I’m Moving You to BCC

Posted on Mar 2, 2010 | 42 comments


Computer screen and hand with cardAfter a few days of controversial blog posts I thought I’d try something more light hearted today.

Fred Wilson once wrote about the topic of how to introduce two people who don’t know each other via email.  He called it the “double opt-in introduction.”  He talks about the stuggles of email introductions when you’re dealing at scale.  His solution (if I understand it correctly), which I think is more aspirational than achievable is for the introducer to send out emails in advance asking whether or not they want to be introduced.  I like that.  But for me personally the extra overhead of this means that I can’t do it 100% of the time.

My 2 cents:

  • If I feel that I know the person well for whom the introduction is being asked (e.g. the recipient) and if I feel quite confident that they’d want the introduction then I usually go ahead and make it without asking in advance.  I use my best judgment.  I often say to people, “let me know if you want these kinds of introductions in the future” in a separate email or verbally.  Sometimes I forget to ask.
  • If I am not sure whether they would really want the introduction then I’ll send them an email in advance asking if they want an intro (the opt in).  This obviously adds overhead for me but there are certain people for whom I don’t know if they really want this kind of intro and these people are also usually very busy.
  • I try my best to respond to every intro I get.  That doesn’t always mean I always have time for a meeting.  But I usually at least try to do a quick phone call.  If it’s really not relevant I’ll politely say so.
  • If I get inappropriate intros I’ll usually accept that one intro but send an email to the introducer and explain to them why this wasn’t a great fit.
  • Like Fred, on average I take more of these than I probably should.  It means I have less time for stuff I’d like to do.  I figure if somebody who I know has gone out of their way to introduce somebody else to me I try my best to honor the relationship that the introducer obviously has with the person being introduced.
  • I hope some day to emulate Brad Feld in this area.  One of the first times we spoke he told me that in his first few years in VC he ended up taking a bunch of meetings with companies in which he knew he would never invest.  He became the “turn down” guy in his fund.  He said he found it terribly non-productive because he preferred to reserve time for companies in which he was likely to invest (or portfolio companies).  As he now invests in “themes” it is easier to politely turn down intros that aren’t relevant.  I’m not there yet – I’d like to be some day.  It’s not for elitist reasons – it’s simply a volume problem.

From his blog posting on “Why Am I passing?”

“Over the years – I’ve come up with a set of filters to quickly turn down deals.  This is an important process as I want to limit the time I spent investigating companies that I don’t investment in.  Rather – I want to maximize my time working with my existing portfolio companies and quickly / deeply evaluating new companies that have a high chance of us funding them.

My first pass filter has three parts to it.  The top level filter is “is this in a theme that I’m currently interested in.”  If yes, then I try to determine whether or not I think the people involved can create a huge company.  If yes, then I often at least spend some time going deeper.”

  • One area where I have made in-roads is in the “I’d like to buy you a coffee for 15 minutes and get some career advice” emails from people I don’t know.  I really do like to help people so in the early days I took some of these.  I simply can’t fit in the time any more.  So I often advise these people to find me at a conference and I promise to spend time with them there.  I’ve already allocated that time as “general networking time.”  I’ve developed a system for the polite “no” in this context.
  • Due to the high volume of intro’s occasionally one falls through the crack.  This is mostly when it comes in on a “bad email day” (e.g. when I’m in meetings the entire day and have an event in the evening) followed by another one.  I try to minimize these.

But I’d like to add one new item to the conversation I’d like to highlight to everybody a trend that I’ve been noticing over the past year and I’ve really been liking.  It’s called, “I’m moving you to BCC.”

  • If you are the person receiving an introduction you will hopefully respond
  • You want to include the person who made the introduction in your response so that he/she knows you’ve followed up
  • The problem is that this person often gets caught up in all of the back-and-forth email exchange – usually nothing more than the logistics of setting up the meeting.  Huge email overhead.
  • If you receive an intro you should move the person who introduced you to the BCC (blind copy) line in your response.  That way they know you responded but any follow up emails where somebody hits “reply to all” will avoid copying them on the follow up – freeing up that person’s email box.

So if you provide me with an introduction, it’s very likely that “I’m moving you to BCC” when I respond.  You should try it, too.

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  • http://www.repeatablesale.com/ Scott Barnett

    Mark, I'm curious how many of the “I'd like 15 minutes of your time for coffee” emails you get per week – did you always view it as altruism that just went too far, or did you get to a volume level where it became a nuisance rather than a benefit?

  • http://bothsidesofthetable.com msuster

    I get 2-3 / week. It's just a volume thing for me. By “just 15″ they mean 30. Plus there are many more “grab lunch” requests from people I don't know. It's just that at scale it all adds up. I'm thinking about doing more “office hours” to accomodate. Problem is cost – parking in my building is expensive so need to think through a solution.

