The old thought experiment asks: If you could travel back in time to prevent someone’s birth who would be capable of great evil, would you do it? Admittedly, sometimes while browsing Facebook I wrestle with this myself when I think about Bitstrips and its founders Dorian Baldwin, Jacob Blackstock, Shahan Panth and David Kennedy. The social comic creation app makes for some truly cringeworthy posts by friends and family, but my personal distaste doesn’t negate the fact that these things are being used, and used frequently, by people in my network who’ve never even heard of Path or Snapchat.
Bitstrips has been on a bit of a tear lately, too: In the past two months alone, users have created over 30 million avatars on the service. The idea is that you use the app to create an avatar (which sort of resembles a Nintendo Mii) to use in comics that can be assembled quickly using pre-made elements via an easy-to-understand composer. You can use your friends, too, and the team pumps out new scenes daily so it appeals to a group with a wide range of creative impulses.
Recently, Bitstrips has seen a lot of growth coming from international markets, and it has occupied the top spot in the App Store in over 40 countries (and took the crown in the Entertainment category in over 90). CEO Jacob Blackstock attributes its recent rocket growth to the launch of its mobile apps.
“Bitstrips has been growing steadily for a long time, but the launch of the mobile app made it possible for people to create comics anytime, anywhere,” he said. “Life is full of moments that are made to be ‘bitstripped,’ and now people can share those moments instantly in comic form. It’s this instantaneous aspect of the mobile experience that enabled Bitstrips to go viral so rapidly.”
Blackstock added that it’s especially impressive because it was intended as a completely soft launch – they didn’t spend any money on marketing or do any press outreach. It’s definitely true that for me, awareness of Bitstrips came not from any tech publication or online hype, but from seeing it crop up like a new and invasive species of persistent weed in my FB timeline.
The success of Bitstrips not only here in North America but also abroad is also something that has surprised Blackstock and his co-founders, he says. Its user base is truly international, with cities like New York, London, Hong Kong, Mexico City and Lima providing many of those millions of avatars, which now total more than nine million worldwide created in the less than six months since its launch.
“What makes this truly remarkable is that Bitstrips is only available in English so far, and people from so many different places are turning the same comic scenes into their own creations uniquely relevant to them,” Blackstock says. “We do have plans to translate the app for our more popular non-English markets, and down the line even add localized content.”
The new investment from Li Ka-shing’s Horizons Ventures should help it with those goals, and Blackstock said they made sense as a partner because of their “global perspective,” which he says will play a “pivotal role in helping us evolve Bitstrips to become a global brand.”