Ali Mese, founder of, recently wrote on medium that many people look at growth hackers as “magicians who are expected to bring phenomenal growth overnight.”

The reality is that we’re not magicians. While our techniques work, they are usually successful because we put in a consistent effort to test and iterate until we find a strategy that can generate predictable growth.

Referral marketing is no different. It takes a consistent effort to find a referral program that gets you the results that you want. If you’re launching a referral marketing pre-launch campaign then most of the effort that you need to put in occurs well before you launch.

Harry’s Shave Club was one of the first companies to demonstrate what can happen when you successfully execute a referral marketing and pre-launch campaign strategy. In the rest of this essay, I’ll lay out the elements of a successful referral and pre-launch campaign. Here’s the outline:

  • Have a great landing page with built-in referral tracking software
  • Create rewards that are both achievable and tangible
  • Seed populate your email list by telling everyone you know about your company and get their email address. (exact email templates included)
  • Identify where your customers hang out both online and “in real life” and engage with them as much as possible before you launch
  • Find strategic partners to help promote on launch day
  • Talk to your customers before your pre-launch

Build your landing page

Being able to capture email addresses and track referrals is critical to building your audience and being able to give your early subscribers rewards for referring their friends. Here’s a landing page that I built for the pre-launch of my referral marketing API and plugin.

Action Wins Referral Marketing

There are three important elements to this page. The headline, the sub-headline, and the demo video (optional). The headline needs to be clear, concise, and use what I call “weekend language.” You know you’re using weekend language when you read your headline to a target customer who has no idea what you’re trying to launch and they understand what it means. If they can’t understand what you’re core value proposition is, then try a different headline.

The subheadline needs to include a clear call to action (CTA). In this case, mine says “Sing up and refer your friends to earn rewards. This lets your early customers know what to expect once they signup and incentivizes them with rewards. I put the demo video as optional because you may or may not have your product ready enough to create the video. If you do create a video, try to keep it short and make it entertaining. The Dollar Shave Club (competitor to Harry’s Shave Club) used this hilarious video to launch their brand. Your customers are more likely to share this with their friends because it’s entertaining! While you may not be able to spend the 5k to create your video, you’d be surprised what you can do with just an iPhone and some basic iMovie editing.

Achievable and Tangible Rewards

On the referral page, you need to clearly state what your customers will earn for referring their friends. Harry’s Shave Club wrote “Invite Friends and Earn Product.” This made it very clear that you’d get free Harry’s product for inviting your friends. In my case, I’m launching a software product and don’t have physical goods to give away so I instead opted for discounts on the product. My referral page says “Earn Up To 100% Off Your First Year” and “Top Referrers Get Access First”.

You can clearly see from this screenshot that the referrals you need to achieve to get each level of rewards are listed below. As each subscriber reaches the required referral count the button will turn from white to green.

Referral Programs

Finally, these rewards seem achievable. If someone signs up for early access to my service then I’m sure they know at least 1 other person who could benefit that makes getting 10% off an easy win. Five to ten referrals also seems achievable with 25 being a stretch goal to get an entire year off. The reality is most of your referrals will come from the lower two tiers of rewards but you will for sure have a few people who reach the top tier.

I’ve built a tool to make building this kind of campaign super easy. You can check it out here.

It’s important to remember that your product and market will impact how many referrals you can get. My product is an API and Plugin for adding in-app referral market features to web and mobile apps while Harry’s Shave Club’s product is a mass consumer product that both men and women could purchase. My goal is to get into the mid tens of thousands of subscribers for this product.

Tell everyone you know about your company and get their email address

Your personal network of friends and colleagues will be the seed group of subscribers and referrals. You’ll want to write a customizable email template that you’ll use to send out to all of your contacts and get them to sign up. Furthermore, you need to get everyone on your team to use this template to invite their friends as well.  

Here’s a simple one I wrote for my pre-launch:


Hey Name,

I hope you are doing well! As you know, I’ve been working on ActionWins for the past few months and am gearing up for our launch. It’s a referral marketing API and Plugin that will allow you to add in-app referral campaigns to your web and mobile apps in just a few minutes. We’re going to launch our pre-launch campaign next week!


It would mean the world to me if you could share this with any of your friends who you think might be interested. Here’s a blurb you can use when you email them:




Hey ____,


My good friend and entrepreneur, Alex Kehaya, is launching a product that I think you might be interested. It’s an API and Plugin that will let you create refer-a-friend features for your web and mobile applications. I know you’re in the web/mobile and tech scene so I thought you might be interested.

He’s in pre-launch mode and has this landing page up that you can use to get early access and earn rewards for referring others.

He’s a good friend of mine so it would mean  a lot if you’d check it out!

Click here to see what it’s all about.


I did two things here,

  1. I made the first part of the of the email personal and asked my friend to share. I’d also make sure to add a line or two that is specific to the person I’m reaching out to.
  1. I made it as easy as possible for my friend to pass along the campaign to his friend. He doesn’t have to write up a long email explaining the product. Instead, he can just copy and past this and send it to whomever he wants.

To execute this well have your team sit down for 30 minutes and make a list of everyone they know who might be interested. Then have them send out your template to each and every person on that list. Here’s the exact spreadsheet I use to organize all of the contacts and lists you’ll need for your campaign. Feel free to copy it!

I recommend that you send each email individually as it’s more personal. This takes work but it increases the chances that your friends will share. Alternatively, you could just create a group in gmail and add all the emails to that group. Then just send a generic version to the group. This is the lazy and less effective option in my opinion.

