Alex Markov taught himself to code at a young age. Today, he runs one of the largest referral programs on Shopify and credits his success to hard work and focusing on customer service.

Hey! What’s your background, and what get’s you out of bed every morning?

I’ve been a developer since I was about 13 years old. I taught myself by reading all of the books that I could find about the subject. However when it came time to picking a career, Marketing seemed more fun to me at that moment. After graduating college in 2007, I worked for various advertising companies. It took me those years to realize that my true passion is in technology. So I went out on my own and started Refersion.

Being able to build things and learning new stuff on my own terms is what gets me up in the morning.

What motivated you to start Refersion?

I wanted to build something of my own and I felt like I had the skills to do it after seeing so many missed opportunities in other companies. Furthermore, I had that entrepreneurial “bug”. One day I thought, “what is the worst thing that can happen?” Maybe I fail miserably and look for a better job using all of the new experience I earned. Or I succeed and I don’t need a job. I had no kids or any other major obligations and I knew that I would regret it if I didn’t try it. Seemed like a win/win so I gave it a go.

What did it take to build and launch the initial product?

I took the very, very lean startup approach. I knew that I was going to build on top of Shopify’s platform as an App and my first step was to figure out what people wanted. So I went to the Shopify’s forums to find out. I saw that a lot of people were asking about tracking partner sales and paying commission. It wasn’t very obvious what they wanted initially, but there was common theme. I also posted about my hypothesis and more people started asking about it. I wrote down the top four requested features and made an email signup form I can’t believe it is still up. I told people that if they want access, they should enter their email for the beta.

When over 150 email addresses registered in about one day, I knew I had something. Then it took me 6 months to come out with the beta. While my friends were partying, I was grinding. I made sure that I was going to finish it. Either fail with experience or win, but I was going to see it through to find out which one it was going to be.

How have you attracted users and grown the company?

We believe that creating an amazing experience for customers will always grow the company. We’ve accomplished this through our strong partnership with Shopify and other platforms that we’ve integrated with. On top of that, our in-house customer support in our New York office is always available and eager to help. The secret is to provide a killer first impression and partner with customers for their own success. It isn’t always easy, but it’s well worth the effort.

Why did you chose to build on Shopify’s platform?

When I found Shopify’s API they were just starting their App Store. They had a number of programs for developers to build on their platform. After I contacted them I was pleasantly surprised to learn that not only did they reply to my email, but also spent their time supporting me while I learn their tech. I still think that’s what makes them so good; they often give more than they take. The rest is history.

What’s your business model, and how have you grown your revenue?

It’s an on going improvement. Right now we have two “mass market” plans to allow customers to try us out with minimal risk. A $19/month plan for Shopify and a $89/month plan. Then for enterprise level customers who need more resources, we have a plan priced as a percentage of affiliate sales.

What are the biggest challenges you’ve faced and obstacles you’ve overcome?

Tons of challenges and some are still a work in progress. A short list: navigating complicated business tax regulations, learning how to build great user experiences and what design really is, building our company around the right culture. I would say the most challenging thing for me to this day is finding and recognizing the right people to hire.

What are your goals for the future, and how do you plan to accomplish them?

Right now I am focused on the product roadmap. In addition, we’re also building out our own affiliate/influencer network, called Marketplace. As time goes on, Marketplace will play a much bigger role in the Refersion ecosystem. We have some amazing new updates planned for that - stay tuned!

What are your biggest advantages over your competition?

Our support is a big differentiator. So many of our competitors outsource it to a third-party and forget about it. I do not believe in that - customer support is always #1.

Secondly, our partner integrations, smooth on-boarding, and intelligent UI is something that we continue to invest in to beat our competition.

What’s your advice for others who are just starting out?

Learn everything you can about the business of your app, including the technology. Once you do that, try it. What’s the worst that can happen? :-)

Where can we go to learn more?

To get in touch with me directly at [email protected] or my LinkedIn


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