The Story Of My Avatar

 I saw this tweet when I got up this morning:

hey @fredwilson – whats the story behind ur avatar?

While longtime readers know it, I figure many of you don't. So here it goes.

Starting about four years ago, Howard Lindzon started commenting actively on this blog. He was funny, he was smart, and I enjoyed our banter in the comments.

One march vacation, our family made a short stop in Phoenix, where Howard used to live. He emailed me and offered my son and me two tickets to the Suns game. We took him up on that and that's how we met for the first time.

It turned out Howard was hatching an idea for a web show for investors. Think Rocketboom meets Jim Cramer. I told him it was a good idea and encouraged him to do it. Howard would fire ideas at me and I would give him feedback on them.

Out of that came Wallstrip. Here's a post I wrote a little over three years ago announcing the launch of Wallstrip.

One of the original ideas for the show that never really worked out was that there would be a dozen well known bloggers who would write short posts about each daily show. Howard asked me to do that and I agree to do it at least once a week.

So that's how the avatar came to be. Howard asked his friend Jenny Ignaszewski to draw up avatars for all dozen of the stock bloggers using photos of them that were available on the web. The first time I saw my avatar was when Wallstrip launched and there it was along with Howard's and a bunch of others.Fredwilson

From the minute I saw it, I liked it. It uses my favorite color (green) as the backdrop and the eye color (my eyes are sometimes blue and sometimes green and sometimes something else). It looks like me, but not too much.

So I began to use it a bit here and there around the web as I set up new profiles. But by no means was it the only profile picture I used. For corporate oriented services like LinkedIn, I'd use my Union Square Ventures headshot. For social nets like Facebook, I'd use a regular headshot. I used a photo of me taking a photo on Flickr for a long time.

But then I started to realize that the Wallstrip avatar was becoming my online identity. People would comment about it all the time. Around the time we sold Wallstrip, Howard asked Jenny to do a real painting of it which I now have in my office at Union Square Ventures. It's a real conversation starter.

Sometime in early 2008, I just decided to go with it everywhere. It's at the top of this blog and everywhere else I have an online identity. It's my online brand now.

Like this blog, this was not planned. It just happened. That's the way most of the important things in my life have come to be.

#VC & Technology#Weblogs

Comments (Archived):

  1. Tom Labus

    It so true. It stands out on a page of tweets as something good to read.

  2. awaldstein

    The story behind the picture. A good read Fred, thanks.

  3. Mark Essel

    Great tale, And a wonderful example of the world changing you.I suspected your avatar story was connected to Howard since both were done in a very similar style. How did the wallstrip sale go, was it a change of life event for Howard (going from concern for bills, to concern for value)? Maybe Howard will chime in.Wish I knew about the net neutrality meeting yesterday, although not a NYC proper resident, I would have liked to be there as a big Internet technophile.

    1. fredwilson

      it was a good exit for howard and his colleagues. they made some good money. but CBS lost interest in it eventually. not a great buy for them.

  4. ShanaC

    I still want to know if it is acrylic, oil, gouache, or watercolor, or something else. Is this the actual painting as the avatar, or the original avatar, because now I’m trying to stare at it for brush stroke. If it’s a scan of the actual painting…she seems to use acrylic, but the brightness makes me think gouache. That can be tricked with a really thin acrylic.If it’s the drawing, I’m hedging pastels! Way top creamy.(I’m a total art dork, and there is no way of knowing without seeing in person or being told)There is a drawing of me behind me in this picture. The set that it comes from still makes me unconformable to this day both to look at and to think about the process of making, but I’m happy with the results of this one. Sort of. Long story of what surrealism can do to you/…In case your curious- Conte. I am a conte convert.

