Effective Email Introductions or Why Blind Intros Suck

A version of this article previously appeared on Forbes.

It just happened again. A well-intentioned colleague introduced me to a stranger via email, without first confirming with me that the intro was welcomed. Such “blind”matchmaking is more often than not a waste of everyone’s time: the person making the introduction, the person being introduced and me.

Don’t get me wrong. Despite my occasional ranting, (see The Worst Networking Call Ever), I like people and I enjoy making new connections.

When I am not complaining, I strive to be a mensch and I pride myself in helping as many people as my time and talents allow. As such, it is especially frustrating when I have to spend my limited time apologizing to a stranger as to why I am unable to offer them meaningful assistance after they were introduced to me without my consent.

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The Art Of The Email Matchmaking

Even the aggressive romantic Matchmaker from the musical Fiddler On The Roof  knows that she should only expend energy to bring people together who have a proclivity to want to be together. The best way to assess whether a potential match is in the making is to first assess the talents, desires and interests of both parties, before initiating an introduction.

The following six tactics will help ensure that your future matchmaking efforts will be welcomed and productive for all parties involved.

Get Green Light – When someone asks me to make an introduction on their behalf, I always tell them that I will first check with the other party, to “ensure that the timing works on their end.”

Don’t Commit – I give the person accepting an introduction tremendous flexibility regarding post-intro actions. For instance, when making an intro, I usually include something such as, “I know your schedule is challenging, but I am hopeful you can connect via email or a quick phone call.”

I never suggest that the parties get together in person, as this involves a significant time commitment for all concerned. Although it may be a bit more frustrating for the person seeking assistance, communicating via email, Skype or a phone call is far more efficient than “grabbing a quick cup of coffee.”

Proper Context – If the context of the intro is the least bit unclear, I ask the person requesting the introduction to write a paragraph or two that I can forward to the target contact. In this way, the person seeking an intro can speak in their own “voice,” which reduces the risk that I will inadvertently dilute or misstate their message.

The Ask – Nebulous requests to, “pick someone’s brain,” are seldom welcomed by busy professionals. When requesting an introduction, be specific and articulate a clear call-to-action. If you are seeking an answer to a specific question, make that clear when asking for an intro.

Screen First – If you believe that an introduction has a low likelihood of netting either party a substantive gain, dissuade the person requesting the introduction. Not only will this approach save everyone time, it will allow you to reserve your social capital to facilitate more impactful introductions.

Imminently Reachable – One way I increase the friction of a marginal introduction is to suggest that the person requesting the introduction contact the intended party via a social media channel. I take this approach when I suspect the person asking for the introduction is not capable / willing to make good use of it.

Indispensable Matchmaking

Random, gratuitous introductions, albeit well intentioned, are counterproductive and benefit no one. Initiating a blind intro is a rookie move. It demonstrates that the would-be matchmaker is naive and does not sufficiently respect the time budget of the people they are introducing.

Ideally, you will abide by all of the steps outlined herein to ensure that your email introductions are effective and meaningful. However, if all you do is obtain approval before playing the role of corporate matchmaker, your impact as a startup mensch will grow exponentially.

Follow my startup-oriented Twitter feed here: @johngreathouse. I promise I will never tweet you a blind intro or tell you about that killer burrito I just ate. 

John Greathouse

John Greathouse is a Partner at Rincon Venture Partners, a venture capital firm investing in early stage, web-based businesses. Previously, John co-founded RevUpNet, a performance-based online marketing agency sold to Coull. During the prior twenty years, he held senior executive positions with several successful startups, spearheading transactions that generated more than $350 million of shareholder value, including an IPO and a multi-hundred-million-dollar acquisition.

John is a CPA and holds an M.B.A. from the Wharton School. He is a member of the University of California at Santa Barbara’s Faculty where he teaches several entrepreneurial courses.

Note: All of my advice in this blog is that of a layman. I am not a lawyer and I never played one on TV. You should always assess the veracity of any third-party advice that might have far-reaching implications (be it legal, accounting, personnel, tax or otherwise) with your trusted professional of choice.

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  • CliffElam

    John –

    Wise words.

    I have to say that I am a serial introducer, but I also have an internal sliding scale of what kind of introduction I’ll give people. So if I see something really high potential in, say, noSQL data analytics, I might put them in touch with a friend who is a senior guy in that industry, but if it’s a tool that seems more like a feature then I make an intro to an experienced guy I know at IBM who, frankly, has a lot more spare time and will be gentle with them.

    I have also learned to offer three, but only execute one at a time. I think a lot of people make shotgun introductions and get lousy follow-up from the introducee – which reduces your reputation for the next round.

    Finally, I think judging the receptivity of the people to a ‘cold ping’ is important. Personally I love meeting new people and will make time to do it even if it’s pretty far out there. Sometimes it’s a stinker, but, wow, sometimes you win the lottery.

    One thing that strikes me about “the ask” is how fast that can change early in the evolution of a new idea. I’m still trying to figure out how to deal with that.


  • You raise several good points. I also limit the amount of intros, especially when someone is looking for a job. I have found that if I make too many up front, the job seeker generally cannot/does not follow up appropriately.

    I have fielded hundreds of cold pings in my past, but I currently just don’t have adequate slack in my schedule. I have had a similar experience as you – a number of the conversations in which expected little netted me something significant. Meeting new people is fun, but it can be frustrating when it comes at the expense of “getting stuff done.” 😉

  • CliffElam

    Your schedule is surely stressful – you’d be a person where I’d never deliver a cold ping unless I was 100% sure that you’d want to meet the person.

    Say my close friend Governor McCrory wanted to talk to you about VC strategy for North Carolina… (I kid about the friendship part.) See, my goal with people with your business profile is to be so high value you respond to my cold ping because you believe I’ve merely saved you a step in the email trail.

    Amusingly my wife used to say that I was overly instrumental in my networking but since she’s been running her own biotech startup for a few years she’s really become a master (mistress?) of efficient networking.


  • My schedule is manageable, but I am stingy with my free time. Like you, the only blind intros I do now are when I have NO DOUBT that both sides want to connect. If there is any doubt, I check first.

  • Larry

    Great post. Would some of the points above be useful for someone who is looking to get funding?

  • John Greathouse

    Thanks. Sure. I think these suggestions are applicable to any types of introductions. No one wins when someone makes an ill-fated introduction, whether it be related to fundraising or any other aspect of business.

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