IMVU case study

IMVU is where the real world comes to play. Its global avatar-based social community connects over 4 million monthly active users to enjoy a shared experience. Today, IMVU users enjoy the freedom to live the life they create — connecting with friends in immersive 3D chat rooms, shopping for and creating highly-stylized avatars, and sharing their experiences.


Although IMVU is a huge player on mobile today, it originated on desktop. In fact, the platform was around for more than 14 years before coming to mobile.

When considering expanding to mobile, IMVU anticipated incredible growth potential. But becoming a cross-platform web and mobile company brought opportunities and challenges alike.

IMVU’s early stage mobile strategy was driven by high-velocity user acquisition, aimed at rapid growth. As IMVU VP of Growth Lomit Patel puts it, “proving mobile was viable was the initial priority.” But as the brand’s goals have evolved, “retention became increasingly more important. We try to focus on both sides of the coin.” And that they did.

This rapid acquisition led to a mobile user base that was three times larger than desktop. But making money meant IMVU had to engage and retain those users. Because in-app purchases significantly impact the company’s revenue and more time in app means more purchases made, IMVU focused on analyzing how to improve engagement.


IMVU used Leanplum to obtain a holistic view of its mobile data, pinpointing areas ripe for improvement. “With goals of maximizing retention and revenue growth, we began establishing hypotheses around building models for long-term engagement and lifetime value.”

As IMVU analyzed the Leanplum data, staring them in the face were a series of hooks — or golden engagement opportunities — that could help them drive retention and ARPU (Average Revenue Per User) for their app. Many of these hooks existed in the onboarding flow. 

“You have to onboard people pretty quickly and engage them with the product pretty quickly, or else you’ll lose them… pretty quickly.”

Implementing hooks on the home screen

Analyzing the user experience, Patel noted there was “a huge drop-off” when users reached IMVU’s home screen. With engagement data from Leanplum in its back pocket and a full suite of solutions in the same platform, IMVU designed campaigns to reduce the drop-off. “We were focused on getting smarter around the way we can communicate with users.” 

Following extensive A/B testing of different layouts, IMVU used Leanplum to segment its home screen experience, displaying different versions of the screen based on different stages of usage. The move paid off, leading to a 5% increase in retention and a 13% increase for in-app purchases. 

Furthermore, the new home screen led users to engage more deeply with IMVU’s key hooks — the update led to 7% more in-app chats, and a 17% increase in sharing activity on user profiles.

Follow-up campaigns

While the previous approaches proved effective, the best was yet to come.

Implementing hooks during avatar creation

One of the most impactful hooks IMVU identified was avatar customization. Involving both in-app purchases as well as the extensive suite of avatar personalization tools, creating and customizing an avatar was key to long-term retention and revenue per user.

IMVU had always offered new users 2,000 free credits to spend on avatar clothes and accessories. However, Leanplum data showed that IMVU could lower the barrier to entry even further. To encourage more engagement, IMVU ran an in-app messaging A/B test through Leanplum to experiment with giving some users 10,000 free credits during onboarding. 

This proved wildly successful. Users spent more time in the app and were even purchasing more credits. With that one tweak, IMVU increased retention by 157%, and doubled ARPU. “I’ve run a lot of experiments in my time… very rarely have I seen where we’ve gotten something this huge like a triple-digit win.”

Yet optimizations didn’t end there.

3 partners for 3-fold revenue gains

In the app’s natural progression to maturity, Patel and team continued looking at the entire user journey. “What proved really interesting, was where we were losing people based on how they’re engaging with the product.”

Patel saw an opportunity to leverage a partnership with InMobi, a mobile advertising and marketing platform, and Leanplum webhooks to re-engage users outside of the app. With the goal of driving revenue, IMVU launched a display campaign retargeting its users in other apps with ads that encouraged them to return to IMVU to redeem their free credits.

In just a few months of running its retargeting campaign, IMVU increased revenue 279%. This campaign has since been expanded to retarget and re-engage users throughout their entire journey.

“Initially, onboarding was the focus, but we wanted to identify new engagement opportunities. Because Leanplum helped us improve our communication with users through push and in-app notifications, we successfully optimized the entire user journey… leading to huge gains in revenue.”

Lomit Patel, Vice President of Growth

Why IMVU chose Leanplum

Working with Leanplum allowed IMVU to focus on driving retention via improved customer relationships. Through strategic experimentation, in-depth analysis, and continual optimization, IMVU achieved triple-digit wins in retention and revenue — 157% increase in retention and 2x ARPU.

And when you combine those efforts with InMobi’s mobile app retargeting solution, IMVU boosted revenue even more.

By giving users additional guidance during onboarding, IMVU was able to spur rapid and deeper engagement with the app’s hooks. IMVU optimized its mobile UX and is now adapting those learnings for its desktop and web products. Driving both retention and revenue growth, IMVU optimized across many channels and engagement touchpoints — guaranteeing their customers a unified experience across platforms.

This article first appeared on LEANPLUM.


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.