    1. fredwilson

      I can’t help with your question about how it was done unfortunately

      1. ShanaC

        I didn’t realize you could blow up the image. It’s acrylics. You can tell from looking.She did an excellent job There is a huge amount of nuance in the coloring that come out in the brushstrokes, which is what gives your face a three-dimesional view. Very interesting choices that cause your eyes to shift I think into the left eye, so you think the face is real. Also certain elements of drawing and line fracture…the eyes aren’t the sameAlso you are very right about the eyes. Very interesting tonal pallet there. The white of the eyes aren’t quite white, they’re white green, that’s what’s capturing the tonal shift of your actual eyes. Very smart. Very smart portrature. Hmmm.I’m turning into an art dork. Art dork.

  5. Erica

    Great story! One I didn’t know…I’m happy to have the background.It would be cool to have a “real” pic on your About page (one where I could see more of your profile…so if I saw you on the street, I’d know who you were!)-Erica

    1. fredwilson

      You can get that at

      1. Erica

        Cool! But many of your readers would have no reason to visit that site. Like me — I’m a successful entrepreneur and I read your blog to keep up on the trends, but I don’t wish to seek venture capital. I just like your blog.So, it’d be cool to see some more pictures over here — or at least a link to them. :)-Erica

  6. Doug Covey

    Your last sentence….this was not planned. It just happened….reminds me of Malcom Gladwell’s Outliers and Geoff Colvin’s Talent Is Overrated. Nothing happens until people start talking.Doug Covey

    1. fredwilson


  7. markslater

    she’s on to something.

  8. steven goldman

    Good tale! I always liked your avatar and the idea of having one on the web in general.

  9. Mike

    I noticed today I don’t get your email alert anymore from feedblitz. I seem to recall you had a glitch in your email alerts once before.

    1. fredwilson

      Could be a spam filter issue

      1. mike

        I check that pretty regularly. I registered again. See what happens. If no one else is mentioning it, must be my challenge.

  10. jakemintz

    “my eyes are sometimes blue and sometimes green and sometimes something else”My eyes are similar (often blue, sometimes green, less often brown or grey). Any idea what causes this? I have never been able to figure it out and haven’t met anyone else whose eye colors changes frequently (sometimes mine will change on a daily basis).

    1. fredwilson

      I don’t know either

      1. Danny Choriki

        I would venture to suggest that changing eye colors have to do changing environmental conditions, type of lighting, moisture in the eyes and surrounding colors. So, if you wear a shirt of jacket that makes a blue tie “pop”, my guess is your eyes will be blue.

        1. Danny Choriki

          The net is a geek’s best friend. Page on what clothing goes with eye colors. ( ) From Fashion Modeling Online.

          1. fredwilson

            Of course the web has the answer

        2. fredwilson

          Yes, that’s what happens

  11. jameskupka

    when i was a teenager my grandfather warned me about the best things in life being unplanned 🙂

    1. fredwilson

      i like your disqus avatar

  12. kidmercury

    on the subject of avatars, i just wanted to diss two types of people:1. yearbook photo people, i.e. the people who roll up with their blazers on, looking straight at the camera…, wtf, i mean that’s just ridiculous, that is so fake, not even trying to be real with you, lol2. people who are a part of the community with no avatar, i know you are just lazy but that is like going to a party with a bag on your head, and is also bad marketing for you

    1. ShanaC

      There are a variety of reasons to go without an avatar. I went without one for a long time, and it took a lot of we need your trust emails and messages for me to put one up. There will always be reasons to forgo an avatar, and I still dislike the fact that I need to have one all the time. Imprint me in other ways, please. Or wait on it. I don’t want my image to be my digital clothing. And I still just like the look of the native Disqus avatar. I would be perfectly happy to have it as a large canvas.

      1. kidmercury

        there will be reasons for people to wear a bag on their head at parties too. what if there was a terrible person there who wanted to spy on the party and do terrible things to the people in attendance.doesn’t change the fact that wearing a bag on your head would be spoiling the fun of the party, not helping to co-create it. the same is true for the avatar-less people who are trying to get in on the community fun without co-creating it.but you have an avatar now, and thus have joined the party. daveinhackensack and satish are the ones who really should be dissed, a couple of avatar-less people trying to be community members. pfft. i hope you’ll join me in dissing them.

