A good cold email can open doors, break through barriers to access, and form powerful business relationships.

But with a simple growth hack, you can turn your cold emails into a superpower.

How much of a superpower?

Using this technique, we got through to the Head of Communications at VaynerMedia in less than 5 minutes – all from a cold email, with no prior relationship whatsoever.

Here’s how it works.

The technique involves using a prior conversation to give yourself an in, even if you don’t already have one. It’s similar to another cold emailing technique that James Shamsi describes in his excellent Viral Bible (paywall).

Be careful with this. It’s entirely possible that your recipient won’t take it well if they figure out what’s going on. But at the same time, you might get credit for your scrappiness – it all depends on the situation.

To use this growth hack, you’ll need to either find a mid-level employee at the organization you’re trying to reach or fabricate one.

After finding the third party, use Gmail to format the email as if it contains a previous conversation. Like this:

The email above looks like it has a previous correspondence between us and someone at VaynerMedia.

But that’s just formatting.

The truth is, this correspondence was fictional. The VaynerMedia employee is a real person, but we had never met or communicated with them before. But the forwarded message tag and purple text are all in the right place, so it looks legit.

To make this step easier, you can use an old email chain and change all the relevant data (addresses, subject, content, and dates).

The idea is to create the illusion of previous correspondence even though it’s a cold email.

With the email in place, set the subject line to “Fwd: ‘Subject.’” In our case, we had “Fwd: PR Opportunity: Top Forbes Visionary of 2017” because we were reaching out for an article placement.

The Response

So how did the technique work for us?

Well, here’s our first reply. Keep in mind that this was off a cold email to a universally-known, 500+ employee corporation:

And just like that, we’re in the door. No one questioned the previous email chain.

And it gets better:

At the outset, this was a cold email. We had no contacts and no relationship with anyone at VaynerMedia. If we wanted to get in touch, we might as well have filled out the contact form on a website.

But by creating the illusion of a previous relationship, we were able to access Senior-level personnel at a company with more than 500 employees.

In ~5 minutes. All from a cold email.

Tread Carefully

Some may be upset if they find out you used it with them.

This kind of technique should be used with caution and only deployed when the situation calls for it.

For a safer version of this growth hack, you might try what Huckberry, the eCommerce gear company, did with their Black Friday email:

The Subject Line Used in Huckberry’s Campaign

There’s no fake correspondence here – Huckberry’s version simply uses the trick of making the message look like it’s been forwarded it to you. This creates the illusion of prior context without an actual faked conversation.

It’s a safer bet.

But at the same time, sometimes the best business decision is to play a little dirty. There are no “losers” from this growth hack – no one gets stepped on, stabbed in the back, or hurt.

And I can think of plenty of CEOs – myself included – that might be a little impressed by the gumption required. If you’re not screwing anyone over, sometimes it pays to get a little crafty.

There are times when making the right connection can be the difference between stagnation and massively growing your business.

The technique is risky – but as a growth hack, it’s powerful.

If the conditions look right and there’s someone you really need to reach someone, this growth hack may be the ticket to accessing just about anyone.

It all depends on how you use it.


CEO and Co-founder of Neon Roots Ben Lee is the co-founder and CEO of Neon Roots, a digital development agency with a mission to destroy the development model and rebuild it from the ground up. After a brief correspondence with Fidel Castro at age nine, Ben decided to start doing things his own way, going from busboy to club manager at a world-class nightclub before he turned 18. Since then, Ben has founded or taken a leading role in 5 businesses in everything from software development to food and entertainment.