  • http://www.facebook.com/james.reinhart James Reinhart

    I've been using the BCC approach for awhile and it's really pretty useful. The other thing I've heard (maybe it was Brad of Fred!) that is helpful is the “great to be introduced to you, tell me what you're up to and let's see if we can connect” response. Put's the work on the person being introduced to make a case for why they're worth time in your day.

  • http://OpenSwipe.com Casey Allen

    I do a lot of mentoring of HS and college business-minded students. Best lessons I think I can teach them is:

    1. How to ask for this type of meeting without being naively wasteful of time
    2. How to get right to the point once in said meeting without seeming weird
    3. And pounding into their skull that a 15 minute meeting isn't really 15 minutes for the other guy, since he has transition time. Walking/driving to the cafe and back IS time, and time is sacred.

    I'd like everyone that spends any amount of time hustling meetings w/ folks of more value than them to always be thinking of #3, especially in metro areas. It's easily forgotten.

  • http://communitas.tumblr.com/ tobymurdock

    “I try my best to respond to every intro I get. That doesn’t always mean I always have time for a meeting. But I usually at least try to do a quick phone call. If it’s really not relevant I’ll politely say so.”

    So allow me to say that I've gotten an email intro to you, I've followed up on it, and I've left comments on your blog . Still haven't been able to get a meeting or a call.

    But fear not, I'm undaunted. I look forward to seeing you at SXSW . :-)

  • http://twitter.com/nickgiglia Nick Giglia

    Thank you for the advice, Mark. It's hard to remember at times all that goes into making an introduction, especially since whenever I do it I always view it as a purely good thing with no downside. For you, I'm sure it's a catch-22 because your time is getting more scarce as more people are wanting to meet you, so I completely understand the position you're in.

    For those of us who do want to open a discussion with a general person whose time is as in demand as yours, what would be a few general things to definitely do and definitely not do?

  • paulgshap

    Hi Mark – just last night I sent an email to a contact asking him how I should handle intro requests I get for him via LinkedIn or otherwise. I think in certain situations its proper to ask first; especially if you don't know both parties equally well.
    I think your bcc idea is brilliant. I often have to be asked to step out of those conversations after the initial set-up.

  • http://florentblings.tumblr.com Florent Peyre

    So there’s one tricky situation.

    Let’s say somebody wants to get in business with you and as a token for that, they offer you introductions to people you might be interested in. At the same, you’re not 100% sure that these receiving ends will actually respond since if the guy does that to you, he’s probably doing that to other and his rolodex is probably very quickly inundated.

    When you accept, then you get introduced to people, sometime very busy. You follow up diligently but then, no answer on the received end.

    And now, people you really wanted to meet are placed on your “awkward list”. The awkward list is a little like a first date that never gave way to a second date because one of the party never cared to call back the other.

    And you’ve burned yourself for the next time you’ll fortuitously meet them at a conference or something like that and you’ll be “I don’t know if you remember me but we’ve been introduced a couple of months ago by xxx…”

    So the question is, shall you say no to that first guy who was kind to introduce you in the first place?

  • http://bothsidesofthetable.com msuster

    Thanks, Casey. These days it's so easy to start a dialog on social networks and blogs. Then you can meet people at conferences / events / meet ups. So the main advice I have for young people is … don't rush it. Over time people remember who commented on blogs, who sent Tweets, etc. At the right time you can take a small step to the next level.

  • http://bothsidesofthetable.com msuster

    Hmmm. Maybe I'll try that!

  • http://bothsidesofthetable.com msuster

    Sorry Toby. I certainly remember the name. Drop me an email at msuster at gmail dot you know what and remind me of who intro'd and what you want to chat about. I promise to do my best to give a quick response.

  • http://bothsidesofthetable.com msuster

    When in doubt check with the person receiving the intro before making it (or promising it). That's the golden rule in my mind. Often an intro is appreciated. Sometimes it just adds to workload. Sometimes I want the intro but would prefer it in a few weeks (if I'm closing a deal, for example).

  • http://bothsidesofthetable.com msuster

    Yes, often it's better to go with Fred's “double opt in.” Sometimes I shortcut if I'm pretty sure the intro would be appreciated. It's situational.

  • http://communitas.tumblr.com/ tobymurdock

    will do.

  • http://www.vumedi.com Roman Giverts

    This is one of those good judgment comes from experience, experience comes from bad judgement things. I remember when I first started trying to make introductions, I was terrible. I thought I would be hooking up two people that would really want to meet each other, but nothing would ever transpire. Eventually my matchmaking skills improved and I think grouping people as you describe helps. It's important to identify which people and which situations require that you ask for permission versus directly making the intro. The act of asking for permission itself sometimes improves the odds of the intro working out, simply because it's the respectful thing to do.

