Last updated on March 15, 2019
This is a guest post by John Corcoran.
Let’s get one thing straight: Noah Kagan really has no business sending me cookies.
Noah is busy running AppSumo, training new entrepreneurs, and riding bikes around Austin sampling tacos. Until recently, he had no idea who I was.
And yet here I was, opening my mail to find a box of chocolate chip cookies, with a thank you note from Noah Kagan.
Well, it all started with an email that got his attention.
Because of that one email, I interviewed him for a guest post I was writing, got him to come on my podcast, got valuable feedback from him on my blog, and now I’m writing a guest post on his personal website.
We’re even going to ride Go Carts and get snowcones the next time he’s in town. (Wait… did I say that out loud?)
It was all because of one successful email.
Seems pretty simple to get the attention of a busy entrepreneur, right?
Wrong. Getting the attention of a busy person like Noah is easier said than done.
I’ve sent plenty of emails to busy entrepreneurs like Noah that resulted in nada. Zip. Zero response.
But I’ve learned what works and what doesn’t work, and now I want to share it with you.
In fact, Noah Kagan should be the hardest of all to get a response from, because if anyone knows a good email from a bad one, it’s Noah.
He receives dozens of cold emails per month asking for something from him. AppSumo has an email list of
700,000+ a kajillion subscribers and sends millions of emails per month.
If email was a science, Noah would have a doctorate of emailology.
So he knows his stuff when it comes to email.
The email I sent which managed to grab Noah’s attention was actually a perfect example of an effective email to a busy person who receives dozens or hundreds of messages and requests for their time each week.
So you probably want to see the actual email, right?
Hold your horses, chico. I’ll share that in a moment.
But first, let’s discuss why being able to craft and send effective emails that get an actual live response even matters.
In To Sell Is Human, Dan Pink argues that workers spend a larger portion of their time today persuading, negotiating, and pitching, than ever before, and much of this work is done by email.
In a study Pink commissioned for the book, workers reported that they spent 40 percent of their work time trying to move someone to part with resources of some kind (what Pink calls "non-sales selling"), and much of that is accomplished using email.
At the same time, we’re all used to being bombarded with email messages aimed at convincing us to do something, which is why it is so difficult to break through.
In fact, your success at work is dependent on your ability to communicate, and your income is a reflection of that. So being able to email a busy person and get the response you desire is literally a skill you need to know to increase your income.
Now let’s take a look at my email to Noah and why it worked. Then I’m going to share five tips for how you can use email effectively to get the attention of any busy VIP, whether it’s a successful entrepreneur, a potential boss, a girl you like, or just someone you want to get to know.
This actually wasn’t the first time I tried to contact Noah. I had tried to interview Noah a few years earlier.
When I first tried to contact him, I made all the wrong mistakes. He had no idea who I was. I had no insider connections. I did not clearly articulate how I could benefit Noah. I was just another no-name blogger with little to offer.
I also sent the email not to Noah, but to someone on his staff who quickly sized me up and turned down my request for an interview. Noah probably never heard about the request personally. Even if he had, he would have been right to turn me down.
So here was my most recent email which got Noah’s attention. Below, I’m going to break down why it worked so effectively.
Note: I forgot to link to the second Forbes piece but apparently that didn’t matter. The point was to demonstrate I had a connection to Noah's friend Ramit Sethi, who, like Noah, is also a busy entrepreneur.
Now let’s take a closer look at this email and why it worked.
The subject line I used was relevant because it reminded Noah how he knew me - I had mentioned him in an Art of Manliness guest post I wrote that had been published a week earlier.
You want the subject line to quickly tell your recipient either why they would benefit from opening your email and/or how they know you.
Another option for the subject line would have been something like “Friend of Andrew Warner” or “Hey Noah - John from Art of Manliness here.”
In this email, I clearly articulated the benefit to Noah. I wanted to interview him for Art of Manliness, which I guessed he probably already knew is a very high-traffic blog with a passionate reader base that has the potential to send OKDork and AppSumo new traffic and new readers.
It turned out Noah was very familiar with Art of Manliness. Part of the reason he was excited about being interviewed for the site was because, he later told me, “his brother reads Art of Manliness and loves it.” I didn’t know this at the time, but it helped me.
I said the interview would take only 5-7 minutes of his time. If you’re asking for something, you want to make the commitment so small and the benefit so great, they can’t possibly pass it up.
I think Noah probably realized it was likely the interview would run longer than 5-7 minutes, but it’s good to demonstrate your willingness to keep the time demand commitment short out of respect for your recipient’s time.
And in fact, when I did interview Noah, I offered multiple times to cut off the interview but he allowed it to go longer.
