Thursday, April 19, 2012

BranchOut: growing fast, but will it work?

There is some buzz around BranchOut.  Its pitch is simple.  It's a professional network built on top of Facebook.  BranchOut recently closed $25 million third round.  From number of new user acquisition, they are doing really well.  Currently ranked at the 25th most popular app on Facebook, their user base is reported to be about 25 million.  Top top them off, they are adding about 300K users a day.  Things must be really looking up.

Well, I am not so sure.

From what I can tell, BranchOut is a Facebook application.  Hence it's operating like a Zynga.  It does not have its own platform for users to connect.  That may be fine with casual gaming, but is not for an application that aspires to be a professional networking tool.  Reason is simple.  People don't think of Facebook as business networking tool.

Here's a quick test for you.  Do you have all your co-workers on your Facebook friend list?  Probably not.  But what about LinkedIn?  Probably yes.

Most of your Facebook friends are your school buddies;
that's the biggest challenge for BranchOut
That's because Facebook is still used as personal relationship network.  And that is the reason why Facebook is the largest.  It's because it's built on top of social relationship graph, and that social graph is attracting people to sign up on Facebook.  People want to communicate with friends.  That's a big reason why Facebook has 845 million users and growing.  Facebook is personal medium.

BranchOut has one thing going for them, which is the size of Facebook network.  But even with 845 million users, people tend not to friend someone for professional networking purpose on Facebook.  As I wrote earlier about Dunbar's number, average Facebook users tend to have around 120 friends or so.  That's because most Facebook friends are from your school and family.

It is difficult to see how these personal networks can be extended to cover professional settings.  If you are hiring manager and you know a friend who is a great fit, yes.  But other than that immediate connection, it's difficult to see how your past school friends and family network will be a good source of your next job search.

Unless BranchOut creates its own social networking platform, it will be difficult to be considered seriously as LinkedIn competitors.  I would have to think that folks at BranchOut is thinking about creating their own network.  They must have seen Fred Wilson's advice earlier, and how Zynga has opted to create their own independent destiny away from Facebook.

With $25 million in the bank, I think they have a shot at building the next LinkedIn.

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