Are We Looking At The Next Snapchat?

Bitstrips comic avatar app

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?

Find Me Coffee, Coffee Discovery Startup

Whether you’re looking for a chain coffee shop, a drive through or the shop that serves as a city’s cultural mecca, you can find your next cup of joe using the app from Toronto startup Find Me Coffee. We’re all aware that Toronto has one of the largest startup ecosystems in the western hemisphere, and a lot of that innovation is being fueled by coffee.

Find Me Coffee makes it easy to find the nearest coffee shop using your smart phone.

We got a chance to talk with the team behind Find Me Coffee. Check out the interview below.

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Before SnapChat There Was Quimby


Unless you’ve been living under the Christmas and holiday rock, you’ve undoubtedly heard about the “controversial” mobile app startup, SnapChat and the ensuing controversy surrounding Facebook copying the technology as “Poke”.

SnapChat is a mobile texting app that allows multimedia texting. What makes it particularly intriguing is the fact that messages sent with SnapChat can self destruct. Make no bones about it or call it anything less than it is, it is the “sexting” app and its burning up the charts. SnapChat quickly found its place in the top 3 apps in the iTunes App Store where it’s been living for weeks.

Teenagers are using it in droves for sexting, to talk freely about others and for anything else they don’t want accidentally left on their phones.

Facebook was quickly called out, when after seeing the runaway success SnapChat was having, copying the technology completely and releasing it as a mobile app called “Poke”. Poke quickly rose to the top of the charts as well but when people realized how Zuckerberg’s mobile engineers blatantly ripped off SnapChat, Poke began falling as quickly as it rose to the top.

Before SnapChat though there was another app designed to do the exact same thing. We first reported on Toronto startup Quimby back in April when we interviewed the apps founder Heather Burns.

Burns had teamed up with our good friends at Toronto mobile development giant Bnotions. The premise for her app was the same thing, self destructing messages.

Burns tried to take the high road though, she suggested adults may use it for when they are away from each other for long times and long distances. Another use case for Quimby was highly sensitive messages between employers and colleagues. Either way Quimby is just as much for sexting as SnapChat is.

SnapChat also went on the defensive at first but of course any press but your obituary is good press right?

See out interview wit Quimby here

Toronto Startup CountMeIn Is The Next Generation Of Wish Lists & Gift Registries

CountMeIn,Toronto startup,startup,startups,startup interviewWhile it’s not as explosive as the reward and loyalty space, we’ve profiled a handful of gift registry and group gifting startups here at, the voice of startups everywhere else. Monday we brought you the story of a new feature from our friends at Buyvite that allows people to pay back someone on a group gift purchase, socially. This Toronto startup called CountMeIn merges all of that together.

Toronto startup CountMeIn is the next generation of wish lists and gift registries.  CountMeIn’s co-founder Israel Schachter, who goes by Yummy (don’t ask), tells us that he came up with the idea for CountMeIn after getting a friend and business associate a $1500 gas grill at Home Depot as a housewarming gift.

Schachter had no plan of action, except getting a commitment from 14 of his closest friends for $100 a piece for the gift. Once he arrived at Home Depot he found the grill and decided that was the gift. Then, he needed to figure out how to get the grill to his buddy’s house in his sedan. Needless to say it was a huge headache, and two years later he’s still collecting money.  He thought there had to be an easier way.

While he calls coming up with a startup to solve your own problem “selfish” most of us call it innovative.

Rather than tackling the problem of group collaboration on a gift, executing the gift and collecting on payments separately, he and his team went all out and tackled all three problems in one.

Check out our interview with Schachter below.

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Toronto Startup Tagtivate: Follow Any Content By HashTag

After checking out Toronto startup Tagtivate for a little bit we thought the best way to describe it is a Digg or Reddit for 2012. If Digg or Reddit had come out this year, it may be organized and searchable via hashtag. Everyone is using hashtags these days on Twitter, Instagram, heck even Facebook.

The hashtag is a peculiar little thing, you simply but a # sign in front of something and it’s easily searchable on any of the existing social networks.

What Tagtivate has done is taken the socially driven hash tag and put it on a content recommendation site for organization.

The Tagtivate team does a great job of providing examples in our interview below, the concept is fairly simple though.

Instead of a bunch of html links that can look like jibberish or instead of trying to come up with that all important Reddit, Digg or Hacker News headline, you simply find the content you want to share and hashtag it. If I wanted to post good startup stories to the Tagtivate platform I would simply add a #startup to the piece of content.

