Online Identity and Brand

In celebration of the return of my avatar to the front page of AVC (and now integrated into the AVC logo), I thought I’d post about online identity and brand today.

I really like this slide from Disqus‘ presentation materials.

disqus slide

Obviously any slide with Fake Grimlock in it is a good slide. But beyond that, the idea that all three of these types of people can co-exist in an online community is important. I would argue that a healthy online community will, by definition, have all three types in it.

Pseudonyms like Fake Grimlock most obviously lead to the use of an avatar. Real names often come with a photo of the person. But I’ve always liked the idea of a real name (I am fredwilson on almost every service out there) plus an avatar. I think it builds brand in a way that a name and a photo cannot.

Like most things, I came to all of this without a lot of advance thinking. I was an early user of AOL and went with fredwilson for my username there. I still maintain [email protected] for some reason, but I never check my mail there. And when the web came along, I started using fredwilson everywhere. I’ve continued to do that and as long as I can get to a service early, I can get that username. It’s an incentive to get to services early which can be an advantage in my business.

The avatar was also an unplanned thing. I’ve posted the story of it here before and you can go read it if you’d like. But over time, I just started using it everywhere. And I do mean everywhere. Including LinkedIn.

The combination of my name and my avatar is now my online identity and brand. It could, of course, be faked. And Twitter’s verified accounts are a nice way to deal with that sort of thing. But when you come across a comment, a profile, or some other object online with my username and my avatar next to it, you can pretty much assume that its me. And that’s a really good thing. Because systems need some sort of identity to flourish over the long term. And users benefit from the brand they can build up around their identity over time. The two go hand in hand and work together to make a large global distributed system like the Internet work better for everyone.


Comments (Archived):

  1. JimHirshfield

    Your avatar worked into the AVC logo appears as though you are peering out the window of an airplane. “Fly the friendly skies of AVC. More legroom, better conversation.”

    1. William Mougayar

      Good one.

    2. fredwilson

      First class all the way

      1. JimHirshfield

        Warm moist towelette, please?

      2. William Mougayar

        oh no, so we’re airline flight attendants now. the bar is now a plane? 🙂

        1. Barry Nolan

          Chicken or beef?

          1. JimHirshfield

            Kosher vegan gluten-free, please. Dressing on the side.

          2. Barry Nolan

            You obviously haven’t flown Ryanair later. Latest initiative, standing room only.

          3. jason wright

            kosher vegan. is that possible? in Denmark it’s definitely out.

          4. JimHirshfield

            Ha! I suppose all vegan fare is default kosher. But kosher also includes preparation requirements, not just ingredient requirements.

          5. jason wright

            this is new Denmark the kosher and halal slaughter of animals is now outlawed (animal welfare).

          6. JimHirshfield

            I saw that. So what do the religious do?

          7. jason wright

            travel to Sweden, or Schleswig-Holstein? I assume importing frozen is not’s a bit like foie gras. Illegal to produce it in many EU countries, but legal to import it from France where producing it is “part of France’s cultural identity”.

          8. JimHirshfield

            Hmm…seems easier and cheaper to just go veg.

          9. jason wright

            it is. i don’t eat mammals. i do eat fish, but not farmed.

          10. ShanaC

            Ding – Great Britain is the import source currently (as reported by the media), with a small amount of Beit Yosef meat from France (personal guess based on stringencies some people have)

          11. jason wright

            i wonder if Scotland will also ban it after going independent?

          12. ShanaC

            might not – United Synagogue as far as I know has a presence there.

          13. ShanaC

            Currently they’re importing from Great Britain.

          14. awaldstein

            Kosher requires rabbinical supervision.Not really connected in any way I can see to Vegan.

          15. JimHirshfield

            Correct, strictly speaking. My point was there’s no milk or meat in a vegan diet, so every meal is parve.

          16. awaldstein

            Sure–but if you’ve ever done certifications, Kosher as one of the most obtuse, it’s way more than ingredients.

          17. jason wright

            i have trouble with ‘organic’. it’s too flexible. it needs supervision.

          18. awaldstein

            All certs are massive process of compromise and part BS.Organic allows for 30% of the materials to be GMO for example.Organic eggs can be from always caged animals–and on and on.The Non-GMO one is the clearest and less obtuse.All are a process to get.Disclosure and transparency are necessary alongside of it.

