Hey, have you heard the one about the startup that’s been at it for 5 years without raising significant money? Then, they close a $3 million Series A from Asia’s richest man, Li Ka-shing, on the exact day their new mobile app hits #1 in the App Store.
Oh, and they didn’t actually have to pitch that investor from Horizons Ventures because he came to them.
That’s the true story of Bitstrips, the popular Facebook app that’s been clogging your feed with personalized comic strips.
When I hopped on a call with CEO Jacob “BA” Blackstock, I congratulated him on the round and all the buzz they’d gotten lately. I commented on the crazy week or so he must be having.
“Yeah,” he laughed. “But I finally got some sleep, so that’s good.”
Blackstock has been drawing since he was six, and he remembers making comics with and of his friends as he grew up. Consider it an analog version of the current Bitstrips product. The current digital product has been around in some form for 5 years or so and experienced some popularity. In fact, Horizons Ventures’ Li Ka-shing was an avid Bitstrips user, which is why he wanted to invest in the first place.
The picture above is an excerpt of the startup’s comic-strip blog post from last week.
Then they decided to go mobile.
The launch was executed in stealth mode. In fact, the team launched Android first and saw a few downloads, but nothing outrageous. A month later, the app appeared in the App Store.
The rest, as they say, is history.
Almost overnight Bitstrips was the #1 app not just in the US, but in 40 countries. (And, no, it hasn’t even been translated from English yet.) Within 2 months there were 30 million avatars created, and millions of Bitstrips are made every day. Even some well-known news anchors are getting in on the fun.
“It amazes me that we haven’t even translated it yet, but people all over the world are using it,” Blackstock told me.
Needless to say, the team in Toronto that launched an app in stealth mode wasn’t quite ready to handle the growth.
At first they experienced some challenges with servers and such. Then the complaints started coming in from Facebook users. Feeds were now filling up with random Bitstrips comics. The app was so popular, users were using it too much!
What a problem to have.
Now, with funding in the bank, Blackstock is focusing on building the team and updating the app. They have already expanded the sharing options to include Twitter, Instagram, and text, as well as released some holiday comics that can be customized.
According to Mashable, Bitstrips is following a “users now, monetize later” strategy. Since most consumer-facing apps take this approach, it’s certainly a familiar play. For now, Blackstock and the Bitstrips team see it as a way for people to connect with each other in a new and interesting way, which also sounds vaguely familiar.
Is it possible we’ve already found the next Snapchat?