It’s hard to tell whether an idea is truly valuable or if you’ve just stumbled upon another “sitcom idea.” Most of the time we begin this process by asking the opinion of people around us, but that can often produce biased and unreliable responses.

It’s much more effective to ask random people within your target market via cold emails. I’ve recently started sending these types of cold emails to do market research and validation and have created a process for doing so.

Something to keep in mind here is that I haven’t automated anything about this process. I spent some time looking for automation tools but most enterprise solutions, like Mailchimp, were a bit too complicated (we only really need to send a couple of rounds of emails, not weekly newsletters). I also wasn’t able to find a simple email templating add-on in Gmail. While the lack of automation makes the process a little slow, the upside is that it is free!

If anyone has any tips for automation, let me know!

1. Create a spreadsheet to track data

Always track as much data as you can when starting a new process. You want to be able to have good visibility into your process so you can see where you are being most effective. Time is money, so don’t waste it and always start new processes with optimization at the forefront of your priorities!

To start off, I suggest creating a table that contains at least these six columns:

  • Company name
  • Website
  • How you found the contact
  • Name
  • Contact date
  • Which content you used

2. Gather contacts with Clearbit Connect

I usually look through AngelList or Producthunt to get a list of companies.

  • AngelList’s database search tool is great. You can filter by a number of attributes including location, size, funding stage, and tech.
  • Producthunt doesn’t have as good of a search engine, and most of the companies are so small that they haven’t yet shown up in Clearbit (more on that in a second).  That said, I’ve actually gotten more responses from the companies I find from PH.

After adding a list of companies to our spreadsheet, we need to gather contacts for each company. The best tool I’ve found for this is Clearbit Connect.

With Clearbit Connect, you can search for a company and immediately get emails for most of the execs … which is absolutely unreal!

While they don’t hold info on some smaller companies and some of the data is outdated, it’s one of the most helpful tools I’ve found for market research/validation.

3. Create Content

The content you send matters a lot. I actually got most of my info from this article written by Jonathan Stark about cold emailing. I use the template that Stark provides in his article minus the personal statement. Mine looks like this (it will look very familiar after reading his post):

Would you be willing to help me out by answering a few questions about [business name]?

Hi [name],

I’m a software engineer in San Francisco researching SaaS companies for a business I’m considering starting. You are exactly the type of person who I would like to serve, so my hope is that you might have time for a quick chat. Your expertise and unique perspective would help give me the confidence to make a go/no-go decision about moving forward with my idea.

As a small thank you, I’d be more than happy to share any info you might find useful from my area of expertise, which is backend/front end development and software engineering in general.

Shoot me back a yes/thumbs-up and I’ll send across a few potential times for a short 20-minute call.

Zac Holland

This seems to have worked the best (more on how I know this later) out of all the other variants I tried! Many thanks to Jonathan Stark.

4. Send away! Then prod them a bit if they don’t answer…

At this point, just go down your list of contacts and plug in any missing info from your template email. Some people take a little while to answer but, if you send a friendly reminder email, you’ll often get a response!

Once you finish each batch, just repeat the process.  Only modify the content creation if you have not had success with the existing email and subject.

My Results

In my case, I’m trying to see which emails are working and which mediums for finding these emails are giving me the best leads. Here’s a screenshot of some early data from my spreadsheet. We can see pretty quickly that Producthunt is working really well!

Update: I lost this screenshot transferring to another blogging platform, sorry!