          19. jason wright

            where i am there’s a sliding scale of ‘organic’, 1 to 6. 6 is the gold standard, the Demeter standard of organic food production. it’s the bio dynamic approach to growing and rearing food. i buy 5 and 6.In Europe Germany seems to have the strictest standards, but there is a similar sliding scale, although different.

          20. awaldstein

            Huge interesting topic.I buy local from the Green Market and I’d rather go that route. Knowing the merchants is more important than certs.Ex–Was at Charlie Bird a week ago. Asked whether the chicken was organic. Waiter had visited the farm, confirmed that is was not certified but was and was free range. Best answer.

          21. jason wright

            the source gets my vote.anonymous, pseudonym, real. this identity theme fits so well to issues of organic food production and labelling.

          22. awaldstein

            Am starting a series of posts on labeling and transparency in wine, which is where this interest started. Really a mess for that market as you have not only how the grapes are grown, but 160 ‘allowable’ additives and a host of stuff that happens around fermentation.With wine its fascinating as the ability to use nothing in the cave during fermentation and then bottling is connected (besides cleanliness) to how the grapes are grown.

          23. jason wright

            under that system i would die of thirst.Nest should make an analyser.

          24. ShanaC

            I have. And I agree, it is way more obtuse than what it looks like at first.

          25. LE

            In any other context (other than religion) things like that would be classified in the DSM as an OCD.Imagine if you decided one day to follow some completely new ritualistic type behavior.

          26. ShanaC

            Also not true. Many of the supervisors the OU hires are not rabbis. There are a list of requirements, but no one requires rabbinical certification.This is particularly true for kosher restaurants in NYC

          27. LE

            Best smackdown I ever got. Early 80’s. I was at the (Kosher) 2nd Ave deli on the lower east side in NYC with my ex wife and her religous uncle.The older waiter asks me what I want. I describe a Reuben as in “I know you have this but I don’t see it on the menu..what’s up”.He gives me the biggest “you must be a “goy” look with utter borscht belt digust. Sorry I thought (like Harrison Ford in “Witness”) we are amish jews from Ohio we don’t do that shit.

          28. awaldstein

            Don’t know anything about the restaurant side but on the packaged goods and supplement piece I thought different but could be wrong.

          29. ShanaC

            though just to be clear, almost all supervising authorities are headed by rabbis (the actual supervision you get probably won’t)

          30. LE

            Kosher requires rabbinical supervision.Brilliant how those rabbis weaved themselves into a recurring paystream and job that way.

          31. ShanaC

            Actually not true. Red wine vinegar is by definition vegan, and 90% of brands are not kosher.(if I had to I could look this up in rambam, but please don’t make me)

          32. JimHirshfield

            This is a prep issue tho. Not ingredients, right?

          33. ShanaC

            Sort of. Wine has a unique set of rules for its kashruth status involving who can touch it and/or create it.The creation aspect is closely tied to the ingredients aspect, especially if you’re in the state of Israel.

          34. William Mougayar

            it’s self-service 🙂

        2. Aaron Klein

          “Would you like the chicken, or the pasta, or a cold fish head?”

          1. JimHirshfield

            @barrynolan:disqus beat you to that joke Aaron. 😀

          2. Aaron Klein

            I see that now, except he didn’t do the awesome Brian Regan version.

          3. William Mougayar

            I knew I opened a can of worms with that comment. Surprised no one is complaining about the air wi-fi

          4. Aaron Klein

            “It’s amazing how somebody owes you something you didn’t even know existed 15 minutes ago!”

          5. Matt A. Myers

            No wi-fi. We all have to engage with eachother.

          6. ShanaC

            cold fish head. It is made in a classic jewish way, and is totally delicious. Great with horseradish colored and sweetened with beets.(I’m half serious)

          7. JimHirshfield

            Which half?

          8. ShanaC

            you usually can’t have an aspect like boiled fish without the fishhead. As a whitefish, it is actually among my favorite dishes for passover, though that might be because for the past decade a CIA trained chef made it for pesach (family friends, they usually host, he’s a caterer, this year we’re hosting blah blah)Plus fish cheek is supposedly the best.

        3. Mark Essel

          It’s always moving

      3. Salt Shaker

        Any brand confusion here? is the URL for Antelope Valley College, a community college in Lancaster, Ca. I’ve been told at both places–AVC and–never is heard a discouraging word (and the deer and the antelope roam.)

