Technology

You, too, can be an animator. Yes, there’s an app for that.

Startup Spotlight

Company name: Visual Blasters (creators of FlipaClip)

Headquarters: Downtown Miami

Concept: Visual Blasters develops gaming, multimedia and animation mobile apps. “We provide high quality, intuitive apps with an eye toward making the world a better place by helping people express their creativity, discover music and have fun while doing it,” said CEO Jonathan Meson.

Story: In 2010, brothers Jonathan Meson, 33, then a software engineer for Motorola, and Marcos Meson, 38, a senior motion graphics designer at HairDirect.com, founded Visual Blasters, with the mission of designing apps that create “communities” around people’s passions and creative pursuits such as music, animation and games.

​The brothers combined their programming and design skills to create their first product, “XiiaLive,” an internet radio app that offers an uninterrupted Internet radio experience. The app has been downloaded more than 5 million times and has about 100,000 active users. “Xiialive was a success, but was more a product of opportunity, not long-term strategic planning,” said Jonathan. That changed with its next release.

Youngest brother Tim Meson, 26, a software engineer at Oracle, joined the startup to launch a free animation app for Android users in 2012 called FlipaClip. This flip-book style drawing and animation app for Android grew faster than anyone expected, quickly earning a 4.3/5.0 star rating, and over 4.5 million downloads. In less than a year, FlipaClip doubled monthly active users from 250,000 to more than 550,000.

The app, now also available for iOS, allows people to make their own animations by drawing a series of pages through the app to achieve the motion. “People are using it on social media to express their artistic side,” Jonathan said. Here’s a tip: “You don’t have to be a really good artist. We give them all the basics they need to get started.”

The company’s competitive advantage is a combined laser-focus on ease of use and simplicity, a robust set of features, and a platform that ensures products scale effortlessly. The startup makes money through in-app purchases that unlock additional animation tools and ads within the app. Plans for FlipaClip include adding audio as an animation tool.

A key milestone came in 2014, when Visual Blasters entered into a licensing agreement with Fuhu Holdings, a company that makes children’s tablets for Target and Walmart and was recently acquired by Mattel. The agreement resulted in more than 400,000 devices with FlipaClip tech pre-installed.

FlipaClip has attracted all age groups, but the brothers are seeing lots of traction among the 13- to 18-year-olds. “They are spending hours animating instead of watching video games,” said Jonathan, who created stop-motion animation with Legos when he was a kid and made movies with his brothers. “A sense of creation was embedded in us and this app was born out of that.”

In March, FlipaClip launched on iOS with the help of the Animate ‘Unravel’ Contest – a partnership with Miami-based indie band “Tell Her I Love Her” to promote its first single. The contest, underway through May 12, seeks animation entries inspired by the band’s “Unravel” song; entrants are vying for $2,000 in cash prizes. The FlipaClip team learned that the contest can be a powerful vehicle to introduce people to the FlipaClip app, earning some 72,000 views of more than 180 contestant animated videos so far.

Launched: Flipaclip (Cartoon Animation) launched 2012

Website and social: www.visualblasters.com, www.instagram.com/flipaclip and flipaclip.tumblr.com.

Management team: Jonathan Meson (CEO and co-founder), Tim Meson (co-founder and software engineer); Marcos Meson (co-founder and lead designer), Jeremiah Meccage (head of business development).

No. of employees: 8, including contractors in Argentina and the Philippines.

Financing: Self-funded. Considering seeking an angel round of financing.

Recent milestones: In February, reached 5.5 million downloads and 550,000 active monthly users with FlipaClip for Android. in March, FlipaClip went live in Apple’s App store. Also in March, launched the Animate ‘Unravel’ Contest with Miami-based indie-band “Tell Her I Love Her” to announce iOS version of FlipaClip.

Biggest startup challenge: Working with a remote workforce and communicating with developers and customer service team members in different countries and time-zones.

Next steps: “Our plan is to grow FlipaClip and slowly release new applications that fit within our product portfolio and that makes sense with our company focus,” Jonathon said. “New products experience greater growth when they have the power of an existing user base and known brand to leverage. ... In the coming years, we’re going to devote more attention to honing our marketing and brand message and activating our user community in ways that are both fulfilling to them and beneficial to us.”

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