10 Best Referral Program Examples to Inspire You

While many accredit the pre-launch hype and FOMO as the primary growth drivers, it was the well-structured referral program and enticing reward structure that led them to success.

Abdul Wahab

Abdul Wahab

· 18 min read
10 Best Referral Program Examples to Inspire You

With evolving marketing trends and hyper-competitive spaces, acquiring new, high-paying, and loyal customers have become ever so challenging for businesses. Financially speaking, it costs five times more than retaining existing ones. Still, without new entries in your sales funnel, you’re unlikely to survive as a business.

Want to learn a customer acquisition hack that enrolls new customers at the behest of previous ones without any exorbitant marketing budgets? Enter Referral Marketing. Companies like Robinhood and PayPal have leveraged word-of-mouth marketing to generate 100,000 signups pre-launch or witness a massive 10% daily growth rate.

While many accredit the pre-launch hype and FOMO as the primary growth drivers, it was the well-structured referral program and enticing reward structure that led them to success. We have reviewed the ten best referral program examples for inspiration, along with five actionable tips to emulate your new product launch.

Referral Marketing: How it’s Revolutionizing Businesses?

In an era where consumers are skeptical of sponsored advertising, referral marketing has emerged as a powerful tool revolutionizing the way businesses attract and retain customers. Recommendations from people you trust are likely to influence your purchase decisions, whether you’re out shopping for groceries or dining at a restaurant.

A survey shows that even a 5% increase in customer retention can lift profits up to 95%. Moreover, referred customers are 18% more likely to stick with your brand, making referrals a prerequisite for consistent growth.

Referral marketing works as social proof from existing, satisfied customers, allowing businesses to establish trust and credibility with their prospects. By capitalizing on people’s natural inclination to share positive experiences, referral marketing harnesses the power of customer advocacy to drive growth, enhance brand reputation, and foster long-term customer loyalty.

Here’s how referral marketing has been a game-changer for businesses:

Extending Reach for Quality Customer Acquisition

Referral marketing taps into the psychology of satisfied customers. People are hard-wired to share positive experiences either as a concern for the welfare of others or for mutual benefit.

By offering an incentive for every recommendation, businesses can encourage customers to promote their products within their networks. Referrals from a trusted source are likelier to mold prospects’ purchase decisions.

Consequently, the referred individuals are more inclined to engage with the business and stick longer than customers who arrive through other channels. Trust helps companies acquire customers predisposed to having a positive experience with the brand.

Cost-Effective Marketing with Increased ROI

With no sponsored media attention and targeted social media posts, referral marketing costs are fractionally low than traditional marketing. Even though referrals are based on incentives and rewards, it’s still more affordable than investing in advertising campaigns or influencer partnerships.

Referred customers have a pre-existing positive sentiment toward the brand - often inherited from people they trust. The positive customer experience leads to better conversion rates, as referred customers are more inclined to engage, make purchases, and become loyal customers. Their higher lifetime value translates into long-term revenue streams and repeats business, improving the ROI of referral marketing efforts.

Fostering Stronger Customer Relationships

Referral programs engage satisfied customers into advocates who willingly share their experiences, strengthening their bond with the brand.

When customers refer others, they are essentially endorsing the brand and putting their own reputation on the line. Their trust and dependency don’t go unnoticed by the prospects, compelling them to purchase.

When new referrals convert into customers, it reinforces the value advocates bring to the business. Rewarding them with credits and exclusive perks ensures their loyalty and support of the brand - a pre-condition to nurture stronger customer relationships.

10 Successful Customer Referral Program Examples

Even though marketers have outlined best practices to shape your referral strategy, it only works best when managed efficiently and optimized to attract the right customers.

But before you instate referral program software, set up a promotion strategy to ensure your program reaches its designated audience and compels them to participate. Whether you’re finalizing the referral rewards or deciding the terms and conditions for the program, perhaps it’s ideal to learn from the industry leaders.

Each company has different eligibility criteria, referral rewards, promotion strategies, and application process that suits their audience. With every referral example, we’ve discussed their referral strategy and its positive impact on growth.


While referrals have become a go-to marketing strategy for small businesses, Airbnb is one of those establishments that lead by example. The online marketplace for lodging had humble beginnings from a small apartment, where the founders rented out their living room to three guests.

The platform has since expanded to almost every country, featuring over 4 million hosts who’ve welcomed 1.4 billion guest arrivals to date. The hotel industry disruptor Airbnb has reached nearly 200 countries reaching a market capital of $82 billion, much of which is owed to their stellar referral campaign.

