In the world of venture capital, where relationships and professional networks have a hugely important role, it might come as a surprise to learn that cold calling still has a part to play.

But last year when Varun Jain, early-stage investor at Qualcomm Ventures, sent what he describes as a “cold email” to Kyle Vogt of self-driving car developer Cruise Automation, it sparked a fantastic investment opportunity.

“When I first came across Cruise, I was immediately impressed with Kyle’s background and wanted to learn more about his thesis,” Jain said in a guest comment published by Global Corporate Venturing this year. “However, since I did not have any immediate connection to him, I sent him a thoughtful cold email explaining why we should meet and what I can bring to the table.”

The pair kept in touch following this initial contact and their relationship resulted in Qualcomm Ventures leading a $2m round of funding last November. Just four months later, General Motors announced it was to acquire Cruise for a reported $1bn.

At the time of the deal, Vogt, Cruise’s founder and CEO, said: “GM’s commitment to autonomous vehicles is inspiring, deliberate, and completely in line with our vision to make transportation safer and more accessible.

“We believe this is a groundbreaking and necessary step toward rapidly commercialising autonomous vehicle technology.”

Cruise was set up in 2014 and has since blazed a trail in the fast-moving driverless-car sector, where much larger rivals including Google, Apple and Uber are also active. Cruise’s innovation has been to develop a system of sensors and controls that can be installed in existing cars to convert them into autonomous vehicles. Jain has been particularly impressed by the work Cruise has carried out in testing its systems in real-world conditions.

“I started looking at the autonomous vehicle market early last year and spent significant time in understanding the nuts and bolts of the underlying technology, the strengths and weaknesses of each stakeholder, and identifying areas where startups can make a significant dent,” he said.

“For instance, it was clear to me quite early that since a self-driving car at its core is a machine-learning application on steroids, it is critical to collect high-fidelity training data by test-driving vehicles in hypercongested city traffic where these vehicles are finally supposed to operate, and not just in closed parking lots or highways.

“Once we realised that Cruise was the only company successfully and safely navigating this non-trivial hurdle, it was clear they were building a unique asset which will be of tremendous value even if the regulatory framework does not evolve as quickly as we hope.”

More generally speaking, Jain said venture investors should do everything possible to sell themselves to the investees they consider have the greatest potential. “While VC is different from a traditional sales job given the amount of attention we pay to selecting who we do business with, it often requires many of the same skills. I am in my third year in VC, and have yet to reach a point where every person I need to contact is within two degrees of separation.”

He added: “Moreover, it is not immediately obvious to most founders why they should accept capital from a corporate fund at an early stage. That said, I constantly try to not let these factors be a limitation and have never shied away from using every tool in my arsenal to get a meeting with founders I really want to know.”