IMVU presented at the Startup Lessons Learned Conference in San Francisco on April 23rd, 2010. The event highlighted several companies that are being built using the “Lean Startup” framework created by Eric Ries, IMVU’s former CTO, largely based on his experiences at IMVU.
The conference was great and I had the opportunity to meet many smart entrepreneurs trying to build businesses out of great ideas. I heard many stories about the challenges early startups encounter and could remember when IMVU was in that stage. I also talked to some people from companies that are now considered “big and successful” and heard a few comments along the lines of “been there, barely survived that”.
At the conference I had the realization that IMVU as a business is not exactly a “startup” anymore. The goal of an early startup is discovering the right product and achieving a sustainable business model. IMVU has been successful at this and is now all about building a growing, enduring business that is a high value for our customers and employees. Though we still feel like a startup in many ways and hold onto the lean principles that proved to be so valuable, we now have new challenges to address that are typically not considered startup challenges.
A successful startup grows into a bigger business. At IMVU, we heavily invest in our company so we can get more people working on features that delight our customers and build up the business. With more people many of the ways you used to work don’t work anymore. For example, frequent meetings to get feedback from everybody in the company can work when you have fewer than 15 people… when you get to 50+ people this becomes a very expensive meeting. The overhead of making sure everyone in the meeting has background data and context to make an informed decision simply does not scale. Joel Spolsky explained this well and provides good examples in his article, “A Little Less Conversation”.
There are a whole range of challenges in these transitions, from process to culture and all have to be accommodated as a company grows. At the conference I was approached by several people that had gone through the same experience, some successfully, some not. I hope that some of what IMVU shared will help others to learn from our experience and allow more people to fall into the successful category.
Check out IMVU’s video presentation available at http://bit.ly/bBpUcm