Monday, December 18, 2017
Business

Bitstrips founders discuss app's origins

SAN FRANCISCO — Bitstrips may seem like a sudden sensation now that the app maker's comic vignettes are all over Facebook and other social networks, but the Toronto startup's success was a drawn-out process.

The concept for a mobile application that lets people turn their lives into comic strips took shape as a high school diversion more than 20 years ago. That's when high school senior Jacob Blackstock drew a profane spoof of Charlie Brown and Lucy Van Pelt from the Peanuts comic strip and passed it to Shahan Panth, who sat behind him in English class. Even though a teacher reprimanded them for boorish behavior, a snickering Panth encouraged Blackstock to continue expressing his irreverent take on life through comics.

The two friends remained in touch after high school, often relying on comics as a way to communicate and needle each other. When Panth landed his first job out of college at an insurance company, Blackstock made it a point to fax a crude comic featuring his friend each day.

"I can't even repeat some of the things that he would say in those comics, but it was as about bad as you can possibly imagine," Panth says.

Goofing off eventually turned into a business. In 2007, Blackstock and Panth decided to start Bitstrips in an attempt to create a comic strip version of YouTube. Bitstrips remained a novelty service confined to customizing comics within Web browsers until October, when the company released a mobile application for iPhones, iPads and devices running on Android software.

But Blackstock, 38, and Panth, 39, are getting the last laugh as their once-quirky pastime turns into a worldwide phenomenon. More than 30 million people in 90 countries have turned themselves into comic book characters on Bitstrips' mobile apps. Google, which tracks people's interests through its search engine, rated Bitstrips as the trendiest app of 2013, eclipsing Twitter's Vine video app, Facebook's Instragram photo app, King.com's Candy Crush game and SnapChat's ephemeral messaging app.

With hopes of preventing a backlash to its application, Bitstrips recently added options that allow users to share their comics with a limited group of people instead of broadcasting through their Facebook networks or other digital hangouts.

Bitstrips' free mobile apps triggered the craze by making it easy for anyone with a smartphone or tablet computer to quickly create and post comics featuring themselves and a friend depicted in different scenarios. The apps provide thousands of comic scenes to choose from, then allow each user to create their own captions.

The overwhelming response surprised Blackstock and Panth, who had to scramble to increase Bitstrips' computing capacity to keep up with the intense demand. They now have a staff of 17 workers and have raised $3 million from Horizons Ventures in Hong Kong.

The seed money will help keep the service running until Blackstock and Panth figure out how to generate revenue from Bitstrips' rapidly growing audience.

Blackstock, who is nicknamed "BA" in reference to a sound he made as a child, thinks Bitstrips will prove his ideas weren't quite as goofy as they seemed when his high school English teacher caught him drawing cheeky comics a couple decades ago.

"We don't see this as a joke engine," Blackstock says. "We see this as a new medium for self-expression."

 
Comments
Another reason to buy a home in Tampa Bay? Down payments are lower here

Another reason to buy a home in Tampa Bay? Down payments are lower here

Homebuyers in the Tampa Bay area don’t have to shell out as much on downpayments as buyers in many other places. According to ATTOM Data Solutions, the median downpayment for a bay area home in the quarter ended in September was $13,750 compare...
Updated: 1 hour ago

First-Citizens Bank & Trust acquires Tampa-based HomeBancorp

TAMPA — North Carolina-based First-Citizens Bank & Trust Co. is acquiring Tampa-headquartered HomeBancorp, which operates HomeBanc. First Citizens Bank will pay $15.03 per share in cash, a Monday release said, and the deal is expected to close by mid...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Video: Chick fil-A feeds thousands of hungry travelers stranded in Atlanta airport

Video: Chick fil-A feeds thousands of hungry travelers stranded in Atlanta airport

Chick fil-A is normally closed on Sundays, but it made an exception for the thousands who were stranded at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. The travelers were left in the dark following a power outage that forced cancellation of mor...
Updated: 1 hour ago
St. Pete-Clearwater airport expects holiday parking crunch, so consider arranging a ride

St. Pete-Clearwater airport expects holiday parking crunch, so consider arranging a ride

CLEARWATER — With passenger traffic picking up on Monday and expected to stay strong through Dec. 29, St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport says it could run out of parking spaces, so passengers should consider making arrangements to be dropped o...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Florida gas prices back to pre-Hurricane Harvey levels

Florida gas prices back to pre-Hurricane Harvey levels

Just in time for one of the busiest travel periods of the year, gas prices across Florida are back down to pre-Hurricane Harvey levels. Tampa Bay gas hit $2.30 per gallon today, while state prices averaged $2.37 per gallon, according to AAA, The Auto...
Updated: 5 hours ago
Tampa flights affected as Atlanta airport outage creates holiday chaos

Tampa flights affected as Atlanta airport outage creates holiday chaos

ATLANTA — While power has been restored to the world’s busiest airport, the travel woes will linger for days.Thousands of people were stranded Monday morning at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, where more than 1,000 flights were gro...
Updated: 5 hours ago

Bitcoin futures begin trading on CME, price little changed

NEW YORK — Another security based on the price of bitcoin, the digital currency that has soared in value and volatility this year, began trading on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange on Sunday. The CME Group, which owns the exchange, opened up bitcoin f...
Published: 12/17/17
Vology landlord challenges property tax assessment

Vology landlord challenges property tax assessment

LARGO — Eight months after paying $10.15 million for the office building that houses IT services company Vology, a New York company is suing the Pinellas County Property Appraiser and Florida Department of Revenue contending its $5.5 million ta...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Fueled by indulgence and machismo, restaurants are a hotbed for sexual harassment

Fueled by indulgence and machismo, restaurants are a hotbed for sexual harassment

When Brenda Terry was 16 and living in St. Louis, she was a host and food runner at a sports bar where female employees wore cute little cheerleading skirts. One night, she said, a patron grabbed her crotch. She ran to her management team and they de...
Published: 12/15/17
Updated: 12/17/17
Taxpayer subsidies of Tampa golf courses are on the rise as struggles continue

Taxpayer subsidies of Tampa golf courses are on the rise as struggles continue

TAMPA — For the half of the year that Harry Nichols lives in Oldsmar, he plays 18 holes several times a month at Rocky Point Golf Course. On a good day, Nichols said he shoots close to par on the Dana Shores course. And if he’s really lucky, it’ll on...
Published: 12/15/17
Updated: 12/16/17