How to get advice from very successful people

Very successful people are very busy. You can get their attention by a few ways. Here is what has worked for me.
Aloke Pillai

Very successful people are busy, but you can get their attention in a few ways:

  1. Helping them with grow and improve (e.g. expanding their audience, giving them feedback on their projects)
  2. Doing great work yourself and building a personal brand that attracts their attention organically.
  3. Doing something creative and personal to get in front of them, with persistence and without being annoying (it’s a fine line…)

My personal experience has been focusing on that last method via...

Cold emails

For over a decade, cold emails and luck are the two factors that've led me to many unique opportunities like internships at fast growing startups in Silicon Valley, building a highly profitable freelancing career, meeting incredibly talented individuals to start companies with and my favourite, getting to work with Kanye West.

When we started working on Pastel, I made it a habit to reach out to very successful individuals that had faced similar problems to what Pastel was going through at early stages. It helped me find a different perspective. I’ll outline how I go about doing this.

I’ve found that successful people really respect two things: consistency in your work and following through on what you said you would do. Being aware of this makes your messaging even more potent.

Let’s say I want to email the CEO of a company I admire.

First, I would find out what this person values. What do you find inspiring about this person? Was it their story or how relentlessness they are? The key is to find something remarkable that, any mention of it, would make them think: “Wow, this person noticed."

If you’re contacting a person who you noticed is very detail oriented, mention that. It makes a difference.

Second, try to understand the state of mind of the person when they open your email. They may see hundreds of emails that very day and want to use their time more wisely. If they are willing to help, they want to help people who deserve it.

The structure of the emails I use follow this model loosely:

  1. Mention why this person is remarkable to you.. but keep it short! 1-2 sentences
  2. Set the scene for the problem you may be facing and ask a simple specific question. For example, if the person serves the same type of customers as your business, then you may want to ask how they went about creating relationships at scale with that audience in the early days. 1 sentence
  3. Let your email signature explain what you do at what company. Bonus points if your job and company can be explained with 3-4 words in your email signature.

And then you press send. Now what?

You may be tempted to start checking if the person opened the email or to keep refreshing your inbox. Here is a trick: if you really admire this person, you wouldn’t mind working on building this relationship over months, or years. Taking on this mindset helped me think long term about relationships in general.

If you got your reply:

Great! keep building rapport, trying out their ideas and possibly even getting them on a call to talk further.

If you don't get your reply:

Get back to work and execute relentlessly for 3-4 months. After you have your snippet of experiments, successes and failures, ping them back with a short email:

  1. Mention the progress made and what you learned. 1-2 sentences
  2. Set the scene for a new problem and ask another specific question.

Adopting this kind of mentality of working on long term relationships gives you an incredible head start to building out your network.

If you would like to try this out, I’d suggest creating a list of 10 people in your field you admire and put those names in a spreadsheet with a list of questions you may want to ask them. Send them a short note and keep them updated with your progress every 3-4 months.

This habit signals a few things: you are in it for the long term, you are a doer and you ask smart questions.

If you have any specific questions, feel free to contact me at aloke@usepastel.com

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