Lead Generation for Startups: How to Use Cold Emails to Get Your First 100 Customers

Lead Generation for Startups How to Use Cold Emails to Get Your First 100 Customers

I am building $100k/month business and want to share everything with you. My Ideas, Experiments, Failures, Successes...Everything. It's going to be an exciting journey, make sure you don't miss a thing Click Here to Get Free Updates From Me

Hands up if you ever received at least one cold email in the past year trying to sell you something.

Oh wow! I’ve received thousands of those emails, too…

…even before I started my first company, and made my first dollar online.

And you and I are not alone on this:

There’s a report by the Radicati Group that globally, a staggering 269 billion emails were sent each day in 2017 (up from 2015’s figure of 205 billion emails) and that there are currently over 3.7 billion email users worldwide. These findings go to reveal the effectiveness and the wide acceptability of emails as a great marketing strategy.


Why else would so many folks be sending them?

Out of the thousands of cold emails I have received, I have been able to find truly helpful solutions (without having to scour the web forever), and the marketers who sent them happened to make money. Win-win!

For instance, I recently got one selling a meeting scheduling platform with AI capabilities that emails with appropriate people and creates meeting invites.

And did I buy it? Pretty quickly!

Cold emails are awesome, even for a startup like yours.

In this guide, I’ll walk you through the process of using cold emails to get your dream customers, but first…

Let’s get a handle on the basics of cold emailing.

Cold Emailing Basics

Since we’re talking about cold emails right now, I thought taking a moment to discuss what a cold email is will help you assimilate this topic better.

So… just what is a cold email?

A cold email is an unsolicited email sent to a receiver (potential customer) that has had no prior relationship or contact with you.

Cold emails are different from spam mails and are, in fact, used by millions of companies around the world. You can think of it as a cold call, but much less protrusive.

Why send cold emails?

It’s simply because you want to reach out to people to do business with you.

Email makes it possible to reach just about anyone, anywhere, and at anytime.

As an entrepreneur, this gives you the opportunity to put your offer in front of potential buyers…

…with the right message and at the right time.

With that, you can get prospects to take actions like:

  • Buy your product
  • Join your waiting list
  • Sign up for your events
  • Test your MVP (minimum viable product) and give you feedback
  • And so on.

And you can do this with minimal efforts and without breaking the bank. Plus, it can be really effective if done well.

This graph should give you an idea of the return on investment (ROI) offered by email.

Email ROI

Another great benefit of cold emailing is time-friendliness. By this I mean, it can yield great results in the shortest possible time.

I’ve had my team send out cold emails and closed several deals same day. No big wait. No wasted efforts!

OK, so now let’s get to the million dollar question…

Is cold emailing legal?

Well, yes, it is… in most cases places. Put differently, what the law says about cold emails typically depends on the country you operate from.

I’ll take you through the United States and Canada (well, not literally!) to see what their law says concerning cold emailing.

Spam Compliance in USA

The CAN-SPAM (Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography And Marketing) act from 2003 is the legal reference for cold outreach in the United States. It states that cold emails can be sent but these three rules must be observed:

  1. Unsubscribe compliance: An easy and obvious unsubscribing mechanism must be present and opt-out requests must be honoured within 10 days. I think an unsubscribe button is fine or a statement like this: “If you’re not interested and would like to stop getting emails from me, please let me know.”
  1. Content compliance: Your email must have accurate sender field and relevant heading. No misleading subject lines.
  2. Legitimate physical address: A legit physical address must be present in the email.

Spam Compliance In Canada

The Canada’s Anti-Spam Legislation (CASL) is the law governing cold outreach in Canada.

Until July 1st 2017, implied consent was sufficient to be allowed to cold email someone. It isn’t anymore.

You need written or oral express consent before you can send a cold email to someone. This means you should also be able to prove said consent if your recipient reports you.

Here are some suggestions for you:

  1. Get a referral from another client you have a preexisting relationship.
  2. Cold calling is totally acceptable, so you can call first to ask for permission. Obviously, you should record the call.

Once you have the permission, these three rules apply:

  1. Clear sender identification.
  2. Clear unsubscribe option.
  3. Legit physical address.

In Europe, cold emailing is a common practice, especially in B2B contexts. But you need to comply with specific local laws and formalities, and only write only to potential customers that could reasonably be interested in what you have to say.

