiers

            As someone who grew up in a rural working class family in Alabama, I know exactly how we got Trump: because a lot of people are bigots and single issue abortion voters and he gave them permission to be. If you were not a wealthy white guy, you’d know that.

          4. PhilipSugar

            Clanton for my wife…..know the peach water tower??? There is somebody today who was out with a plethora of multi-colored people and woman working clearing brush with my 2001 pickup……know who it was???? Me. You voted for him five times. Sorry, don’t like him but you did. Clooney??? Probably 100k.

  17. daryn

    Happens all the time – especially with those “personalized” cold outreaches. My favorite is that we changed our company name awhile back, and I’ll get the exact same email, with some obviously merged variation, for my address at each domain.

  18. JohnExley

    I’m SO LATE to these comments, but I can’t help but post Gary Vaynerchuk’s video along these lines from 2015. It’s, in some ways, his most passionate video of all time: