Dashtoon, an up & coming startup based in San Francisco and London, has embarked on a mission to empower individuals with a narrative to transform them into proficient comic artists, regardless of their drawing abilities. It leverages a suite of generative AI tools and a dedicated publishing platform, the Dashtoon Comic Reader, to cater to the insatiable appetite of readers seeking daily comic episodes.
To lay the foundation for the Dashtoon Comic Reader platform, the company has orchestrated the creation of approximately 30 comics and intends to introduce nearly 1,000 fresh episodes each month. Having commenced monetization in October, Dashtoon is poised to generate an estimated $15,000 in revenue during its inaugural month, with ambitious plans to scale up to $100,000 per month over the next two to three months. The startup operates under a freemium model, granting users one complimentary daily episode for each comic.
The impetus behind Dashtoon’s inception in December 2022 can be traced back to the experiences of its founders, Sanidhya Narain, Lalith Gudipati, and Soumyadeep Mukherjee. Prior to Dashtoon, Narain and Gudipati were integral members of the founding team at Pocket FM, a platform dedicated to audio content, where they championed the expansion of the India-based platform in the United States. Mukherjee, hailing from a background steeped in deep-tech, had previously been involved with Morphle Labs, specializing in the development of robotics for cancer diagnosis.
The idea for Dashtoon began to germinate while Narain and Gudipati were at Pocket FM. They conducted a marketing experiment that employed comic strips to promote serialized audio content on platforms like Facebook. The remarkable success of these campaigns underscored a latent demand among U.S. consumers for digital comics. Narain delved deeper into the comics ecosystem during his time in Korea, where he realized the significance of bridging the gap between storytelling and artistic skills. The release of DALL-E 2, in addition to advancements in text-to-image AI models, catalyzed their vision for a platform that could harness AI to produce high-quality comics. Mukherjee assumed the role of CTO to spearhead the development of Dashtoon’s AI Creation Suite, enabling storytellers to materialize their concepts as digital comics and subsequently distribute and monetize them through the Dashtoon Comic Reader.
Dashtoon primarily targets writer communities looking to convert their narratives into comics, even if they lack sketching or lettering skills. Using Dashtoon Studio, creators initiate the process by uploading their storyboards. They can then select characters from Dashtoon’s character library for each panel or upload images and drawings to generate custom visuals. This innovative approach dramatically reduces the time required to create an episode from a daunting 40 to 50 hours down to a mere 5 to 6 hours, thus facilitating daily episode releases and increasing the likelihood of creating a hit. In the future, Dashtoon aims to introduce features that enable creators to generate storyboards and dialogues with the assistance of AI, further reducing the episode creation time to under an hour.
Despite the integration of generative AI into creative tools like Google’s Product Studio and Canva, skepticism lingers, particularly among artists, about AI art. Dashtoon, however, has managed to overcome this skepticism by affording creators full control over their final product. While generative AI streamlines labor-intensive tasks and offers creative options, the essence of storytelling and character conceptualization remains firmly in human hands. The positive reception from comic enthusiasts underscores the growing acceptance of AI-generated content, especially when it aligns with their desire for daily releases akin to binge-watching Netflix.
Copyright concerns surrounding AI-generated content have been a source of contention in the creative sphere. To counteract potential infringement issues, Dashtoon has taken several precautionary measures. It has internally populated its character library with proprietary IP, including digital artwork, hand-drawn characters, and photographs. Additionally, the platform mandates that stories belong to the creator or Dashtoon, thus mitigating copyright concerns. The company is also exploring the possibility of training its own foundational models in partnership with data providers committed to copyright compliance.
While other digital comic distribution platforms like Marvel Unlimited and Webtoon exist, Dashtoon distinguishes itself through the breadth of its content library and the rapidity of its episode releases. Furthermore, it seeks to carve a unique niche by fostering a native creator community. Narain envisions the future of content creation as a paradigm shift away from traditional, labor-intensive methods, such as writers either mastering artistic skills or outsourcing artwork before navigating the complexities of online marketplaces.
Dashtoon’s initial focus centers on long-form content within genres like romance, drama, and fantasy. As more creators join the platform, the company intends to diversify into other categories, spanning fiction, non-fiction, and short-form illustrated content. Initially, Dashtoon will collaborate with published writers to adapt their narratives into digital comics and graphic novels for distribution through the Dashtoon Comic Reader. Subsequently, the goal is to foster a vibrant community of creators who premiere their work on the platform.
Their recent $5 million seed funding round was led by Matrix Partners India and Stellaris Venture Partners, with participation from angel investors, positions Dashtoon for accelerated growth. Naman Lahoty, principal at Stellaris Venture Partners, underscores the pivotal role of mobile devices in content consumption, highlighting the emergence of webcomics as the next frontier of growth. He lauds Dashtoon’s potential to spearhead this evolution, driven by its founders’ combined expertise in content, technology, and global user acquisition.
In the ever-evolving landscape of content creation, Dashtoon emerges as a pioneering force, offering an alternative to conventional methods while bridging the divide between storytelling and artistic expression. The startup’s rapid growth and unique approach position it as a frontrunner in the burgeoning world of webcomics.