  • http://www.repeatablesale.com/ Scott Barnett

    Mark, I'm curious how many of the “I'd like 15 minutes of your time for coffee” emails you get per week – did you always view it as altruism that just went too far, or did you get to a volume level where it became a nuisance rather than a benefit?

  • http://bothsidesofthetable.com msuster

    I get 2-3 / week. It's just a volume thing for me. By “just 15″ they mean 30. Plus there are many more “grab lunch” requests from people I don't know. It's just that at scale it all adds up. I'm thinking about doing more “office hours” to accomodate. Problem is cost – parking in my building is expensive so need to think through a solution.

  • http://www.facebook.com/james.reinhart James Reinhart

    I've been using the BCC approach for awhile and it's really pretty useful. The other thing I've heard (maybe it was Brad of Fred!) that is helpful is the “great to be introduced to you, tell me what you're up to and let's see if we can connect” response. Put's the work on the person being introduced to make a case for why they're worth time in your day.

  • http://openswipe.com/ Casey Allen

    I do a lot of mentoring of HS and college business-minded students. Best lessons I think I can teach them is:

    1. How to ask for this type of meeting without being naively wasteful of time
    2. How to get right to the point once in said meeting without seeming weird
    3. And pounding into their skull that a 15 minute meeting isn't really 15 minutes for the other guy, since he has transition time. Walking/driving to the cafe and back IS time, and time is sacred.

    I'd like everyone that spends any amount of time hustling meetings w/ folks of more value than them to always be thinking of #3, especially in metro areas. It's easily forgotten.

    Well structured post, Mark.

  • http://communitas.tumblr.com/ tobymurdock

    “I try my best to respond to every intro I get. That doesn’t always mean I always have time for a meeting. But I usually at least try to do a quick phone call. If it’s really not relevant I’ll politely say so.”

    So allow me to say that I've gotten an email intro to you, I've followed up on it, and I've left comments on your blog . Still haven't been able to get a meeting or a call.

    But fear not, I'm undaunted. I look forward to seeing you at SXSW . :-)

  • http://twitter.com/nickgiglia Nick Giglia

    Thank you for the advice, Mark. It's hard to remember at times all that goes into making an introduction, especially since whenever I do it I always view it as a purely good thing with no downside. For you, I'm sure it's a catch-22 because your time is getting more scarce as more people are wanting to meet you, so I completely understand the position you're in.

    For those of us who do want to open a discussion with a general person whose time is as in demand as yours, what would be a few general things to definitely do and definitely not do?

  • paulgshap

    Hi Mark – just last night I sent an email to a contact asking him how I should handle intro requests I get for him via LinkedIn or otherwise. I think in certain situations its proper to ask first; especially if you don't know both parties equally well.
    I think your bcc idea is brilliant. I often have to be asked to step out of those conversations after the initial set-up.

  • http://bothsidesofthetable.com msuster

    Thanks, Casey. These days it's so easy to start a dialog on social networks and blogs. Then you can meet people at conferences / events / meet ups. So the main advice I have for young people is … don't rush it. Over time people remember who commented on blogs, who sent Tweets, etc. At the right time you can take a small step to the next level.

  • http://bothsidesofthetable.com msuster

    Hmmm. Maybe I'll try that!

  • http://bothsidesofthetable.com msuster

    Sorry Toby. I certainly remember the name. Drop me an email at msuster at gmail dot you know what and remind me of who intro'd and what you want to chat about. I promise to do my best to give a quick response.

  • http://bothsidesofthetable.com msuster

    When in doubt check with the person receiving the intro before making it (or promising it). That's the golden rule in my mind. Often an intro is appreciated. Sometimes it just adds to workload. Sometimes I want the intro but would prefer it in a few weeks (if I'm closing a deal, for example).

  • http://bothsidesofthetable.com msuster

    Yes, often it's better to go with Fred's “double opt in.” Sometimes I shortcut if I'm pretty sure the intro would be appreciated. It's situational.

  • http://communitas.tumblr.com/ tobymurdock

    will do.

  • Roman Giverts

    This is one of those good judgment comes from experience, experience comes from bad judgement things. I remember when I first started trying to make introductions, I was terrible. I thought I would be hooking up two people that would really want to meet each other, but nothing would ever transpire. Eventually my matchmaking skills improved and I think grouping people as you describe helps. It's important to identify which people and which situations require that you ask for permission versus directly making the intro. The act of asking for permission itself sometimes improves the odds of the intro working out, simply because it's the respectful thing to do.

