Snapchat is buying Bitstrips, the app that lets you create a personalized cartoon avatar of yourself, called a bitmoji, for sharing on social media or text, a report by Fortune said on Thursday.
One of the multiple sources told Fortune that the deal is worth somewhere “in the ballpark” of $100 million, to be paid out in a mix of cash and stock. It is not clear at this time what Snapchat intends to do with the company, though it could integrate it with its own immensely successful app for use on mobile devices.
The Toronto-based company Bitstrips was founded in 2007 by current CEO Jacob “Ba” Blackstock, who came from a background in cartoons before becoming a tech entrepreneur. He worked in an animation studio after college before founding Bitstrips. Bitstrips became available on Facebook in 2012, followed shortly in 2013 by its availability on iPhone and Android. Although official figures have not been released, millions of people use the app every day. Fortune described the appeal of the app:
“Bitstrips was originally founded in 2007 to help users build personalized digital comics, but in 2014 refocused on customized and shareable cartoon avatars. Users download an app, and then pick from a variety of face shapes, skin colors, and other features that often result in eerily accurate portrayals. These ‘bitmojis’ then can be put into various different poses or with different accessories, and are readily accessible for mobile communications.”
The video and picture messaging app Snapchat is venturing into a buzzworthy part of the emoji market with this latest move.
Forbes called 2016 the year of the bitmoji, noting that “People are using these adorable avatars to communicate everywhere – in the office, in the dating world, on texts with their parents and grandparents. People discuss and highlight their Bitmojis on Twitter, on television sitcoms, on Instagram, on morning talk shows.”
Snapchat already allows users to insert emojis into the photos and videos they send, and the addition of Bitstrips may make Snapchat more personalized, as described by Forbes.
“From 150,000 years ago to 150 years ago human interaction was face to face. Then we got the telephone and you could talk to anyone anywhere but you couldn’t see their face. Then we got the text and lost voice. Communication became more and more convenient and less and less human. Emojis have become popular in recent years because they fill a gap people didn’t even know they had. They add feeling to conversation and allow you to tell if someone is being sarcastic or sweet. But as much as people love emojis and as big as they’ve gotten, they are still missing a key thing: identity. For all of human history there has always been a face to communicate with and that changes the meaning of what is said. Because Bitmoji adds that identity, it is not a fad.”
In a world where the divides between the real world and the digital world are endlessly being broken down day by day, the digital cartoon representation of yourself is rapidly becoming as important as how you present yourself in real life.
Bitstrips reportedly had raised around $11 million in venture capital, mainly from investment by firms like Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, and most notably the Silicon Valley-based Horizons Ventures. Horizons is the venture investment arm of the vast business empire of Li Ka-shing, Hong Kong business magnate and the richest person in Asia. Horizons made a high-profile investment into Bitstrips in 2013, according to The Wall Street Journal.
A spokeswoman for Snapchat declined to comment, and Bitstrips founder Blackstock did not respond to press inquiries about the deal.
[Photo by Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images]