      4. Robert Holtz

        The new look is nice and clean. A definite leap forward. But, frankly, I really liked your distinctive green color and think it was superior branding for you, Fred. The blue is very corporate. The green was very fitting because green is the easiest color for the eyes to process and it creates a subliminal sense of comfort and inclusion. More glaring, the disproportionate spacing on the left and right side of the A-form is NOT right from a design standpoint. It is like a visual software bug. Just my 2.5 cents. You know me, Fred, I can’t bullshit you and don’t want to ever start. The website is way better but I really think the green was you and the logo needs to be fixed. Respect.

    3. jason wright

      all aboard the AVC. standing room only.

    4. karen_e

      Oh, Jim, you made me laugh out loud at my desk. Dorkin’ it up, and it’s all your fault.

      1. JimHirshfield

        I’m imagining an intake snortle honker of a laugh, yes?

  2. pointsnfigures

    I think @aweissman says “Real names be proof”. I’d use my real name but I was late to the party so I use my Twitter handle, and don’t hide who I am.I guess there are reasons to hide yourself. Privacy is a big concern-especially with the NSA and IRS going after people. As long as you are on the right side of politics, not a problem. Ironically, this is the first year I am being audited ever……I am not on the right side of politics with this administration and I can’t help but think after all the IRS bullcrap there isn’t something to it.Debate on websites would probably be less toxic if people couldn’t be anonymous.

    1. awaldstein

      I agree…but discussions here have led me to understand the need for a mixed base and the freedom to disclose or not.Personally, early boards and forums of faceless avatars and no names were acerbic and really unproductive.

      1. Jim Canto

        Hmmm… this is true and explains, in part, why they were not sticky for me at the time. Finding value in the connections took too long.

    2. JimHirshfield

      I think you’re applying logic where there is none. Likely, it was just your turn to have your points n figures realigned by the IRS.

      1. pointsnfigures

        Ha. I am laughing now. But when the put the rubber glove on I am not coughing.

        1. LE

          Who are you being examined by with rubber gloves?The maid?Doctors use latex gloves.

    3. LE

      Privacy is a big concern-especially with the NSA and IRS going after people.Not even on my radar as far as a reason to be private. At all. Ironically, this is the first year I am being audited ever……I am not on the right side of politics with this administration and I can’t help but think after all the IRS bullcrap there isn’t something to it.What? You seriously think that the government has some kind of discovery program like that for everyday people? That they are collecting intel online and acting on that? For politics?I’m not saying that it’s safe to be John Gotti and on the front page of the NY Post in everyone’s face. Otoh it defies logic that there is, for tax collecting purposes, a program to do what you are suggesting. There are many parts to that IRS machine and to have a system in place to do that would require to many people (conspiracy) to remain private for very long.



      1. Steve Bowden

        hey…how do we know you are the real ‘fake grimlock’? hmmmm

  3. William Mougayar

    I’m a big fan of branding and brand identity; something that startups can ignore early on, but not later. Branding becomes really useful once you’ve started to experience growth and scale. It conveys image, quality, position, passion, loyalty and at the end of the day, a brand connects emotionally with the user, reader, or customer.And the best thing about having a strong brand is that you can afford to screw-up once in a while, and your brand will be there to support you.

    1. awaldstein

      I’m on the other side of this one.I think that unless you know who you are, you are lost. You have no criteria for decision, no sense of self, no core belief in your value.That is what brand is about. Certainly the market informs and changes this but it starts with you.This happens from day 1 and is the thing that I talk most with about my accounts.There is nothing more important and more formative than to engage about what you are about, what you believe, even before you have an office, a market or traction.Pragmatism follows belief to me.

      1. William Mougayar

        I don’t think we disagree. You described how to get there. It takes time to figure out what you really stand for, as a company.

        1. awaldstein

          OK–brand is the company’s articulation of its soul.Personal brands are much less complex to build than company ones, unless for people like Fred, you, me and others they are one and the same.

          1. William Mougayar


          2. pointsnfigures

            Unless you don’t have a soul….

          3. awaldstein

            And yes, you can build successful businesses without one, as they have. As honestly, as Facebook is. And as I hope, Twitter doesn’t become one. It is the bane of the media properties.Passionate disliked brands exist as well–for me Monsanto is a great example.

