Investing in Facebook: Rick Marini of BranchOut

This week, Inside Facebook asks people who have built businesses on the Facebook platform why they believe in the company. These are the people that are truly invested in Facebook, whether or not they bought stock.

For Part 4 of our series, we spoke with Rick Marini, founder and CEO of professional networking service BranchOut. The Facebook app lets users organize their professional connections, see which friends have worked at companies their interested in and search for jobs. The company has raised more than $49 million in venture capital since it launched in 2010.

Seeing the potential of Facebook

Marini realized the potential of Facebook when the social network moved in on the turf of his own company. In 2009, Marini created Superfan.com, a social entertainment site that allowed users to express themselves by becoming a fan of everything they love in life. It soon became clear that Superfan couldn’t compete with Facebook’s own fan pages product. When Facebook changed “become a fan” to “Like” in 2010, the number of Facebook users joining fan pages quickly accelerated.

“I realized the power of the network,” Marini says. Superfan began to incorporate sharing features so that users could “fave” things on the site and then post that activity to Facebook.

Around the same time, Marini and his team began to think about how Facebook could be applied to a number of different of industries.

“We realized there were all these verticals that should be social, that should be done on Facebook,” he says.

Developing a business idea

Marini says the most obvious industries that would be transformed by Facebook were those that were inherently social, like dating, ticketing or travel. These are things that bring people together offline, so they should be done that way online, too.

After working at job search company Monster for three years, Marini and his team still had ideas about the jobs and networking space.

“We realized no one had owned the professional side of Facebook,” he says. This seemed to have greater potential than Superfan did.

Marini and his team pivoted and became BranchOut in June 2010. They launched the app a month later.

Confidence in Facebook

Marini believes in Facebook because of its scale, the frequency with which people return to it, and the strength of connections people have there with friends and family.

“Facebook has combined [these] three big things that I don’t think anyone’s ever done,” Marini says. “That’s incredibly powerful and they still have a lot of runway.”

Then there’s BranchOut’s own quick rise. The app, which runs on the Facebook canvas and the mobile web, has more than 10 million monthly active users, according to AppData. Last month when BranchOut raised $20 million in a series C round, the company announced it had more than 25 million total registered users. Much of the app’s recent viral growth comes from Facebook’s Open Graph publishing and single sign-on for mobile.

Future of Facebook

Marini sees Facebook’s future not just in advertising but as a platform for developers.

“They want companies like BranchOut to disrupt multibillion dollar businesses,” Marini says.

In order to do that, Marini says he’d like Facebook to invest more resources in the platform so there are more engineers focused on developer relations and fixing bugs sooner.

“We want Facebook to be responsive and move as quickly as we can,” he says.

Though, Marini notes that in other areas Facebook already moves extremely fast and continues to innovate. He sees the company making big strides in mobile this year.

“I think it’s going to go from good to great,” he says. “I think they have a lot of focus to really make an enhanced experience there.”

Marini says the IPO gives Facebook the financial flexibility to attract top talent and do more deals like the Instagram acquisition so that it can stay on top of trends. As far as monetization, he says Facebook seems to be paying the most attention to advertising, though they’re looking at ways to monetize the platform better. For example, Facebook has said it might reduce the 30 percent fee it takes from developers using Credits for payments.

“For companies like BranchOut, that 30 percent doesn’t make sense,” Marini says. “Facebook gets this.”

Overall, Marini believes Facebook will continue to operate with a long vision of the future, not for short-term gain.

“They’ve made it clear they’re not going to manage the company quarter by quarter,” he says. “Mark [Zuckerberg] wants to focus on product innovation. Sheryl [Sandberg] will continue to focus on the business side.”

Read Part 1 with Clara Shih of Hearsay Social
Read Part 2 with John Corpus of Milyoni
Read Part 3 with Hussein Fazal of AdParlor 

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