How Not Send a Cold Email: ICO Edition, Part II (Teardown!)


ICO (Initial Coin Offerings) emails are the new Nigerian prince emails. My spam box is overrun with emails from various companies trying to raise money with what are essentially non-binding securities. So, you get to buy "stock" in the company, but not really. You don't get voting rights and you can't really sue them if they use your money poorly. But if they do really well, then you could sell their token at a higher price than you bought it.

(Part I in this series here.)

"If you choose to opt in, you may just strike it big. Even better, we're offering you - yes, you! - a special discount on our token pre-sale."

Most of these are essentially penny stocks with even less accountability. The ones that have real potential rarely are sending cold emails to random people on the Internet trying to get them to buy in.

(The comparison to Wolf of Wall Street isn't actually a good one - because Leo's cold call is way better than most of the cold email ICO pitches going around.)

One of the most frustrating things about these ICO emails is not that they are pre-product and that their whitepapers -- when they even have a whitepaper -- are full of jargon. It's that their pitch emails are awful. I can appreciate a good cold email from somebody who put the time into writing a decent message that is likely to get a reply. I respect salespeople. Sales is hard and not just anybody can put together a decent pitch.

But there's a difference between cold emails and spam.

You are spamming somebody when you are emailing them from scraping their email from a list or without some kind of opt-in or at least any kind of reason to email them. When you're sending the same people to thousands of people who have nothing to do with you, you're a spammer.

Spammers give cold emailers a bad name.

Cold emailing presupposes that you have a reason to email the specific person you're emailing. You may not know them. You may not meet them. But you're emailing them because you have a specific outcome in mind from this specific person.

A spammer sprays and prays. A cold emailer is tactical about their emails.

Last week, I tore down some ICO spam I received that evening. This email was too casual. It presupposed that I knew who the sender was (I didn't) and that I cared about what he was selling (I didn't).

Like clockwork, a few days later, another piece of ICO spam made it through my spam filter and landed in my inbox. This one was different, so I thought it might be informative to tear it down as well and provide feedback.

The ICO Mega Email

Unlike last week's email, this one starts out by going right into the technology and goes on...and on...and on...

(You can click the image to view the file. I had to zoom out to 80% to just take the screenshot. I edited out incriminating info to protect the privacy of the accused.)

My first thought when I see an email that long is, "you are asking a lot of me when you don't even know me." It's fashionable for people to say how busy they are -- if you ask somebody how they're doing, they're likely to say, "busy," like it is a badge of honor -- so just play it safe and assume that everybody you're emailing is a Very Busy Person.

My second thought was, "you want to introduce me to something without even introducing yourself?"

It might seem pedantic to introduce yourself in an email given that your name should appear near the subject line, but if you're emailing somebody for the first time without ever talking to them before, play it safe and introduce yourself. You defuse the question of "who are you?" that is instantly in their mind when they see your email. It doesn't matter if your email has the directions to the Holy Grail, if somebody is caught up in "who are you?" you won't get your point through to them.

Another way of thinking about this is in terms of street canvassers (those people who stand outside of Starbucks and ask you if you want to sign their petitions). If the canvasser just comes up to you and starts pitching, you want to avoid them. If they introduce themselves, it's easier for you to engage with them. If they introduce themselves and compliment you, it's often difficult to get out of the conversation altogether.

Just because something is happening online does not mean that you should disregard basic courtesies.

The next question that runs through my mind is, "why are you emailing me and how did you get my address?"

This email does not answer either of those. It goes right into the technology of the product.

I am relatively well-versed in the broad strokes of crypto technology. I've been around the space long enough and have enough cryptolibertarian friends to feel comfortable discussing the technologies.

Yet this email makes me feel like I am in this Dilbert comic:

Not only is the email full of jargon, it asks me to click away and view not one but several documents.

Advanced Rule of Cold Emailing: Do not assume somebody wants to click on your links without giving them sufficient reason to do so. Give them reasons to care about what you're talking about before throwing info at them.

One hyperlink in a cold email is one thing -- sometimes it's easiest to communicate complex topics outside of the email -- but several assumes too much interest on the part of the reader. Even if the reader is interested and decides to click away, now they've clicked away from your email before your pitch. Assume I am interested in this tech and I decide to click out to the hyperlinkes (many of which I have blacked out above because they show the company's name). I read a little about the technology behind this company and then I get distracted with another email or a phone call. Now the sender has lost me before she even gets to her pitch.

Speaking of which...

Tool: What's Your 3-Second Pitch?

Skim the email above. In 3 seconds, can you tell what, exactly, the pitch is?

I couldn't.

The pitch in this email isn't until the very end, and even there, it's not clear if they just want me to buy into the token pre-sale or if they want me to do something else.

Before clicking send, ask yourself, "can I tell what the pitch is within 3 seconds of seeing this email? Can I make the pitch in a sentence?" Most people, when entertaining a cold email in the first place, have to be given reason to keep reading, to get on a call, or to reply. If you can't even make clear what it is you want them to do, don't expect a positive reply.

So, the teardown ends up looking like this:

A shorter email that establishes the relationship first would have been a stronger way of approaching an ask like this. The sender could let me know how she got my address and why she's emailing me in particular. She could then confirm my interest in their field and request to send me more info. Once I say yes, she can then request I hop on a call with her (by offering a specific time and agenda).

Instead, this deluge of bullet points and hyperlinks makes me wary to even read through the email. Even an interested party would say, "I'll get to that later."

"Later" never comes. If you don't frame your emails as both urgent and important to the reader, they'll get pushed off indefinitely.



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I'm Zak. School should have taught you how to succeed at work and build a great career. Instead, it taught you that mitochondria is the powerhouse of the cell. Thankfully, I teach what school never taught.

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