The Referral Strategy

Airbnb is amongst those touchstone examples that leveraged rewards, social proof, and email campaigns to drive massive growth. In countries where Airbnb was still so foreign, carrying out referral programs allowed the company to reach new potential customers.

The company initially introduced a double-sided referral program that offered referring customers $100 for every referral - $25 when new users book their trip and $75 when their rent lodging. While the campaign drove millions of dollars in revenue, it wasn’t promoted to its full potential.

Airbnb refer a friend landing page with sign-up and share options.
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Airbnb’s second attempt at the referral program was explicitly geared toward smartphones to cater to a larger audience. It offered the same $100 for every successful referral generated. The participants were compelled to invite people closest to them to achieve a higher conversion rate, which worked.

Impact on Growth

Airbnb implemented the referral program at a time when the concept of referral was still so new to the online ecosystem. Or as the marketing head, Gustaf Alstromer, describes it, “the less mature the market, the more the impact of the referral program.”

As it turns out, the referred customers participated much more enthusiastically in the program than existing users. They booked more reservations, became hosts more often, and in the name of altruism, sent more invites. Overall, the campaign produced over 300% more bookings and signups than before.


As the SaaS industry gets more competitive, new startups leverage referral marketing to stand out and hit their audience’s radar. Launching a SaaS product is best powered with a referral program, and Dropbox offers a touchstone example to emulate.

The cloud storage and file-sharing platform conducted a successful referral program that augmented its growth from a startup into a multi-billion dollar enterprise bearing over 700 million users worldwide.

The Referral Strategy

Instead of offering exclusive discounts and credits, the startup adopted the “rewarding customers with what they need” approach. Dropbox offered existing users additional storage space when they referred others to sign up for the service. Marketers instated a “viral loop” in its referral program, whereby people who brought in new leads also became potential referrers themselves.

Dropbox referral program homepage.
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The Dropbox referral landing page was labeled with the tagline;

Get up to 16GB of free space by inviting your friends to try Dropbox!

According to the program, basic account users could receive 500MB of free cloud storage space for each referral generated, leading up to an accumulative 16GB. Once visitors signed up on the webpage, they received a personalized referral link to share with friends.

Dropbox subpage featuring unique referral link.
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Since the referral incentive was exclusive to the target audience, it only attracted users that were bound to stay on the platform, ensuring a higher lifetime value. What kicked off the campaign, in terms of popularity, was its seamless sharing capability. It provided users with pre-populated messages and sharing options, making it effortless for users to spread the word about Dropbox.

Impact on Growth

As a pioneer in this marketing genre, Dropbox's referral program fared exceptionally well. The startup managed to receive 35% of its daily signups from referrals during the first 15 months of launching. In April 2010 alone, the program led more than 2.8 million new referrals onto the platform marking an astonishing 3900% growth.

As more users joined through referrals, the value of Dropbox increased for all users. The larger the user base, the more seamless file sharing and collaboration became, strengthening the overall user experience.


Whether you call it the epitome of technology or simply a marketing brilliance, Elon Musk and Tesla rarely stay out of the news. The brand rose to fame not just because of its quintessential EV technology but rather the impeccable referral program that marketers have praised and adopted ever since.

Despite a $0 marketing budget, Tesla’s sales skyrocketed, booking 253,000 cars within the first 36 hours of the Model 3 launch. Even though the lot was yet to release until late 2017, the company signed $10 billion worth of pre-orders; perhaps the credit is due to their referral strategy.

The Referral Strategy

Right from the start, Tesla acquired a loyal customer base with the highest owner satisfaction rate among all automotive manufacturers. Leveraging its public standing, the brand first launched its referral program in 2016 and has continued on the path ever since with better reward programs every year.

Tesla's referral program web page featuring car customization options.
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One of its earlier referral programs offered cash discounts against every successful referral. The landing page read;

Receive a $1,000 credit when you order a new Model S or Model X.

Tesla has offered everything from free roadsters and solar panel chargers to $1,000 discounts and cash rewards to incentivize its customers. As of 2023, Tesla has renewed its vehicle reward programs allowing participants to win EV cars and Cybertruck based on the qualifying referrals.

Reaching five qualifying referrals (5 QRs) would allow customers to tour the factory and attend the grand opening. Acquiring 10 QRs would offer participants an exclusive chance to purchase the Founder Series Model X, which wasn’t available to the public.

To entice existing Tesla owners, the program now offers “Loot Box Credits,” which can be redeemed with software upgrades and free supercharging up to 10,000 kilometers.

