How to Ask for an Introduction

I don’t know a ton of important people. But as a founder of a venture-backed startup with some amazing investors and advisors, I do know a few.

With Nivi and Naval preaching the gospel of social proof (can I get an “amen”?!) and with fundraising posts and articles espousing the importance of introductions, it’s no surprise that about once a week someone asks me to introduce them to someone else. It’s especially common around Y Combinator Demo Day, where YC groups shift from pure product mania to fundraising mode. I’m pretty sure that YC tells new crops of startups to ask for introductions from the funded companies from previous sessions.

What does surprise me is how people ask for these introductions. Here’s pretty much how they usually read:

“Hey Tony. I’m [insert name] from [company name]. We’re starting our fundraising effort and I was wondering if you’d introduce me to [insert RescueTime investor/advisor].”

I usually will make the introduction, but the person asking for it is certainly not making the most of the opportunity (and asking me to spend my social capital by doing so). So after making a mess of these introductions in varied ways, here is my suggested checklist for making an introduction (it’s pretty much my reply when I get a request like the one above):

  • Write the introduction for me. Seriously. You know more about your story than I do. You know the things to say that will make someone light up. I don’t. I might flub it. I can personalize it (“Hey [insert investor name]- hope your trip to [offensively exotic location] was fun. Welcome back! Listen, I wanted to introduce you to…”), but you should make the pitch. Bonus: this saves me a few minutes of writing, which is kind and thoughtful of you!
  • Don’t bury the lede. What’s the thing that will get an investor excited? Be concise, but talk about social proof, traction, growth, size of the market, how badass your team is, mainstream press coverage, other investors who are on board, and user passion/joy. Choose whatever distinguishes your startup from the sea of startups that investors read about every single day. Unless your product is revolutionary, spend more time talking about your market (“we’re helping companies in the billion dollar widget maker market sell doodads”) and your team than your product (“we’ve got an ajaxy shopping cart!”). If they investor blogs or has EVER talked about their investment strategy, hopefully you’ve read how they think and tune your pitch to match that.
  • Heap on the social proof, man! Getting an email intro from a near-stranger (me) is about the weakest social proof you can get (but it’s better than nothing). Tell us how many other investors you have soft-circled. Give us a link to a list of all of the blog posts praising you. Or all of the users tweeting about you. We’re herd animals. If the investor feels like the herd is leaving him behind, that’s a good thing.
  • Think about why it’s an opportunity for investors. If I’m writing to an investor about a company that looks like a credible opportunity, that’s me doing them a favor. If you don’t have any bullet points that many you look like a great opportunity, that’s me doing you a favor and adding noise to their already overflowing inbox.
  • Keep it short. All of the above stuff could mean a lot of content. You’ve got to pick and choose what to send and hope it’s enough bait for the investor to dig in and learn more.
  • Bonus points: track it. When we were talking to investors, we created custom (private) pages for each investor we were courting giving them a ton more to dig through and get excited about if they wanted. The emails were short and sweet with a “want to learn more” link at the end. We used Google analytics to track which people clicked through and which individual pages they clicked on so we could know what to focus our discussions on when we met them.

All that said, if you’ve got a great investment opportunity (with a launched product and some happy users), don’t be shy about dropping me a line if I can help (with introductions or advice).

(post scriptum: If you are in the market for introductions, you should check out VentureHacks’ StartupList!)

(post post scriptum: If you’d like to learn more about making good introductions, Chris Fralic just wrote an outstanding post for the “connector” – The Art of the Introduction)

  • http://venturehacks.com nivi

    Tony, Thanks for the mentions… that's very kind. We actually just mentioned you in a soon-to-be-released interview on How to Close an Angel Round.

  • http://www.rescuetime.com webwright

    Woot! I'm obviously a huge fan. StartupList is absolutely brilliant–
    targets a problem that is near and dear to my heart (the “So I kind of feel
    like I'm on to something but don't have connections with early stage
    investors” problem). Thankfully, I had Y Combinator– but I think a lot of
    worthwhile startups don't (or can't) choose that path. If I can ever help
    in any way, please give me a shout!

  • onsip

    Tony – Great blog. I can see some of these tips working well for all business related intro's. Can you suggest any more for getting featured in articles & blogs? I especially like the track back idea. That said… Hi, we're OnSIP, and we offer a flexible & reliable small business VoIP service. We also offer an API those who wish to customize a telephony app. (I see RescueTime also offers an API… Like it.) Going to RSS your blog – looking forward to more tips.

  • http://www.rescuetime.com webwright

    Hi Nicole! I just wrote a PR post a week or two
    bac<http://www.tonywright.com/2010/pr-for-startups/>k
    (might be worth a read). If you want to be featured in blog posts, your
    best bet is to have that obviously be in the interests of the blogger or
    writer. Here's what you just wrote to introduce your business:

    “we're OnSIP, and we offer a flexible & reliable small business VoIP
    service. We also offer an API those who wish to customize a telephony app.”

    How many bloggers/writers do you think would read this and say, “Holy crap!
    I have to check these guys out and learn more. If I write an article about
    them, it's going to result in tons of traffic, links, and/or magazine
    sales!” If your answer is the same as mine, I'd go back to the drawing
    board and try to craft a story that might get you a different answer. Being
    worth talking about doesn't always mean having a *product* worth talking
    about (see Zappos, for example).

  • onsip

    Thanks for the quick reply! I'll read your suggested post next. It's interesting – There aren't as many telephony blogs out there as there are about business efficiency and start ups. But, in the end, our customers are businesses who want to communicate efficiently, conveniently, and for half the price.

    Your mention of “being worth talking about doesn't always mean having a *product* worth talking about” is right on. We're just veering in that direction. Our messaging needs to range from the group of people who understand VoIP to the non-technical, which can be challenging. Anyway, thanks for the tips! We will be revamping our homepage and blog soon with better messaging. And yes, back to the drawing board it is.

  • http://www.roadtofailure.com lusciouspear

    Thanks — I usually just try to be uber-smooth. This is much better advice.

    I feel awkward about heaping on the social proof, but brute force is better than being un-noticed :)

  • http://1000markets.com Matthew_Trifiro

    The custom landing pages for investors is pure brilliance.

  • http://1000markets.com Matthew_Trifiro

    The custom landing pages for investors is pure brilliance.

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