Check out our interview with Tagtivate below.

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Toronto Startup Picatic Launches; Protects Event Organizers By Crowdfunding Tickets

Toronto startup Picatic has an excellent proposition for event organizers,”Never lose money on an event again”. They can guarantee this proposition for event organizers that use their platform for their events.

Picatic’s EventTilt platform is a crowdfunding site to fund events. Users take to the traditional crowdfunding model and essentially purchase tickets early for an event that an organizer has posted to the site. If the event gets enough early tickets from the crowd, those that crowdfunded the event will receive discounted tickets based on their contribution. Should the event not get enough commitments than the user’s card isn’t charged and everyone walks away happy.

With EventTilt event organizers can finally host events without worrying that they won’t sell enough tickets to break-even or make the profit they expected. The platform eliminates all of the financial risks of hosting an event by offering a preset number of early tickets at a discount. Once discounted tickets are sold the event Tilts and tickets go back up to full price — the event is on! For events that don’t Tilt within the time allotted, EventTilt will refund buyers 100% of their ticket price.

Picatic,EventTilt,Toronto startup,Canadian startup,startup,startups,crowdfundingJust like other crowdfunding sites Picatic can also offer other incentives to those that purchase their tickets early. Incentives like early admission, VIP access,T-shirts and other swag can be used as incentives to the buyers.

“EventTilt is changing the way we plan and market events. Our goal is simple, create a platform that not only ensures events get the funding they need to be successful but also helps organizers engage with their most loyal supporters.” CEO and Co-Founder Jayesh Parmar said in a statement.

There are a few other crowdfunding startups in the ticketing and event space like GigFunder and Queremos. While many view Picatic as a way to eliminate risk for event organizers, others wonder if it’s worth backing or committing to an event that may or may not happen.

Picatic has raised $200,000 in seed funding and their site is up and running.


Check out Picatic on the web here

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Mediaton & Arbitration Go Online & Social With Toronto Startup: eQuibbly

Move over Judge Judy and Judge Joe Brown, when you have a dispute now, you don’t need a tv show, a judge or a lawyer. Now you can settle your disputes in an online forum called eQuibbly.

eQuibbly is an incredible idea founded in Toronto by Lance Soskin, a lawyer, investment banker and now entrepreneur.

The concept is pretty easy to grasp. eQuibbly is an online forum where two people can post their legitimate disputes. Those involved in the dispute can choose to post their dispute in a private room with just the two parties, an arbitrator or a mediator or, they can take it to the people, socially. The idea behind the public forum isn’t to bash either party but rather to get feedback and constructive ideas on how to solve the dispute.

eQuibbly,Canadian startup,Toronto startup,startup,startups,startup interview,founder interviewWith eQuibbly, no matter what your dispute is, you can take it to the platform and get people to give their ideas for resolution and then the public can vote on them. Did the plumber do a bad job on your shower and you want a refund? Did the dry cleaners rip your favorite blouse? Is the dog next door barking and driving you crazy?

Both parties in an eQuibbly dispute can state their side of the story and offer resolutions. Then get help from the crowd. It’s a lot easier, and even more fun than wasting lots of money with lawyers and courts.

We got a chance to talk with the team from eQuibbly about this great new Toronto startup. Check out the interview below:

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Toronto Startup Venio Is All About Healthy Meals & Healthy Lifestyle INTERVIEW

Toronto startup is all about healthy meals, and healthy lifestyles. This new meal plan startup, helps users set up structured meal plans that are personal, scientific and valuable.

Setting up your meal plan via is a simple three-step system that learns your habits, tastes and dietary needs. This is a really great platform for those who have regular dietary constraints like diabetes and lactose intolerance. can give you great suggestions for every meal that will help you reach all of your goals.

The team is an international tapestry of talent. In fact in our interview below they answered the questions about where they were based by saying they were Georgian and Iranian, and yes the headline is correct they live in Toronto. Their marketing guy Karim El Rabiey suggests that it’s this patchwork of different nationalities that creates a special flavor (you see what we did there) for the team and the product. They actually have one of the best about pages we’ve seen in a while, you should check that out here.

We got to interview El Rabiey about and how they’re unparalleled in the world of specialty meal planning platforms. Check out the interview below.