Keep in mind that, in all cases, clear identification and unsubscribe options are mandatory no matter what country you are operating from or send to.

Disclaimer: I’m not a lawyer and the information provided here about cold email laws should not be considered a full legal advice. I recommend you do your homework by finding the relevant legal information applicable to your city and country.


We’ve cleared the legal part, let’s talk about how you can use cold emails to get your first set of customers as an entrepreneur.

Using Cold Emails to Get Your First 100 Customers (in five simple steps)

So you want to make new friends, score some sales, and potentially bring in some bucks… all with emails? Great thinking!

Here’s how to do that in 5 steps:

Step #1: Identify your target customers

The first step in executing a cold email campaign is to define the target audience you want to reach with your email.

This step is so important because it sets your campaign rolling (much like the foundational stuff) and it’s critical you get it right… because:

If you end up sending your emails to the wrong people — folks who won’t benefit from or be interested in your product — you would be wasting your time and getting nothing out of your efforts.

Getting your first 100 customers entails that you already have a product. And in the process of creating a product, you should have already identified your target buyer.

Your cold email recipient should basically be your typical target customer identified during the product development stage (by creating a buyer persona).

Zeroing in on the perfect recipient…

One thing you can do to increase your chances of winning the cold email game is to home in the perfect recipient for your email.

There are two things you can do here.

  1. If you’re targeting businesses with more than a few people, your goal should be to reach the right person in the company; that is, the person who can:
    • Understand the value your product can provide for their company
    • Make a buying decision

Depending on the size, the structure of the company will be different. So for instance, if your product is aimed at helping the big organization with their marketing, you would get better results sending your emails to the chief marketing officer (CMO) or marketing manager vs sending it to the chief product officer. That sort of thing!

Target your customers

2. If your customer base is fairly wide-ranging, you ought to segment it.

Customer segmentation is about identifying key differentiation that divide customers into groups that can be targeted.

Why employ customer segmentation?

Every customer is different. Your marketing efforts would be better served if you target specific, smaller groups with messages that those consumers would find relevant and lead them to buy something.

Through segmentation, you will also be able to gain a deeper understanding of your customers’ preferences and needs with the aim of discovering what each segment finds most valuable. This way, you’ll more accurately tailor your marketing materials toward that segment.

If you have trouble finding a target customer segment, you may have to reconsider your offer.

This post I created about measuring product/market fit should help:

RECOMMENDED: 8 Practical Steps to Measure Product/Market Fit for Your SaaS Startup

Step 2: Find your customers contact

After you’ve identified your target customer, the next step is to get their contact for the purpose of emailing.

So how do you do that?

You’d want to build a solid prospects’ list based on your conclusions at step #1 — identifying your ideal guy.

There are two ways to obtain prospects’ contact details:

  1. Manually digging up the contact information one-by-one
  2. Buying a large chunk of data from lead list firms

I won’t tell you which route to take, but I’ll explain the two, highlighting the pros and cons of both approaches. This way, you make your choice. Let’s start with the the first option.

Manually finding contact information from your end one-by-one

As you can already imagine, this process is long and takes lots of efforts. You would need to know your way around the Internet to be able to find exactly the information you are looking for. With this method, it’s also difficult to get plenty of emails (and other details) in a short period of time.

However, the beautiful side is that once you’re able to get the correct details, the information is guaranteed to be 100% accurate. This is not something easily obtainable with the other method, except you’re buying from a really reliable company.

You’ll also get a chance to learn about the prospect and possibly find a point for personalizing your email (very important).

The manual process simply involves you searching the Internet (Google, social media, the company website of the target, etc.) for the details of prospects like their email addresses, names, company name, position in company, et al.

If you’re searching on Google, try these basic queries:

[name] + email (or) email address
[name] + contact (or) contact information (or) contact me

If that doesn’t work, get creative and try running a search of their company website, like this:

site:companywebsite.com + [name] + email
site:companywebsite.com + [name] + contact

Beyond Google, I have found tools like LinkedIn and Capterra to be pretty useful for this manual process.

Also, have a look at the tools below:

  • Clearbit: Outlook and Gmail Chrome extension that finds email addresses in less than five seconds.
  • Rapportive: Outlook and Gmail Chrome extension that shows you everything about your contacts right inside your inbox.

