How I Networked My Way Into The Heart of EchoSign's CEO

One cold email -- with a ton of follow up -- can change your life.

learn more about Jerry Jao

By Jerry Jao

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

The first time I heard Jason Lemkin speak, I had no idea who he was. The "Godfather" of Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) businesses, Lemkin is CEO and co-founder of EchoSign, a most-read advisor on Quora, and the founder of a popular blog. He sold EchoSign to Adobe in 2011 and served as a VP at Adobe before becoming a venture capitalist investing in SaaS companies with his fund, the Saastr Fund.

Lemkin is one of the savviest and most respected figures in the SaaS world. If you are building a SaaS business, you'll certainly benefit a great deal from his blog. Most recently, he launched the SaaStr Fund to help entrepreneurs jumpstart businesses.

Three years ago, I didn't know any of this. A friend recommended that I attend his presentation at a conference we both attended. So out of curiosity and a fair degree of embarrassment at not knowing who Lemkin was despite being in the industry, I attended the talk.

His presentation was phenomenal, and I wanted to meet him. Six months later, Lemkin invested in my company. And today, I'm lucky to call him a mentor and even a Facebook friend.

How did I pull this off? By networking. It began with a cold email, a bottle of wine and most importantly, persistence. Here's how I networked my way into an industry visionary's inner circle.

Step 1: I sent a cold email.

Jason was a busy guy, and I wasn't able to spot an opening at the conference to speak with him directly. Instead, I sent him a cold email three days later, which you can see below.

Note, I didn't actually have lunch with him, but I sat close enough that it, well, sort of counted. I knew he probably wouldn't remember me so I put in a few descriptive details to jog his memory. I also referenced one of his blog posts to demonstrate that I did my homework prior to reaching out to him blindly.

Jason responded. Step one completed.

Related: Networking Is a Contact Sport

Step 2: I kept following up.

Most successful people are busy, and so was Jason. He canceled and rescheduled a few times, but I kept following up.

We eventually met, and our first conversation was intense. He asked a lot of questions - about my business and areas I wish I prepared better answers for then. I learned a lot, and I used that initial meeting as a jumping-off point to keep the conversation going. I recognized that Lemkin was somebody I wanted to develop a real relationship with as I can learn a great deal from him.

I directly asked him if he would advise me, and this is where persistence came into play. I kept asking questions, and I kept reaching out. I even had a bottle of my favorite wine with a handwritten note delivered to his office - to thank him for his time.

The payoff for my persistence was much bigger than expected. He connected me to a very important hire - my original request. Then, he invested in my company, which was also unexpected. This perfectly illustrates how effective networking is, and how important it is to be persistent.

Related: Become a Networking Beast by Following This 5-Step Plan

Step 3: I give back.

Successful and experienced people like Lemkin receive a lot of requests for help. It's crucial to always keep this top of mind and to actively look for opportunities to return the favor.

After I got Jason's attention, being respectful of his time was key. I never asked for more than five to 10 minutes, when calling for advice. I kept my emails brief and straightforward. I also tried to find ways I could help and give back whenever possible.

For example, he had asked my opinions on a few companies in my industry and if I knew certain individuals. I tried my best to go above and beyond to give back and help Jason when the opportunities arose. In this case, I did extra research to provide more details even though Jason might not need it. It's one thing to establish a connection, but maintaing an effective business relationship means bringing value to the table.

Remember, like most relationships, it should be a two-way street. Be mindful of this dynamic and actively give back when possible.

Related: Don't 'Stop Networking.' Just Start Doing it Right.

Network like it's your job.

I'm not natural networker. In fact, I find it exhausting. But had I not taken the initial step to reach out, not only would I have missed out on a growth opportunity for Retention Science, but also the opportunity of learning from someone as knowledgeable as Lemkin. That alone is worth the follow-through.

Networking requires homework and hustle, especially when you want to connect with successful people. Competition is fierce. I've witnessed Lemkin be approached by six sets of founders within a three-minute span at his conference. Here are some tips to help get you break through the noise.

Take calculated risks.

My first email to Jason - in which I mentioned I had lunch with him -- was a risky move. I sat at the same table with Jason, but didn't "have lunch" with him. While I hadn't lied, he could have very well called me out. But I knew it would give me a chance to catch his attention, and I decided to go for it. When it comes to networking, you never know until you try so try.

Know your end game.

The purpose of my outreach was guided by a business objective: Get Lemkin's advice on establishing a sales structure for my company. This is probably the most important piece of advice I can give you. Don't try to connect just to connect. Those conversations will fizzle out quickly, and it comes off as fake. Understand why you want to connect with this person to begin with, and make sure you articulate and stick to it.

Don't waste their time.

This one is a no-brainer but something that people seem to forget again and again. Successful people are busy. Making a good impression by being direct is a good tactic. And being mindful of their time and letting them go about their day as quickly as possible is an even better one. Don't dance around the subject. Just ask for help in the specific area you've decided on. More often than not, you'll see results.

Networking may not come natural to most of us, but you can learn it. I hope my story helps you network your way to your Jason Lemkin.

Jerry Jao

CEO and Founder, Retention Science

Jerry Jao is the CEO and co-founder of Retention Science, a leader and innovator in retention marketing. Prior to his founding of two other marketing software companies, he worked at he worked at Morgan Stanley, KPMG Advisory and Clear Channel Communications. He is a graduate of the University of California, Berkeley and Yale School of Management. 

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