Best Advice: How a Cold Email Can Land You Funding
Someone once told me, “If you ask for money, you get advice. If you ask for advice, you get money.”
Those words changed the entire course of my career. They helped me launch my startup Kiip, acquire several rounds of funding, and learn from the brightest in the industry.
Why? Because at our basic human roots, we’re wired to help others. If you follow Gestalt psychology, we each work individually to benefit the community as a whole. We learn, remember, and teach different branches of knowledge. We want to impart our knowledge. We strive to become something more than the sum of our parts.
When I first heard those words, I had the advantage of youth. I launched Kiip at 18 and became the youngest CEO to ever receive venture capitalism. I was bright, eager, and ready to learn anything. Here’s the funny thing: when I asked those I admired for advice, they actually gave me money.
That was the case with Ken Chenault, CEO of American Express. It started — wait for it — with a cold email. I always cold-email executives; people usually feel too intimidated to reach out, so executives don’t expect it. You have the unique opportunity to capture their attention. So I sent Ken an email asking for his advice on mobile payments. Several conversations later, after bringing in Harshul Sanghi, Amex’s head of ventures, they invested in Kiip. None of which would have happened if I hadn’t sent that first cold email.
Don’t take my word for it. This philosophy has worked time and time again at other companies. Take Facebook, for instance. It has “client councils,” groups of the world’s top marketers who advise Facebook on advertising. The members, in addition to being renowned marketing masters, belong to companies’ top spending brands. So while Facebook asks CMOs for advice on bringing their advertising game to the next level, the CMOs involved are so excited to be a part of the initiative that they actually spend more on Facebook campaigns.
Even if you’re not a CEO looking to raise funding, you can use this tactic to get a raise or land that initial job. Instead of walking into the meeting demanding a higher salary, ask how you can contribute more to the company. Your boss will examine your work and reevaluate your worth. By asking for advice on your role, you can earn a raise without ever asking for it.
How to do this:
1. Play up the benefits of your age.
If you’re young, you have a fresh perspective that’s valuable to older execs. You can offer crucial insights into trends, newer technologies or social media marketing. Especially in industries like advertising, where brands are obsessed with targeting millennials, you’re walking market research for a coveted generation.
I know what you’re thinking. What if you don’t think you’re young? Turn that frown upside down — youth is a state of mind. It’s a matter of energy, curiosity and wonder. We’re all learning. We’re all growing. If someone can see that, you’ll be young to them.
2. Create an obligation to give back.
When you flatter someone by asking for advice, the inquired often feel a sense of responsibility to give back. The key is to approach the person with thought and research. For example, if you’re interviewing Elon Musk, don’t ask vague questions, like “Where do you see the future of the automotive industry?” Instead, ask pointed questions, such as “How does your marketing strategy plan to address the similarities between the Tesla 3 and the BMW i3?”
When you demonstrate genuine interest, the other person feels obligated to return the same level of involvement.
3. Get them excited.
Don’t hard sell anyone, especially when first reaching out. Ease into the conversation with a relaxed and friendly tone, maintaining an openness about your intentions. The other person will come up with their own ideas on how they want to work with you and get excited about the prospects.
At the end of the day, the worst-case scenario is you learn something new. So go ahead — ask a stranger for advice.