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Mada and her imaginary competitor

“I’m a mobile gamer. I’m always addicted to one game. You play very differently when you have only one life left ….I had an imaginary competitor. So when I was doing my homework, this imaginary competitor always did better than me. And that was what motivated me.” Mada Seghete, Co-Founder Branch, speaking on 14 Minutes of SaaS

A competitive disposition and a willingness to cultivate an inner drive can propel a person on to great things. Mada has always adopted strategies to get the best out of herself. Many kids have imaginary friends. As a child in Romania Mada had an unusual variation on this, an imaginary competitor who always did brilliant homework. She strove to compete with this ever-improving imagined presence. It seemed to work. Born and raised in Romania, Mada came to the US to study Electrical and Computer Engineering at Cornell University and then earned her Masters of Engineering and MBA from Stanford University. And then she jumped straight into the hyper-competitive environment of startups in Silicon Valley.

After a few failed attempts at startup success in Palo Alto, Mada and her co-founder decided that Branch needed to be a startup without a safety net. A life-long gamer, she put a poster up in the office reminding them that Branch was their fourth and final adventure. Lives Remaining Zero! Once again this manufactured urgency seems to have worked. Since then Branch, a mobile linking platform, has raised $117M in funding and now unifies mobile experiences for almost 30,000 apps including Amazon, Slack, AirBnB, Reddit and Tinder.

Have you ever noticed how seamless an experience Airbnb gives you online — whether going from the web to inside it’s app or from an email with an interesting property directly into the listing of the property inside it’s app? Or maybe you looked at a delicious recipe on Yummly … and with frictionless ease clicked into Instacart to buy the pre-selected ingredients of this gorgeous dish? All that seems like common sense, but normally you can’t move from the mobile web to an app without losing context i.e. without getting a little bit lost and/or losing time. Most mobile web to app experiences are broken. Hence mobile discovery for apps is also broken. trees The next 5 years will completely change this. Branch is the most evolved entity accelerating us towards that new, more connected digital reality. Let’s put that into perspective. We’ve been on mobile devices more often than desktops when online for a couple of years now and the gap is increasing and almost certainly irreversible. Hence fixing mobile is fixing the web. Over 40% of mobile apps use Branch. Hence Branch is one of the very few entities in the world that can say it’s successfully addressing a huge problem without being disingenuous. And at the time of writing it hasn’t even celebrated it’s 4th birthday yet!

As Mark Weiser said in 1991 the profoundest technologies weave themselves into the fabric of everyday life until they are indistinguishable from it. Branch is a kind of invisible digital transport company taking you from web to app and from app to app — with a minimum amount of fuss, friction and confusion. And it maps your journey too.

Branch Logo

Branch Logo

Branch is the Empress of a thing called deep linking. This is explained in episode 1 of the podcast series 14 Minutes of SaaS, but all you need to know is that deep links allow you to move from A to B without losing context in a digital landscape. Branch is building a sustainable growth business focused on deep linking to help companies with apps acquire more users, engage them more effectively and track their activities across the mobile world. That’s a huge business opportunity already, but it also funds even bigger visions.

Branch’s longer-term vision is to own mobile discovery and unify mobile experiences globally. Branch’s ultimate vision may perhaps be to become a virtually omnipresent linking platform that unifies experiences for everything connected on the net.

Google doodle (celebrates discovery of seven exoplanets)

Google doodle (celebrates discovery of seven exoplanets)

And I’m not the only one who thinks Branch addresses hugely lucrative problems. About 18 months ago Google tried to eliminate Branch. They launched a free product called Dynamic Links, copying code from Branch’s SDK, replicating their marketing messaging and they threw over 300 sales and marketing people at it. And they fell flat on their face. That was their play to try and take Branch’s deep linking business. Google lost that battle hands down, but the big prize will be app indexing and discovery.

Mobile app discovery wars are just around the corner.

Thus far Branch’s ability to both innovate and deliver immediate value has matched the enormity of it’s visions. And for that reason it has raised over $117M dollars in less than 4 years.

illustration by Wren McDonald for the NewYorker

illustration by Wren McDonald for the NewYorker

Mada herself compares Branch to a transport company in our podcast interview on 14 Minutes of SaaS. Her co-founder and CEO Alex Austin almost followed a career building things inside a very different type of transport company. He was an intern research scientist NASA for a year and a half. Branch might not be the most visible or sexiest ‘transport company’ in the world, but in 2018 it can easily be argued that Branch is a much better investment than the highest profile rocket builder of the moment. SpaceX’s big rockets fuel imaginations, but the next 5 years will see one or two companies like Branch (very possibly Branch itself of course) change our world far more profoundly. Elon Musk

We haven’t even colonised the Transantarctic Mountain. Nor the moon. Now we’re skipping straight to Mars? Earth to Mars is a very deep link indeed. Perhaps someone should take a leaf out of Lewis Carroll’s Red King and get some more sleep.

Not many of us hang out in interstellar space looking out a big window into quasi-nothingness, but almost all of us travel across an expanding digital universe every day navigating via a small, personal window.

“We lean forward to the next crazy venture beneath the skies.” Jack Kerouac

Imagine what role a ‘virtual carrier’ company like Branch might play in future augmented and virtual realities. Branch’s valuation may be measured in the 100s of million today, but one can easily see it being measured in billions tomorrow. The possibilities are fascinating. Andy Rubin’s Playground Ventures is the lead investor. Playground Ventures also invests heavily in quantum computing and machine learning. Hence it seems that this investment is profoundly connected to the fact that Branch is already generating vast data. I would love to be a fly on the wall when Branch’s C-suite meet to discuss long term goals.

On the podcast Mada sounds laid back, but you can tell her mind operates at the speed of light. She takes us from humble beginnings in Romania to lessons hard won in the Valley to startup stardom globally to imagining a brave new virtual future. She also hints at the enormity of Branch’s vision. To listen to her, tune into the inaugural episode of 14 Minutes of SaaS here:

Stephen Cummins CEO & Founder, AppSelekt.

14 Minutes of SaaS is a new Podcast series produced by That Was Now for AppSelekt. That Was Now is a joint initiative by Nick Curtis-Davis and Stephen Cummins