Buying a large chunk of data from lead list firms

Although buying a B2B list is fast and easy, it bears a negative reputation for low value — lacking accuracy and credibility. The contacts were mined from the data miner tool and less likely to go through any data cleansing effort at all.

To increase your chances of getting an acceptable quality, try providers who have some track records like Netprospex, Limeleads, DiscoverOrg, and Lead411.

So you’d just have to search around for lead list providers and the rest is like buying anything online — testing, payment, delivery, customer support, and all those stuff you’re already used to.

Now you know the two most common approaches. Pick whichever fits your needs…

…point is, you’re getting your prospects’ details.

Step 3: Create your killer cold email and follow-ups

A successful cold email campaign must be like a well-assembled jigsaw puzzle — each piece must be where it ought to be.

In addition to identifying your perfect recipient and accurately finding their information, one other piece of puzzle you must get right and fit perfectly into the mix is the content of your cold email message.

It starts with a compelling subject line.

I’m not going to write exactly what your email should look like for you to copy-paste — there’s a problem with using cold email templates, and I’ll explain that in a little while — what I will do instead is to give you some insightful guidelines for creating bad-ass emails that get the job done.

  1. State the benefits. And do so early on to hook recipients.
  2. Establish credibility. How can YOU be the person the other person would enjoy doing business with?
  3. Introduce a bit of flattery. Compliment them or stroke their ego a bit. Remember, just a bit… don’t overdo this, sounding like their #1 fan.
  4. Call to action. Without a clear and concise call-to-action (CTA), you can as well forget about the next step the recipient is supposed to take.
  5. Apply the KISS principle. The KISS principle is about “keeping it simple and short.” Don’t go on writing another 1000-word email and expect a busy executive to leave their work to read it.
  6. Read it out loud. Do this with a timer. If it’s longer than a minute, you’re screwed. Cut it down.

Then there’s personalization…

Personalization is key

Personalization is the secret code that unlocks cold email success. It is about customizing your email in a way that shows it belongs to the particular customer receiving it; it’s also about creating an interesting hook — a point of mutual interest between you and potential customers.

Personalization in Email

Personalization comes in different forms and norms.

There’s a level of personalization where you just mention the person’s name, company, and maybe position in the company.

There’s a greater level where you go beyond the first level to actually say a thing or two about some really personalized things about the contact, like a project they may be running, their needs or goals at the moment, or a situation that happened at the company the week before.

The greater the level of personalization you apply, the better your chances of getting something out of your cold emails.


This is another place the manual research approach of finding a prospect’s details comes into play — by taking the time to research on a prospect, you’ll be able to find some useful information about them.

Obviously this can be tasking. So here’s my advice:

If the prospect you’re emailing is super important to your business, use a greater level of personalization. If you’re sending to a huge number of contacts, use the first level of personalization.

Some commercial lead list companies do provide details like name, company, and role of the target… in addition to email address. In the next step, I’ll show you how to use a simple coding technique to personalize your emails with those details… but first, let’s talk templates.

Templates are overused

If you google the search term “cold email templates,” you will find a bunch of them.

Although there are good ones (and some bad ones, too), here’s the problem with templates:

They’ve been used repeatedly over and over.

Think about this:

What if your competitor already picked up the same template? Worse, what if they already sent the same email to the exact same target you want to reach?

Sending a publicly available boilerplate email will make you sound and look like a chuckle-headed simpleton who doesn’t know what they are doing. That alone can kill your brand forever, my friend.

Here’s what to do instead:

Create your own custom-tailored email from scratch and personalize it.

You can look at templates and learn from them. But don’t replicate the whole thing.

Creating an email won’t take more than some minutes (especially if you’re going to apply the KISS principle). If it takes up to an hour, it’s worth it still.

If you’re not good at writing, it is smart to hire a reliable copywriter.

After sending the first email message, you ought to follow up with the prospects, which means you will also have to create follow-up emails using the same tips above.

Step 4: Send your cold emails

After you’ve created your email, the next step is the sending process.

This step is pretty basic, but you would still have to get some things right, to ensure you hit the home run with your email campaign.

Here are some things you have to do at this stage:

  1. Picking the right tools for sending your email
  2. Testing with a select few contacts
  3. Scheduling and automating your email and follow-up

Let’s gauge each of those procedures:

1. Picking the right tools

There are literally heaps of emailing tools and platforms out there. You definitely don’t need them all.

