CAN-SPAM [Tricky] Circumvention

Alex Niemi
3 min readJun 14, 2023

To Startup Founders

You may think that being willing to do anything to see your venture succeed is a virtue. It isn’t.

Tenacity is a characteristic, an attribute, a trait, and it can be used for good or bad. Tenacity coupled with avarice causes tremendous harm and is a characteristic of many/most industries in America today; scandals in the cryptocurrency domain are a good example of this — specifically, the collapse of FTX and the SEC’s recent charges against Binance.

Truthfulness and honesty are virtues, and they can be reflected organizationally by being aboveboard in your communication and interaction with contacts, leads, users, and customers.

Having said that, I realize that I won’t change anybody’s behavior by appealing to their conscience. So, I’ll appeal to your logic… but I’ll come back to it later in the article.

Disingenuous Contact

I don’t know what else to call it so I’m going with this. Here’s how it works:

Someone that I know from the past, often from business school, or a previous co-worker sends me an email (or a LinkedIn message) that has a friendly tone and expresses an interest in reconnecting. Here’s a representative example:

Hey Alex, it’s been FOREVER since we saw each other last at [insert place name]! How’s everything been going for you? I heard that you’re at [insert my current employer’s name] now… I’d love to hear more about what you’re working on and tell you about what I’ve been up to at [insert startup name]. [insert one-sentence elevator pitch on startup]. I’d love to hop on a quick call to catch up on life since [insert place name] and hear your thoughts on [insert startup name]. Do you have 15 minutes free to catch up sometime this or next week?

Sometimes I’m so gullible… the first few times I received an email like this I actually got excited at the prospect of catching up with one of my former classmates or coworkers. So, I’d reply, stating that I’d love to reconnect and hear about what they’re up to. Keep in mind that many of these emails come from someone that I knew relatively well, someone that I interacted with on a weekly or daily basis over a number of years.

What Happens Next?

No response. So, I reply to their email again, reiterating that I’d be happy to chat sometime soon and that I’m available on the following days/times. Once again, no response.

What I do start receiving in my inbox (almost immediately) is SPAM from [insert startup name]. And, of course, I continue to receive it until I unsubscribe (if possible) or get around to creating a new filter in GMail.

Not cool.

What’s The Problem?

Well, the first email that I receive (requesting some time to catch up) is duplicitous. It’s commercial in nature but is cleverly disguised as a social email. It doesn’t contain an unsubscribe link, an appropriate subject line, or any other features required by the FTC’s CAN-SPAM Act, yet it comes from my “friend’s” new email address at [insert startup name]. Moreover, many of the marketing emails that I receive after being added to their listserv don’t comply with CAN-SPAM.

Back to the Founders

Once again, just because you are willing to do anything to see your startup succeed, does NOT mean that I am willing to endure anything for the same. But, as I mentioned earlier, I’ll appeal to your logic rather than your heart…

There’s a good chance that your new venture will NOT succeed. It’s unfortunate but true. In my experience, there’s no correlation between how passionate I feel about a startup and it’s chance of success. Once again, unfortunate, but true.

So, you’re likely going to be somewhere else in the future, and you’re likely going to be doing something different. If today you choose to mislead me and others, I/we likely won’t be there to support you the next time you need it.

Moreover, you are sullying our network of shared contacts. I no longer respond to emails when there’s even a remote possibility that sender is participating in this type of behavior. The likely result is that I’m ignoring some people/emails that aren’t trying to mislead me but truly want to reconnect and leverage our past relationship in a healthy and mutually beneficial way.



Alex Niemi

I'd write more if I didn't spend all of my time coding.