How to write the perfect cold email to investors

Yes, warm intros are the best way to approach investors and should ideally be your Plan A. But what if you can’t get one of those?

As I’ve discussed in the past, cold emails can work well, too, and while it takes a bit of research to put together a good list of investors, it can be done pretty easily. As someone who researches and writes for a living, though, I underestimated how hard writing the actual email itself can be for people who don’t write all day, every day.

When working with a pitch coaching client recently, I offered to share my screen and show how I do investor research and draft cold emails. The client was sufficiently surprised with my process that it served as a reminder that not everyone knows how to prospect and create cold emails. This article will hopefully help!

So! In this article, I’ll show how you can write relevant, targeted emails that make investors lean in and pay attention. Trust me, this approach really works: At some of my previous startups, I had response rates of over 80% to some of these emails.

Can’t you just use a template? Well, no, not really. Or rather, not fully. Put yourself in the shoes of a VC: A lot of the time, you’ll get utterly generic emails that are just there to pitch with no regard to whether you’re even remotely interested. Before you are ready to start sending cold emails, ensure that you truly understand how VCs work and what a VC investment thesis is. Once you’ve got a firm grasp of those two concepts, you’ll know why emails need to be customized to their audience.

Here’s how to ensure the email goes to the right place, and what it needs to say:

Do your research

Imagine that you’re building a company that has made a technology breakthrough for solar power storage solutions. You did your adjacent-technology research, and you realized after reading Jon Shieber’s excellent article that Dandelion Energy is a relevant company. Everyone who invested in Dandelion is interested in technology, energy and climate tech to some degree.

Then from PitchBook, you learn that Dandelion has raised $135 million over 10 rounds (Crunchbase says there are seven rounds). You want to raise a $5 million round so the investors who led Dandelion’s Series B in 2022 (Lennar Ventures and NGP Energy Technology Partners) are probably not right for you. But how about the people who participated in the earlier rounds?

After a bit of digging around, you find that Dandelion went through the Urban Future Lab accelerator before raising a seed round led by Collaborative Fund in July 2017. The press info suggests that ZhenFund, Borealis Ventures and Building Ventures also participated in that deal, so add all of them to your shortlist.

Because Collaborative led the round, let’s focus on it. The press release quotes “Craig Shapiro, founder and managing partner at Collaborative Fund,” so let’s look him up on LinkedIn and scroll through his timeline to find out what he’s interested in.

Remember how I said that you have to understand a firm’s investment thesis? Through a post on LinkedIn, I discovered that Collaborative has theirs spelled out on their website. You’ll also find an older post from Shapiro writing about the Shared Future Fund, through which it is investing $100,000 into early-stage projects.

It’s also worth trawling through Shapiro’s Twitter feed to find additional nuggets of info. And, hey, look: He’s summarized the entire investment thesis into a single tweet and has even pinned it to his profile. There’s also a lot of other good content to help you get a deeper understanding of what the fund does.

It seems as if Collaborative is at the center of the bull’s-eye for our imaginary company. Now we just need to find his email address. Twitter is helpful for that, too (search for tweets by Craig and mention the word “email”). You can find an address that appears to be a public inbox rather than a personal one. You can either be polite and use this email address or dig further to find one that Collaborative seems to use: [first name]@collabfund.com.

So now that we know their investment thesis and have a bunch of information along with an email address, we’re ready to start crafting.

Writing the cold email

It’s critical to personalize emails as much as you can. That requires taking the time to do the research and write an email that works really well. If that sounds like a lot of work, well, it is.

But if you’re chasing a $5 million check, you can afford to spend some time on Google, Twitter and LinkedIn to gather some data. If it feels like you are wasting your time, it means you haven’t selected your top-of-funnel well enough: Good cold emailing is all about targeting very carefully, not sending out hundreds in the hope that you get a nibble.

When I say customized, I mean customized. I asked ChatGPT to write me a draft, with the prompt: “Write a customized email to Craig Shapiro at Collaborative fund for my solar tech startup’s fundraise.”

This is what it came up with:

Dear Mr. Shapiro,

I hope this message finds you well. My name is [Your Name], and I am the founder and CEO of [Your Startup Name], a rapidly emerging company in the renewable energy sector. We specialize in groundbreaking solar technology that not only promises to significantly reshape the market, but also contribute to global sustainability efforts. Having admired the work of the Collaborative Fund in promoting and supporting companies that effect positive change, I believe our start-up’s vision aligns closely with your objectives.

At [Your Startup Name], we are dedicated to making the world a cleaner and more sustainable place by enhancing solar energy utilization. Our unique technology, [briefly describe your tech], has demonstrated remarkable efficiency gains and cost reductions, both in our lab tests and in early field deployments.

The impact of our technology extends beyond energy and environmental benefits. We also aim to drive socio-economic change by making solar power more accessible and affordable. Given the Collaborative Fund’s commitment to investing in companies that stand at the intersection of culture and capital, we believe our mission is very much in line with your investment ethos.

