BranchOut’s New $25 Million Sparks Talk Of LinkedIn Challenge

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Apr 20, 2012
This article is part of a series called News & Trends.

BranchOut announced yesterday that it got $25 million in new funding, raising the total investment in the professional networking service to $49 million, and spurring talk the nearly two-year-old company is positioning itself to take on LinkedIn.

Besides the cash, fueling the talk yesterday on startup blogs and Silicon Valley news sites is the company’s dramatic growth spurt. Now at 25 million registrants, BranchOut says it has been adding 2 million members a week since since launching its mobile invites app in February.

“It’s unprecedented to see this type of growth, which makes BranchOut one of the most used apps on Facebook,” said Tim Chang, a managing director at Mayfield Fund, which lead the Series C investment. “I’m excited by the opportunity BranchOut has to introduce the notion of a professional social network to the 90 percent of the population that is not on LinkedIn.”

BranchOut is layered atop the Facebook platform, creating a separate profile environment specifically designed for business networking. BranchOut members can search companies, and find who among their friends — and their friends’ friends — work there. BranchOut pulls business and education information from their members’ Facebook profiles, and these can be public and searchable. In October, BranchOut launched RecruiterConnect, giving recruiters a way of sourcing candidates from Facebook and enabling them to build private talent networks.

“RecruiterConnect fills a major void for companies that have wanted to recruit on Facebook in a way that is safe, secure and private,” according to Rick Marini, BranchOut’s CEO and founder. “… it not only allows recruiters and HR professionals to leverage Facebook’s network . . . to find more relevant candidates quickly, but also to identify higher quality candidates by matching jobs to individuals in their employees’ extended networks.”

BranchOut, and its most direct competitor, Monster’s BeKnown, grew slowly until BranchOut launched a mobile app late last year. In a TechCrunch post about the company’s hockey stick growth, BranchOut was reported to have just a million monthly active users at the beginning of the year. A month later, it had more than doubled. Then, after adding a feature allowing mobile users to invite their Facebook friends to join, the numbers of active users, usage zoomed. Today, AppData says BranchOut is averaging 13.3 million monthly users.

By comparison, BeKnown is floundering. The most recent data shows its lost about 10,000 users in the last month.

Marini told TechCrunch, “It took LinkedIn four years before enough people were there. In network effect businesses, it’s not interesting to anyone at first. Slow, slow, slow. Then it picks up steam, and then everyone body piles on.”

Referring to LinkedIn yesterday, again in a TechCrunch post, Marini says, “LinkedIn is a great company, and I think they do a really good job of addressing the ten percent of the global workforce that are white-collar executives. And we, of course, address that market as well. But if you think about the other 90 percent, these are the people on Facebook.”

The comparison is to the demographic differences between the 150 million members of LinkedIn, and those joining BranchOut. LinkedIn’s members are mostly white collar professionals, with more than just a few years of experience. BranchOut members skew younger and are at the beginning of their careers. “We power the professional profile for the Facebook generation,” says Marini.

With the new money, BranchOut says it will add to its 45-member team, based in San Francisco. Continuing to grow is clearly a priority. TechCrunch suggests an IPO is likely in the company’s sights.

“We are heads down growing a big company,” Marini told TechCrunch. “We’re not even thinking about selling. We want to go big on this one.”


This article is part of a series called News & Trends.
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