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This article was published on March 7, 2017

TNW’s 5 rules for writing the perfect cold email

TNW’s 5 rules for writing the perfect cold email Image by: Flickr/Alan Levine
Wytze De Haan
Story by

Wytze De Haan

Founder, The Hatchet

Wytze writes weekly career advice for employees of fast-growing startups and scale-ups on topics like how to negotiate a better salary, conv Wytze writes weekly career advice for employees of fast-growing startups and scale-ups on topics like how to negotiate a better salary, convincing clients to work with you, or how to be a great manager for your team. Prior to founding the Hatchet, he spent 9 years working as Director of Events for TNW.

Most people suck at writing emails. That’s hardly strange: schools don’t give classes on email etiquette and as a result we develop writing styles based largely on copying what other people do. That starts to become a problem if you rely on email outreach for things like closing deals, generating business or in my case: asking CEO’s and founders like Gary Vaynerchuk, Werner Vogels or Travis Kalanick to speak at a conference.

Structuring your message correctly is more crucial than ever, especially if you’re reaching out to important people. On average I receive about 50 to 60 emails a day so it is safe to assume that number is a lot higher for the people I’m trying to reach.

Over the past six years I emailed over 600 founders and CEO’s of company’s like Airbnb, Netflix, Tesla, Reddit and Amazon. Here’s what I’ve learned:

  1. Write like you speak. People are emotional beings, they look for authentic conversations. Don’t overcomplicate sentences by using phrases you wouldn’t when talking face-to-face.
  2. Start with the question. Don’t make someone read through a paragraph of context before you get to the point. Let them know why you’re reaching out in the first sentence.
  3. Focus on the benefits. Stop talking about yourself and start writing about what the other stands to benefit from taking your offer into consideration.
  4. End with a simpler question. Your goal isn’t to get to a ‘yes’ after the first email, but to start a conversation. People are more likely to reply if you end the email with a question prompting them to answer.
  5. Keep it short. Strip out all the unessential information. The shorter your e-mail the higher the chances of it being read.

Need a concrete example? Here’s a fictive email in which I reach out to Sheryl Sandberg to invite her to come to Amsterdam to speak at TNW Conference:

Hi Sheryl,

Are you free on May 18?

We’re organizing the 12th edition of TNW conference in Amsterdam for 30,000 people, and we’d love to invite you to come and speak. We’re covering personal success stories and I think your story at Facebook would fit right in.

I know you’re a busy woman, so here’s how you’d benefit:

  • Publicity – You’ll speak in front of a live crowd of 2500 digital leaders and we’ll stream your talk to another 100,000 people watching live.
  • Networking – The other three confirmed speakers are Elon Musk, Marissa Mayer and Seth Godin. I’ll be cooking dinner for all four of you over at my place in the city center of Amsterdam after the event.

Do you have 10-minutes for a call on Tuesday so I can tell you more?



Ps. Sheryl, if you’re reading this, the above email was fictive, but the invitation is real.

We actually are “organizing the 12th edition of TNW conference in Amsterdam for 30,000 people,” and we’d love to invite you to come. Check out the incredible speaker line-up we got by following these steps and get your discounted Earlybird tickets here