          4. Jim Canto


          5. FAKE GRIMLOCK


  4. Jan Schultink

    When Napoleon forced my ancestors in 1804 to assume a family name, they picked “Schultink” (pronounced “sgggggultynq”) without thinking about global brand-abilityWilson is easier on the tongue…

    1. fredwilson


    2. Fernando Gutierrez

      Look on the bright side, you probably can always get your namelastname as username!

      1. Jan Schultink

        That is true

        1. Laura Yecies

          similar consolation for “Yecies” I once did the math on how much time in my life is spent spelling it for people but at least I get my name on most services

  5. awaldstein

    To me, the true nature of community is that the more you empower the individual. the more powerful, the more supportive and the more forgiving the whole becomes.Everything falls under that including identity nits and discussions.

    1. Jim Canto

      ….agreed. However, the dilemma of defining SPAM vs. Business-Friendly Freedom and Trolling remains unsolved. If the “energy” produced by effective empowerment runs out of control, how would you reign it back in while alienating as few as possible? Any leads to a proper policy framework would be GREATLY appreciated.

      1. awaldstein

        To me, that is a function that community managers (unsung heroes of our time) figure out.This is one of the items that people not technology has always been the answer.How big a portal are we talking about that people are no longer an efficient answer?

        1. Jim Canto

          I think less in terms of size and more in terms of societal structure. It’s the balance between Value, Freedom and Boundaries which provides for unlimited growth (so I imagine.) And, I agree; community managers are unsung heroes currently. I have also presented this dilemma to the most influential members of the #CMGR hashtag on Twitter (just last week.) I’m still waiting for a reply.

        2. Jim Canto

          Forgive my slow reply, Arnold. I’m still getting my footing with Disqus. And, I had an ad blocker running which I think caused me some issue as well.I appreciate your reply as getting settled on this issue is paramount for me. I definitely have myself locked up on this issue…and I have been for a long time.As far as the size of the portals… one is aimed at “those in healthcare and those who need them” and the other is for Kansas City and the surrounding area. Those are the two where this issue most important.Since I’m a one man show with an ultra-low, bootstrap budget…and my communities have healthy potential, I feel like a clear community governance framework will be needed if I am to gain the help of some volunteer moderators (community managers.) Aside from the value of added visibility, I would expect moderators to look to me to provide a clear framework.Your original reply did not fall on deaf ears. Since commercial activity will allowed in some areas but not others… doesn’t that call for clarity to succeed? Or do you see another way it can be accomplished? I am all ears.

          1. awaldstein

            Each instance is unique but there are frameworks that I bring to each situation.Link me something if you’d like. Contact info is on my blog.

          2. Jim Canto

            Roger that. Will do. Thank you.

  6. Dave Pinsen

    I’m curious about how Fred uses LinkedIn. Actually, I’m curious about how anyone uses it. The one use case I’m familiar with is as an online Rolodex. My girlfriend needed to provide the contact info for former supervisors from now-defunct companies as part of some sort of SEC background check and LinkedIn proved handy for hunting that down.

    1. JimHirshfield

      Yes, rolodex. But also finding the right people to speak with at a particular org I’m trying to pitch. What you’d expect from sales, biz dev role.

    2. Matt Zagaja

      I get spammed with lots of requests on LinkedIn and then accept the ones I know. For a while LinkedIn was driving lots of blog traffic for me. I think LinkedIn is a cool concept (and I keep my profile updated) but I have not found many jobs there and lots of employers do not support applying for jobs using my LinkedIn Profile which I would have expected to be the primary advantage.Overall, it’s Facebook without alcohol. I imagine it’s a lot like vacationing in Utah.

      1. Andrew Kennedy

        you had me until Utah…Hold up. Utah is awesome.My parents got a ski place in Park City in 1988 and we have been going out there ever since. I am getting married in Utah next month (a ski wedding). I love to ski and I love to drink and I love Utah. I can’t think of a better way to spend a family vacation.

        1. Matt Zagaja

          I’m not knocking Utah, nor LinkedIn. I just used the comparison because Utah is known for being dry (as in regulating alcohol, not the humor). Facebook used to be Vegas and now it’s more New York City. You go to these places for different things/environments.

          1. Andrew Kennedy

            Totally. You should check out Park City if you haven’t already. It’s a really special place.

          2. JimHirshfield

            Keg party at your parents place?

          3. jason wright

            it sounds very unassuming. how is it special?

