Will Fraser, CEO and co-founder of Referral SaaSquatch discusses using a mythical figure to build his brand and more.

Image Source: Gratisography | Ryan McGuire

At last year’s GROW conference, Referral SaaSquatch made it to the final round of Shopify’s Under the Radar Pitch Competition, competing against TimeHero. Ultimately, Fraser took the top prize after successfully incorporating the advice of the competition’s judge, Shopify COO Harley Finkelstein.

L-SPARK: How did you and your team come up with the Referral SaaSquatch brand?

Will Fraser: Referral SaasQuatch was a stab at our target market — running referral programs for software- as-a-service applications. We’re from the west coast, so the Sasquatch is a big character here. It allowed us to have a great mascot and a name that relates to what we’re doing. For people in the industry, it’s a bit of an inside joke and they’re pretty aware of how the industry works.

We send our customers socks that are Sasquatch feet. We’ve received pictures of them literally from all over the world. We’ve even received a picture of a customer and his son wearing the socks on the top of the Himalayas! It’s a fun piece of physical property that people can connect with and enjoy.

L-SPARK: How soon after founding a company did you start to evangelize the Referral SaaSquatch brand?

WF: We did it pretty quick — we needed to have people realize that we were real. Not real as in a real company, but real people who care about their customers and who like to have some fun.

L-SPARK: What can a new SaaS company do to bring out the humans behind their brand?

WF: The very first thing we did — and I think most people should do — is an internal exercise. It starts with understanding who you’re trying to connect with, then encouraging your internal team to think as if they were in the shoes of the customer.

We had guys who set up microsites to see where everyone was posting our swag or stickers. We had people who were out making videos. We put together a one-hour long video course. It’s not a dry slide or brochure — it’s someone from behind the Referral SaaSquatch brand actually being real.

It’s important that you let your team know that they’re allowed to be a part of your company’s story, instead of feeling like they should hide behind the screen because the PR person will do all that.

L-SPARK: Do founders have to make a concerted effort to build a positive culture for their employees?

WF: I think leading culture from the top and leading by example helps to really encourage a positive culture. When you see things that are off-culture you let people know that that’s not on point with what we’re trying to do here.

Startups are different than a lot of other working environments — there’s an acceptance of mistakes and an acceptance of failure. I always like to say, “If you don’t feel like you’re out of control, you’re moving too slow.”

L-SPARK: What are some of the things you’ve learned as a SaaS startup founder?

WF: I think the biggest thing I’ve learned is to really have a vision that is big, hairy and audacious. Make sure you’re working on something big and have the confidence that you can do it. You need to personally believe that your startup is real and worth working on.

Success is achievable but it’s not going to be easy to get there. I’ve seen a lot of us, especially in the Canadian ecosystem, have a habit of staying small and safe. You just have to spend a few weeks down in San Francisco to see that there’s a lot of people willing to play it big and there’s a lot of rewards for doing so.

We’re seeing VCs in Canada saying we’ve got to push for billion dollar wins. We just need to keep having big companies like Hootsuite, Slack and Shopify make things happen.

Editor’s note: Interview conducted and blog originally published in January 2016.