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Toronto Startup ShopLocket Raises $1M For Simple Selling Platform

Two weeks ago we brought you an interview with Toronto startup ShopLocket. This innovative new startup has developed a simple selling platform, where selling anything online, in a one off sale, is as easy as embedding a YouTube video. From ShopLocket’s platform you can sell your digital camera, pair of shoes, dress, car or whatever else you want to unload on any social media channel, your personal blog, website or anywhere that you can embed anything.

There are three easy steps to listing an item on ShopLocket, just create your sale, share it and sell it. You can sell whatever you want. Got some old baseball cards? Sell them. Have an old cell phone? Sell it! Want to teach guitar lessons, no problem.  Best of all there is no coding required.  They also offer two payment options PayPal and Stripe.

ShopLocket was born after co-founder Katherine Hague had needed to sell some shirts for a consulting job she was working on. Setting up a traditional e-commerce site would have been too costly and too time consuming. Using an existing market place like e-Bay or Craigslist was too unprofessional. So ShopLocket was born.

We love the concept and it seems easy enough to quickly ramp up their user base. Rho Canada Ventures, Peter Thiel’s Valar Ventures, BDC Venture Capital, Relay Ventures and Extreme Venture Partners obviously see the vision as well as they all came together last week to fund ShopLocket’s seed round to the beat of $1 million dollars.

“The main use of the funds will be to grow the team, both for marketing and development,” ShopLocket co-founder Katherine Hague said in an interview with BetaKit. “Up until now we were a team of three; Andrew Louis my co-founder, Dan Kalmar our Community Manager, and myself. Already we’ve added two team members, Jaclyn Konzelmann for business development and Sumanth Ravipati as our second developer. We expect to be adding a full-time designer and a third developer later in the year.”

Hague reports that a lot of this round came from their participation in Extreme Startups accelerator program. That program gives startups a $50,000 seed in the beginning of the program and an additional $150,000 investment at the end of the program. Many of the other institutional investors that participated in the round, did so because of their relationship with Extreme Startups. Hague said the round took under two months from pitching to money in the bank.

Obviously for a round to come together that quick it’s more than just their participation in an accelerator. Hague says:

“I think what separates us from a lot of different ways of selling online is how easy and social it is to sell. In minutes, someone can have a professional way to sell online. In addition to that, if someone likes the product that you’re selling, they’re able to either share a link to that product with their friends, or even embed it right in their own site.” she told 

When a product is easy to understand, easy to use and looks great, like ShopLocket, it doesn’t matter where you’re located, you have a better chance of winning.


Our interview with ShopLocket

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Meet TellBob He’s A Canadian Startup Rewarding People For Taking Surveys On Their Mobile Device

Getting customer feedback can be tricky. Almost every kind of survey engagement tactic has been tried time and time again. It’s hard to get someone to take a survey for a chance to win $10,000 or even a free meal the next time you visit a restaurant. Companies need this valuable data, and the survey platform that can pull it off is going to win.

That’s where TellBob comes in. This Canadian based startup with a really cool name is all about having customers take surveys on their smartphone and then getting rewarded instantly for participating.

So TellBob isn’t really a guy named Bob in fact it’s two guys Trevor Howie and Dan Renaud. They came up with the idea back in 2007 after visiting a Home Depot and thinking how great it would be if you could get some kind of instant gratification for completing their customer service survey.

With TellBob’s reward program the customer is rewarded instantly and they can save or trade their rewards with their friends and even share the entire experience on Facebook. It’s a win for their survey customers as well. TellBob can give back some great information and even confirm that the person completing the survey was actually at the location.

We got a chance to interview TellBob, well actually Howie, check out that interview below.

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Interview With Canadian Startup Hashcaster

Back in June we brought you this story about Canadian startup Hashcaster. Hashcaster provides a curation, and measurement (analytics) platform for event coordinators to manage their social media graph. It really comes in handy when gauging the effect of marketing, press and media efforts on behalf of an event just about any size.

At Social Media Camp in June not only was Hashcaster used by the event organizers but they also received a “Coastie” for “Most Innovative Social Media Product or Technology”.

Event organizers everywhere are counting on social marketing efforts more and more everyday as traditional marketing has fallen to the wayside. Organizers need to be able to capture tweets, likes, and mentions and then aggregate them, and analyze them to make sure the cohesive message is getting across. They also want to know who their top influencers are and what kind of impact any paid social marketing may have had.

All of these things are why Geoff Clendenning and Paul Vet created Hashcaster.

