Soon after Bitstrips launched their mobile app last fall, it became the number one app in over 40 countries and amassed 30 million new avatars in less than two months, as explained by a comic on the company blog.
Facebook users suddenly saw their News Feed filled with comics featuring friends. Before long, Bitstrips had to create more options to let users share privately through SMS and email or within the app.
Bitstrips, for those of us unaware, lets users create their own avatars which can be placed into different settings – a bus stop or a park, for example. While the app was released in 2012, its popularity spiked when it came out on the iPhone and Android devices. Users took advantage of the personalized comic app to post status updates on the run.
Jacob Blackstock started the 7-year-old company in 2007. During his childhood days at school, Blackstock admits he was never skilled at paying attention to the teacher, preferring to doodle comics instead and entertain friends with renderings of the teacher.
His comics earned him visits to the principal’s office and, strangely enough, “A” grades on school projects.
Years later, Blackstock continued to draw, but found that producing comics was actually quite tedious. Bitstrips was created to provide a new way to draw.
To Blackstock’s delight, teachers were one of the early adopters of the product. The company started Bitstrips for Schools in 2009 and began licensing the product to the Ontario Ministry of Education.
Bitstrips for Schools, like the mobile app, saw rapid growth. By 2013, it was used by over 95 percent of schools in Ontario, making it the fastest-growing software product the Ministry had ever licensed.
Blackstock said that teachers were using the comic program in all parts of the curriculum – math, science, and history included. Comics helped students get engaged with just about any topic.
There are other educational applications outside the classroom too. Bitstrips partnered with the Cartoon Network on a Stop Bullying campaign. Students used comics to show how they would stop bullying and, in the process, learn empathy skills.
In December, thanks to its tremendous growth, Bitstrips received a $3 million injection from Li Ka-shing’s Horizons Ventures. Blackstock tells the Toronto Star that Solina Chau, head of the Hong Kong-based investment firm, is a long-time comic fan herself and makes Bitstrips comics nearly every day.
The company will focus on improving the product and user experience with the new boost. It also has plans to monetize the app in the future, but Blackstock has yet to reveal to the media what those plans involve – social (such as expanding Bitstrips for Schools) or otherwise. He says there are a lot of monetization options.
Because of the mobile app’s sudden popularity, Bitstrips had to hire “super ninjas” to deal with the rapid growth threatening to melt its servers, break its app, and frustrate users. Meanwhile, they remain busy fixing malfunctions and hiring talent to join their studio in the artsy Trinity-Bellwoods neighborhood in Toronto.