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Anti-Lean Startup Model Case Study: Why Venmo Took 2 Years to Launch

Venmo

After 2 years of private beta with only an invite wall for a website, Venmo, a mobile payment app that I covered last August, went public yesterday.  Thanks to a sometimes over-reliance on the lean startup model and its emphasis on launching an MVP no matter what, waiting 2 years to launch is very unusual for a startup.

Curious as to why the Venmo team waited so long before launching, I spoke with Cora Weiss, Venmo’s marketing and communications manager, who was actually a private beta user before joining the NYC-based team.  The reason behind the long launch period is quite simple:

“We were building out our team.  Two years ago, it was just our founders.  They brought on people slowly to make sure we had right team in place and ensure the product would be scaleable and could handle the volume we anticipated.  This was a good move, as we had tremendous growth with just an invite wall up. And it gave us more time to think about how we could create the product we really wanted to launch.”

Now, with 23 people at the company, they were able to introduce all the features they wanted, including credit card and bank payments.  As Weiss explained, wanting everything to be perfect really speaks to the founders.  Because they are so emotionally invested in Venmo, the idea of releasing something willy-nilly was not an option.  They wanted to get the product right before launch.

Sometimes, patience pays off.  The 2 most disruptive features of Venmo are truly awesome – and I think they were well worth the wait:

1. Next-day payment transfers – rather than the industry standard of 5-6 days.  (In a sidenote, Weiss told me the process is very different in Europe, where immediate transfers are the standard.) So Venmo really does provide the best bank payment service out there.  Score!

2. Social component.  As Weiss pointed out, payments are actually a social event – when you’re at dinner with friends or buying concert tickets, you are engaging with them socially.  (She uses Venmo to send birthday drinks to friends.)  Discussing money and who owes who what is awkward – and still kind of taboo in our society.  The goal of the social component is to remove that awkwardness, and Weis said it has really worked well for her so far.

Signing up is super easy – from the website, you can have an email or text sent to you that contains a link to the sign up page.  I didn’t time it, but signing up from my iPhone took about 60 seconds.  I have been working away since signing up, so I have not had a chance to use it yet – but I know I will.  You can sign up here.

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About the Author

Monika Jansen is a writer and editor who is happiest pounding out blog posts, newsletters, website content, and other materials. Follow her at: @monikacjansen

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9 Responses to “Anti-Lean Startup Model Case Study: Why Venmo Took 2 Years to Launch”

  1. Jen Consalvo

    We've actually had clients pay us using Venmo, and of course, investor @GaryV has helped spread the word since the beginning. While MVP's are great, when it comes to people's money, you can't really risk lots of bugs. I think Venmo has been very smart about it.

    Reply
  2. Lean

    What? I would argue that this is the very definition of what the Lean Startup approach prescribes: release a very basic product early to a small group of users, and continually iterate and improve until it's ready to go primetime with a "launch" and the surrounding publicity/marketing.

    That's exactly what the Venmo team did (it started out as a basic text message payments service), so I'm not sure about your "anti-lean startup" assessment here :)

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