Impact on Growth

Following Tesla’s success with the referral programs, the company has witnessed a 40x return on every dollar spent on its marketing budget. Around 25% of its sales in the latter quarter of 2015 were generated from referral programs. While their referral strategy isn’t as lucrative today, it still helps them reach prospects and acquire new customers.


Even though Uber introduced a revolutionary idea of providing reliable, convenient, and affordable transport, it couldn’t make headlines until after its referral program. The online ride-sharing platform started in 2009 and has currently expanded its services to 65 countries and over 10,000 cities and townships.

Many analysts accredit Uber’s quick expansion to their flawless refer-a-friend program, and here’s why.

The Referral Strategy

Shortly after its launch, it offered $10 double-sided rewards to passengers and riders, encouraging them to refer new customers. The cash rewards were paid as Uber credits which could only be redeemed through discounted or free rides.

The company later upgraded the reward credits to $20 and $30 for both parties. The reason why Uber’s referral campaign has received widespread attention is that it covers a free rides for new customers.

To keep the program equally enticing for drivers, Uber announced an affiliate program. Drivers could earn between $200 - $500 as a starting bonus if they join through a referral link.

Uber referral page outlining the process of generating a referral.
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Here are a few reasons why the program has worked well in favor of Uber:

  • Easy Access: Users receive a personal referral code upon signing up on the platform. Sharing the code with a friend or colleague will set you up for a reward.
  • Enticing Rewards: Uber offered something more than basic cash bonuses. For every successful referral, both the referrer and the referred-in user would get a free trip.
  • Mobile-centric: Besides its initial version, Uber was designed for smartphones allowing users to send referral links on the go.
  • Several Sharing Options: Existing customers can share their codes via emails, social media, or direct messaging, accommodating all mainstream methods of connecting with friends.

Impact on Growth

Many market analysts account for Uber's phenomenal growth to their $24.7 billion funding; we ought to give credit where it’s due. Following their referral marketing program, Uber witnessed a 12x return on investment. In simpler terms, for every $1 spent on marketing, the company earned $12.


Robinhood originally started as an online stock brokerage firm that enabled commission-free trading but later expanded into a financial services company. Although the platform is known for its impeccable referral campaign at the time of launch in 2013, Robinhood repeated its success in 2018 with the cryptocurrency endeavor.

As one of the leading Fintech startup launches, Robinhood now boasts over 31 million customers with a market capital touching above $9 billion. Learn how referral programs have been elemental to Robinhood’s steady growth over the years.

The Referral Strategy

In 2013, when Robinhood launched as a stock-brokerage company, it announced its first pre-launch referral campaign granting priority access to the platform once it goes on air. Instead of offering a particular reward, company heads enticed their audience with a simple, clear tagline calling for signup.

“$0 commission stock trading, Stop paying up to $10 for every trade.”

Robinhood referral landing page.
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While the marketing message was compelling enough to register users, Robinhood instated a waitlist strategy allowing users priority access to the stock trading app after launch. Knowing a simple share button would earn them a firsthand experience of the trading app, people were keen to spread the message, and the results were astonishing.

Robinhood’s thank you message mentioning your position on the waitlist.
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For every qualified lead, referring customers would receive a stock valued at $2.50 to $225. Similarly, the referred-in users would get a stock share worth between $2.50 and $225 from a stock pool.

Impact on Growth

While the Robinhood app was still under development, its landing page had reached 1 million user signups within the first month of its pre-launch campaign. Apart from mainstreaming a revolutionary idea, the company projected clever marketing techniques to get people to sign up and spread the word. Marketers leveraged gamification and FOMO tactics to influence the audience’s psyche and encourage them to get on board.


Evernote, a popular note-taking and productivity platform, has fared phenomenally since its release in 2008. Despite allocating zero budget for its marketing or customer acquisition, Evernote has assembled over 225 million users worldwide, amounting to $1 billion in valuation.

While setting foot in the market, Evernote’s creators knew two things; how to develop a great product that customers love and know the potential of word-of-mouth as a marketing asset.

Evernote’s journey to success has been commendable, gaining its first million users within 14 months of the launch and hitting 11 million users two years later. Even though it discontinued the program in 2021, its strategy still deserves a worthy mention.

The Referral Strategy

Unlike the common notion in marketing, cash rewards aren’t always the best strategy to generate leads, and Evernote knew this from the start. As CEO Phil Libin claims, “We don’t pay money for users.”

The startup initiated a points system for sharing referral links or activating a promotion with one of its partners. The earned points could later be redeemed for miscellaneous awards and in-app upgrades.

Evernote refer-a-friend web page with friends invite option.
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Users could earn up to 10 points for their first three referrals, which can be reclaimed for three months of premium or 3 GB of additional monthly upload space. Referrers would receive an additional 5 points if their referral purchased a premium account.

Impact on Growth

Evernote’s referral success is a guiding torch for businesses attempting to increase their customer base without spending exorbitant marketing sums. Around 13% of Evernote's 100 million active users channeled through their referral program.


With its roots linking back to Germany, T-Mobile is a leading telecommunications company that offers wireless voice, messaging, and data services to millions of customers in the US. The company entertains a record 113.6 million customers, of which 2.6 million users have access to high-speed internet, some of which are brought in through referrals.

The Referral Strategy

While the strategy worked pretty much the same, the wireless carrier T-mobile adopted an unconventional incentive approach. The referral program offered actual shares in the company in exchange for a credible referral - a foreign concept in the wireless industry.

T-mobile referral brochure offering stock sharing.
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Referring customers were eligible to earn up to 100 shares in their newly launched T-mobile line - 1 for each referral. Whereas referred users would receive one T-mobile stock 15 days after registering on the platform. The lucrative incentives brought T-mobile extensive leads until it was quietly discontinued and replaced with a more standard $50 MasterCard.

T-mobile refer-a-friend webpage.
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Today the cellular network provider offers a chance to earn up to $500 a year in rewards. Each credible referral sets you up for a $50 prize, given that your referred friend purchases a T-mobile plan. The company also proposes special discounts on their new packages to popularize the program.

Impact on Growth

While there hasn’t been a public disclosure of the program results, the T-mobile stock price increased from $40 to $50 in early 2018 following the referral campaign launch. The stock price spike hints at the campaign's popularity and success, making it a win-win situation for the participants and the enterprise.

Google Workspace

If you thought referral programs were exclusively beneficial to budding startups or small businesses, you’re yet to see the full picture. The global tech giant Google has been actively promoting its cloud-based work collaboration platform, Google Workspace, through many referral marketing campaigns since 2014.

Formerly known as Google Apps and later G Suite, Google Workspace combines a plethora of everyday business solutions, including Gmail, Google Calendar, Google Drive, Google Docs, Sheets, and Slides. Let’s look at how Google caters to the audience to promote its subsidiary programs.

The Referral Strategy

Google’s referral strategy is remarkably simple, straightforward, and yet unique. Where companies spend considerable resources on identifying the proper reward structure, the search giant doesn’t bother with exclusivity, free gifts, or discount coupons.

Rather it deals in cold, hard cash that’s deposited into the referrers' bank account for leading new users on the Workspace. Google’s cash reward plan is as follows:

  • Business Starter plan: $8 per user
  • Business Standard plan: $15 per use
  • Business Plus plan: $23 per user
Google Workspace homepage.
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People can smartly earn up to $23 if the referred friend signs up for a Business Plus Plan. Whereas referred users can get a 10% discount during their first of using the Google Business Plan. To put into perspective, one can earn up to $230 for successfully bringing 10 users within its domain.

Impact on Growth

According to the October 2020 census, Google Workspace had reached 2.6 billion active users worldwide, a 600 million increase compared to April of the same year. The April 2020 statistics state that over 6 million businesses were using the cloud-based program, and an additional 120 million users had signed up on the platform for educational purposes.


Besides being a hip brand that deals in men grooming and shaving equipment, Harry’s shave club is a personification of the David vs. Goliath legend in the business world. The subscription-based grooming startup was up against existing giants in the industry, like Schick and Gillette, that amassed 84% of the market share.

Starting off as a barbershop in Manhattan and a small e-commerce startup, Harry’s currently stands as a $1.4 billion enterprise. The startup’s journey to success starts right through its week-long pre-launch campaign designed to build email lists of potential customers.

The Referral Strategy

Emulating Robinhood’s marketing campaign, Harry’s launched a pre-launch referral strategy not just to collect email addresses but to establish a customer base until the brand is ready for launch. While the campaign allowed them to study the market sentiment, it helped announce their arrival to prospects who were in need of a better shave.

Harry’s thank you page for sign-ups with an invite-a-friend option.
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Once visitors registered on the landing page, they were directed to a leading web page with a unique shareable link specifically designated for their friends. Marketers offered double-sided tiered rewards that enabled customers to earn better rewards as they referred the brand to more people. Here’s what Harry’s tiered structure looked like:

  • Refer five people, get free Harry’s shave cream.
  • Refer 10 people, get a free Harry’s razor.
  • Refer 25 people, get a free “premium” Harry’s shave set.
  • Refer 50 friends, get free Harry’s razor blades for a year.

The incoming customers would get a 10% off their first purchase. If you’re an existing Harry’s shave club member, you can get a $5 discount on your next purchase every time you bring a new referral.

Impact on Growth

Harry’s successful referral campaign is a lesson to remember for upcoming entrepreneurs. Within the first week of its launch, the campaign generated 100,000 leads, serving as the founding stone for its skyrocketing growth to a 10-figure enterprise.


Executing a successful referral program for a niche audience is never easy, but WealthSimple has risen through the ranks quite exceptionally. The investment management platform caters to a selective investment-driven audience looking to build smart investment portfolios that help them achieve their financial growth.

On behalf of their exceptional services and effective customer referral program, WealthSimple has become Canada’s most popular online brokerage with $14.9 billion in assets under administration. The brand exhibited a 14% year-on-year growth, partly thanks to its partnership with Prefinery.com - a leading marketing platform.

The Referral Strategy

Inviting friends on the platform allows WealthSimple’s existing clients to earn $10,000 in assets managed for free for 12 months. The referred client also receives the same perks for a year, given that they register and fund an account.

Wealthsimple referral page outlining details of how the referral program work.
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The zero markup fees not only reduce the hurdle for signing up on the platform but also gets them more involved in the app, leading to a higher customer retention rate. To maximize clients' interest in the company, WealthSimple organizes contests from time to time featuring cash rewards.

Key Takeaways: Best Practices for Implementing a Successful Referral Program

Designing a referral program that sets your business up for consistent and manageable growth is never easy. Besides investing extensive time and resources, the ideal type of referral marketing campaign demands insights from successful programs from leading brands in your niche.

If you truly want to leverage referral marketing for the gold mine that it is, implement the following referral program ideas.

Outline the Program Goals

Regardless of the campaign you’re managing or the business you’re assigned to, defining your referral program's objectives and desired outcomes sets the roadmap for linear growth. Program goals set the direction and purpose of your campaign, whether it is acquiring new customers or retaining existing ones.

Offer Compelling Incentives

People don’t necessarily advocate for a brand unless they are motivated to do so. Your job as a marketer is to find what drives your customers and leverage that to employ them as brand ambassadors.

Rewards work as a powerful motivator for existing customers to refer others to your business. When the rewards are valuable and desirable, referrers are more likely to invest time and effort in promoting your products or services to their network.

Offering compelling incentives help attract new customers who may not have otherwise discovered or considered your business. Incentives that align with your customer’s needs and preferences create a sense of reciprocity, rewarding them for their advocacy and encouraging them to continue referring.

Keep the Process Simple

As marketing gets more dense and diverse, simplicity becomes key to distinguishing your program from the crowd. In terms of referral marketing, a simple and streamlined process removes friction, making it easier for customers to participate and refer others.

The easier it is to participate in your program, the more motivated your customers be to refer friends. Here are a few tips to simplify your referral program:

  • Provide clear and concise instructions on how to participate in the program.
  • Offer the most popular and widely used referral channels to ensure seamless sharing.
  • Simplify the referral actions and ensure the program's mobile-responsive landing pages.
  • Implement automated systems to track referrals and distribute rewards.

Track and Optimize the Program

The rewards you’re offering may lack the driving force that urges customers to be active promoters of a brand’s product or service. Or perhaps, the program structure isn’t as foolproof to track quality and credible referrals.

Continuously test and optimize the referral process based on user feedback and data analysis. Monitor user behavior, track conversion rates, and identify potential bottlenecks or confusion.

Final Verdict

Before you start shooting in the dark, identify how the leading brands have fared with their referral program. From identifying their referral strategies and incentive to extracting key insights impacting their growth, we’ve summarized ten stellar program examples to turn your first-time buyers into loyal brand ambassadors.

The fact is, not every business possesses enough human and capital resources to build a referral program while also refining its core product. Some things are better left to the professionals. Contact Prefinery.com to design and manage your customer referral program that clears your path to success.


How do referral programs benefit businesses?

Referral programs leverage the power of word-of-mouth marketing to drive growth to a business and expand its customer base. Implementing an effective referral program ensures high customer acquisition, maximized reach, and strengthened customer relationships.

What referral strategies did Tesla employ to drive growth?

Tesla implemented a referral program that rewarded customers with incentives like cash discounts, free vehicles, and exclusive access to events and new products. By tapping into the passionate Tesla community, the program generated buzz, increased customer engagement, and contributed to the company's high-paced growth.

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