On the first day of class, I was really excited when I saw Branch on the list of companies that we would visit throughout the semester. That’s the one company that I knew about coming into this class. And it’s not because I knew Cemre graduated from Poly but that I was organically introduced to Branch through some influencers I followed on Twitter. I really loved Branch when they launched. I remember following conversations by prominent tech bloggers about various tech topics. I remember how insightful and punctual those conversations were. They were comparable to the best panel discussions I’d seen, and that was a great achievement. Branch made it easy to organize great panels on great topics that just hit the newswire.
Hearing the backstory of how Branch came to be as well as what its overnight success meant to the founders in the long term was enlightening. One particular take away was that it might be better to hold a design position at a company at an earlier stage and have more influence over the end product than to hold a design position at a company whose product is already well-defined. Another would be Cemre’s recommendation that we spend time in school working on “art” projects as school might be the only place where we have a chance to do that.
I had a chance to try out Branch’s pivot product, Potluck, before we went in on Friday. It was an interesting concept and certainly well-designed. Still, I don’t know how it would take off without a significant user base though. When I logged in, I couldn’t find any friend of mine to have a conversation with. It’s the same chicken-and-egg problem that many new startups face so they may well find a solution. Then again, beyond the issue of the starting critical mass—to me, Potluck is trying to do too many things at once, it’s trying to be a summary engine with the bite size content excerpts, a recommendation engine with the article cards and a communications platform with “discuss with friends.” There are existing competitors that do each or two out of the three very well; Potluck’s challenge is to do all three extremely well.
I knew I would like to ask Cemre to be an formal outside advisor or an informal mentor to my thesis project because of his interest and experience in building large scale communication tools that changed how knowledge is created and opinions are formed. I was very glad to learn about Branch and Cemre’s connection to the Obvious Corporation on Friday because the other company Obvious funded was Lift, which is the model for me to build out one of the key features of my thesis project.