        1. ShanaC

          I need to find a hat that looks like a bag then just for you ;)And I am fine with daveinhackensack and satish. I think they are being perfectly appropriate. I think the larger discussion is about “digital clothing” and force identify markings. I can’t really say that the Kidmercury and your avatar is really you, it’s your digital clothing.On some level, it’s fictitious. And real. Though i’m curious about the level of which for you, and for other people as well.

  13. Hauser

    You have a painted portrait of yourself in your office? Thanks for confirming my deepest suspicions that all Twitter enthusiasts are narcissists.

    1. ShanaC

      I’m not a mean person by nature, and anyone who has been here for a while knows I am protective of my image (lots of stories why), but I could throw back at you that you are a nudist and that the image represents virtual clothing.I have nothing against nudists. In internet land, where object to person relationships are less defined, you might want to put on some clothes, so other people can tell who you are.

      1. Hauser

        Nice attempt at metaphor, but a nudist calls attention to himself through nudity. I’m not; I’m downplaying my identity. I don’t care enough for this community to want people to know who I am. Then why am I here? Because when you don’t have some anonymous trolls on your blog, you end up with a bunch of sycophants humping your leg every time you post (see above comments) .

        1. ShanaC

          Thank you for complementing my writing 😉 I used to downplay my identity aswell. So I understand that. I came here for whatever my reasons.Sometimes it is good to be challenged. I’m an art student in new media. Idon’t always like everything here. I read a lot of stuff that would drivesome people here through the roof. (some very hardcore marxist literaturethat relates to art on the internet and power structures, and how to subvertthem). I’ve even managed to bounce our bouncer once for a joke he madebecause I got a little pissed about a feminist issue….I have to know though: Why does this discussion in particualr bother you?Why is this more sycophant than anything else? It’s good to know, for mysake, because I have a bachelor’s riding on certain acts of understandinghow individuals work in a community on the internet. What you say matters.

        2. fredwilson

          so true

    2. kidmercury

      oh schnap! brutal diss by hauser. i don’t think it’s necessarily narcisscism though. i think to call someone a narcissist you have to have a broader understanding of their psychology, going off more than just what their office decorations are like and waht social media tools they use.

    3. fredwilson

      i am sure that is true. it sits on the floor.

  14. marketfolly

    “… this was not planned. It just happened.”just like a surprise child./ lame joke

  15. howardlindzon

    not to nitpick, but I think you never paid for it…just sayin 🙂

    1. fredwilson

      send me the bill

  16. Lani Rosales

    I just subscribed to your blog this week, so I *love* your story! I wish I had a cool story like that for my avatar, but I change my hair color frequently so my avatar has to change with it (ah the joys of being a girl in the South)! :)Thanks for sharing!

  17. daryn

    “I prefer your avatar over your real picture” – haha, *ouch*.I love the avatar Fred, and it definitely pops whenever I see it in a grid/list. It was the inspiration for my previous avatar with the bright green background, as well as my current one, which is a portrait I had done for our anniversary this year.

  18. fredwilson

    Nothing like a sad smile to kill you

  19. ShanaC

    I think it is thoughful. Though I see where that idea is coming from. Big eyes in the painting. really layered it on so painting makes you look, intense, even with a smile.

  20. fredwilson

    I like yours a lot daryn

  21. ShanaC

    I wish I could do that for myself. Portraiture is hard. Did you do yours by hand? I feel attached to the image. I can’t do it

  22. daryn

    It was actually created by an artist named Ashley Goldberg, hand-drawn in pencil then inked digitally.Cropped out of the avatar are my wife and our dog :)…

  23. daryn

    “Ink, watercolor and root beer on paper” – very cool.