To be frank, all businesses start off as an idea. Back in 2013, the idea of providing small businesses with the tools to run their own referral program was born. Not too long after that,  In December 2013 to be exact, Referral Rock was created and was registered. Referral Rock was in motion and was no longer just an idea. 

2014- After the Idea

So many lessons learned! Like most businesses, the first few months of Referral Rock were focused on building the initial contacts and defining an ideal target market. Within the first half of 2014, Referral Rock had a list of over 200 contacts. By July 2014, Referral Rock’s beta program had begun.

Growth is not an instantaneous thing. When it comes to growing a business, it could take quite awhile to see the first idea come to life. If you even get that lucky. Fortunately, for Referral Rock, by June of 2015, the first paid version was launched. Four customers had signed up within the first month of launching the paid version ($59 per month).

The first year and a half proved that there were customers in this market and that there was a need for the software. During this time Referral Rock was a part-time gig and working hours consisted of working nights and weekends.

2015 – Continuing to Grow

Can we build a product and sell to 1000s of people and never have to actually talk to them?  That’s the dream, right?  Well… not so much. We started out doing all support through chat and email but started to have those moments where you realize you’re going to either spend the next 20 minutes on chat trying to explain something, or you could pick up the phone/screen share and talk to them to have the problem solved in 5 min.  After we did that a few times, and it resulted in more sales… Low and behold we found that actually talking to people and doing demos is the key! Brilliant, right? Which is consequently how we stumbled upon inside sales.

Inside Sales was Implemented

After inside sales were implemented and made an integral part of the Referral Rock process, it was evident that we needed to grow. More hands were needed as the business began to grow. By the end of 2015, Referral Rock hired its first team member and got some outside technical assistance from an old high school friend as the business grew to 50 customers.  

At this time Referral Rock became a full-time effort. It was proven that customers can be acquired, provide value, and there was enough revenue coming in to support a business.

2016 – The Year of Many Changes

Though the business had grown quite a bit, 2016 proved to be the real year of change.

In February, Referral Rock raised the prices for the first time after realizing the value it really brought to customers.  We also added some big features like gift cards fulfillment and API. Which consequently helped Referral Rock grow yet again. It was evident that Referral Rock needed a larger team as the number of tasks outweighed the number of hands available. In April, the business again expanded as another team member joined.

Scale-out Sales

June quickly approached. Referral Rock hit a big milestone as the anniversary of the ‘pay’ version arrived. During this time the business grew to a total of 110 customers. It was then realized that so much time was taken up by sales demos and the product was developing much slower.  We needed to scale out sales! July came and the first salesperson was hired. At this point it, it was realized that having someone assist with sales was not an easy transition. Referral Rock hit a minor learning curve, and it was realized that the process definitely required a better onboarding experience.  This was a hard lesson to learn as it killed 2 months of sales.

In October, Referral Rock was ready to try another salesperson.

This time the process, though still not settled, was is a much better spot. We actually got quite lucky with finding the right sales leader for Referral Rock. It’s actually a serendipitous story because he actually found us. You see, he was in a limbo with his own startup. He didn’t want to give up on it, but couldn’t work on it full time either. So, he stumbled upon a Referral Rock listing and decided to reach out. He said right away that he could help with everything we needed (but joked that that did not include coding).  At this stage in Referral Rock, he was just what we needed to get to the next level.

By December, we were able to begin focusing all the other segments of the business. Since sales had a new head honcho it allowed the rest of the team members to dig into their core duties. During this time, Referral Rock had also made its first large enterprise sale. Plus, there was another significant change to the pricing model as we added a new “Customer Success Package”. The year ended with a total of 170 customers.

2017 – The Team Comes Together

The Referral Rock team hits another growth spurt. Starting in January the team added another salesperson. Followed by a second hire in February. Referral Rock has really grown from both a customer and team standing point. There are now 7 team members and a total of 200 customers.

The first team meet up

Because our team is remote, and because we have grown so much, our first team meetup was put into motion. Well, it was actually a spur of the moment idea. That idea stemmed from a team get together. Originally, one of the newest Referral Rock team members was planning a trip to the D.C area. Since the core Referral Rock team is from there, she decided she’d like to meet them in person. That provoked the rest of the team to meet up too. So the team picked a date, and the first in-person team meeting became a real thing. What first started as a team lunch, ended up becoming a half day event (Including a team building exercise).

Since our group is on the smaller side (right now), we decided to do an escape room at PanIQ Escape Room as our team building exercise. If you’re not familiar, your team gets locked in a room and you have to find clues in order to escape the room. In our case, we had to solve a murder mystery and not just find out who the killer was, but we had to figure out the entire murder including when it happened, how it happened and where it happened. Oh, the kicker is that it’s a timed event and you have to get through two different rooms in order to escape. Our team managed to get out, with a few minutes to spare. So, you could say we’re a team that works well together.

We’ve had some roadblocks too

So, we’re not perfect, and like most businesses, we’ve had some ups and downs. We have lost our fair share of customers along the way. Some proved to be an ill fit for Referral Rock. Some customers just did not get enough value from using the software. We’ve also lost some great opportunities. Either we just weren’t proactive enough or our software wasn’t ready to fit their needs.

We also didn’t hit on every hire, we’ve had some team members that didn’t work out for various reasons on our end and theirs.  It’s all a learning process so we hope to continue to learn from it all.

We’ve definitely changed

It’s quite clear that we have grown. We have gone from being a $50 per month self-service product meant to require little to no interaction, to be intimately involved in with our customers and their success.

We didn’t do what we set out to do, but we found something much better along the way.

  1. Customers who need our product and services
  2. Awesome team to grow with
  3. A much bigger and fulfilling business than the original idea.

Key lessons so far:

Let the customers and business unfold as you go

By listening to the customers and their needs, it’s led Referral Rock to be a totally different business.

Everything takes longer than you think  

In a month we can train a sales team with no materials, a founder shooting from the hip, and still keep up with existing sales… Dying words!

Listen to the Referral Rock founder, Joshua Ho, discuss our story further!

Posted by Megan Mosley

Megan Mosley is a writer for Referral Rock. You can find her poking around online or tweeting about marketing, small businesses, SEO, or even sharing funny memes. She is addicted to coffee and uses it as a fuel to keep her going through the day.