  • Roko

    On intros: I think introductions are overrated most of the time. I guess that is because I never tried brokering a multimillion dollar deal. If I have something of value to say/ask I prefer to contact the person directly. Chances are if it is of real value the person will respond and move forward. If you mention having a mutual friend at this point you earn even more points. However, if someone offers to introduce me to a colleague/friend, then I will be very happy to do so.

    On coffee/lunch/brunch/beer/diner/martinis…: Most of the things that are to be said during this time can fit in an email correspondence. Make it interesting there, and as the conversation gets more serious and needs to materialize, move it to a physical meeting.

  • Roko

    On intros: I think introductions are overrated most of the time. I guess that is because I never tried brokering a multimillion dollar deal. If I have something of value to say/ask I prefer to contact the person directly. Chances are if it is of real value the person will respond and move forward. If you mention having a mutual friend at this point you earn even more points. However, if someone offers to introduce me to a colleague/friend, then I will be very happy to do so.

    On coffee/lunch/brunch/beer/diner/martinis…: Most of the things that are to be said during this time can fit in an email correspondence. One should make it interesting there, and as the conversation gets more serious and needs to materialize, move it to a physical meeting.

  • http://twitter.com/ericabrescia Erica Brescia

    + 1 to asking first and for moving people to bcc.

    I really don't like it when people make intros without asking me first. I'll almost always say yes, but it seems presumptuous and a little rude for people to just go ahead and make an intro before asking if I'd like to speak with them. Of course, if I know the person making the intro very well and it is a very obvious connection or something that has come up in the past, that is less of an issue.

    I also appreciate you mentioning the bcc tactic. I have been doing it for quite some time and always appreciate it when people do the same for me.

  • http://twitter.com/ericabrescia Erica Brescia

    + 1 to asking first and for moving people to bcc.

    I really don't like it when people make intros without asking me first. I'll almost always say yes, but it seems presumptuous and a little rude for people to just go ahead and make an intro before asking if I'd like to speak with them. Of course, if I know the person making the intro very well and it is a very obvious connection or something that has come up in the past, that is less of an issue.

    I also appreciate you mentioning the bcc tactic. I have been doing it for quite some time and always appreciate it when people do the same for me.

  • laowai

    Oh man, THANK you. I love to make intros and usually end with “I'll let you both take it from here”, nudge, nudge, wink, wink, but still get my inbox polluted with other people's logistics. Hell, I'm *still* on one email thread between two people _after_ they've already met up for lunch on my intro but I don't know them well enough to bluntly tell them to stop making me an unwilling lurker ;-). Hope this practice gets widespread adoption!

  • http://cn.linkedin.com/in/richardrobinson Richard Robinson

    Oh man, THANK you. I love to make intros and usually end with “I'll let you both take it from here”, nudge, nudge, wink, wink, but still get my inbox polluted with other people's logistics. Hell, I'm *still* on one email thread between two people _after_ they've already met up for lunch on my intro but I don't know them well enough to bluntly tell them to stop making me an unwilling lurker ;-). Hope this practice gets widespread adoption!

  • Ram (TK)

    Timely post Mark, at least for me. As a person in between opportunities, I ask for intros and try to be upfront about why I am asking for the intro. I also some times introduce myself (without a middle person). People in general have been generous to me with their time, and I truly appreciate it. Once in a while I will get a response with interest but no follow up. And I hate to bug people, but do want to follow up. Any thoughts?

  • http://twitter.com/philkim Philip

    Briefly, how is one to ask for this type of meeting?

  • Ram (TK)

    Timely post Mark, at least for me. As a person in between opportunities, I ask for intros and try to be upfront about why I am asking for the intro. I also some times introduce myself (without a middle person). People in general have been generous to me with their time, and I truly appreciate it. Once in a while I will get a response with interest but no follow up. And I hate to bug people, but do want to follow up. Any thoughts?

  • Ram (TK)

    Timely post Mark, at least for me. As a person in between opportunities, I ask for intros and try to be upfront about why I am asking for the intro. I also some times introduce myself (without a middle person). People in general have been generous to me with their time, and I truly appreciate it. Once in a while I will get a response with interest but no follow up. And I hate to bug people, but do want to follow up. Any thoughts?

  • http://twitter.com/philkim Philip

    Briefly, how is one to ask for this type of meeting?

  • http://twitter.com/philkim Philip

    Briefly, how is one to ask for this type of meeting?

  • http://www.hotelcomentarios.com Comentarios

    I've been using the BCC and approach for awhile and it's really pretty useful. The other thing I've heard (maybe it was Brad of Fred!) that is helpful is the “great to be introduced to you, tell me what you're up to and let's see if we can connect” response. Put's the work on the person being introduced to make a case for why they're worth time in your day.