How I Write Cold Emails to Super Successful People That Get Replies

“Hi — hope you’re well?” isn’t it.

Hello 👋

Martin here. Welcome to another edition of Founders’ Hustle!

I write bitesize newsletters containing actionable insights and insider knowledge across the full spectrum of company building from inception to exit.

In today’s newsletter I’m sharing one of my frameworks for crafting emails to super successful people that get replies.

What do I mean by “super successful”? Think founders & CEOs of multi-billion dollar companies and international sports stars.

The purpose of this framework is not to spam, but to empower other founders to reach out to super successful (and super busy) people in a more meaningful way… so it’s mutually more productive.

Here we go…

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As a serial founder, over the years I’ve cold emailed a lot of super-successful people and got a ton of replies.

When I use the phrase “super-successful” I’m not referring to people with high-flying careers or a general notion of what most people would consider successful in life.

I’m talking founders of multi-billion dollar startups, CEOs of publicly listed multi-billion dollar companies, and even sports stars like an NFL Hall of Famer and an F1 World Champion.

The motive for me doing this was usually because I either saw a mutual interest in our individual agendas and wanted to explore opportunities working together, or, I just flat out wanted their advice.

You might think super-successful people won’t respond to a cold email because their lives are too busy or they just don’t respond to anonymous individuals outside of their network, but you'd be wrong.

I’ve found the opposite is true. These people are super-successful for a reason. They’re deeply passionate about certain subjects, efficient and productive with their time, and open-minded in a way a lot of other people just aren’t.

The key to getting a response is how you approach them. Your email copy.

Like all things in life, I wasn’t so great at this at first. But, over the years, I’ve developed a process that works more often than not.

I’m sharing my approach here for two reasons:

  1. To help you connect with super-successful people.

  2. To make the cold emails super-successful people receive easier to respond to.

How I do it

Below, I’ve broken down my process into several actionable tasks that are really easy to copy. These tasks accomplish three main objectives:

  1. Email open.

  2. Interest capture.

  3. Trigger to respond.

So, here we go.

1. Common ground review.

The first thing I ascertain before emailing a super-successful person is tofind out whether or not we have something in common that we’re both passionate about.

I don’t just go randomly searching for the passions and interests of super-successful people — most of the time that would be a fruitless pursuit. Usually, it’s triggered serendipitously after consuming an article or podcast that indicated this to be true.

But, what can you possibly have in common with a billionaire or a Formula 1 Champion? As it turns out, quite a lot.

For me, it’s startups. Every super-successful person I email is involved in the startup ecosystem to some degree.

For you, it could be the same, or, sports, marketing, charity work, programming, deep tech, or a whole manner of other things. A quick Google search will reveal this.

If I don’t find a commonly shared passion I don’t email. There’s no point.

PERSONAL EXAMPLE:

I once became aware a founder of a gaming company with a multi-billion dollar exit now invests in startups through a fund. After some research, it turned out some of those investments were into startups in my company’s section of the gaming market. There was a clear common ground, so I reached out.

2. Research.

Putting in the time to dig a little deeper and research your intended email recipient makes a huge difference.

The great thing about super-successful people is they’ve accomplished a huge amount in their lives. And, they’re massively passionate about those endeavors and achievements so they like to talk about it publicly.

This means there’s usually a limitless amount of information about them online — articles, videos, podcasts, etc. Use YouTube as well as Google.

I tend to gravitate towards content that features their direct voice such as interviews, essays, and presentations. From consuming this, you can get a great sense of what their inner passions and motivations are. Identifying this and tapping into it is key to crafting a great email.

As I’m browsing through the array of content available, I bookmark webpages that contain topics or themes which are most similar to the subject I want to discuss with my intended email recipient.

At the end of the research phase, I pick the piece of content that is the most relevant to use for the basis of my email. This will both act as a hook to engage my email recipient, and, provide a natural platform to spring onto the subject I’d like to discuss.

If I want to talk about early-stage investing, I would try to find a piece of content related to that. If I wanted to talk about product or marketing, I would find a piece of content related to those topics. Sometimes the topic I’m looking for is buried within an interview and isn’t immediately obvious from a superficial review, so it pays to dig.

PERSONAL EXAMPLE:

I once emailed the founder of (yet another) gaming company with a multi-billion dollar exit. I wanted to talk about the product thesis of my new gaming startup. So, I found an old interview where this person spoke briefly on the broader approach we were taking and used this as the basis of my outreach.

3. Title Format.

The email title you use will have the most influence over whether or not your recipient will open your email. It’s extremely important.

After all, if your recipient doesn’t open your email they won’t reply no matter how good the content inside is.

The good news is, I have a tried and tested format that works. It’s kind of irresistible. And, all you need is the prior research you conducted to copy me.

My email title format is broken down into two parts. The first part is immediately engaging, piques curiosity, and establishes a sense of credibility.

This is another reason I like to use interviews, essays, and presentations as the basis of my cold email content. It means you can reference the interview or presentation in the first part of your email title. Like:

Interview/Presentation: [INSERT MEDIA CHANNEL]

So, if in your email you are referring to a Bloomberg TV interview your email recipient appeared on, put the below as the first part of your email title:

Interview: Bloomberg TV

Remember to add “Interview” or “Presentation”, etc, at the beginning. Doing this creates the possibility in the reader’s mind that the email is about appearing on Bloomberg TV in an interview. Or CNN, Forbes, whatever. Hard to resist reading that email.

