Mada Seghete is Co-Founder of Branch, a linking infrastructure for apps and the mobile web. Branch.io was founded in 2014 and has raised $241 million in investment. Mada takes us on a fast-track journey from Bucharest to Palo Alto to the dizzy heights of co-founding one of the biggest scale-ups in Silicon Valley. She shares future visions of a seamlessly connected digital world where reality is augmented. Mada also talks about building community and shares memories of 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.”
Transcription Episode 1
Nick Curtis-Davis: You’re listening to 14 Minutes of SaaS. A “That was now” production.
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Nick Curtis-Davis: Today on the show, Mada Seghete.
Mada Seghete: “I had an imaginary competitor so when I was doing my homework, my imaginary competitor friend always did better than me and that is what motivated me.”
Nick Curtis-Davis: Mada is the Co-founder of Branch, a mobile linking platform which unifies mobile experiences for almost 30000 apps, including Amazon, Slack Air BnB, Reddit and Tinder.
Stephen Cummins: I caught up with Mada backstage at the WebSummit in Lisbon, as well as chatting with her about her work with Branch. I asked you to tell me a little bit about who she is and how she found herself on this entrepreneurial path.
Stephen Cummins: Mada, it’s wonderful to have you with us. Thank you for being here.
Mada Seghete: It’s great being here as well. Thank you for having me.
Stephen Cummins: That’s great. Tell me a little bit about yourself
Mada Seghete: Sure. I was born and raised in Romania during communism, actually. So communism fell off when I was in first grade and my mother was actually my role model. She helped bring our family kind of out of poverty and into middle class, completely reinvented herself. And she pushed me to apply to the states. And I did get a full scholarship and moved for college. And I’ve done a lot of different things. I was. I started as a software developer after studying computer engineering. Then I did management consulting. Then I went to product and business development. And today I started a company called Branch. That’s a linking for mobile apps. So we were the linking infrastructure for the mobile internet and I ran growth or marketing.
Stephen Cummins: OK, amazing, amazing. Before we get into Branch, actually, tell me a little bit about your Mum. She’s obviously an amazing person.
Mada Seghete: Yeah, she’s … she’s incredible. You know, when. Well, after communism fell. I mean, she used to be an engineer and it was Romania privatized. She started working for one of the privatization funds. And she learned … she got certified as a financial broker and end up working for an investment fund. So I just I grew up seeing her like a very strong woman, a role model, always reinventing herself and finding ways to kind of bring us and the family, you know, from being actually very poor when I grew up where we didn’t have enough money for food to actually being pretty well off. And seeing that transition was very inspirational for me. And I always, I’ve always looked up to my mom.
Stephen Cummins: Name a tech trend that you that you find particularly interesting at the moment
Mada Seghete: I mean for sure it’s … I mean augmented reality – I find it incredibly interesting. It will blend the real world. But, you know, there’s virtual reality. And I can imagine a world in which we all have lenses, contact lenses, and rarely see the world as it actually is. And I think that’s first incredibly scary, but also very exciting. It’s a huge opportunity for change and for businesses to really reinvent themselves.
Stephen Cummins: You already mentioned Branch, but just for people who wouldn’t be familiar with the area. Tell us a little bit about what Branch really is, what problem it solves. What a deep link is. Tell us just for somebody might not be familiar with that.
Mada Seghete: Of course! So if you think about the mobile ecosystem today, everything on the web was easy. You clicked on a link, you got taken to a Web site. You know, someone sent you a link to an article or a video on YouTube. It just took you to get to that video. When when apps were introduced, they actually created this fragmentation in the mobile ecosystem. So instead of having everything following just one standard, every single platform and every type of app created their own stand. So now a link to something was no longer just a link to something, because someone’s sending you a link to a YouTube video might mean that you should take you inside the YouTube app or on the website. And there was no standard to actually unify all of this. And I’m sure every single listener had gotten the link that was supposed to be or some restaurant in Yelp and you connect and it just opened the app and the restaurant wasn’t there because it’s actually incredibly hard the platform to have an actually I came up with one standard. So taking you to a video in the YouTube app on Android is actually different than taking you to the YouTube website, to the actual video there. So we are trying to create one link that actually unifies all of it. So when you click on the link that you know to maybe a dog outfit that you want to buy, we know exactly where you are. And we take you to that dog outfit, whether it’s in the Nordstrom app, on your Android device or if you’re in desktop, on actually the website or even in the future, we can imagine a world where you would be able to click on it and invite a new Apple TV or in your home system. So we think of ourselves as a as a company that takes people to the right content and enables these brands to actually create better experience for it for their users. So for you, when you when you get, you know, a link to something interesting, we make sure that you get to that thing and the experience isn’t broken.
Stephen Cummins: You mentioned augmented reality. I’m just wondering, is there a connection there with a vision you have for Branch into the into the into the near to mid future?
Mada Seghete: Of course. I think we think of ourselves as … you know, there’s this story about the railroad companies …. and the railroad companies when cars came along. They said, ‘no, we’re not going to go into cars because we’re railroad companies’ instead of thinking of themselves a transportation companies. And I think the same way here, here at Branch we think of ourselves in a way as a transportation company. That takes people to content. And we want to make sure that we actually take people to the right content, even in places like virtual or augmented reality. You know, we’re sitting on these two chairs and let’s say I want to show you how this chair will look in red. Maybe I’ll send you a link or something that you can choose that automatically when an app that you is using, it automatically shows you this chair is red and we want to be the platform that actually does that across all the different ecosystem lines. It’s virtual reality or home or car or … you know, your mobile phone or your watch.