          4. Andrew Kennedy

            It’s very easy to get to (35 min drive from SLC international airport). There are 11 world class ski resorts within a 60 mile radius. In Park City there are 3 (Park City Mountain Resort, Deer Valley and The Canyons). Recently it feels a lot more like Aspen, Co in that there is a new St. Regis hotel, a Waldorf etc etc. The town was originally “sin city” ie brothels, bars and silver miners, but converted into a Ski town in the 60’s. The snow is lighter and more fun to ski in as a result of what is known as the Salt Lake effect. I could go on and on an on… Most importantly I have a very strong community of family and friends out there, which I cherish.

          5. Salt Shaker

            Blew out my knee years ago at Alta, haven’t been on skis since. My nephew goes to college 30 minutes from Park City. His friend’s parents, also from NYC, have a kick-ass house right on the mountain. My nephew has become a phenom snowboarder and when he graduates he’ll be well qualified as a board waxer. I envy him, but not my brother who’s writing those tuition checks.

          6. Andrew Kennedy

            Sorry to hear about the accident. I’ve known a couple of people that have had the same thing happen and it just sucks. I think Alta is the best place to ski in the US. They get so much powder. If you can make a buck in Utah it’s a great place to live.

          7. awaldstein

            Facebook as NYC–what does that mean?

          8. LE

            Maybe he means a small community but with a lot of people from many places (as opposed to indigenous). Whereas now it’s so large there is no local rotary club. That’s my guess.

          9. Matt Zagaja

            It’s the diversity of people and things to do. Facebook seems like it has something for everyone whether its games or business.

        2. LE

          I love to drinkThe Kennedy’s do like to drink.

    3. awaldstein

      Almost never use it.Kinda souless and devoid of community not my intent but by lack of understanding. Not that they don’t have a model, just that they could have been more.Their groups could have been key, but they do kind suck and punted to Facebook which punted to just about everyone else, including those being developed as I write.

      1. Dave Pinsen

        I had dinner with a sharp developer who works for LinkedIn when he was in town a few months ago, and he tried to explain a social/news strategy they had in the works, but the details of it are a little fuzzy now. It’s worth noting, though, that we connected on Twitter, not LinkedIn.I’ve met people in real life, that I first connected with on this blog (you being one of them, of course), and the same is true of Twitter. But that’s never happened for me via LinkedIn.

        1. awaldstein

          People are their currency but there is no conversational or community glue.I’ve almost never gone there except when someone sends me a link to check something out.

        2. JamesHRH

          Li is like FB.It consolidates real life meetings or other online network activity into weak connections.I cleaned mine out last year and have about 10 connections on Li, all of whom I would recommend in one way or another.I even denied family members.@awaldstein:disqus totally agree – its totally static on the consumer side.

    4. Susan Rubinsky

      I’m also curious. I don’t find LinkedIn that helpful except for finding colleagues I’ve lost contact with with. But that may be because I’m never really on the job market and when I hire I use other resources for finding people (for example, looking for a graphic designer, go to Behance; Looking for a programmer, disperse my needs to my network of programmers from when I worked startup; looking for intern, go to local college… etc.)I also find that LinkedIn has devalued itself by adding that really dumb “Endorsement” feature. Now everyone endorses everyone hoping you’ll endorse them back. It’s meaningless.

      1. Andrew Kennedy

        #truthHave you ever joined a LinkedIn Group?Form without function. Badges on a resume.

        1. Susan Rubinsky

          Yes. Most of the ones I’ve joined were not very productive. I find local and state groups formed outside of LinkedIn to be much more effective.

          1. JimHirshfield

            Sounds like Meetup.

        2. Donna Brewington White

          When I contribute to a group, it drives a lot more traffic to my LinkedIn profile. Which results in more relationships. Not all groups are created equal and you sort of create your own experience and value from groups.

      2. ShanaC

        I find it super helpful. Job titles tell me a lot. 🙂

      3. LE

        I also find that LinkedIn has devalued itself by adding that really dumb “Endorsement” feature. Now everyone endorses everyone hoping you’ll endorse them back. It’s meaningless.That feature is so poorly implemented that I almost think I must be missing something (but I know I’m not).First the UI to ask “does Susan know about” is messed up since you can’t tell what you are supposed to do to endorse someone (is it the things you click or the things you leave up?)Second it assumes that you actually know something about the contact and of course that is not the case. I’ve got literally 150 requests that I haven’t responded to. I’m not anybody important in particular. And the people contacting me are real people with real jobs. I have no clue why they are contacting me at all. So I ignore the requests. (But see “reasons” “c” and “d” below) linkedin is slurping up people’s email addresses, matching them in the db and suggesting contacts. As a result what started out fairly good in the beginning means nothing at all to me.There are a few reasons I will accept a linkedin:a) I know the personb) I think I know the person (customer etc.)c) The person has impressive titles; resume, education and may be of use!d) A person who is good looking (seriously..)Oh one more thing I forgot to mention in my other comment “who uses linkedin” that I responded to. I’ve used it to write un solicited recommendations for people that I’ve dealt with. As a thank you for good service.

