How a Cold Email Got Me My First Job


If you’ve been keeping track of my writing, you know I’m taking a gap year (or an applied discovery year) from Brown. The second question most people ask me after “What are you planning to do?” is “How did you set all of this up?”.

Was it through Brown? Nope. Was it through an external program? Nope (but if you like the idea of a gap year with a little more structure but just as much freedom, check out Experience Institute. I ended up turning down my acceptance offer for my own reasons but it’s a fantastic program run by fantastic people). I did it by myself with the help of some great friends and mentors, and some good luck.

In my attempt at being as transparent as possible, over the next 15 months I’ll be writing how I planned each gap year adventure (including everything that didn’t work out. Which trust me, there was a lot that didn’t work out). Why? It’s so you know that you can do it too if you want to.

Now, time to explain the very funny story of how I got my job in LA, working at an amazing organization that’s ready to change the world.

It all started with a facebook message

If anyone is familiar with my friend Max, it’s probably not surprising that he started me on this adventure.

The messages went something like:

Max: For you. *link to organization*
Me: Omg what a group. This is so cool. Do you know who created it?
Max: haha it’s in the article. It’s some dude at Yale.
Me: Woah wait. I’m reading the press release. A 20 year old created this?
Max: Yeah
Me: Well there goes any argument with my age and being too young. Might as well reach out to him and see what’s his deal.

The cold email

I love cold emails for a couple reasons.

  1. If the person doesn’t reply, it’s not the end of the world. You’re exactly where you were before you sent that email. Usually not such a bad place.
  2. If the person does reply, life just got way more interesting.

I’ve emailed a lot of people. Like, a lot a lot. From CEOs to the really cool student I just wanted to get to know better. What do you have to lose? So using the cold email I sent to my future…ugh I can’t call him boss because he’s more of a friend. So future friend, I’m going to give you no excuse not to reach out to all the cool and fascinating people around us.

Subject: Curious about *organization* (Can be tailored to whatever you actually want to know about)
Hi *name*!
Hope you’re doing well! My name is Samanee and I’m currently a sophomore at Brown University. I’m a bit of a history buff with a love of entrepreneurship, ideas and connecting people. So when I came across *organization*, I had to know more about it.
(The first para is usually, who the heck are you? Keep it short, sweet, and make some sort of connection to you and the person you’re reaching out to.)
I was wondering if you’d be open to a quick chat about your company, your thought process behind creating it, how you went about actually bringing together some of the greatest minds, and the tangible outcomes you hope come out of it.
(The ask. What do you want? I just wanted to talk to him. Sometimes, I just want advice or a quick answer to a question. Be straight forward but also show you put some thought into it. If you want to talk, give some ideas of what you’d want to talk about. In this case, I wanted to know what his goals were.)
Also, read your WSJ article on how to simplify small business incorporations. Totally agreed on how the government should leverage the engineers that this company has to improve UI and make the process easier for small businesses. It’d be worthwhile to see states run hackathons to improve their own websites, while benefitting the greater economic and entrepreneurial ecosystem. They already do for other causes so why not for this right?
(Do your due diligence. This kid is annoyingly brilliant so it wasn’t hard to find something I could bring up. It’s a little above and beyond and not something I always do, but it just shows that you put some effort. You could skip this extra bit but I was trying to catch his attention. If he’s reading this, he’s probably laughing at me haha)
Again, please let me know if you’re available for a quick chat. Have a great day!

This is just my take. Edit it as you see fit. Copy paste it. I don’t care. But stop making excuses.

Genuine curiosity

If the email didn’t indicate it, I wasn’t actually looking for a job. When I sent him this email, I was on track to go to San Francisco to work at another start-up (but shit happens. People change their mind. You have to learn how to roll with the punches. But you can also eat some ice-cream the first day they tell you that you don’t have a spot with them anymore).

I just wanted to know more about him and his bigger plans. In all honesty, I wasn’t expecting a reply. After all, I had nothing to offer but my curiosity.

*6 days later*

He replied!

Would love to. Let me know when you might be free for a call.

Reading this is really funny in retrospect because this guy is now a close friend. Seriously? THAT’S ALL YOU REPLIED WITH AFTER THE EFFORT I PUT IN? But hey, you take what you can get. Lesson here is always be humble. Except I’m going to give this friend shit.

After 3 weeks of trying to figure out a date, losing track because of college finals, and being very persistent on my end, I was finally able to have the first conversation that changed my life.

The conversation consisted of his hopes for the organization, what he wanted to accomplish, and his own personal life story. We chatted for another few hours afterwards and the conversation shifted away from his company to our own life struggles and how we deal with them.

Suddenly, this larger than life guy was no longer on the pedestal I had placed him on. He was human. And he had become my friend.

Don’t sell yourself short

Listening to all the crazy he’s gone through (and I mean seriously crazy. My life is nothing), and how many people have reached out to him (a lot), I sincerely wondered why he decided to talk to me.

I laugh at this now but at one point, I really thought it was because he thought I was pretty. I’m not usually the type to objectify myself but I always say, play every card you got dealt in life.

I’m glad that wasn’t the reason.

He later told me it was because I actually seemed normal, and my email showed some actual thought and curiosity. He gives me more credit than I deserve. Clearly, you should all know by now I’m not normal.

But wait, how did I actually get the job?

Well. The short answer is I was supposed to go to Brazil. Then my host there flaked on me. I messaged my friend. I asked his opinion on whether I should 1. Bum through Europe, 2. Start my second job early, or 3. Come to LA. I was hoping he’d say 3. He said 3 :)

But there’s a back story to why he had no problem agreeing. And this is where I hope you get some takeaways from my experience as a whole.

1. Don’t be afraid

I gave you a freaking template email. Just reach out to people. Be curious. And get Mixmax, an email tracking extension that let’s me sleep in peace since it let’s me know if people haven’t read my emails. Seriously, you’ll thank me.

Honestly, what do you have to lose? Answer that question. Nothing. I can’t say this enough. The worst that will happen is they won’t reply or say no, and you’ll be exactly where you were before. So you can’t move backwards. But you give yourself the opportunity to move forward.

2. Give, don’t take

I loved what my friend was doing; I wanted to help in any way I could. I connected him with people that I thought he could benefit from. I gave a listening ear when he needed a sounding board. I made it very clear that I cared about him as a person, irrespective of the company he was running.

I wasn’t expecting anything in return through the course of our friendship. But in the long run, I had built enough trust that he didn’t think twice about me coming over to LA. He knew my intentions were right.

The long term benefits far surpass the short term gain when you have a giver mentality. There’s a great book called Give and Take by Adam Grant that goes much deeper into this thought. Read it. Learn it. Live it.

3. Take a chance on the crazy

I don’t know LA. I don’t have the most money either (courtesy of living in New York). I technically can’t drive (I blame that on Dhaka scarring me for life). But I believe in my friend. I believe in his mission. And I believe in doing something crazy.

Lack of resources makes one resourceful. I’ll figure it out.

4. Jump on the rocket ship

Sheryl Sandberg’s quote from Lean in has always stuck with me.

“If you’re offered a seat on a rocket ship, get on, don’t ask what seat.”-Sheryl Sandberg

This could end up really bad. Or it could be the greatest adventure yet.

5. Show your appreciation and say thanks

If there’s someone in your life that gave you a chance when they had no reason to, let them know. A little appreciation always goes a long way.