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This post was originally published on Thoughts on Tech Startups and Venture Capital

Mailing lists can be a simple yet powerful tool to set cadence and keep people up to date on your progress. The advantage of having several mailing lists is that you can share the right kind of information with the right group, and choose the right cadence for each.

List for Mentors

Mentors are a handful of people who are close to the founders, but aren’t involved in your business day to day. Use this list to deeply engage mentors and help them help you.

The mentors list is particularly handy when you are going through a mentorship-driven accelerator like Techstars. Since most accelerator programs are three to six months long and you are trying to get a lot done, weekly cadence for these emails will ensure that you can get the most out of the mentors. After you are done with the accelerator, sending an update once a month is sufficient.

The key thing in the mentor update is to ask for help. Explain what you are struggling with and put down specific asks for how people can help you.

In order to get better response, use @specificmentorname through the email, so that asks aren’t generic but addressed to specific mentors.

Consider including the following in your mentor updates: Shout outs – thank specific mentors for their help, update on KPIs and milestones, short list of non-quantitative wins, struggles and asks and a short bullet list of upcoming goals.

List for Your Team

When you are starting the company and there are only a few co-founders, it seems like everyone knows everything that’s going on. It is, however, a good practice for the CEO to send regular updates to the team, even if you are just two people.

Early stage startups should be setting goals and making progress every week. Having a weekly update email along with the weekly meeting and weekly goals will help your team get aligned and execute.

Once your company grows and scales, you can switch the cadence of these emails to monthly and later on quarterly.

The content of the email should be similar to the mentors email. Include shout outs and thank you’s to employees who did a great job, summarize KPIs and wins, explain struggles, ask for help and set new goals.

Lists for Investors – Current and Prospective

Use one mailing list to keep your current investors up to date. This is absolutely critical and we’ve previously written a separate post explaining why this is important.

In addition, you should have a separate list for a group of investors who said they want to be updated on your progress. This is particularly critical for raising a series A and beyond, and is handy in slower funding environments since investors are more hesitant to commit.

Mark Suster, in his classic post, explains it best. He says that later stage investors want to invest in lines, not dots. That is, they want to get to know you, want to see your progress and want to get more conviction that you can execute.

A great way to prove your worth to investors is to show them how you execute over time. If the investor asks to keep them posted, ask if they want to be on your updates list.

Since these folks are prospective investors, name the list something simple, like updates@company. Send these updates every four to eight weeks, but not more often than that. For a later stage company, consider sending them quarterly.

The focus of these updates is your progress against your KPIs and milestones. You are showing that you can set the goals and, hopefully, achieve them. It is also important to be candid about your struggles. You aren’t necessarily asking for help, but you are not just delivering the good news.

Expect that prospective investors will reach back out with questions. If you are hitting it out of the park and numbers keep growing, expect that investors will want to meet again and potentially propose to invest.

We’ve seen this simple system of engaging potential investors via a mailing list really work. Remember that like any list, there is a social pressure. An investor knows that there are other investors on the same list who are getting the updates, and feels compelled to act if they are interested in your business and you keep growing and executing well.

More Lists to Help You Communicate

The four lists we talked about above – mentors, team, investors and prospective investors are the basic lists that all startups should setup.

In addition, you can, of course, use lists for other communication. For example, you can use a news@ mailing list to update friends of the company – anyone who is not a mentor or investor but you want to keep updated.

Once you have a formal board of directors, which I highly recommend you set up after you raise a seed round, create a separate mailing list for the board. The investor list is a broader list that would include all investors, but a board list would include just the board members. This is part of effective board management that we covered in this post.

Basic List Maintenance

Lists can be a very effective way to help you manage your communication with your team, mentors, investors, etc. Be sure to clean up your lists and keep them up to date. Be clear and be careful who you are sending information to and why.

Keep your updates formatted and short. People don’t have time to read lengthy updates. Lead with essentials.

Be direct, ask for help, engage and build advantage for your startup through simple mailing lists.


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Alex Iskold
(@alexiskold) Managing Director of the Techstars NYC Accelerator. Serial entrepreneur, founder of Information Laboratory and GetGlue. Engineer, geek, complex systems addict, lover of running and yoga. Invest and help tech startups. He actively blogs about startups and venture capital at http://alexiskold.net.