Three cartoon portraits made with the MomentCam app. (Internet Photo)
A smartphone application that converts pictures of the user into cute cartoon characters has become a hit overnight in China, with the number of subscribers topping 20 million in the fourth months after its launch.
The application, called MomentCam in English — a phonetic rendering of the Chinese which means "magic manga camera," rose to the top of the free apps category on the Apple online store in China in just three days and notched a record 3.25 million subscribers a day. On the back of its rapid success, it recently attracted a 10 million yuan (US$1.64 million) loan.
The software was created by two young people, Ren Xiaoqing and Huang Guangming, both members of the Dark Horse Development Camp, a platform dedicated to startups.
Ren Xiaoqian, a fine-arts major, conceived of the idea when working as a souvenir designer for Walmart in the US in 2006. "A popular [design] for Walmart back then was planting a human face on the body of a cartoon character, although the effect was quite ugly as well as the dark background. This gave me the idea to render photographs of people in a cartoony comic style, believing that it would be even more popular," Ren said.
In 2008, she encountered Huang Guangming, then a manager at Microsoft, and they decided to combine their respective expertise in the fields of fine art and computing by returning to China to found a startup.
The company initially dedicated itself to the production of custom-made cartoon souvenirs for some major local companies before Ren decided to switch to online business entirely due to the ceiling for offline products and her dislike of the need to entertain clients to drum up business.
From a slow start, the MomentCam app suddenly became a hit overnight. "We were not mentally prepared for the phenomenal growth of subscribers," Ren admitted. The number of downloads topped 1 million in one month and 10 million in three months as people became aware of the software, which converts a photograph of a human into a cartoon figure in the space of a few seconds.
Ren said the challenge now is how to maintain the number of subscribers to avoid it becoming a short-lived fad, a fate that has befallen a great many applications in China.