An open secret in Toronto's tech startup community was officially confirmed Tuesday when booming social media service Snapchat announced its 150 million daily active users would now have in-app access to Bitmojis from Toronto's Bitstrips.
Back in late March, when news that one of California's hottest startups had purchased the somewhat obscure Canadian company, the valuation was pegged close to $100-million (U.S.) by some sources. At the time, neither company confirmed the relationship, and in June Snapchat opened a small and separate Toronto sales office to tap the Canadian market for advertising opportunities.
While a Snapchat spokesperson confirmed that an acquisition took place and that the company was "thrilled" to add the Toronto startup to the "Snapchat family," the company said it would not discuss terms and confirmed the two Toronto offices would remain separate.
Bitstrips, which was founded in 2007, had raised about $11-million (U.S.) from venture funders such as Li Ka Shing's Horizon Ventures and storied Silicon Valley firm Kleiner Perkins Caulfield & Byers. Bitstrips founder Jacob "Ba" Blackstock, a former cartoonist, released a statement saying "We're incredibly excited to be joining the innovative team over at Snapchat."
Today's announcement will let users add Bitmojis – which are personalized graphics that let users express a range of emotions and ideas using a cartoonish caricature of themselves – as a sticker to the chat and Snap features of the app. If a Snapchat contact also has Bitmoji setup, friendship stickers featuring both users will be available (users will still need to install the separate Bitmoji app to access the new features).
Originally built around photo-based messages that would expire and disappear from the receiver's inbox, Snapchat has morphed into one of the must-have apps for young mobile users as well as a video distribution channel where users can publish a daily summary of their activities. All of this has generated an ecosystem of Snap celebrities as well as partnerships with major online publishing brands. The majority of Snapchat's users are in the 18-24-year-old demographic, and the five-year-old app has received $2.6-billion in funding from venture investors, putting the private company's valuation close to $16-billion.