FOUNDERS: Carl Maerz and Torey Maerz
LOCATION: StartupCity Des Moines, 317 Sixth Ave.

The problem:
Business referrals are important, but it takes time, resources and often expertise to find customers who will refer your business, and then to consistently follow up with those customers.

The innovation:
Rocket Referrals, using customer information provided by businesses and a specialized algorithm, identifies the most likely referral sources for a business, and in the business’s name follows up with them with thank-you cards, surveys and requests for testimonials. The whole process is automated, meaning the business doesn’t have to be part of the process.

How they did it:
A core belief of Rocket Referrals is that small companies should have the same access to technology that multibillion-dollar companies have. Another core belief is that technology should not only work the way you expect it to, but better than you ever imagined. 

Co-founders and brothers Torey and Carl Maerz believe their product, an automated system that businesses can use to boost customer referrals, helps their client business owners realize those beliefs. 

Using a specialized algorithm, Rocket Referrals is able to identify which customers are most likely to refer others to a business, and then reach out to those customers to get them make a referral.

The process works something like this: 

A client gives Rocket Referrals customer data such as demographic information and contact information. The company’s algorithm looks at the data to determine who the most likely referral customers are. Rocket Referrals then automatically sends those people thank-you cards from the company at appropriate times, customer satisfaction surveys and requests for testimonials.

The company tries to take important extra steps to make the process effective. The thank-you card appears to be handwritten even though the type is computer-generated. Surveys adapt to a customer’s responses; for instance, if a customer does not “like” the company’s Facebook page, the survey will prompt the person to do so. If the customer did like the Facebook page, the survey will prompt that customer to write a testimonial on the company’s Facebook wall.

All of this happens without clients having to do any of the work themselves.

“I think the really innovative piece to all this is just how we packaged it together,” Torey Maerz said. “There’s components of this you can do individually. You can write handwritten thank-you notes and send them yourself. You can send surveys and find people who like you. But not until you take all those things and integrate them together ... do you have this really cool referral strategy.”

Torey Maerz has worked a few jobs in the traditional corporate world, including nine years on the user experience team at Principal Financial Group Inc. He quit his job at Appcore in 2012 to focus on starting his own business, and discovered the need for Rocket Referrals after spending time with a number of independent insurance agents. Carl Maerz, who served in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers as an intelligence advisor in Afghanistan, most recently moved back to Iowa from Colorado to help start the business.

“Many of these small businesses have a low margin, they have to run a lean shop, so they can’t add people to do a referral strategy,” Torey said. “So we created software to do it, and that’s when Rocket Referrals was really born.”

The payoff:

“We’re growing,” Torey said. “Our user base is growing.” 

The company offered its service as a pilot project beginning last summer, and launched it to the general public in December. The brothers now have clients in Iowa and more outside the state, from professions including insurance agents, car dealers and even nutritional supplement providers.