BranchOut is known as one of the bigger success stories for startups building on top of Facebook. The company, which makes a professional social network that runs on Facebook, has raised nearly $50 million in venture capital and attracted 30 million users since it was founded back in July 2010. So it was great to have the chance to pull aside BranchOut CEO Rick Marini at the Facebook Ecosystem CrunchUp TechCrunch hosted last Friday to hear about the “dos and don’ts” he’s learned along the way.
Watch the video above to see our full interview, and below I’ve excerpted a couple of his insights:
Growth Is Sexy, But Product Is What Counts
One of the major things Marini said he’s learned in building BranchOut is that while the kind of blockbuster growth that Facebook can enable is tempting to constantly position your app to attract new users, it’s important to make sure that your actual product is compelling enough to foster loyalty and a returning audience.
“I think often people think there’s a silver bullet to getting traffic and getting viral. I think what we’ve learned is that there are times when you can get some spike of virality, but if you really want that long-term major user growth its got to start with a good product. So, something that we have at BranchOut [which has grown] from nothing to 30 million users in less than two years, which is great, but then we realized OK, now it’s time not only to get the user acquisition but we’ve got to really enhance the product and get users back every day. Don’t be an episodic utility, be a community. And now we’ve got to make that shift.
I think that it sounds really sexy from the outside when you see our numbers or, you know, companies like us that take off, and people get excited. But if you’re building for the long term, like we are, you’ve gotta have a great product.”
Facebook Isn’t Bedrock — It’s ‘Shifting Sands’
Another lesson the folks at BranchOut have learned is when you build your company on top of Facebook, you have to think about it in a completely different way than you would for a more independently-based company — flexibility is key.
“Facebook innovates so quickly that for my growth team that I have in place [which] focuses on user acquisition and also now more on retention, it’s a different puzzle every day. So think of it, and this is what I tell my guys, think of it when you come in that you’ve got a different puzzle that you need to put together. And all these pieces change every day. And don’t get frustrated by it, look at it as an opportunity and a challenge. Beause most companies aren’t dedicated resources to growth and these analytics and solving this puzzle every day. The ones that do, the ones that can solve that puzzle, those are the ones that we’ve really seen excel.
… I think a lot of off-Facebook properties can build more on bedrock. And I think we are building more on shifting sands. But they’re really lucrative sands if you do well. And you know, for a company like us, for BranchOut, there’s no way we could have signed up 30 million users in two years outside of Facebook. so in spite of the shifting sands and the risks of building on someone else’s platform, the benefits for us are so big.”