Failed Professional Network BranchOut Pivots To Workplace Chat

BranchOut, a startup that launched in July 2010 as a Facebook application for professional networking, has pivoted to be a messaging platform for teams of coworkers.

Users are authenticated by their work email addresses, and anytime a coworker (someone from the same email domain, like joins BranchOut, they automatically become a contact whom you can message and add to groups.

“You can think of it as an easier and more powerful way of doing SMS but you don’t need to know everybody’s phone number,” the company writes in its FAQ section.

Branchout has raised $49 million over three rounds. The most recent one was a $25 million Series C round in April 2012 led by Mayfield Fund.

Users can currently chat in groups with their coworkers using a browser and iOS and Android apps. Right now, you can only sign up if you have a company domain email address (no Gmail, Yahoo, etc.), but BranchOut says it will “offer more options” in the future on what email addresses people can use and what groups they can create and join beyond coworkers.

Right now, it looks like the app will be free and BranchOut will generate revenue from in app purchases (in the iTunes store, the “Tidal Effects Pack” and “Nostalgia Effects Pack” were each available for $0.99).

It’s unclear at the moment why BranchOut pivoted, but hints may lie in the company’s growth trajectory.

In March 2012, Branchout hired a dedicated growth team, built a mobile app and doubled its monthly active users in a month. In April 2012, founder and CEO Rick Marini told TechCrunch that the company was more focused on growth than monetization. At the time, the company had 25 million registered users, 13.5 million of whom were active every month.

But engagement fell, with monthly active users dropping to 3 million in October 2012. That month, the company launched a redesigned site aimed at keeping users around regularly (not just when they were looking for a job). We haven’t heard much from the company since then, but now it’s heading in another direction.

I’ve reached out to Marini, but haven’t immediately heard back. I’ll update the post if and when he responds. In the meantime, you can join the new BranchOut  via your browser and in the Apple App and Google Play stores.