Liz Gannes

Recent Posts by Liz Gannes

With Relaunch, LinkedIn Competitor BranchOut Tries to Persuade Users to Stick Around

The first edition of BranchOut was an app that lived on Facebook and mapped friends’ jobs. Its biggest strength was adding new users, through a variety of tactics that sometimes got spammy.

After the app reached 25 million registered users earlier this year, the company raised $25 million in venture capital (for an all-time total of $49 million, from Accel Partners, Redpoint Ventures, Mayfield, Norwest Venture Partners, and others). At this point, of 30 million users, 3.4 million use the app on a monthly basis.

BranchOut CEO Rick Marini

So — now what? Clearly, BranchOut has to figure out a way to be more relevant in peoples’ lives. Today, the company is relaunching itself as a standalone site for people to create a sort of living record of their professional identity.

It’s kind of like LinkedIn reimagined in the style of other modern social Web sites — with an activity stream, a Facebook Timeline equivalent for job milestones, and a Pinterest lookalike for collecting professional moments and finding inspiration.

Much of the new BranchOut, including users’ resumes, is public by default. Perhaps another way to look at it would be a more built-out version of AOL’s personal homepage maker

Users who still want the old BranchOut personal-professional networking tools can find something similar in a “Connections” tab on the new site.

The goal of the relaunch is to “capture and share professional moments that go beyond the black-and-white resume,” BranchOut CEO Rick Marini said in an interview last week.

This is a pretty dramatic change for BranchOut, whose previous Web site had simply directed visitors to its Facebook app. That old app product is now being killed. BranchOut also laid off some staff earlier this year, though Marini justified that as a switch from a sales to an engineering focus as company priorities changed.

BranchOut has been so focused on acquiring new users that, as a 40-person company, it has a four-person growth team dedicated to keeping up with Facebook platform changes, according to Marini. Still, the fact that BranchOut has effectively stopped growing may be more due to Facebook policy shifts than anything the team can do of its own volition.

So the new product is much more about engaging existing users than adding new ones, Marini said.

But, c’mon — realistically, how often are people going to go tend their resume?  “Even if we’re more of a weekly use case than a daily, that’s still really interesting to us,” Marini said.

“LinkedIn is a nice database of people I met at a conference, but I’m not interested in sharing with them each day,” Marini said. “And Facebook is more personal. Users wanted something in between.”

What’s kind of crazy, considering BranchOut’s history, is that the new site doesn’t even seem to use the easy viral hooks. For instance, at launch, there’s not going to be a way to crosspost content to and from Facebook and Twitter.

So, basically, Marini is asking people to visit a brand-new site and create novel content that fits into his idea of a personal-professional-public hybrid. That’s a tall order.

Marini agreed. “We have 30 million users. We have $49 million raised. We’re going for bold,” he said.

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