        1. Susan Rubinsky

          I bet reason d happens more than anyone assumes. I only use reasons a-c, and never considered reason d. I also write recommendations for people who have worked for me or whom I’ve worked with on projects, mostly people who interned or subcontracted for me.

    5. Fernando Gutierrez

      I’ve found a few professionals in Linkedin when Googling for that kind of services didn’t work well (categories with low internet presence or presence in other languages).

    6. LE

      “Actually, I’m curious about how anyone uses it.”1) To gather intel on people who contact me (who try to buy domains)2) To be able to inform people who I write to who I am (by posting a link to the public linkedin page depending on the particular person of course).

    7. karen_e

      I use it all the time. It’s a marketing/bd thing.



  7. LIAD

    I’ve been thinking lately about online identity in terms of ‘proof of sacrifice’, (term coined I think by bitcoin core developer Mike Hearn.)Basically you take something of value (such as bitcoin), provably destroy them and link that to your online identity. – doing so effectively gives you a fidelity bond on that identity up to the value of what you burnt to secure it, thereby helping to ensure good behaviour etc.If i provably burn $100 and link that to my Disqus ID, you can rest assured I value my ID and am not going to ‘act badly’ through it (spam/trolling etc). If I did, Disqus posts I acted badly, no-one trusts that ID anymore, my proof of sacrifice is in the garbage, I effectively lost my $100.I find ‘proof of sacrifice’ incredibly interesting, specifically how it enables distributed trust and can bring about decentrally-policed good behaviour.#FoodForThought #WatchThisSpace

    1. JimHirshfield

      It is very interesting.But can something like that go mainstream?Is it effectively a paywall?…not just in financial barrier, but in creating extra hoops to jump through to participate in conversation?

      1. Fernando Gutierrez

        Yes, like those ideas about micro payments for sending an email to make spamming unprofitable.

    2. Andrew Kennedy

      “I find ‘proof of sacrifice’ incredibly interesting, specifically how it enables distributed trust and can bring about decentrally-policed good behaviour.”Great line.

  8. Twain Twain

    Love the new logo with avatar.

  9. jason wright

    my real name comes from my yahoo email address. the ‘p’ is the first letter of my second given name, Paul, and its in there because when i signed up to yahoo email many years ago ‘jasonwright’ was already registered to someone else (f#cker).my avatar was on a whim, the pattern on my only neck tie, and has no greater significance than what anyone wants to read into it. however, i don’t intend to change it any time soon. i tire of seeing people regularly changing their avatar.your head is looking too big.

  10. Hu Man

    I’m for privacy

  11. Fernando Gutierrez

    The problem with online identities is that they are mostly based on usernames and those are finite. With more that 1bn people online and several services with hundreds of millions of users it can be a problem to get your own name everywhere, including a domain. This causes user name hoarding because people register everywhere just to get a good username and that brings a lot of ghost accounts pollution in many services.

    1. JimHirshfield

      How many @fernandogutierrez:disqus ‘s are there in the world?

      1. Matt A. Myers

        I don’t know how man @fernandogutierrez:disqus’s there are, though there are a fair amount of Matt Myers’ – and even some elsewhere using “mattamyers” – who assumingly have a middle name that starts with an A – as their account names. In the end it’s bad for brand dilution, though how much cognitive dissonance or problems that causes for most people will vary. It depends on how much reach you have – or if wanting to have a lot of reach then need to plan well.

      2. Fernando Gutierrez

        A lot. Gutierrez is quite a common last name in Spanish speaking countries. We also have a second last name (instead of a second name, which not everyone has), but that makes things longer and sometimes doesn’t solve the problem either.

        1. JimHirshfield

          Got it. On a related note, your avatar is quiet unique. What’s the story behind that?

