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How to get attention from internet celebrities

from http://blog.asmartbear.com/email-pick-brain.html.

Most of the email is truly spam. But even for the legit stuff, the problem is time. The joke is:

How much time does a startup take?

All of it.

Running WP Engine takes all my time. Also I value my family time. How much time does a 3-year-old and loving wife take?  All of it, as well.

Which leaves no time for “can I pick your brain for 15 minutes” or “can I get your feedback on my pitch deck” and especially “can you spread the word on your blog.”

Anything longer than 150 words means you’ve assigned me a project. the email address I publish on my “About me” page goes to a Shortmail account, which prevents messages longer than 500 characters.  Still, I’ll get emails complaining about how they couldn’t possibly pen their missive inside this ridiculous limitation, demanding that I provide an alternate email address, all while forgetting to say anything about who they are or what they were going to tell me.

Plausible, Interesting Call to Action

It’s typical:

Dear Jason,
COMPANY has just completed its first startup accelerator program. I
had emailed you in August before we first started the program and I wanted
to invite you to take a look at some of these new tech-businesses in our
I would love for you to join us and would greatly appreciate if you could
share the news on your blog or Twitter.

There are two calls to action here: (A) Look at a handful of new businesses; (B) Share the news.

The call-to-action is giving me a job to do, and one thing I don’t need is another job, so it has to be clear, sensible, and something that I plausibly would agree to do.

This email fails in both regards, for different reasons.

On (A), I don’t know what “take a look at means.” Scan overviews? Meet founders? Provide advice? Be pitched at? How many companies? Where’s a link?

My general (asshole) attitude is that if they can’t articulate why I should be interested, then I’m not interested.

The correct way to have done this is to figure out what would make me personally interested. Like, pick the company most similar to a company I’ve built or that I’ve talked about before or that I advise or have invested in (check AngelList). Say something like,

“Company XYZ does PDQ which is similar to ABC which I know you’re deep in, so I wonder whether you’d be interested in help these guys with some strategic and tactical questions. Since you’re familiar with the space, 15 minutes might go a long way.”


“I know you do a podcast with startup advice.  I have 7 companies here I think you’d find interesting, and they all need advice! Could we schedule a podcast episode just for our accelerator group?  It would take two hours, but I think it would be fun for everyone.”

I’d do that in a heartbeat. It would be fun!

But instead it was “I’d like to invite you to take a look at some of these new tech-businesses.”

On (B), What would I do next?

This is so easy to fix. Just paste an example Tweet into the email, which I can copy/paste and then modify only if I want. Or: Add a link to an existing Tweet which I can re-tweet.

Here’s a Twitter message you could use: [Cool Tool, plz R/T!] Find out who’s talking about your blog! http://LinksFor.Us

You can see this in the list of most popular YouTube videos — the most viral of them all. As of this writing, not a single one is a result of a company trying to push a product or service (except music videos). People spread these not because of a carefully crafted campaign, but because they just plain liked it.

So the #1 best rule is: Have overwhelmingly awesome content. So good that people intrinsically want to spread the word. But then of course you might as well also be smart about how you help them spread the message.

Have specific questions:

 Asking for “15 minutes of advice” is almost never possible. Ask a very specific question around a metric or a financial model or how to validate a specific idea or how to price something or whether to hire a first employee or anything like that is likely to pique my interest and make it possible for me to help.

Appropriate for me

why would I personally endorse a startup or news article that I know nothing about?

There can be a reason:

For example, maybe you mentioned a blog post of mine in an article of yours, and then you’re wondering whether I’ll also tweet about your post. I will almost always do that. Especially if you disagree with me! Because I like taking a stand on a topic but then giving voice to the opposing viewpoints.

But the better solution is to not be a stranger. When I get email from someone I recognize from blog comments or Twitter interactions, I almost always help out with advice, spreading the word, anything. Because we’re engaged.  We talk about stuff.  We agree and disagree about things, and I know that. That’s all it takes to flip me from “asshole what’s-in-it-for-me” mode into “Oh hey, yeah I remember you” mode.

Unique / Interesting

Here’s another email I got today:

Dear Jason,
Based on your commitment to innovation, I’d like to introduce my web startup to you.
PRODUCT is an early stage web application that enables content creators
to playfully combine multimedia from anywhere on the web through a shared,
virtual whiteboard.
We’ve just started a crowdfunding campaign, and already passed 10% in a
single day. You can find our video and details here:
If you share our vision, help us spreading the word. Thank you!

I can already tell this is spam, because there’s nothing unique to me in this email.  ”Based on your commitment to innovation” is generic and clearly isn’t aimed at me.

If you can’t get me excited, I’m not going to dig around to find the gold.

An easy way to get me automatically more excited is to dovetail whatever you’re doing with whatever I’m doing. For example, I do an audio podcast where I help founders on the spot. If you suggest that we do that, I’m interested, because I want to do more episodes. As another example, I do the same thing in a series called the Mailbag.

Examples of doing it right

Here’s some concepts I’ve been emailed about recently which I have indeed supported by advice or spreading the word.

  • A WordPress-related startup, contacted me because of WP Engine, and indicated in the first email why it was a new idea, and why, if he were successful, we might end up wanting to do business together. He was right, so I was interested in at least chatting. The fact is it’s unlikely his startup would ever be able to generate enough revenue for it to be interesting for us at WP Engine (I told him why), but it’s still relevant to me and my space, and therefore I’m interested.
  • A hosting-related startup, not related to WordPress, contacted me because he wanted to build “WP Engine but for XYZ,” and had specific questions around it. Here’s a place I could help a lot in a short amount of time, and there was a reason he was asking me.
  • An accelerator, asking about lessons-learned at Capital Factory, while offering some lessons they learned in their first year.
  • A startup with revenue, deciding between raising money or not raising money, and willing to do a Smart Bear Live podcast about it.
  • A blogger asking to interview me on a new podcast; he admitted the viewership is small but he’ll promote it on his front page for a while.
  • A startup with an unusual pricing question, and willing to do a Mailbag post about it.
  • A startup founder who previously had written a blog post disagreeing with one of my articles, now interested in my opinion on a specific matter.
  • A blogger submitting a guest-post, which started out inadequate but was willing to iterate until it was excellent; I published it.
  • A group promoting women-owned startups trying to get attention so they can help more women become founders.

As final example of doing this well, here’s yet another email from today, and since I’m complementing instead berating, I won’t anonymize. See, there’s another way to get into this blog!

Hello Jason,
I am starting a business and I’ve decided to video document the steps I take along the way. Jason Fried wrote about doing something similar in his book Rework. Your feedback is more than welcome. I’ve decided not be paranoia about keeping my soon to be unique selling point a secret, in accordance with your advice in one of your recent blog entries.
So here’s the start of the series, Youtube:
Kind regards,
Elian Krosse

Video documentation is sort of interesting. He is clearly a subscriber and is thoughtful about the advice. He’s committed to transparency and taking a risk, which is intrinsically interesting. This isn’t spam, it’s a person trying to something genuine, with some sort of twist.