We are currently in the process of a Series A fundraise, aiming to raise [$X amount], which will allow us to scale our production, expand our team, and conduct further research and development to continuously improve our technology. The funds will also enable us to broaden our market penetration and bring our unique technology to regions where it could have the most impact.

We would be thrilled to explore the possibility of having Collaborative Fund participate in this fundraise. I am convinced that your team’s expertise in supporting and guiding companies that push the boundaries of innovation could immensely benefit [Your Startup Name] as we navigate this critical stage of our growth.

If this opportunity interests you, I would be glad to set up a meeting where we can delve deeper into our business model, technology, and future plans. In the meantime, I am attaching our investor presentation for your review.

Thank you for considering this proposal, Mr. Shapiro. We are excited about the prospect of having the Collaborative Fund on board, as we believe it could be a symbiotic relationship, driving both returns and impact.

Looking forward to your response.

Best regards,

[Your Name] [Your Title] [Your Contact Information]

You didn’t read that, did you? Of course, you didn’t. Hell, I didn’t even read it at first, until I realized I kind of had to.

For one, it is way too long. And although it looks like it contains a lot of the information an investor would look for, it’s actually generic drivel with almost no new information. I can guarantee that this sort of thing rarely gets a response. Not least because there are a bunch of little factual mistakes in there that would turn an investor off. The most damning one is “Collaborative Fund’s commitment to investing in companies that stand at the intersection of culture and capital” — that sounds good, but that’s a pretty specific phrase and it’s not one Collaborative uses to describe itself.

So what would work better?

Be specific. Here’s what I would go with:

SUBJECT: Revolutionary solar power controller with 250 customers raising a seed round.

Hi Craig,

I’ve been following your investment in Dandelion for a long time and am excited to see Collab fund’s ongoing commitment to climate change. Your Shared Future Fund has opened the door to a lot of interesting projects in the space; thank you for doing that!

For the past two years, we’ve been working on a solar controller that dramatically increases the efficacy of storage of solar power. We have 250 pilot customers on the platform and are seeing 10%-20% efficiency gains, which means that customers can earn back their investment in our product in under two years. In short, we help homeowners with a powerful combination: making sustainable choices without a financial downside.

Now, we are exploring opportunities with much larger, value-aligned partners, including Apple Energy LLC and are raising $5 million to get the product into mass manufacturing so we can start delivering on some of the pilot projects. When successful, we expect that we can raise a significant Series A and step on the gas.

I’m attaching a one-pager summarizing our traction and team, and would love to discuss the full deck with you. I believe Collaborative would be a perfect partner for us and would love to get that belief confirmed in a call at your earliest opportunity.

[sign-off]

[company name and link to website]

[remember to attach the one-pager!]

What is good about this?

  1. This is pretty short. Short is good.
  2. In the first paragraph, I show that I fully understand what Collaborative is all about.
  3. In the second paragraph, I share what my startup does and its traction, and I close with: “We help homeowners make sustainable choices without a financial downside.” That’s not a coincidence. Remember that press release for Dandelion’s original fundraise? Shapiro is quoted as saying, “Dandelion’s business model enables homeowners to make the sustainable choice the most economic choice, which is a powerful combo.” Yes, I’m paraphrasing Shapiro’s own words back at him.
  4. In the third paragraph, I explain how much we are raising and what the next steps are. Every piece of information I’m putting in there mirrors various aspects of Collab Fund’s investment thesis: Real impact, value alignment, future-proofed businesses and taking market share from legacy companies. The nudge to Apple Energy LLC is on purpose: I know Shapiro knows what it is. I also suggest that we have a clear path toward our next funding round, which shows that I’m aware that funding rounds are about staged de-risking.
  5. Finally, I’m attaching a one-pager with the most important information. I know I have an incredible team (which is crucial) and traction. I’m not dwelling on the market because I trust that Collaborative knows how big the opportunity is.
  6. I’m not including the full deck: The purpose of my cold email is to provoke a response and start a conversation. I fully expect the reply to this email to be “Send me the deck,” but that is okay. It means the conversation has begun. The next step is to send the deck and, hopefully, schedule a meeting.
  7. Also, there’s a call to action! I’m asking for a call (although I realize they’ll probably ask for my deck first).

In summary: Do your research and note down what makes this particular investor uniquely suited to be your lead investor. Wherever what your company does is relevant to something an investor has said in public, make reference to it (don’t overdo it, though). You don’t have to link to where they said it or what they said, because for most people, the general gist of the statement will ring familiar.

Keep it as short as you can, and try to include a call to action so it’s clear what you are hoping will happen next. For your subject line, be specific. “Climate tech looking for funding” is awful. I bet it isn’t, but it should be almost every cold email in Shapiro’s inbox.