          1. Fernando Gutierrez

            No story in particular. My wife –then girlfriend– was back from a trip to Tokyo and gave me that band. I played with it and she made that photo. She’s always hated it, but I found it different and used it for the same reason we are discussing in this post, it is recognizable. I’ve changed my avatar in most places now (for some reason people didn’t take me seriously in Linkedin when using this nice photo posing as a constipated Japanese), but still keep it on Twitter/Disqus.

          2. JimHirshfield


    2. jason wright

      the alphabet is so replicating. i want to be a unique digital number string. i totally get your point.

      1. Fernando Gutierrez

        Ha! that solves everthing! I’ll look for the longer customer number I am and will use it everywhere 🙂

      2. JimHirshfield

        Post your social security number here ______________.

        1. jason wright

          i would hesitate to do that.



      1. Fernando Gutierrez

        Never discuss when the problem can be solved with some violence! Problem is my teeth are not as hard as Grimlock’s. Have you ever considered offering your services for fight by proxy?

        1. FAKE GRIMLOCK


  12. muratcannoyan

    Your avatar certainly is an effective part of your online brand. Part of the service we provide is a profile including a photo for dentists and I’ve been thinking about using an avatar for the main photo to provide more uniformity and differentiation to the directory but the branding component for the dentists might be just as valuable.

  13. jason wright

    clarification do ‘anonymous’ and ‘pseudonym’ differ?and how is ‘real’ knowable?

    1. JimHirshfield

      Anon – no identity, no email address, and no email address verification.Pseudo – A unique made up name…not your real name, email address provided when registered. Typically not verified email addy.

      1. jason wright

        ah, is that it?So could a person write a comment here without being registered on the disqus system, as a one-off guest contribution?

        1. JimHirshfield

          Yes, and yes. On Disqus, we call it Guest Commenting. And it’s something the blog owner can enable or not.Both you and I are posting under pseudonyms, even though the screen names are likely our real names. There was no verification that that’s my real name.

          1. jason wright

            is there a disqus verification process that changes a users status from pseudonym to real?

          2. JimHirshfield

            I think registering with Facebook is as close as it gets. But that’s subject to FB weeding out false accounts. Last I heard, somewhere on the order of 7% of FB accounts were false, or dogs.

          3. jason wright




  14. panterosa,

    I agree with @awaldstein:disqus that the conversation around who you are starts very early, right after you secure those screen names on each service.

  15. Aaron Klein

    As if more proof was necessary for how needed a native Disqus app is, I can’t see what I’m typing…

    1. JimHirshfield


      1. Aaron Klein

        No, a “Check out the new comment” notification popped right in the middle of my text box.Then I tried to upload a photo from my iPad and that didn’t work either. #MobileWebSucksForThis

        1. JimHirshfield

          Please try again. Or email me the image later so that I can forward on to the Product team. Thanks.

          1. Aaron Klein

            Emailed photo from iPad to Mac, and posting it here…

    2. Aaron Klein

      And the image isn’t attached. Proof point #2.

      1. ShanaC

        that’s wierd

  16. JimHirshfield

    No one has mentioned it, but I think the missing green background on your avatar is putting a crick in some necks. If I’m not mistaken, your post from years ago about your affection for that portrait specifically calls out the green background as a plus.

    1. LE

      In all deference to Nick Grossman (assuming he did this) the sizing and the placement is wrong as well. And trapping Fred’s analog face in digital angles doesn’t work design wise.Framing matters and it’s not framed right.Note the framing, cropping etc. difference between your photo and Aaron Klein’s photo below.

      1. JimHirshfield

        Stop cropping all over this issue.

        1. LE

          Yiddish word of the day “cockie yuen” roughly “shit on you”.

  17. Cookie Marenco

    I agree with you, Fred. And avatars are easier to spot in a long thread. 🙂

  18. Brandon Burns

    Identity and brand are much more than a logo or avatar design. Your brand is who you are. What you say. How you act. If you’re lucky, your logo or avatar is a good reflection of that. If you’re not so lucky, at best they’re random pieces of imagery that don’t match.You’ve done a much better job at building the Fred Wilson brand via what you do and say, than via any design elements associated it. Most of your fanboys are hardly skilled in either branding or design, and they’re prone to complementing you no matter what you do. While there’s nothing wrong with the logo, avatar, or new blog design, I’d stop a bit short of heralding them as prime examples of building a brand online. The decade of content represented on this blog is carrying most of the weight. Which isn’t a bad thing — that’s the actual hard part.

