Three days ago Facebook bought Masquerade (also known as MSQRD), an app that lets you create live, playful filters for selfies. Think you with someone else’s face, you with Mickey Mouse ears, or you with the golden Oscar statue that you’re never going to win.
Masquerade certainly allows Facebook to compete with Snapchat’s filters, which allow much the same effects and are increasingly popular among the Facebook nemesis’ millennial fans. And Masquerade also enhances live personal video, a current focus for the world’s biggest social network right now, and another stronghold for Snapchat.
But Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has always shown a flare for buying social apps that are growing fast, and have massive future potential. The big blue network bought Instagram for $1 billion when it had just 30 million users. Now it has over 400 million. And Facebook bought WhatsApp for $19 billion when it had 450 million users … now the messaging service has more than doubled that, with 900+ million users.
And that’s exactly what Facebook might just see in Masquerade.
The selfie filter app has seen massive recent hockey-stick growth, says Apptopia COO Jonathan Kay. He shared the following numbers with me:
In January, the Masquerade app had 1.92 million global downloads. In February, that number quadrupled to 7.6 million. There’s only ten days of March data so far, but the app has seen 4.42 million downloads already in just over a week, for a projected March total of 13.2 million. (Editor’s note: App ranking service AppAnnie also shows that Masquerade rose from no. 1,222 on the list of most popular Photo and Video apps in the App Store when it launched on Dec. 18, all the way to no. 9 by early February.)
“This sort of growth is rare, and really impressive,” says Kay. “You see games and quirky cultural apps shoot up the charts for a few days at a time and see big download numbers for those few days. However, consistently producing over 350,000 new users a day for 2-plus months is extremely rare.”
Most apps doing these sorts of numbers are huge already (think Clash of Clans) and spending madly to acquire new users, often in the hundreds of thousands of dollars each and every day.
That’s certainly not the case for Masquerade, a 3-person startup with no history of fundraising.
All in all, it’s very impressive, and it shows that once again, Facebook seems able to pick winners who are winning … and will win even more with Facebook’s help and blessing.
That’s exactly the plan, says Kay:
“Facebook can only stay indestructible as long as they continue to acquire all of the new and shiny ‘toys’ around them,” he told me via email. “This was a very smart, defensive play for them.”