The perfect email

As you might imagine, I get many random inbound emails. Last I checked, I was getting about 500 emails a day, and about 50 of them a day are from people I don't know. They often ask for advice, or just want me to look at their startup for investment. This is fine, I try to answer all of them. But I got one today that stood out. It didn't feel "cold", it felt well-researched and highly-relevant. Here's what it said (put here with permission from the author):
Hi David, I've got a startup related question for you that I think might be right up your alley. We're starting CriticalArc and we're focussed on providing solutions to problems that depend on streaming status and location in real time. Things like duress and critical incident response. We're building a very robust back end to support these mission-critical applications. We've got a preliminary landing page up here: www.criticalarc.com and we're planning to demo our first system at a startup event here in Sydney on 31st March….we're currently engaging customers and coding like hell. I know that you have a background in dispatch systems with Pinpoint and I was wondering if you had an opinion here: As a startup seeking investment and a scalable business, do you think we should be focusing on an infrastructure or solution play? Or could we do both to start with and decide to focus on either a general web infrastructure business or a dedicated solution business some time down the track? Basically, out of the box, should we be SimpleGeo for realtime, or should we provide a solution like what you did with RightCAD at Pinpoint? I'd love to know your thoughts. As a separate bonus question, I was also wondering if you're seeing much activity in this area at the moment? Is real time location hot like the groupon-clone thing that you're probably being pitched every other day? Or do you think there is some space here? It's a bit hard to judge from Australia presently. Hey, thanks for reading this….you're probably up to your eyeballs with Techstars applications at the moment. Good luck with the summer program. Best Regards -- Glenn Farrant CEO CriticalArc
Here's what I love about this email. 1 - He knows my background, and frames the question that he has with that relevant context. 2 - He understands who I am (references to TechStars). 3 - He gets that I'm seeing a million groupon clones and makes me chuckle a little. 4 - He's clearly generally intelligent/articulate. His writing has an easy style. 5 - He speaks my language. He references "Pinpoint" (the previous company name, before it was bought by ZOLL and started being called that). He mentions "summer program" even though he's in Australia where this will actually be winter time. He references SimpleGeo, another of my investments. He's making the question easy for me to answer. Of course, I try to answer every email I get, especially if it's from an entrepreneur. But this one really stuck out and made me want to help. So I thought I'd share why that was.
About David Cohen

Geek. Hacker. Investor. Founder and CEO of TechStars.

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  • http://weddings.storymixmedia.com Mike

    Darn it! I sent you a cold-email yesterday too. I guess mine wasn’t perfect :( Well, since it was specifically regarding our TechStars application I at least hit your point number 2.

    I can’t imagine getting 500 emails a day!

  • P

    Can’t read this post properly on my netbook because of your Highlighter app — I recommend that you check out what it looks like on a small computer (or offer an option to hide the window at the side).

    It seems like a cool app but nobody has highlighted anything that I can see AND the app is blocking the beginnings of lines.

  • http://meometer.com Geoffrey

    I just opened my email to write you a note of thanks for your email chapter in Do More Faster.

    Simple, juicy and actionable.

    Thank you for keeping this crystal clear.

  • http://gorankem.com adam wexler

    i can tell the guy did a great job resonating with you. it seems like a pretty lengthy original note — would you rather read that much & have that many questions to answer if it clarifies the context? i ask because i always try to hold back on many of my questions in my correspondences by trying to ask one at a time.

  • David Cohen

    adam – it really just had one central question for me to respond to. it was easy to read/answer.

  • http://Venturebluecapital.com Robb Kunz

    Care to share, what your response to his email was?

  • Adrian Meli

    Curious if you generally respond better to emails that create some context for you -ie finds a connection he or she may have with you through other companies, people or groups-or more interesting and thoughtful like the one you posted?

  • jld

    Totally off topic – Do you know that the silly “highlighter” box stuck in the middle of the right border masks the text and is F**KING annoying?