You could argue this practice is deceptive, but it’s not really because you are referencing a Bloomberg TV interview in the content of your email. It’s relevant and the whole basis of why you’re reaching out.

The second part of the email title should communicate the main theme or subject of the email. So, add the subject you want to discuss here.

This prepares the recipient for what they are about to read, and it should be a strong area of interest or core passion. This will amplify the impact of the first part of the email title that refers to a major publication or interview. I add a vertical bar “|” in between the first and second parts. Here’s the template:

Interview/Presentation: [INSERT MEDIA CHANNEL] | [INSERT SUBJECT]

PERSONAL EXAMPLE:

I wanted to email a Formula 1 World Champion because I found out he invests in early-stage startups. So, I found a Bloomberg TV interview where he discusses his approach to investing in early stage startups. This was perfect because it had both the draw of a big name media brand and a topic that was perfectly in-sync with what I wanted to discuss.

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A real email title I have used that worked.

4. Email Body Content.

First of all, there are a few ground rules I have for the actual email content.

Ground rules:

  1. No pleasantries. That means lose “Hope you’re doing well?

  2. Keep it short. A maximum of 10 seconds to read.

  3. Include a link to the content being referenced.

  4. Use simple language. No buzz words, Latin, or thesaurus specials.

Apart from that, there’s quite a lot of creative freedom. But, I do have a general structure that I keep too.

General structure:

  1. The first sentence should validate it was worth opening the email and provide a strong incentive to keep reading.

  2. This should be followed by 2–3 sentences of body content that continue to build interest, curiosity, and rapport.

  3. I then wrap up with a specific question, which I’ll go through later.

The first sentence has to achieve a lot. It should be immediately engaging — either by being personal, providing value, or, sharing a unique insight.

Often, my first sentence subject concerns the recipient and demonstrates I have made the effort to take an interest in their endeavors. This helps to establish a common ground and a logical reason why I’ve reached out.

It’s never about me, like “I did this…” or “I’m doing that…”. It never has any pleasantries. It also doesn’t have to be overly complicated. I’ve used the below style format of opening sentence many times and achieved great results.

1st SENTENCE EXAMPLE:

Hi NAME — just [READ/WATCHED] your [INTERVIEW/PRESENTATION] on [CHANNEL/MEDIA PLATFORM] and have a follow up question.

The next 2–3 sentences of body content that follows the opening sentence has the most wiggle room in terms of creativity. There are multiple approaches you can take, so I’ll share a format I’ve found is pretty reliable.

Pick a specific point your email recipient made in the interview or presentation. State whether or not you agree with that point in the first sentence. In the second sentence, explain why you agree or disagree by providing your own unique insight. In the third sentence, provide context with who you are and why your opinion matters.

BODY CONTENT EXAMPLE:

I agree/disagree with [INSERT POINT THAT WAS MADE]. I’ve personally found that [INSERT UNIQUE INSIGHT]. I know this, because [INSERT REASON YOUR OPINION MATTERS].

The key to this format is actually providing valuable or unique insight. Steer clear of saying something obvious. And, don’t be afraid to state a view that competes with commonly held beliefs.

5. Specific Ask.

Now you’ve got their attention and they’re invested in your email, it’s time to ask a question. This is the key trigger that will encourage them to respond.

Keep this specific. If it’s too broad or ambiguous the rate of response will drop dramatically. They need to know what is being asked of them. Why you are reaching out to them. What your objective is. Get to the point.

It needs to require a low friction response and it should tie in intuitively with the main subject of the email. If it’s out of context it feels awkward.

What I mean by “low friction response” is not requiring much from the email recipient cognitively to respond. Don’t force them to have to think too much.

The commonly used high-friction example I have shared below creates all sorts of questions in the recipient's mind— What are we going to talk about? Why do they want to talk to me? What will I get out of this? How long will the call be? Timezones? Availability? etc.

AMBIGUOUS HIGH-FRICTION EXAMPLE:

“Are you able to jump on a call next week?”

Whereas, the below example questions are concise and easy to answer.

EXAMPLE SPECIFIC ASKS:

“Are you open to [INSERT RELEVENT OPPORTUNITY]?”

“ Have you thought about the impact of [INSERT RELEVENT SCENARIO]?”

“Are you able to share your [INSERT INITIATIVE] experience from [INSERT RELEVENT EVENT]?”

I structure them so they can be answered by a simple Yes/No. This makes it less cognitively demanding on the surface. But, I also make them thought-provoking to encourage and allow for a more complex response.

6. Final Template Example

Title:

Interview: [Insert Media Channel] | [Insert Subject]

Email:

Hi NAME — just [READ/WATCHED] your [INTERVIEW/PRESENTATION] on [CHANNEL/MEDIA PLATFORM] and have a follow up question.

I agree/disagree with [INSERT POINT THAT WAS MADE]. I’ve personally found that [INSERT UNIQUE INSIGHT]. I know this, because [INSERT REASON YOUR OPINION MATTERS].

“Are you open to [INSERT RELEVENT OPPORTUNITY]?”

[INSERT EMAIL SIGNATURE]


The key takeaway here is if you approach it right, you can get an email response from a lot of super-successful people. Billionaires, CEOs, celebrities, sports stars, you name it.

Be careful, because, if your email feels like it’s wasting their time, they probably won’t respond. You need an objective.

Just be concise, relevant, engaging, and provide a specific question that’s easy to respond too. Tap into their passions and interests in a relevant and non-creepy way and it’ll be a pleasure for them to respond to you.

Until next time,

- Martin


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Thanks to Damir Spanic | Unsplash for the image.