Getting Global Interview: CEO of ReferralCandy

Dinesh Raju of ReferralCandy.

Dinesh Raju of ReferralCandy.

I sat down for a chat with Dinesh Raju, the co-founder and CEO of Anafore, the company behind ReferralCandy, an industry-leading referral marketing SaaS product.

The company is headquartered in Singapore, and from day one of the launch of the product, in 2010, has had to look beyond its home market. In December more than 90% of the company’s revenues were generated outside Asia. Dinesh had insightful things to say about getting global, entrepreneurship, and whiskey.

I am an investor in the company. Here's a "five questions" version of our discussion.

How does ReferralCandy solve the referral marketing problem?

Although more than 80% of satisfied customers are willing to refer products and services, less than a third actually do. In many cases, this is because businesses don’t have an automated process in place to offer referral incentives. That’s why we built ReferralCandy. We help businesses achieve their full potential through word of mouth. We’ve created a cool infographic just about this.

ReferralCandy is a software application that runs your business’s refer-a-friend program to encourage customers to tell friends about your store. The application integrates with social media and tracks how well your referral campaign is doing with real-time analytics. It’s also highly customizable, and you can get it up and running really quickly.

What led to your taking the entrepreneurial plunge?

Somebody once said that being an entrepreneur is like eating glass and staring into the abyss of death. Hearing this I went, “Pffft, how hard can it be?” Here I am a few years later and have to say, the glass tastes pretty good!

Would you like some glass with that?

Would you like some glass with that?

But seriously, it all started during lunch with a friend who owned a shop selling beads and was looking to get new customers for his store. We knew that his existing customers loved him, and there had to be some way to build on that. The conversation got around to the social networks and how he could use software to get more word of mouth. There wasn’t anything on the market that was affordable and easy to set up, so we decided to build something ourselves. And so ReferralCandy was born.

What were your main startup challenges?

The first one was the challenge that pretty much every startup faces. We needed to make sure that we were solving a problem that a large enough number of people faced. And that we were solving it in a way that they were willing to pay for. Overcoming this involved a long and continual evolution of the product idea based on customer feedback. Oh and whiskey. Lots of whiskey.

Add five cups daily until total world domination has been achieved.

Add five cups daily until total world domination has been achieved.

Being engineers by training (and techies at heart), we were new to the sales and marketing game. We needed to quickly figure out how customers learn about and acquire Internet software products. Fortunately, there’s a wealth of literature online these days on how customer acquisition works for tech startups and that helped us get up to speed.

Another challenge that many startups face (and in many cases kills them) is a mismatch between co-founders. Thankfully I got lucky and this is something I don’t have to contend with. Zach, my co-founder, and I have known each other for more than a decade and it’s great that I can confide in him over a beer after a long day.


You just raised some money -- what do you plan to do with it?

Our product is in a good place, so we’ll be using the additional financing to build out our sales machine. This will involve growing the team to fill more specialized sales and marketing positions as well as getting the right tools in place to measure and accelerate our efforts.

The funding will also be used to push features that advance our referral technology for the next generation version of the ReferralCandy application.

This blog is about getting global. You have had to think globally from the very beginning. What advice do you have for founders in the same spot?

Getting the right team in place from day one is crucial if you’re looking to build a business that serves customers around the world. You’ll want team members who are sensitive to building a product for customers who speak a different language or see the world a little differently. As an example, customers might be slow in responding to our emails since back at home it might be Thanksgiving -- or Holi! So it helps to know when to give them an extra day or two.

Also, you should be clear on your primary market. To get global, you need to first focus on establishing a beachhead in a large primary market since you’ll have limited resources initially. Your entire team should be clear on what this market will be since you’ll need to adapt to the cultural nuances of how customers use your product there. When looking at the U.S. as our primary market, we started by understanding how customers might encounter our product there. Once we knew, it was just a matter of integrating with the channels that would help us reach out to them.

Finally, there’s a whole suite of technology tools available these days to help your startup tackle a global market so use them! Get a Skype Number from your primary market so that customers have a local number to call if they want to reach you. Content Delivery Networks (CDNs) have become very affordable and give your website visitors a snappy experience regardless of where they’re located. And if you're looking to get your site translated into a new language, there are a host of online translation services that will get you up and running in no time.

A big thank you to Dinesh for taking the time!