Best PracticesHeroes

Lomit Patel by Lomit Patel | June 15, 2018

Over the past year at IMVU, we successfully grew our business over 200% in Monthly Active Users (MAU), becoming a top 3 grossing mobile app in the social networking category. In addition to a lot of hard work and perseverance, much of our success was driven by three key strategies: offer a cross-platform experience, have a combined focus on acquisition + retention, and improve retention by utilizing in-app “hooks”.

1) Offer a Cross-Platform Experience

IMVU was initially a web-first platform with a successful desktop app. Due to the fact that our core audience is millennials, we quickly realized that if we want to engage users everywhere, we need to be on the devices that engage our audience on-the-go. And this meant mobile. We made a strategic bet to go all in on mobile, building iOS and Android apps that enabled our users to have the same great user experience we provided on the web and desktop.

By offering a cross-platform experience, user engagement increased substantially as did our retention of desktop users, who quickly moved to mobile. We were also able to unlock an entirely new growth channel opportunity by reaching users directly on mobile who had never used our desktop platform.

2) Think Acquisition + Retention to Deliver Long Term Success

On average, it costs over $4 to acquire an app user — but the majority of new users abandon an app soon after install. At IMVU, we realized early that focusing only on user acquisition wasn’t going to be an effective way to grow our mobile business. The key to our success we believed would come from a combined user acquisition + retention strategy, to help drive cost-effective growth long term.

Like most app marketers, we did a lot of testing early on to identify the best acquisition channels to scale with beyond the usual suspects – such as Facebook, Google and App Store Optimization – by using an agency to test all major ad networks and affiliates. We felt it was important to have a broad mix of partners to reduce our dependency on any one channel for growth.

At the same time we also focused on improving user retention which enabled us to retain new users above industry averages, thus allowing us to be more aggressive in spending on new users.

3) Improve Retention with In-App “Hooks”

To drive better user engagement and retention, we look to something called “hooks”. “Hooks” are personalized experiences within the IMVU app that lead new users to get hooked on the app and develop daily app habits.

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

Step 1: Model our most engaged app users

Our starting point is to analyze the behavior of our best users – those who spend the most time and money in the IMVU app – then optimize the onboarding experience to get new users to follow a similar path, all within the first 7 days.

The five hooks we focus on to drive better retention at IMVU include:

a. Create an avatar
b. Make friends
c. Join chat rooms
d. Shop and dress up
e. Share photos in their feed

Step 2: Implement Hooks

Our next step is to 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 higher retention rates and in-app purchases. The key learning: providing clear guidance on what the optimal user journey is within the app leads to a better user experience and retention.

Step 3: A/B Tests

Our third step to increasing retention through hooks is to run frequent A/B tests, both within the app as well as our communications including in-app messaging, push notifications, email and retargeting ads. A/B tests help us not only understand how to get more users hooked, but also optimize our messaging to drive higher rates of retention. We use Leanplum as our automation and A/B testing partner to run all of the experiments.

While the strategies we employ at IMVU to increase app engagement and retention may not apply to all apps, much of it does. If you’d like to discuss further, you can reach me at lpatel@imvu.com.


Lomit Patel heads up the Growth team at IMVU which is responsible for driving user acquisition, retention and monetization across all platforms (iOS, Android, and Web). Lomit is a seasoned growth marketing executive with expertise in building and scaling up customer acquisition, retention and monetization channels at early and mid-stage consumer tech startups. Learn more about Lomit.