Cartoon-Yourself App Bitstrips Secures First Funding Round
Bitstrips is used to writing its users stories, so now it’s working on writing its own.
Bitstrips, the app that allows users to create cartoon versions of themselves to share on social media, announced new funding, new user metrics and a new blog on Thursday. All are steps toward generating long-term stability that can be fleeting for companies that grew to fame as desktop-only Facebook apps.
The Series A funding round is a relatively small one from a big-name investor. Bitstrips took $3 million from Horizons Ventures in Hong Kong, a round led by Li Ka-Shing, Asia’s richest man.
The money will be used to build out the product and the Bitstrips team, which is currently 17 members strong. CEO Jacob Blackstock, a.k.a. “BA,” hopes to grow that number to 25 “in the next few months.”
That employee growth seems necessary given Bitstrips’ user growth. After launching the Bitstrips iOS app on Oct. 1, users created more than 30 million avatars in a two-month stretch, Blackstock said, bringing the total number of Bitstrips avatars to well over 40 million. Users had already generated 10 million avatars when the app was exclusively on Facebook’s web version.
Even celebrities like Ashton Kutcher and Al Roker are in on the action.
All Bitstrips cartoons are all created by the team at the startup’s Toronto office. The workspace looks exactly like you might imagine: The walls are covered in hundreds of cartoon drawings. Bitstrips has released four new comics per day, although Blackstock would like to see that number climb.
For the holidays, Bitstrips released 100 new holiday-themed comics intended to turn user avatars into personalized greeting cards.
As Bitstrips watched its popularity grow, it also saw an increase in user complaints, mainly that the comic strips were starting to take over their Facebook feeds. In some ways, it’s a good problem to have. The product is annoying to some, but only because their friends are using it too frequently.
The company is working to solve the issue, and last month changed the app’s settings so that users can share their Bitstrips comics with more focused groups of friends or followers. Users can now share through text, email or just within the app. Blackstock said the new share settings have minimized the “buried” effect that some users experienced, but time will tell whether users who were once turned off by the comic flood will warm up to the service.
The Bitstrips office.
Bitstrips has taken the “users now, monetize later” approach, becoming increasingly familiar with consumer-focused startups. “Our number one focus is product right now,” Blackstock said. But that hasn’t stopped the a lifelong cartoonist from dreaming up monetization strategies.
Blackstock believes that one day, users will make in-app purchases, like buying special outfits or extras for their avatars. He also hopes to fuse Bitstrips with the entertainment industry, putting user avatars in movie or TV settings where they star in comics alongside their favorite actors.
He even envisions physical merchandise, emblazoned with the users face in cartoon form, hopefully not too far down the road. For now, Bitstrips will take more manageable steps: adding new users, new languages and more cartoons.
“We really want it to get to the point where, wherever you are, whatever you’re doing, you have a thought — something funny happens or something weird happens — you can go, ‘That’s a Bitstrip!'” Blackstock said. “It’s just a really fun way to express what’s happening and what you’re thinking about.”