I was traveling recently and as it happens, when I travel, emails pile up quicker. Important emails from family, things I need to read, emails from my team, and then quite a few “Hey, I’d love to pick your brain” OR “Do you have time for coffee?” type emails.

Look, we are all guilty of those emails. We all do it, and I’m certainly no celebrity or global dignitary. But, what I AM is extremely focused (or at least I try hard to be) to allocate my time extremely carefully. So here’s the issue: If I don’t know you, or you are a friend of a friend, or maybe you are an ex-classmate, that does not (unfortunately) mean I have the ability or interest to prioritize a “coffee” with you so you can “pick my brain.” 

Sound crass?

Consider that 99% of startups fail.

Consider that there are only 24 hours a day, and I am a very committed father and husband who also wants to move the needle in business and philanthropy and enjoy every second with my family… never missing an event with my daughters or a chance to travel with them… that takes about 25 hours a day. I want to make life matter, and that simply means I have to have a very hard filter for when, where, and how I spend my limited time.

So here’s the point… When you email someone, you probably have a good idea to run by them… Maybe an opportunity you believe they’ll benefit from or something really rare, cool, unique, etc… 

You have to tell them! Be very specific and start with the WHY… Why should they care? Why should they take the meeting? Why should they invest, leave their job, fly to your city, join your board, or give you 20 minutes versus all their other options? If you don’t have a great answer to that question, you are just asking a “favor” of someone who likely has a very specific way they help or donate. Unless they are retired and have tons of time, they’ve likely even tried to scale their giving to make it efficient and high-impact. So one-off meetings don’t fit the mandate.

Also, realize that there is often a “gap” between what is meaningful to you versus the person you are trying to meet… To some people, $1000 is a fortune, to others, it’s not a good use of a 15-minute phone call (money and time… it’s all relative).

A seasoned entrepreneur may want/expect founder-level equity to advise you or sit on your advisory board (they have a reputation that carries big value and is risky for them)… So do some homework and try to have a point of view on what moves the needle for them (sometimes it’s money, sometimes it’s equity… maybe it’s free technology, support of a favorite charity, or an opportunity for their child… just make it matter).

So here’s my formula for an email ASK:

  1. Tell them “what” in one sentence
  2. Tell them WHY they should/would consider it
  3. Give them actionable next steps
  4. Suggest a time-frame
  5. Thank them.

Quick example:

Mac, We’ve done our homework on you and believe you would make a perfect addition to the Acme.com, Inc. board of advisors.

We would be willing to make it worth your time by providing founder-level equity in a startup that seems to fit your interests and also give you free use of our technology services (plenty of details to follow, but wanted you to know we are serious).

If this sounds interesting, please review our video (here) and our attached presentation. I think you will find it compelling and will agree there is a great fit. I would like to meet next week (how about Tuesday for lunch) to provide you a demo and answer any questions you may have. Would that work? If not, I will work around your schedule. Just let me know, and I’ll be there.

Thanks for your time and consideration.

Joe Smith

PS. Our board has already approved a big equity package to add you, so if you decide to move forward, we are ready to go.

When I get that kind of email (which I rarely do), I react. I may be interested, or I may not…  but either way, I am so impressed and appreciative of the research, approach, and, more than anything, the thoughtfulness that allows me to make decisions quickly vs. GUESS at what they may offer or even worse, what they are even asking of me.

Make your emails count.