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How to write a great cold email, from someone who got a reply from Steve Jobs

Sending an email to someone you've never met before and hoping for a response — especially if that person is an important executive — is something of a gamble. The odds are overwhelmingly stacked against you, but if you play your cards right, you could score a win.

Katia Beauchamp, CEO and co-founder of BirchBox, would know.

Before she started the beauty company, whose name would become synonymous with the subscription-box model and garner more than $86 million in venture capital, she was just another young professional attempting to launch a career.

In 2008, while gearing up to attend Harvard Business School, she sent an email to Apple founder Steve Jobs.

And he responded.

Katia Beauchamp, Birchbox
Scott Mlyn | CNBC
Katia Beauchamp, Birchbox

"Right before business school, I emailed Steve Jobs," Beauchamp tells CNBC.

She wanted to know if he could provide Harvard Business School students a similar deal to the one IBM was giving students on a laptop.

"He responded actually. And I think [in] less than 24 hours," she says.

Jobs agreed to the young professional's request and offered her a deal on a MacBook Air first edition. The BirchBox CEO says that the experience gave her valuable lessons about how to stand out in a time where almost everyone has a flooded email inbox.

Apple CEO Steve Jobs delivers a keynote address at the 2005 Macworld Expo.
Justin Sullivan | Getty Images
Apple CEO Steve Jobs delivers a keynote address at the 2005 Macworld Expo.

"It definitely taught me the power of asking," she says, "but also how important it is in the approach."

According to Beauchamp a great cold email has three ingredients: It's short, respectful and compelling.

This isn't the only time cold emailing helped the young entrepreneur get ahead. When she was starting BirchBox, she had no experience in technology or the beauty industry, so she reached out to executives at dozens of companies for advice. Not only did she hear back, she credits these emails to starting important business relationships.

Here's the recipe Beachamp shared with CNBC for the perfect cold-email:

  1. Use a "very compelling subject line."

  2. Make sure the email is short enough that a person can read it without having to scroll down on his or her smartphone.

  3. Don't attach a business plan, that's asking too much. Instead, include a "one-pager" with more information.

  4. "Ask for something that's pretty hard to say 'No' to," she says. Beauchamp did not ask CEOs for big favors. Instead she asked, "Do you have five minutes to give me advice?"

"I love cold emails," she says.

Check out 5 tips for writing a great cold email from a guy who got Mark Cuban to reply in 20 minutes