Identify where your customers hang out both online and “in real life” and engage with them as much as possible before you launch

My friends Benji and Devesh at Grow And Convert have written about the importance of knowing your customers a lot. They’ve got a lengthy article about how to do customer research so that you can understand what kind of content they’ll want to read and where to find them. My target customers are developers and entrepreneurs building SaaS products. When I first started researching where to find them I thought, what sites give my customers good information about marketing and customer acquisition. These would be my primary channels online to reach my customers. My secondary channels are sites where these customers spend time but that might not be specific to marketing and customer acquisition.

You’ll need to do some research on Google to find the websites and communities that work for your niche. Once you find these sites, you’ll need to build a relationship with the site owners/bloggers and the community members. This is critical because you can’t just waltz into any community and start selling them your product. In the article I linked at the top of this post Ali Mese quotes Jay Baer who said, “your marketing should be so good that your customers would happily pay for it.” Your content is that good when it creates real value for your customers.

If you don’t do this, you’ll get booed and banned out of many of the communities, blogs are little more forgiving but not much. Beware!

Here are a few of my primary websites and communities:

Groove Learning Facebook Group


Freelance Hacker Facebook Group

Here are some secondary websites and communities:

Startup Foundations Slack Group


There are many other groups and sites that fit my niche but I won’t list them all out here. A tool that helps me find bloggers that I should reach out to is called NinjaOutreach. They help you automate the search and the outreach for finding influencers to share your product at launch. It is well worth the investment because it saves you time googling around for the right blogs and influencers to contact. Blogger and influencer outreach is an entire topic in and off itself that I’ll write more about in a separate article. For now, go and checkout Ninja Outreach and read some of their how-to guides.

Find strategic partners to help promote on launch day

In my case, there are other software companies in the marketing automation space who have customers who could benefit from my referral marketing tools. These companies might also end up integrating their products with mine so it makes sense to start developing a relationship with them now. I make a long list of companies that I think would be a good fit and then I start reaching out to the employees of that company who I think are the correct decision makers. In my case, this is usually the Chief Marketing Officer and/or the Head Of Business Development. A strategy that has worked well for me in the past is to first search their website for the team or about page. If you’re lucky, they’ll have this person listed right on the site and they may even have contact information right there. Otherwise, I take the person’s name and plug it into LinkedIn’s search bar. If I can’t find the right person’s name on their website, I just google different variations of the role + company name (CMO of GetResponse) for example.

Once I’ve found the persons LinkedIn profile I take a minute to see what we have in common. Then I create a very short message (LinkedIn limits message size when connecting with someone you don’t know) and I hit the “connect” button. I then paste this message in the connection message and hit send.

It looks something like this:

Name, I’m an entrepreneur from Santa Barbara building a referral marketing tool that I think you might benefit from. I’m hoping to connect to hear your feedback on the product.

Then I sit back and wait till they connect. In my experience, over 50% of the people I reach out to connect with me! When they connect they’ll either ask me for more information, ask to set a meeting, or say nothing at all. If they say nothing at all I send an even longer more detailed message about my product and ask to setup a time to talk.

I like to make it as easy as possible for them to find a time to chat so I use calendly to let them find a time that works for them.

Seriously, if you want to set a time to chat with me about your pre-launch campaign click my calendly link:

Ok, let’s say you’re not launching a software product but you’re launching some kind of physical good that can be sold in retail and online. I’d use this same method to contact retailers (both large and small) who might want to sell my product. Then I’d ask them to let me leave some samples in their store with a link to my pre-launch site where customers can see it in their store. I’d also ask them to send a pre-made email out to their email list. Their willingness to do this will vary depending on your market and product but it’s worth trying to contact 5 of these potential partners to see if it will work!

Talk to your customers before you launch!

The first thing you should do before your pre-launch campaign is start talking to your potential customers. Be very specific about how you identify these target customers. Who are they, where do they hangout, what are their hobbies, what is a day in their life like?

Once you have a good idea of who they are, you’ll need to get out of your office and go ask them open-ended questions that are related to the strategy I’ve just  detailed for you. You’ll want to test your headline and see if your landing page makes sense and you’ll interview them to learn what blogs they read, what communities they belong to, and where they  might shop for your product. Here are some questions I like to ask that are specific to my product:

What are some challenges you face with getting referrals?

Where do you read about marketing online?

What online communities do you belong to?

After taking a look at my landing page, What are your thoughts?

If you’re selling a physical product that could be sold both in stores and online, you might consider going to some of these stores and just approach people who are shopping there.

I know this can be intimidating but it’s really not that hard. Just politely say hey and jump right into who you are are why you’re trying to talk to them.

I usually say something like:

“Hey, I’m an entrepreneur building X product, I’m hoping I can quickly run it by you and ask you a couple of questions to hear your feedback. What are your thoughts?”

If they just blow you off that is fine! Just go ask someone else. More likely than not, they’ll say ok, tell me more or sure I’ve got a few minutes. Then just jump into your line of questioning.

At the end of the conversation, ask them “what are your thoughts on signing to be notified when we launch?”

The process of talking to your customers will help you validate where they hangout, help you learn if you’re communicating your product well and help seed your pre-launch email list. I’d shoot for at least 10-20 of these types of conversations before you try to do outreach online or launch your pre-launch campaign.

Finally, here are all the tools I use:

If you’re looking to add in-app referral marketing features to your web and mobile apps you can sign up here.


How to build a successful pre-launch campaign