$100M mistake

Shaan Puri
3 min readMar 28, 2017

For nearly 12 months — Bitmoji has been the #1 app in the world on iPhone.

That’s a LONG time to be on top. How has it done it?

  1. It’s an app people like to use
  2. It’s been boosted by snapchat, who bought the app for $100M.

Who knew cartoon avatars were serious business?

We did actually. But that insight didn’t help us. This morning, I was reflecting on what happened. What we got right, and what we got wrong.

What did we get right?

  1. people do have fun making their little avatar.
  2. They do have fun using their character to express themselves.
  3. the concept is viral. When you see one, you ask — how’d you do that?

Ideas are cheap, execution is everything….but we executed well too! I know I’m biased, but anyone who tried both would tell you that we actually had a better product (and we still lost).

We got 500k downloads (in 60 days), and had a brief moment at #1 on the charts, before falling into mediocrity.

I’ve adopted the SBG motto: You either Win or You Learn.

They won, so what can we learn?

  • we let our vision get in the way of our success:

people loved our avatars and the funny scenes they could make…but we packaged it as a messaging app. We thought messaging is going to rule the world, we used the art our hook, our bait.

People loved the art, but nobody wanted another messaging app. Like idiots, we put all the fun behind a paywall (use our messenger if you want the funny art).

Bitmoji was a keyboard you could use in any app ← we knew this, we discussed it, but were too stubborn to do it.

  • we didn’t sell to snapchat — bitmoji was popular, but didn’t hit #1 until snapchat bought it for ~$100M and integrated it into their app. Why didn’t I email Evan?

We got the user product/demand right, but the packaging & distribution wrong.

Lesson of the morning, you can’t get it half right. You get $0 for getting it 50% right. Don’t be stubborn, be successful.

I’ll leave us with some nostalgia:

my avatar after I typed #dosequis

The first prototype (left) and an example of the crazy art inside (right)
Watching twitter to see the world’s reaction
press coverage around the launch (covered by 100+ publications during launch week)