product and growth strategy: user BEliefs, USe-Cases And BEhaviors


What can we do to grow?
Summer 2011. Venmo was 18 months-old and a 5-person team. The core payment functionality existed and Venmo wanted to better understand growth. I led and ran a research study to gain insight into Venmo's best users -- what are their brand perceptions, how do they talk about Venmo, what are their unmet needs, and what are their sharing behaviors. I also tested paper prototypes of new app layouts and features. I conducted in-depth user interviews with top users in New York and Philadelphia, synthesized and socialized findings with the team, and this research informed the app design that exists today.


Who are our best users? What are their beliefs? What do they value? What do they do professionally, in their spare time? How are they atypical from the average population? How do they describe Venmo? What other apps do they use? What are their primary use cases? What do they like / dislike about Venmo? 

How do our best users socialize Venmo? How do people describe Venmo to their friends? What words are used? In what contexts do they bring Venmo up? Do they encourage their friends to sign-up? Why / Why not? What are their friends' reactions? Do their friends adopt it? Why? Why not?

What are current barriers to growth? What are the reasons people don't adopt Venmo? What can we do to overcome these barriers. Prototype different potential solutions.



Early-adopters are mostly people in tech who make, understand and therefore easily trust tech

  • Excited to try new technologies. Often also have a Square account
  • "Be in the know"

Those not as immersed in tech are skeptical of giving their credit card / bank info to an app they've never heard of

  • Still very early in mobile payments, not the norm
  • More likely to sign-up if friends they trust are on Venmo
    => social proof is important to establish credibility

Paypal is what you use to pay people you don't know; Venmo is what you use to pay your friends

  • Many of the best users don't see Paypal as a competitor. 
  • "You wouldn't use Paypal to pay back your friends for dinner"


"I use Venmo because it's useful."

  • The core functionality is stand-alone useful. Extra features, like bill-splitting, paying restaurants, a calculator, while nice, are not "need-to-haves"
  • Some remarked that the social feed is "just weird", but they tolerate it because Venmo itself is so useful

People tend to stick to the use-cases they know

  • e.g., just use it at home with roommates, never occured to use Venmo at their startup


Gaining credit card points is a good incentive to sign up + pay for the bill and have everyone Venmo you

  • Numerous people mentioned that credit card points was a reason they sign-up for venmo or are willing to take the group bill

Context is important. Downloading an app for a one-off payment vs. for ongoing exchanges with roommates

  • Venmo can be a hard sell at the end of dinner; much more likely for ongoing payments amongst roommates for example, or for group trips.

Faces. Faces. Faces.
Showcase that real people are on Venmo and actively using it to establish credibility.
Could do this with the feed + emphasis on profile pics. 

Highlight a variety of use-cases to implicitly educate users on various ways to pay venmo.

=> Move away from the utilitarian 4-button homescreen to showcasing the payment feed


homescreen change_small.png
 This research help informed the re-design of the app that still exists today.

This research help informed the re-design of the app that still exists today.