The Art of the Introduction: Top Ten Tips

This post is by Chris Fralic, a managing partner at First Round Capital. Last week Chris gave a presentation at BootStrapperSummit in New York on the “art of the introduction” and we asked him to write a version of that presentation for TechCrunch. First impression matter, and getting the right introduction can make or break a business deal. You may also want to read out post titled Greetings! for more tips on first interactions. You can follow Chris on Twitter at @ChrisFRC

I’ve been a VC for about 4 years now, and I do a lot different things in my job. But I’d have to say that making introductions, asking for them, and being introduced is something I do every single day. In fact, I looked through the 12,403 emails I sent in 2009, and 2,603 or over 20% contained the word “intro” or “introduce” or “introduction.” Along the way I’ve noticed there are some best practices, so I’ve put together a Top Ten list here from what I’ve learned.

Some qualifiers: First, this is for email introductions only, and focused on busy people who live and work in email. Second, it helps to have a personal reputation – it’s not just the words or format in your email, but it’s about who you are and the previous experience others have had with you. In the post below you’ll see I’ve called the person asking for the introduction the Subject, the person you’re trying to reach or making the introduction to is the Target, and the person making the introduction is the Connector. So let’s get started with a practical guide to The Art of the Introduction to help you increase your effectiveness, reduce your inbox load, and have people look forward to responding to your introductions.

1. SUBJECT LINE MATTERS This one is a big one – DO NOT use just “Introduction” or “Intro” alone as email subject line. That’s the equivalent of sending a resume titled “resume.doc” – it says nothing. You should have the names and company names of both people being introduced in the email subject line.

2. WHAT’S IN IT FOR THE TARGET? Ever hear the line about everyone’s favorite radio station? WIFM – What’s In it For Me. WHY should the Target care about this introduction? Put it in the first sentence or paragraph. Another way to look at it – is there any evidence in your email introduction that you know anything about the Target whatsoever?

3. CONTENT MATTERS Are you being specific enough about what you’re asking the Target to do, and are you actually saying what your company does? If you’re looking for a job or career help, did you attach your resume? If you’re introducing your company, did you attach a deck or executive summary or at least a paragraph explaining what you do? Links are not enough – they’re generally useless if the person reading it is on a Blackberry or on an airplane.

4. MAKE IT EASY TO REACH YOU Consider having your email signature (and your reply signature) contain all of your relevant contact information. You want to be one click away from a call or email. Every deck or executive summary should contain your contact information on the first and last slide.

5. MAKE IT EASY TO HELP YOU DON’T just verbally ask someone to make introduction – the follow through rates on those are usually low, and it puts too much work on the Connector. A best practice is to craft an email from the Subject to the Connector that contains EVERYTHING and can be easily forwarded to the Target (from the road a Blackberry, etc.)

6) CREATE FIREWALLS This one needs some explanation and some caveats – if the Connector is really close to both parties or has achieved a certain level of relationship with the Target, it can be fine to introduce both parties directly. But it often makes sense to consider the benefits of using a “Firewall” – the best/easiest example is via LinkedIn where it’s easy and completely up to each party to forward or accept the Introduction. Another alternative to a direct introduction is for the Connector to forward information to the Target to see if they’re interested first.

7. “LEAN FORWARD” ON YOUR RESPONSE When someone engages on a response you can really tell – it makes a difference and gets the ball rolling (e.g. offering some quick insight into the problem or opportunity at hand, offering multiple times/places to meet, etc)

8. CLOSE THE LOOP But don’t create an endless loop – don’t copy everyone on each of the 12 emails it takes to find an open time to talk. Instead…

9. EMBRACE THE BCC Blind Carbon Copy is the most powerful and least used feature in email. One simple BCC lets the Connector know that the introduction has been received and is under way.

10. EVERY INTRODUCTION CAN BE A WIN/WIN Help people out when you can and be honest and helpful even if you can’t.

I hope you find something useful here, and I’d love to hear about the best tips you’ve learned as you practice The Art of the Introduction.