  • http://techstars.org David Cohen

    robb – i told him i usually lean towards building a solution and using your platform, rather than launching as a platform. but there are lots of examples both.

    adrian – that helps, but i try to respond to every email. some take me longer and i’m shorter since i have no idea how i can help. by doing this, he really got me engaged and wanting to help him.

  • Snowman

    That is the most eloquently written email that I have ever seen. And congrats for seeing its mastery as something worthy of a blog post.

    • ZoubIWah

      I think the comments are a bit over the top, this is what every email should be. Of course, that’s not actually the case and heck, it feels good to receive a proper email from time to time. But mastery and “most eloquent email” – I would suggest reading a little more literature :)

  • Josh of Cubicle Ninjas

    Beautiful email, and this post is a super kind way to highlight its effectiveness. Thank you for sharing this.

  • k

    you might want to hire a sycophant

  • http://chooseclever.com/ Bill Patrianakos

    I’ve written emails to stranger, some of them pretty high profile like you and it just boggles my mind that someone would NOT do the things you listed. Maybe I’m some kind of extra conscientious person or something but I just can’t understand why anyone would think they’re email would be read by anyone high profile at all let alone without it being well researched and highly relevant.

    • Hamish

      Often how good your email is and how good you think your email is can be very different. Also, poor grammar can be very distracting.

      • KamJam

        Who mean like writing “they’re” when you actually meant “their”?

  • John Goering

    What was the subject?

    • http://techstars.com/ DavidCohen

      i don’t remember. this was over a year ago and i think i’ve deleted the email from my archives. sorry!

    • glennfarrant

      Hi John, The subject of the email was: “Real time location and status startup struggling with the Infrastructure vs Application decision”.

  • http://twitter.com/losethos Terry A. Davis

    God says, “foregoing plentifully embraced wonderful important prior
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    town daemons charmed incomparably birdlime computers fainting
    needs hid execrable subjected SEND That’s_gonna_leave_a_mark “

  • http://twitter.com/JeffreyAThom Jeff Thom

    Good work Glenn.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=17503759 Nathan Woodhull

    Summer is Summer globally, the weather is just colder in Australia.

  • http://twitter.com/mikelitson mike litson

    I know I’m going against the grain on this one, but it’s a little sycophantic for my taste, I like that they knew who you are props for that, but it’s a bit snively for my taste. But, hey maybe I’m just far too grumpy before my time, still better than most spam of it’s type though.

    • http://techstars.com/ DavidCohen

      it got my attention because it referenced my previous company, and stuff that was specific to me. so it was clear he took the time to understand who he was writing, which is nice. (i get lots of form emails to dear mr investor person)…

  • http://twitter.com/acohenNY Andrew Cohen

    So are you gonna invest? (You know all your readers are wondering.)

    • http://techstars.com/ DavidCohen

      this was a while ago (not sure why it suddenly became popular again on HN) – it was a company in Australia if I remember correctly. I didn’t invest but i did try to help them.

      • http://www.criticalarc.com/ Glenn Farrant

        Thanks David. Your advice has played a big part in the direction we took and is a key factor in where we are now.

  • replayzero

    Did you write the perfect email back? Could we see the response?

    • http://techstars.com/ DavidCohen

      i tried to dig it up (this post is from 2011 and suddenly became popular again) but it’s not in my email archives. sorry.

    • http://www.criticalarc.com/ Glenn Farrant

      David’s response was that he generally advises startups in our situation to “dog food it” (i.e. build a solution on it first). That was the main feedback, we took it on board and it has worked out great for us.

  • http://twitter.com/BossYosh Aljosha Novakovic

    You don’t consider this email too long? The six questions wasn’t a little overboard?

    I am just very curious because …well.. a large portion of my life consists of sending out emails

  • Coffy Group

    I find this article interesting, really. For people especially in the corporate world, it is highly important to come up with a good email – and by good i mean grammatically correct, concise, and that which does not mislead. A short and catchy subject that summarizes the main purpose of the message’s body is also necessary especially if you’re writing to someone you don’t know yet. Just my two cents.

  • Guest

    I’d love to know what the subject line was, since that is the first “gate” that we need to pass through.