If You Want A Response, Ask Specific Questions

I try to respond to all of my emails. I’ve always been like this – it’s just part of my value system. I used to be annoyed by other people who don’t, but I let go of that emotion a long time ago. But I still try to respond to all of my emails. A big hint, which is the reason for this post, is to ask specific questions if you want a real response.

Part of my morning drill is to systematically go through all the emails from the previous night. I usually end up at close to – or at – inbox zero when I finish this drill. Over the course of the week I get a little behind on non-urgent stuff so I end up responding to them over the weekend.

The result is a lot of what I like to call cliche loops. Here’s an example of the “will you look at our business, no, will you make a referral” loop.

Cliche Loop

Fortunately I use Yesware so I can respond quickly via templates I’ve already set up. Here’s how the more detailed conversation goes:

Entrepreneur: Happy New Year!  Attached is the our BP. Please let me know if you are interested to talk.

Me: Thx for reaching out again. I took a look – I don’t think it’s something we’d be into investing in but hope to run into you at anonymous-place at some point.

Entrepreneur: Thanks for the quick reply. Can we apply for the techstars?

Me: Of course!

Entrepreneur: Thanks for the advice. If you are willing, can you please comment on our BP? We wish you can be our advisor.

Me: I can’t be “an advisor” in any formal way. I’m also not part of the selection process for Techstars so I encourage you to just apply.

Entrepreneur: Thanks. We understand. You turned down our BP almost right away. So we are really appreciated if you can tell us what we can improve, or whats wrong there.

Me: I wrote a post about saying no in 60 seconds a while ago – https://www.feld.com/archives/2009/06/say-no-in-less-than-60-seconds.html. Your overview is ok – just not something I’m into.

Entrepreneur: Thanks for the detailed message. Do you have any other investors that you can point us to?

Me: Re: Asking for a referral – I wrote a blog about this a while ago – I hope it makes sense. https://www.feld.com/archives/2007/11/dont-ask-for-a-referral-if-i-say-no.html

Now, I’m not try to be an asshole with my responses. I’m just trying to get through one of “yet another email I’m not interested in” and be polite to the sender. If the entrepreneur had asked me any specific questions about his business, I would have tried to answer it or said “sorry – I have no clue” if I have no clue. But all of the questions are of the “please engage more with us” kind. Even the most specific question “So we are really appreciated if you can tell us what we can improve, or whats wrong there.” is painfully generic.

I realize that part of the reason I’m writing the book Startup Opportunities is so that I can point people like this at it. I get between one and five emails like this a day and have for a long time. I’m happy to get them – I just wish I could help more.