My email message provided all of the details Noah would need in order for him to make a decision about my interview request. In addition, my request was unusual - I specifically wanted to ask him about failure. I didn’t make a generic request for an interview about “what tips he would give entrepreneurs who are starting out” which he probably receives all the time.
I go into additional tips for what you should include in the content of your emails below.
Now, I want to share five specific tips for how you can create successful cold emails that break through and get the results you want.
One of the best things you can do before emailing someone cold is to get them to get to know you through other channels, particularly through social media. I call this “greasing the wheels.”
When Noah received my email on January 16th, it wasn’t the first time he had seen my name. He knew my name from Art of Manliness and from Twitter. Also, a few months earlier, I had included him in a post I co-authored in Forbes, which I then sent to him via Twitter:
Then, when I mentioned him in the Art of Manliness guest post in early January, he actually tweeted me to thank me:
This was the opportunity I needed to reach out and request a one-on-one interview. However, I didn’t want to jump too quickly because that would have just seemed sad and perhaps a little desperate.
So I waited to exchange a few messages on Twitter a few days later:
(That tweet seems kind of annoying and know-it-all in retrospect.)
Then, finally, on January 17th, I sent my email to Noah requesting an interview. Because he had recently seen my name a couple of times, it was less of a cold email.
One of the best things you can do when emailing a busy person is to keep your email very short. Even though most people have heard this tip, I am still shocked at the incredibly long emails I receive, and I probably receive a small fraction of the email traffic Noah receives.
I’ll even let you in on a little secret: sometimes, I will even intentionally break up everything I want to say into multiple emails so that I don’t overwhelm in my initial email.
Here’s what the sequence might look like:
The point of the first email is simply to get a response. I may use a sincere compliment or perhaps mention the person in a blog post I’ve written and then email them to tell the person about it.
In your second email (or first “reply” email), you want to continue the conversation by making a personal connection.
If you mentioned in your first email that you are both from San Francisco, then in this reply email you may continue discussing common interests, such as, “too bad about the 49ers this year” or “I just can't get a decent burrito ever since I moved from the Mission to the Haight.”
It’s not until the third email that I actually bring up the real purpose for my email. Why? Because if you’ve already made a personal connection and deepened it, then the VIP is more primed to say “yes” to your request at this point.
Noah has already written about this but it bears repeating. It doesn’t matter what you want, it only matters what you can do for the person you’re emailing.
In other words, you may soooo want Justin Bieber just to like you but if you email him to tell him that, you don’t have a chance. If you want your email to get the Biebs’ attention (or anyone else’s attention for that matter), you need to talk about what’s in it for them.
There are many ways to do this:
I could go on and on, but you get the idea.
Another great approach is to demonstrate that you have a personality and a sense of humor in your email. While I wouldn’t recommend emailing a busy person solely with the goal of making them laugh, it is a good idea to keep things light in your email.
Noah clearly is someone who likes to have fun in life, so this was crucial.
Maneesh’s first email to Brett cracked me up:
(Although this was a follow up email rather than a cold email, it was like a cold email in that it was Maneesh’s first point of contact with Brett.)
When you show you have a sense of humor, you send a message: hey, this might be kinda fun.
Finally, one of the best ways to make a connection with any busy VIP is by finding what you have in common. It is much more difficult to ignore a cold email if it’s from someone who you share something in common with, such as you’re from the same hometown or you have a friend in common, or you lived in the same city around the same time.
I actually used four out of five of these tips in an email I sent to bestselling author Dan Pink.
I had previously communicated with Dan via social media, my email was short and to the point, I communicated the benefits for Dan to connecting with me, and I mentioned what we had in common. If I had made the email a little less dry and a little more fun, then I would have hit 5 out of 5.
(BTW not long after I sent this email, I had Dan on as a guest on my podcast -- twice.)
One of the best things I’ve done in my career is spending time reaching out to interesting, successful people, and many of the people I’ve reached out to have become great friends.
Nearly every job I’ve gotten - from working on one of DreamWorks’ first projects over a summer during college to working at the White House - has come from reaching out to someone more successful than me. None of these opportunities would have come along if I hadn’t taken a chance.
So I want to encourage you to go out there and send some cold emails. Not because I want you to bug busy VIPs like Noah, but because I want you to make some genuine connections that are beneficial to all around.
Most importantly, aim for the stars - don’t settle for reaching too low because the person you really want to meet is “too successful” or “too important” to ever respond to you.
The Biebs will be waiting.
BONUS: Click to download "5 Killer Cold Email Templates" here.
John Corcoran is an attorney and former Clinton White House Writer and he really isn’t stalking Noah Kagan, promise. He does however have two free reports for you - get 5 Killer "Cold Email" Templates you can use right away, and also his 52+ page guide How to Increase Your Income Today by Building Relationships with Influencers, Even if you Hate Networking.