Now social media dashboards are nothing new but this particular use case is. Hashcaster also takes into consideration that the social graph of a particular event is going to swell as the event draws closer. When you’re at a popular event, especially one with a social media focus, tweets, likes and mentions can come in a matter of seconds.

We got a chance to interview Clendenning about Hashcaster, check out the interview below:

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Interview with Toronto, Ontario & New York Startup RemoteStylist

Interior decorating can be a pain in the ass. You normally have to go from store to store and showroom to showroom. Not to mention the fact that you’ve got to deal with a pushy sales person at each showroom and each store. It’s more of a pain than it’s worth. That’s why so many interior decorating and interior design projects get put on hold. Or worse, people spend thousands of dollars on something they don’t necessarily like, just to get the process over with.

That’s where Toronto, Ontario and New York based startup RemoteStylist comes in. With RemoteStylist you simply sign up for your own free profile and then you can coordinate your style for your interior project with one of RemoteStylists’ interior designers.

As you work with your stylist from RemoteStylist you’ll see your rooms come together right before your eyes. If something doesn’t look right on the screen you can simply send your stylist back to the drawing board and they’ll continue to work, change and revise until you have the room you’re looking for.

Once the painful part is over, you’ll be completely satisfied with what you selected. Then the second magic part happens. Everything you liked is purchased for less than retail prices and then delivered and installed in your home. Yes 99% of this entire process can happen at your desk, in bed or at the kitchen table. RemoteStylist founder Kelly Fallis and her team have made sure that the interior design process is simple, and easy and that in the end the customers are happy.

We got a chance to interview the folks at RemoteStylist check out the interview below:

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Toronto Startup: ShopLocket Easily Sell Anything INTERVIEW

Ever had something you wanted to sell on the internet? Sure you have. Maybe you thought signing up for ebay, setting up an account and then trusting Paypal was too much of a pain in the butt?  Maybe you wanted to sell your item on Craigslist but you didn’t want to deal with 100 emails telling you they would send you $10,o00 for your $400 item.  Well if you thought online selling was a pain, ShopLocket could possibly be the cure.

ShopLocket is a Toronto based startup which promises to make listing your item online as easy as embedding a YouTube video anywhere. You can embed it on your Facebook page, Tumblr, Posterous,Blogger, WordPress, other web page, blog or anywhere else that you would like. If you don’t know how to embed a YouTube video, no worries ShopLocket will teach you how to embed your item.

There are three easy steps to listing an item on ShopLocket, just create your sale, share it and sell it. You can sell whatever you want. Got some old baseball cards? Sell them. Have an old cell phone? Sell it! Want to teach guitar lessons, no problem.  Best of all there is no coding required.

As for payment, yes you can trust the overlords at PayPal but they also use the new payment service Stripe as well.

We got to talk with ShopLocket and their truly innovative service in the interview below:

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Canadian Startup Scolaris Crowdfunding Tuition


We knew this day would come, we just weren’t sure who would do it first. A startup in Toronto called Scolaris offers a crowdfunding platform for students to find funds for tuition for college.

The site allows Canadian students attending colleges and universities in Canada to setup “scholarships” for themselves. Once the scholarship is setup students can turn to friends, family and even complete strangers for funding.

We wouldn’t be surprised if some of the students who participate on tell compelling enough stories that anonymous philanthropic donors choose to fund their entire education. Stranger things have happened. uses a Paypal interface to complete the transactions for the fundees. That allows contributors to pay via PayPal account, credit or debit card.

Scolaris founder and CEO Mark Mauleesan drew from his own hard experience raising money for medical school when coming up with the idea for Scolaris.

“Medical school wasn’t cheap. I was fortunate enough to have people apart from my parents say ‘Here’s a cheque for Mark,’” Mauleesan told “My parents helped me through medical school and now my sister’s going through law school in Ottawa. So she can raise funds for her scholarship (on in the coming year.”

Scolaris doesn’t charge the student or the donor. To make money the company does take an 8% fee off every dollar raised, with half of that going to cover PayPal fees.

In order to raise money for tuition students must provide proof that they are actually enrolled or accepted into a post secondary education institution.

Also all funds raised on Scolaris are put in a lump sum account on the students behalf and then paid directly to the school once the student furnishes a tuition invoice.

Unlike the US an average year of tuition in Canada is around $5500 so it’s not a huge amount of money to raise.

“As long as you’re going to an accredited (school) and can prove you’re a student or are going to be a student…(there’s) no way to come to and try to scam donors to try to rip them off,” Mauleesan said.


For more information visit

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