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The Cold Email Guide

The Cold Email Guide

A framework for highly-effective cold outreach

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Today at a Glance:

  • One cold email can literally change your life. But a cold email success is never an accident. You need a framework for writing and executing highly-effective cold outreach.

  • The principles of a great cold email: Short & Sweet, Personalized, Credentials or Social Proof, Create Value, and a Clear Call-to-Action.

  • Importantly, these principles apply to any form of cold outreach (Twitter DM, etc.), so can be leveraged broadly for a variety of use cases and needs.

The Cold Email Guide

Visuals by @drex_jpg

One cold email can change your life. It can open doors to a new job, secure a new mentor, or unlock new opportunities.

A cold email—as an investment—has the ultimate asymmetric return profile: Huge upside, limited downside.

In this piece, I will attempt to deconstruct a framework for optimizing your cold outreach in order to further accentuate that beautiful return profile…


I’ve sent (and received) a lot of cold emails—some great, some not.

What I've learned: a cold email success is never an accident. There are very specific principles of great cold emails that you can apply to enhance your cold outreach efforts today.

The best part? The results are instantaneous.

So let’s just dive right in…the core principles of a great cold email:

  • Short & Sweet

  • Personalized

  • Credentials or Social Proof

  • Create Value

  • Clear Call-to-Action

I’ll cover each principle and then workshop a few examples:

Short & Sweet

If you're sending a cold email to someone, remember that the person receiving it probably gets a lot of these. They don't have time—or energy—to read through long and winding notes.

Keep it short and sweet!

Space out the text to make it optically inviting. To bring this point to life, here are two emails—identical content, different spacing.

Option A:

Option B:

Same exact email—one a block of text, one spaced out. Option B (the spaced out version) is so much more digestible and optically inviting for a reader. As such, Option B is much more likely to elicit a response.


No one likes a generic email—it's going to get auto-deleted 99% of the time.

Personal touches can make all the difference in the effectiveness of a cold email. They require a bit more upfront time investment—for background research, diligence, and execution—but have the potential to create a 10x+ impact.

Do your research on the person you are emailing. A simple search across Google, Twitter, and LinkedIn will probably take you 15 minutes and is definitely worth it.

Then include some of these findings in your note.

A few to consider:

  • Reference a book they love

  • Mention a podcast they were on (with a specific insight you gleaned from listening to it)

  • Compliment their work

The goal: Make it clear you didn't send out hundreds of the note (even if you did).

Credentials or Social Proof

The infusion of credentials or social proof is an important—yet often overlooked—element of successful cold outreach. Credentials and social proof are, in effect, the reasons the person should take you seriously.

Credentials are just the outward markers of your success to date—degrees, accolades, awards, etc.

Social Proof is formally defined as a psychological phenomenon where people imitate the actions of others in an attempt to behave appropriately for a specific situation.

In the context of cold emails, this means that the receiver should be given examples of others—hopefully impressive others—who have responded in the way that you want this receiver to respond.

“In recent weeks, I’ve interviewed Barack Obama, Elon Musk, and the Pope.”

The receiver immediately sees (a) big names and (b) the action—it sparks their intrinsic psychological desire to follow suit.

In infusing these credentials and social proof, don't be humble—let it shine.

What have you done or created that is interesting or notable? Who has engaged? Show the receiver that they would be crazy to ignore your email!

Create Value

My foundational rule (in business & life): create value, receive value.

If you create value for the person you’re emailing, they are much more likely to engage.

What can you do to save them time or reduce their stress? It can be small—a little goes a long way.

Note: I consider this an optional add-in. If there is a clear way to include it, go for it. If not, skip it.

Clear CTA

Every successful cold email has a very clear call-to-action (“CTA”). This is the specific response you are attempting to elicit from the receiver.

A few common examples:

  • Take a coffee meeting

  • Agree to join a podcast or interview

  • Review your startup pitch deck

  • Take a sales call

The CTA has to be specific and succinct.

Use hard enters and spacing to make sure it stands alone in the body of the email. This is important. It should be effortless to find and understand the ask.

Be bold, but don't overreach. Make it easy to say yes!


Now that we’ve covered the key principles of great cold emails, let's workshop a few of my favorite examples of successful ones.

I'll try to provide a quick breakdown of why they worked—grounded in the key principles we just covered:

Internship Email to Evan Spiegel

This is a relatively famous one that made the viral rounds on social media over the last couple of years. High schooler emails CEO of Snapchat and winds up with an opportunity for an internship.

But why did it work?

  1. Short & Sweet: Extremely short and to the point (even going as far as calling out the brevity of the email upfront).

  2. Credentials: Includes clear credentials around programming experience and capabilities.

  3. Clear CTA: Specific question and ask in the last line of the email.

This was a brilliant example of effective brevity. Any high school junior who has done this much—and is bold enough to make this ask—deserves to be taken seriously.

Email to Tyler Cowen

This is an email from my good friend David Perell to renowned writer and economist Tyler Cowen. David was just starting to make progress in his career as a creator and this had the potential to be his big break. It worked and led to some incredible things for David.

But why did it work?

  1. Personalized: Specific callouts of episodes and insights that he loved.

  2. Social Proof: Calls out prior interviews with Neil deGrasse Tyson and Seth Godin.

  3. Clear CTA: Specific request for hosting Cowen on his podcast (plus a willingness to travel to make it happen).

I expect nothing less from David—who is one of the best writers and thinkers I know—but this was exceptional.

Email to Chamath

This email made the rounds on Twitter thanks to a thread from my friend Shaan Puri.

It was a complete shot in the dark, but led to several discussions and a meeting with Chamath (who at the time was one of the most famous people in the world).

But why did it work?

  1. Short & Sweet: The email is redacted, but you can tell that it is extremely brief.

  2. Create Value: This is probably the best example I’ve seen of creating value in a cold outreach. They built Chamath a website for his teased run for governor of California and emailed him the landing page.

Almost impossible to ignore that effort and hustle!

Summary (& Results)

Since posting a short thread on cold emails on Twitter, I received a number of amazing messages from followers who had put the principles to good use.

Cold emails fundamentally changed my life—leading to some of my most fruitful mentorships, new investment opportunities, and tremendous amounts of growth.

They can change yours too.

To summarize, the key principles to leverage:

  • Short & Sweet

  • Personalized

  • Credentials or Social Proof

  • Create Value

  • Clear CTA

Start infusing these and I guarantee you will improve the conversion of your efforts.

Call-to-Action: Please email or DM me with your success stories!

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