At IMVU, we were able to successfully grow our business over 200% in Monthly Active Users (MAU) and became a top 3 grossing app in the social networking category over the past year by focusing on the three mindsets below…

1) Cross-platform Desktop to Mobile

IMVU was initially a web-first platform with a successful desktop app. Due to the fact that our core audience are millennials, we quickly realized that if we want to engage users everywhere – we need to be on the devices that engage users on-the-go.

We took a big strategic bet to go all in on mobile a few years back by building iOS and Android apps that enabled our users to have the same great user experience across the desktop, web and mobile platforms. This cross-platform experience resulted in us being able to better engage and retain our current desktop users by moving them over to mobile. As well as to unlock an entirely new growth channel opportunity – to drive new user acquisition – by reaching users directly on mobile – who had never used our desktop platform.  

2) Acquisition + Retention = Long Term Success

On average, it costs over $4 now to acquire an app user — but the majority of those users abandon the app. At IMVU, we realized earlier on that just focusing on user acquisition wasn’t going to be an effective way to grow our mobile business to acquire new users. The key to success for us was focusing our efforts on both user acquisition and retention – to help drive cost-effective growth long term.

We did a lot of testing to quickly identify the best user acquisition channels for us to scale beyond the usual suspects –  such as Facebook, Google and App Store Optimization – by using an agency to test all major ad networks and affiliates to figure out the right partners for us to work with in-house. We now have a broad channel mix of partners that reduces our risk by not being too dependent on any one channel for growth.

We also took a step back to focus on improving our retention efforts – which enabled us to retain users above industry averages – allowing us to be more aggressive on driving users to the top of the funnel.

3) Driving Retention Through Hooks

We look to something called “hooks” to help drive better user engagement and retention. “Hooks” are defined as creating personalized experiences within the app that lead new users to get hooked with habits. The focus is more on “showing” vs. “telling” users about the key value propositions.

At IMVU, we follow a 3-step process to create hooks:

  • Start with end goals — use data to identity our best users’ behavior and get new users to replicate similar user journey based on those behaviors during their on-boarding experience (within the first 7-Days). We define our best user as those who spend the most time and money within our app.

Here are the five key hooks driving better retention at IMVU:

  • Create an avatar
  • Make friends
  • Join chat rooms
  • Shop and dress up
  • Share photos in their feed
  • Implement hooks — create “hooks” within the app to guide new users through their user journey to experience the “aha moments” as quickly as possible. At IMVU, we created a new default home screen: a dashboard (see below) that presented contextually relevant content to educate users on the different actions they could take, based on their lifecycle stage. This resulted in us seeing higher retention rates and in-app purchases. The key learning was that providing clear guidance on what the optimal user journey is within the app – leads to a better user experience and retention.    
  • Experiments — Run A/B testing experiments frequently within app and communication channels like in-app, push, email and retargeting ads – as this aids in figuring out how to get more users hooked. We use Leanplum as our automation and A/B testing partner to run all these experiments.

To summarize, our success was down to embracing three mindsets that enabled us to become cross-platform from desktop to mobile, focus equally on both acquisition and retention and finally redefine our approach to improving retention by using a series of hooks built into the product experience that enabled us to better engage, retain and monetize users.

This article first appeared on the Liftoff Mobile Hero blog.


Lomit Patel is the Chief Growth Officer of Tynker, with 20 years of experience helping startups grow into successful businesses. Lomit has previously played a critical role in scaling growth at startups, including Roku (IPO), TrustedID (acquired by Equifax), Texture (acquired. by Apple), and IMVU (#2 top-grossing gaming app). Lomit is a public speaker, author, and advisor, with numerous accolades and awards throughout his career, including being recognized as a Mobile Hero by Liftoff. Lomit's book Lean AI is part of Eric Ries' best-selling "The Lean Startup" series.