In my experience, I have found the following tools to be good for scheduling/sending emails:

These two work together for a complete sending process.

Yesware is a sales productivity platform that lets you track emails and work more effectively.

As well as an extension for Outlook, it has a Gmail extension, which adds a number of totally new features to your Gmail inbox.

With this Yesware’s Gmail extension, you can see who’s opening your messages, links, and attachments in real time, right in your inbox.

Yesware Gmail Email Extension

You can also create email templates with this Gmail extension, so you stop spending time rewriting your most commonly used messages. And with open and reply rates being tracked automatically, you can A/B test your custom templates and learn which emails get the best results.

Sounds good?

Anyway, here’s the main thing:

The feature you would be using for your cold emailing campaign is called Mail Merge.

Mail Merge Yesware

This feature can be used to automatically send a series of personalized emails to prospects (up to 200 people at a time), right from your Gmail inbox and automate follow-up based on your preferences.

Yesware Mail Merge lets you use placeholders to personalize your email.


Once you’ve drafted a new message in the Compose window or uploaded one of your templates, create relevant placeholders that match your column names from your Recipient List.

For example, if you want to mention the name of the recipient in the email, all you need to do is create the placeholder {!First Name} in your message. But the placeholder MUST match the column name from your spreadsheet (First Name, in this case).

Prepare recepients email list

Here’s a complete guide provided by Yesware on how to use the Mail Merge feature for cold emailing.

2. Testing with a select few contacts

If you have a large number of contacts (say north of 5k) you want to reach out to, it’s recommended you start by testing out with a few of the contacts.

This will do two things for you:

  • Building up on the email address you’re using so that your email client (like Gmail) does not end up blocking or blacklisting your account. You have never used the account to send out thousands of emails within a short period of time; doing so now can get the engines to think you’re spamming and they’ll just kill your account. First, start with a few hundreds… then a thousand… then a few thousands… and then tens and hundreds of thousands.
  • You want to be sure you get everything right before sending out multiple thousands of emails at one go. You’ll be able to still hold your head up if you mess up on 100 emails vs 50k.

3. Scheduling and automating your email sending process

Using the Mail Merge by Yesware, you can easily schedule and automate your email and a multi-stage follow-up.

You’ll get to set the conditions that should trigger the follow-ups —  the recipient hasn’t replied, the recipient didn’t open the previous stage, or the previous stage sent without a problem — and the timing for your follow-ups.

Step 5: Opening opportunities and closing deals

So how do you actually get your initial gang of customers through cold emailing?

It turns out there are some things you need to do.

  • Stoke up the numbers: As well as being a quality game, getting your first 100 customers through cold emailing is a numbers game. The more emails you send, the more customers you’re likely to get. In fact, according to verified reports, the average email open rate is 21-26% depending on the industry. So if you want your first 100 customers, you’d want to send at least a couple thousands of emails.
  • Include a compelling CTA: Without a clear, persuasive call to action, recipients would hardly take action. You want the opposite.
  • Use convincing closing lines: While subject lines influence whether or not recipients open your emails, closing lines determine whether or not your prospect acts on your CTA. Most marketers tend to do things on this front: establishing credibility and creating a sense of urgency.
  • Start a conversation: You goal with a cold email should be to stir the prospect’s interest. If they’re interested, either one of these two is going to happen: they’ll respond to your email or go straight away and sign up. The latter is less likely, so you’d be smart to get them to start a conversation with your team. That way, their interest can be stirred over time while developing a relationship.
  • Integrate them into your sales funnel: A sales funnel refers to the buying process that companies lead customers through when purchasing products. If a prospect indicates interest in your product, integrating them into your company’s sales funnel immediately only accelerates the closing. Send them a link to your product page, offer a discount, give them a free trial, and so on.


It’s amazing what you can do with cold emails for your startup.

If you’re new in the scene and haven’t had any sales yet, cold emails can be the perfect marketing strategy for you to begin with… referrals and SEO can come later.

This guide has walked you through the process of doing great things with cold emails. I’ll ask that you don’t just read and drowse off, but actually get to work. That’s the only way to get results.

Grab your recipient list, create your killer email, and click send. And if you have any questions, maybe you should just cold email me anyway 🙂


Speak Your Mind

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *