Rick Marini – BranchOut 1 of 2

“Pivoting to success.” Rick is guiding BranchOut as the leading professional networking service on Facebook so users can unlock new job opportunities.

Matthew: Hi, this is Matthew Wise, founder of FounderLY.com. We empower entrepreneurs to have a voice and share their story with the world enabling others to learn more about building products and starting companies. So it’s with great pleasure that I’m here today with Rick Marini. Rick is the founder and CEO of BranchOut. BranchOut is a leading career social networking service on Facebook. 

Previously Rick was the founder of Superfan a social entertainment platform that developed social games and Facebook apps for leading clients including CBS, MTV, Sony and others. Before SuperFan, Rick was the chief founder and strategist of Tickle, which was one of the largest social media sites on the internet with over 200 million users and 40 million revenue. Tickle was sold in 2004, acquired by Monster World Wide for over 100 million dollars. So, Rick we’re really excited to have your here.

Rick: Thanks good to be here.

Matthew: I heard about BranchOut through a venture capitalist friend of mine who said you guys were just cracking the nut on professional networking on Facebook, so we wanted to get your story. So we’d like to know from you, what is BranchOut, who’s it for and why are you so passionate about it?

Rick: Sure. As you said BranchOut is a leading career networking application on Facebook. It’s really for a lot of different folks. One could be the career networker; another could be the job seeker. We’ve got about 3 million jobs and 20,000 internships on BranchOut. Another could be for the recruiter, a recruiter who maybe using other sources like LinkedIn but wants to be able to leverage Facebook, and another could be for the sales professional, someone who is trying to close a big deal and needs that one introduction. 

BranchOut allows you to use your extended friend network to find inside connections for great opportunities and those opportunities could fall in any of those categories. 

Matthew: Now that we’ve kind of covered high-level what BranchOut is, we’d like to kind of dig into the details of what inspired you to start BranchOut. Was there some kind of aha moment or this something where you did a bunch of market research and say the trend?

Rick: There was an aha moment. It was a personal itch I would say. A friend of mine was asking for an introduction for a sales lead to another friend. I knew I knew someone who worked at that company and I couldn’t remember who in my Facebook friend ref worked there, I typed in a company name into Facebook and it brought me to the fan page of that company. 

So I was stuck, I was trying to help two friends connect for a mutually beneficial purpose, a sales lead and I asked my head engineer, Nate if he could build me a little widget to allow me to see where all of my friends worked if I typed in a company name, can I see all of my friends that work there currently, if they ever had that in their work history. 

So we built that and light bulbs went off and we realized, wow this is a really big idea and a lot of people could benefit from that service and that was the initial spark for BranchOut. 

Then we realized that the bigger applications could be used again for recruiters and sales leads and that the bigger macro situation was the high unemployment rate, and that BranchOut could have kind of a noble purpose in being able to present great opportunities and inside connections to help people find jobs.

Matthew: Oh, I get it, it’s a great mission. So in terms of time frames, when did you guys launch and the other question is, or maybe it’s the first question is, between conceiving the idea and launching, how long did that take and then when did you actually launch?

Rick: It was a very quick process in terms of launching a site. We had been working on a company prior called SuperFan, which built social games and Facebook apps. When I had that kind of epiphany, aha moment, we put about half of the staff on BranchOut and the other half continued to work on SuperFan. Within five weeks from that spark, five weeks later we launched the first version of BranchOut. 

So it was very quick and it was really because the team was already in place, we had the existing knowledge base because we were already working on Facebook doing apps and social games.

So we had build the initial site, which was a fully functioning site in five weeks and quickly had some press attention from TechCrunch and others and then shortly after that was able to close series A funding round.

Matthew: Nice, and so was it a shift or pivot from SuperFan or was it…

Rick: It was a major pivot, it was the same type of expertise that we had in house in building social games, but with the social games that was really for entertainment value and BranchOut is a very different product. It’s a utility on Facebook in giving people inside connections to help their career. 

