Votion is an enterprise SaaS platform that enables marketers and brands to drive audience engagement and drive lead generation through their digital Bracket marketing platform.
The company was founded by Craig Zingerline & Stephen Phillips in 2015 and bootstrapped their initial growth, then went through the LAUNCH Accelerator, raised a small Angel round of capital to expand their product offering. Over the past 4 years they have grown almost exclusively by leveraging a customer referral loop process that gets their brand in front of more companies for free.
Here’s a screenshot of what the product looks like in action:
The early days of growth
The company right from the start grew organically. The first iteration of the platform was free. Prior to officially launching Votion, we had built a pretty basic MVP that was out in the wild as a free B2C social product. We didn’t have a monetization strategy in place when we launched (which you can read about here) and we were not sure what we’d do with the product longer term.
This turned out to be OK though, as we received a couple inbound inquiries from brands fairly early on wondering if they could whitelabel our brackets to use for their own campaigns. How’d those first leads find us? They saw some of our real example brackets that we created ourselves out in the wild that had our own logo and a link to our website embedded in each campaign, which we’ll detail below.
The next iteration
We started to get more and more inquiries which was great! However, every time we wanted to roll out a new instance of our product, we’d need to clone the codebase, customize it for the client, and launch it for them. Talk about a hack job! This approach obviously doesn’t scale, and we had some pretty long days and nights when we started to pick up some traction just maintaining the codebase and making sure we could handle setting up campaigns for clients. They didn’t know that we were working behind the scenes hacking their campaigns together, but the efforts paid off over time. About a year in, due to the traction we were seeing, we decided to build our our SaaS platform. It took a while, but we looked at our customer acquisition to date and realized that all of our leads came in by seeing a campaign out on the web.
Building the referral loop
What we decided to do next was to focus on branded placements within each of our client’s campaigns to showcase our own logo. We went through many iterations, but ended up with something that looks like this below – highlighting is to illustrate the start of the referral loop.
Notice the two “Powered by Votion” placements in the image above. They are persistent and live across each page of the Bracket app and for every client who is running a campaign.
Some of our campaigns are seen by thousands of people, and we drive a significant amount of clicks from those placements. Clicking on the “Powered by Votion” leads the viewer to our landing page. When a user clicks on that link, we track which campaign they came from so that we can “credit” the customer who drove that traffic to us.
Notice that we are trying to to two things here:
- Pitch the companies who hit this page to get in touch to request pricing from us.
- Get the user to check out more information about brackets (the “Bracket overview page” CTA).
If a user submits the form, we tie that form submission to the referring client and give that client credit in our system.
The full referral loop
The full behavior of the referral loop is illustrated below. What’s interesting is that this referral loop scales as our customer base scales. So in busy times of the year (think #marchmadness when we sell tons of Bracket campaigns) we have a very strong flywheel that is entirely driven by our customers who have live campaigns running. They launch their campaigns, users see the campaigns, click on our Powered by CTA, and some of them create accounts and become new customers.
The long tail of the referral loop
Another interesting finding to share is that we’ve seen some campaigns that were run over a year or two ago still driving traffic our way. That’s because we have a “post campaign” state for the product that kicks in after the campaign end date has passed. Our customers generally embed an iFrame on their site that contains our Bracket product inside of it, which has the calls to action over to Votion. Once they are done promoting their campaigns that iFrame still lives on their site, and while their own audience can no longer engage with the campaign, the links still work driving traffic to our site.
This is a nice way to increase our google ranking as we have many referring websites pointing to us, and we see that increase reflected in our continuously better google SEO ranking for organic search.
Ideas to consider
Can you think of a referral loop you can build with your product? Depending on your industry and what type of users you cater to, it’s likely you can find ways to drive a referral based model to help you grow. If you have a freemium model, this particular loop is a great way to drive free lead generation. Instead of step 5 above being a lead generation form, make it super easy for someone to sign up for your free tier, then further activate them via other channels.