Hey-oh! 🤠 I'm Josh Founder CEO of Referral Rock AMA

Been rocking in the space of referral marketing for 5+ years. (Refer-a-friend programs, customer advocacy, affiliate programs) Referral Rock is self-funded and profitable with a 100% remote team of 18.

I’m a second time SaaS founder, where my first was in the Web 2.0 days with a notes app called UberNote. UberNote had a bit of funding but ultimately died off with bad market timing and poor strategic choices.

I’ve done a lot of things the hard way in an odd order for a bootstrapped founder. Essentially followed the customer needs/money and doubled down on what was working for us.

  1. Built the initial versions myself
  2. Started with an early self-service product (thinking it was the indiehacker dream) then I started doing inside sales calls
  3. Built a inside sales and customer success functions
  4. Built a strong SEO footprint in our space
  5. Built out dev/product team
  6. Currently looping back to improve our product (much harder with lots of customers on it) and get back to some self-service roots

I built out a foundation of multiple teams (enterprise sales, marketing, CS, product), management layers, processes, and a great culture. I’ve made my fair share of mistakes but love the path of controlling our destiny.

Feel free to ask me about anything listed above or on any of the topics below:

  • Solo Founder
  • Remote (before it was pandemic cool) + Our Functional Operating System
  • Thoughts on funding vs bootstrapping
  • Founder led sales
  • Finding key senior team members / recruiting
  • Running a startup as a parent (2 kids)

Looking forward to jamming with founders in all stages and learning plenty! I’ll be back on May 26th at 10:30 AM EST

(I’m also active on twitter.com/jlogic where I’m often talking about some of these things through threads)

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This May 26th, we’re really looking forward to hosting Referral Rock’s founder and CEO, Josh Ho. From founding an Evernote competitor (UberNote) back in 2006 (“which went through all the ups and downs”; once hitting 10K sign-ups in a day from a Lifehacker feature, “funding, various business models, failed attempts at being acquired and finally shutting down”) to running an automotive brick and mortar shop, and to finally starting and scaling a profitable, self-funded, B2B SaaS with Referral Rock, Josh has seen and learned from the wearisome, momentous, ebb-and-flow all of starting up.

Josh Ho’s brain-pickings :brain:

(Curated excerpts to give you a sense of some of Josh’s beliefs and thought processes)

On not hiring too early:

It’s all hard and painful, but the hardest part has been hiring and building a team. Mistakes in hiring are very expensive. As Referral Rock is self-funded, time and money are both critical resources to manage as there is not much room for error.

My biggest hiring mistakes were when I brought people on too early. (Just to clarify, I don’t mean it was too early for the business because I definitely felt the pain and had the need.) The mistake I made was that it was too early for me as a leader and manager.

I’ve learned that hiring from a position of pain is not a good idea. It’s a lot like going food shopping when you’re hungry — there is a good chance of making a bad decision.

If I were to do it differently, I would tell myself to take pause and do more of the job myself first and make sure there are repeatable processes involved.

I would take the time to get a better understanding of what a successful hire looks like from all angles — not just what they would achieve but how I’d work with them on a day-to-day basis, how they took direction, and the processes and cadences necessary to be effective. You should know the ins and outs before you can effectively hire and manage a role.

It’s tough to figure that out with just a few calls and a project, but we have built a process to help us avoid mistakes and see red flags sooner. I still struggle to find the right fit for some particular roles but I have also been fortunate to find people I feel like I can build the company with.

Source: IH | 2019

On not being too close to your product:

We were proud to “dogfood” our product, but we became too attached to addressing our own personal needs. We were in love with our own vision for how note taking should be. Yes, that was the primary reason we started UberNote and building a business out of a need you can identify with is a good thing… We just stayed too close to it for too long.

Being so close to our product led us to often make decisions based on what we wanted to see vs. what our users wanted. We didn’t recognize until it was too late that we were the outliers within our market of note-takers.

At some point, you are not the ideal user for your product anymore. Once you decide that your prototype/proof of concept is supposed to transition into being a business you have to realize you are not the target customer and you are not building this just for you.

You have to see where your customers take you and use their feedback to help craft the product. You can still be visionary for your product, just not blindly.

With Referral Rock I am making a concerted effort to practice customer development. I have discussed with customers their needs and their current practices for referral marketing.

I have also discussed with them their workflows and the value a product like Referral Rock can bring them. Yes, I have my vision for Referral Rock but it has changed since the onset and I’m allowing it to be fluid as I discover more about my customer’s needs.

Source: Mojo Ho | 2015

On the many, diverse paths of starting up (and why all need founder friends):

Bootstrapping is not a religion.

Build in public isn’t for everyone.

Being a solopreneur/indie can be a phase.

How you start, may not be how you finish. (friends are still needed)

Everyone can keep learning from each other, that doesn’t change. An understanding that they have a different lens to look through should be celebrated.

It will just add diversity of thinking to your own circle. The magic is still in people sharing. When a business leaves one phase for another, it should be celebrated not ostracized.

You may not agree with their choice, that’s OK. Being respectful is a conscious choice that real friends make. Be a real friend.

Source: Twitter | 2022

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Thanks for doing this, @jlogic! :slight_smile:

Great to hear about the methodical progress you’ve charted with Referral Rock. It’ll be great to know your thoughts on the following:

  1. What are some mindsets and practices that have helped you transition to being a solo founder the second time around?
  2. People often talk about the inherent constraints of running a self-funded and profitable venture, but I’d love to know, in what ways have those choices enabled you to do more when compared to your previous venture-backed startup?
  3. And as you’ve been operating remotely long before the pandemic, what’s a favourite team ritual that you’ve continued to observe all along?
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