So we made the pivot, we realized BranchOut was a big idea and we had the first mover advantage to really try to go forward and take on the opportunity.

Matthew: Excellent. So what kind of metrics social proof traction have you guys had to date with BranchOut.

Rick: What we did is we launched in July and we spent the first five or six months really focusing on the user experience and building out the product. Like I said we launched with something in July, but we really wanted to build out the full user experience before we turned on the viral channels because often you get one shot at users and you want to make sure you’re ready for that shot. 

So what we did is built that out until the end of the year, until the end of 2010, and started to turn on some virals and gamification to BranchOut in January, and we saw our traffic move up quite nicely. In December we had about 10,000 monthly active users and then we grew by about 25X in January to about 250,000 monthly active users and in February we hit 400,000 monthly active users. So although it’s still early, we’re already seeing some really nice traction. 

Matthew: Excellent, congratulations on that. We know that in reality founders face lots of unique challenges when they’re starting a company. Was there any specific obstacle that you had to overcome in launching BranchOut?

Rick: Yeah, I would say the biggest is…there’s probably two. One is just creating awareness. This is a brand new concept on Facebook, one that has been done off of Facebook with LinkedIn and other companies that play, kind of the professional networking area, but no one did it on Facebook. We’re the first ones to do that. So there’s the creating awareness issue. 

Then number two is once that awareness is created, how do people understand that is does make sense to merge professional and personal. And a lot of people get that right away and they have already done that. Most people on Facebook have already merged their professional and their personal. You’re probably friends with your co-workers today or your friends with your former co-workers at your prior company. So that’s already happened for most people. 

So it’s creating awareness as well as shifting the mentality to say, Facebook we believe is going to be where a lot of the interaction socially takes place and being able to leverage your true support network, your friends and family, people that you really care about and who care about you and support you on Facebook, makes a lot of sense for recruiting, as well as other industries, but recruiting in particular for that. If you’re trying to get a sales lead or a job, you’re going to rely on people you know best and those are your Facebook friends. 

Matthew: Right, right. And so in the short time frame you guys have been in operation, lots of traction, lots of success to date. What have you learned about your business and/or your users that you didn’t realize before you launched?

Rick: Well, the hope was that we would get the traction and that people would care about doing career oriented activities on Facebook. So it’s been great to confirm that. You go in as a first mover not knowing is this something that’s going to be viable on a new platform like Facebook. We spent six months building out the product and final have that confirmation here in January and February that people do want to do career activities within Facebook, they do get it, they understand that. So with the learning has been more confirmation that this is a big opportunity on Facebook. 

Matthew: Excellent. Another question we like to ask our founders is, we like to dispel some myths about being a founder or launching a company. We tend to think that founders make it appear to look easy and we know that’s not the case.

Rick: Yeah.

Matthew: It’s hard and so we want to dispel some of these myths and we’re hoping that you can kind of shed light on what do you do well, what is a skill or topic that comes naturally and intuitively to you, or that you had to work on that enables you to do what you do?

Rick: Sure. So, yeah, running companies, starting companies, it’s hard. Because you come up with an idea and in Silicon Valley I think ideas are easy and execution is hard. So a lot of people have ideas and it’s great to have ideas. 

But actually being able to execute on them, to be able to raise money for an idea, to be able to attract great talent and retain them, often working for far less than market rates with the promise that the equity could be worth something, convincing people to leave their jobs where they’re making good money to come over and believe in your vision and that the equity could be worth something for all of you, those are all hard things to do. 

Again, the idea part that’s a hard part and you’ve got to get that right, but the rest of it, the execution, the perspiration, the 99% perspiration and 1% inspiration, I think really comes into play. As a founder, you’ve got to have the ability to either do that because you’ve got the experience or you need to align yourself with people that can help you do that. 

And often that can come in the form of co-founders or advisors or eventually investors that can help bring that to the table. Because without that it’s really hard to build a company into something that’s viable long term, that’s going to a success.


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