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Startup Secret 33: It's a long game

Does LinkedIn have a strategic weakness? BranchOut's CEO thinks it does, and is basing his whole company on it.

"Play a game you can win."

--Rick Marini, CEO, BranchOut

There are very few green field opportunities. Most of the time, when you start a business venture, your success will have to come at the expense of another company. Obviously, no company gives up its incumbent position willingly.

Rick, whose company is a job-finder's network and thus aiming to be a direct competitor to LinkedIn, talked to me about taking on the big, public business networking site.

"If I just thought I could beat the competition," he says, "and that was it, I would have been wrong." BranchOut would have been in direct competition with an established social service that had locked-in users and a healthy revenue stream.

"You have to understand the entire playing field before you step on to it," he says. And what he understood, and based his whole company around, was Facebook. BranchOut is the job-finder's network for Facebook users. "Without Facebook, there's no way I would have taken on LinkedIn. But with Facebook, we can."

Rick believes that Facebook marks a sea change for the jobs market and "it gives me the ability to be the incumbent... eventually."

Part of BranchOut's strategy is to not compete directly for LinkedIn users, at least not yet. Rick explained to me in an interview last year that BranchOut is more a jobs network for the mainstream American worker--the soldier returning from deployment, the recent college graduate, the laid-off electrician--than the white-collar network that, he says, LinkedIn caters to. But he's definitely got LinkedIn in his sights.

Yesterday BranchOut rolled out some numbers to back up Rick's bluster, and to take some air out of LinkedIn's earnings. BranchOut now claims 300 million profiles, which it got in two years, compared to LinkedIn's 150 million, which took that company nine years.

To be fair, those 300 million "profiles" include the Facebook friends of the core BranchOut users: The network collects work and educational data on everyone connected to its core subscribers. Also, Rick says, "We have a long way to go to catch LinkedIn in revenues."

Rick notes that there are plenty of good ideas. Even brilliant ones. But you have to place your idea into the market, see the competition, be realistic about the space, and plan your drive up the playing field. It can be a long game.

Startup Secrets is based on personal interviews with people building companies and from their blog posts and news stories. Subscribe to Startup Secrets on Twitter or come back to Rafe's Radar every day for a new one. See all the Startup Secrets.