Stephen Cummins: There’s a do or die element to Branch, apparently, and you’ve something cool in your office to remind you of that. Tell me about that.
Mada Seghete: Oh, that’s funny. Are you talking about the Lives Remaining Zero poster? Well, I’m a mobile gamer. And while I’m I like playing games in general, but lately I’ve been I’m always addicted to one game. There’s always one that I spent a lot of money on. And when you play games, there’s this concept that you play and you have four lives and you can keep getting lies and then you’re up to your last life and you play very differently when you have only one life remaining. Yeah, because if you die, you lose pretty much everything and you have to start from scratch. You take risks differently and you know that this is it, right. And I think we failed a lot as entrepreneurs. This is actually a fourth idea as far as this together. And when we started this, we were pretty tired. It had been two years of failing. And I remember we sat and Alex was like saying, Alex, our CEO, my co-founder, I think this is it, guys. Like if we fail with this one, I think I need to get a job for six months.
I think I can do this. This is our last one. You know, it worked out. But I bought that poster because I felt very strongly that we did that a little bit differently because this was our last one. And it’s very meaningful to me because, you know, I’m in this entrepreneur group at Stanford and I go once a month and there’s this question that entrepreneurs get asked about their company. It’s this big company and meaning if you could only do one. Is this the one? Is this the one you would do? And many entrepreneurs say no, Actually, I think I have more in me. And I think for all of us. This is the one. If I knew that I could only do one more, I would still stick with Branch because I think we have the opportunity to change the mobile ecosystem. And it’s very that’s a big priority and that’s a big deal. We feel incredibly lucky. It’s not just us, but like we kind of work here at the right time. There was this big problem and that’s why the poster and that’s why the door dye, cause we might never get a chance like this again.
Stephen Cummins: What’s a typical day for Mada Seghete like?
Mada Seghete: It’s different depending, you know, like a day this week is coming to the conference. Working on my team, staying at the booth, talking to people. Yeah, a typical day, I think, honestly, a lot of meetings and interviews until about 5:00 p.m. So either one on ones with my team one external meetings or pitching. And then from five to eight or nine actually doing work and doing email, then maybe sometimes working out and other times just going home, making food, playing video game for like 20 minutes, and then going to sleep.
Stephen Cummins: You still play the video games.
Mada Seghete: I still play the video games. It’s like my one …. everyone, I think, has one thing that like helps them escape.
Stephen Cummins: Do you do anything else to escape that doesn’t involve a screen to relax?
Mada Seghete: I like cooking. I like walking, swimming, reading. I love flying. I can’t work on planes. It’s very hard for me. I get motion sickness, but I can read. So I end up reading a lot of books on planes. Every time I fly over, especially across the Atlantic, I read a book.
Stephen Cummins: You really focus on building community at a global level. How big has that gotten and how quickly does that happen.
Mada Seghete: The story of our community, it’s actually not just a Branch community. One of our failed ideas is an app for the mobile app called Kindred Photobooks, it was a Photobook printing app. And we really, really struggled to grow that app and we found that there weren’t a lot of resources for mobile marketers and developers. So while we ended up doing when we started Branch, we also started a mobile growth community and only about 10 percent of our community actually uses Branch. We are OK with it’s our way of giving back and teaching people. How they can grow on mobile and it’s not doesn’t always involve branch tests. Our community is about twenty five thousand people. I know, but overnight we’re doing meetups in about 50 cities and meetups are all is pretty standard. We bring three or four app marketers or developers to come in and share their knowledge with the rest of the community. And it’s been really incredible and very rewarding to see people come together and learn from each other. When you wake up in the morning, you know, what is it that drives you? What is it that really drives you? There’s actually two things that drive me. Number one is I love my job and I love the team I work with. And I really believe in the mission that we can change to embody ecosystem and I actually wake up in the morning and get excited about all the things I’m going to do.
The second thing that drives me, that’s a little bit less inspirational, but it’s competition. I’m an incredibly competitive person. I, you know, when I was a kid, I think several people have imaginary friends. I had an imaginary competitor. So when I was doing my homework, this imaginary competitor friends always did better than me. And that was what motivated me. And for me, I think being in a market that’s actually a competitive market really drives me. I’m seeing our competitors doing things. It’s … it’s a very strong driver for me.
Stephen Cummins: Okay. One more question for you, Mada. Where would you see yourself in 5 to 10 years? I assume that’s connected with Branch. What’s the vision for five or 10 years hence?
Mada Seghete: So definitely still a Branch. Our long term vision is to actually change mobile discovery and that would mean working more consumers in the future. So I see myself as one thing as a marketer into doing not just B2B, but also more consumer stuff. And then and then, you know, we’ll probably be a much larger company by then. So it’s very hard to imagine. I would say five years ago I had no idea where I would be today. It’s a hard question.
Stephen Cummins: Absolutely. Mada, it’s been an absolute pleasure and I wish you continued success with Branch. It was a wonderful interview.
Nick Curtis-Davis and Stephen Cummins: You’ve been listening to 14 Minutes of SaaS, a ‘That was now’ production brought to you by me, Stephen Cummins, and me Nick Curtis-Davis. Special thanks to Ketsu for the music provided under a Creative Commons license.
Thank you for the artwork to Michael Quill, AppSelekt CTO & CoFounder.
Thank you to Anders Getz, Marketing Specialist, for the transcript