As a startup founder, you're a jack of all trades i.e. you have to do everything to keep your business running and put out fires every day.
Having said that, there are three critical functions: i) raising money, ii) making sales, and iii) hiring stellar people. Below are some pointers that may help you achieve all three.
1) Get to the point: Hello... Tarpor aar kono kotha nai (no conversation or communication after that). This has been mentioned over and over again, but please make the ask on your first message, no small talk, it's not rude if you politely ask for what you need in a brief message upfront.
2) Be very specific with your ask: Not 5 paragraphs of context / your background and then -- "How can I meet investors for my startup?" Bhai, din e 50 ghonta thakleo mone hoi amar shombhob hoito na shobkichu pora, aar ami toh dudhbhaat, ashol busy manush toh message khuleo porbe na size dekhe. (Listen, even if we had 50 hours a day, I wouldn't have the time to read such lengthy messages. And the busy big shots will not even open your message.) Addition: Thank them, be polite.
3) Forwardable emails, blurbs, specific questions: Make it easy for people to help you. If you are asking for an introduction, send an email or a blurb over messenger and ask them to simply forward it. It reduces friction. Brownie points if you do your homework and figure out who they should be sending it to. People want to help, but they often don't have the time to -- make it as easy as a 1,2 for them.
4) Google first: If your questions remain very basic i.e. lack of basic knowledge you can learn by reading 1-2 10 minute articles on Google, it's a bit off-putting. The smartest people I know in New York / San Francisco constantly Google things. It goes back to the sense of entitlement aspect -- you have to do the work.
5) You don't help yourself first / are entitled: I promise people will work extra hard to help you if they see you have potential and they think their input will actually help you get to your goal. Show your "potential" -- include a link to your portfolio of past work, tell us what you have done without being cocky or entitled (this bears repeating - no one owes you anything in life: entitlement = instant disqualifier).
I will not be able to help you get from floor 1 to 3, but if you're already at 3, I will try my best to get you to 4 or 5. But you have to climb the first few floors yourself, no one's going to help you there, that's the part you have to go get yourself.
6) Ask relevant questions: I'm not a personal finance expert... Please don't ask me what I think about a stock or an ETF - chances are I haven't heard of it, and if I have, you most likely have too.
7) Leverage whatever connection you have: When I was recruiting in New York, I chased whatever little excuse I found to talk to people - my high school, my Bangladeshi connection, etc. But keep in mind just because they're Bangladeshi doesn't mean they'll help you - be OK with that, accept they're busy, be polite, say thank you. One day you'll need them, don't burn bridges.
8) Be genuine, and be helpful: Reciprocity works. Don't think about how someone can help you, think about how you can help them. It'll build a reputation over time, and over time, you won't have to ask for help -- help will come to you because you've collected so much goodwill from people over the years. It's a beautiful feeling when that happens, but in order for it to happen, you need to let go of the "what's in it for me".
9) Respect people's (and your) time: Point 8 notwithstanding, if something isn't relevant to you or you think it won't be high impact, let it go. Think 10x not 10%. You only have 24 hours a day, make it count -- use calendly, if you're in Gulshan and the meeting is in Dhanmondi, suggest a Zoom to save on 2 hours of traffic. Be ruthless about your time, it's your most precious resource.
10) Maintain the relationship as you'd do for your friends / family: The best professional relationships do end up being like family. So wish them on their birthday, check in on them when they're sick. Your time matters, but don't forget to be human. Those are the gestures they'll remember 20 years from now.
There's probably more but let's start with these for now. I think a lot of us feel sheepish, and I personally never wrote like this thinking people will find it ego-centric. No, this is real feedback from years of personal experience on both sides of the table - trying to reach out and having people reach out to me. Please take it to heart. Mon e mon e amake duita gaali diyen, but taao ei points gula mone raikhen, apnar kaaj e dibe (Swear at me if you want to, but please do remember these points, because these will help you).
Sakib Jamal is an investor at Crossbeam Venture Partners. He grew up in Bangladesh and graduated from Cornell University in 2019