    1. jason wright

      i think of the brand as the promise from the company (people) to the consumers (people) of its products and/ or services. bad brands are broken promises.

    2. LE

      While there’s nothing wrong with the logo, avatar, or new blog design, I’d stop a bit short of heralding them as prime examples of building a brand online.I disagree because I’m a big believer in the fact that details and execution matter. And it’s actually impossible many times to divine what contributed in part to someone’s success or a products success.No doubt that “The decade of content represented on this blog is carrying most of the weight” but that doesn’t mean that the branding or other details hasn’t contributed to that. What was the straw that broke the camels back of success?But it’s more than that. I identify that great picture of you with you. I think it totally is spot on in terms of making me remember who you are. It says “humble and curious”. Dovetails with the fact that you didn’t want to put in links to http://www.wanderandtrade.comAnyway back to the point.The other day, on my street, there was a sign for a hardwood floor company that had installed some floors in my house maybe 2 years ago.My wife has been unhappy with another floor and we discussed a few times but never did anything. I brushed her off.Low and behold a few days ago maybe 500 feet from our house at a neighbors when I leave in the AM I see the flooring company sign out of the corner of my eye. I immediately remembered who they were from their kinda handmade distinct logo. Then I went to work and had coffee.The next day my wife started hocking me about getting the other floor replaced (I like the wood that’s there – she doesn’t).And sure enough she had seen the sign in the AM when she left for work. We don’t even drive in that direction. But both of us had seen the sign and now it looks like my wife is all set to get the floor done and that’s that. It’s a done deal.Well guess what? I a million untrackable things like this happen everyday. You never know thing that leads to the thing.(Attached is from the website..)

    3. Cezary Pietrzak

      I agree with Brandon 100%. A brand is much, much deeper than a name, avatar or logo. It’s a promise you make to your audience about the type of products, services or experience that you will deliver them. It can broken down into the following components:1. What you believe2. What you say3. What you do4. How you appear5. What you makeHow do you know a brand is great? It has complete clarity about its place in the world and its differentiating factors. It’s also instantly recognizable, whether or not the visual components are present. Lastly, it’s consistent, keeping true to its core no matter the situation and circumstances.If you are familiar with the Fred’s brand, then you do not need to hear Fred’s name or see his logo to know that it’s him. A Fred blog post has particular topics, opinions, writing style and cadence. A Fred investment is a particular type of company run by a particular types entrepreneurs. And even a Fred meeting spot is a particular type of restaurant or cofee shop. The Fred Wilson brand is strong for many different reasons, including the following:- Fred has a unique belief about the power of networks- Fred invests in iconic companies with industry-changing ideas- Fred has had tremendous success with his funds- Fred believes in the long term rather than short-term gains- Fred is transparent about his investment style- Fred frequently gives back to the community and shares his perspective on investing- Fred engages entrepreneurs on his blog like no other VC- Fred is friendly, approachable and casual(Note how many of these components are related to Fred’s beliefs and values)When taking the sum total of all of these factors, you have set of perceptions around the Fred brand. These perceptions are what motivates entrepreurs to seek Fred’s investment while attracting others to seek a relationship in a different capacity. If Fred continues to manage these perceptions, they will build his brand, and if he does not, they will erode over time. But even if he stopped everything he did today – investing, blogging, tweeting, etc. – it would take years for these perceptions to disappear, given the time he’s invested in brand-building over the last 20 years. That’s the power of brand.My advice to Fred is to look beyond the surface elements of his brand and to focus on the things that really make him special. All of the components are there, it’s just a question of articulating them in a compelling way.For everyone else, I recommend they read the blog post I wrote on branding and use the framework provided to think about their own brand:….

      1. JamesHRH

        Fred has principles but not a disciplined brand.You are talking about reputation.

        1. Cezary Pietrzak

          No, I’m not talking about reputation, though that does factor into brand. If all Fred cared about was what people thought about him, and if he didn’t match his principles with actions, then he wouldn’t be where he is today. Brand Fred does exist, though as you say it’s not the most disciplined brand.

          1. JamesHRH

            The brand concept is a child of the packaged good industry. Sales people sold to retailers, but had no human relationship with the end consumer. By definition, the brand concept requires a consumer relationship with an inanimate productTherefore, by definition, people do not have brands.Chain retailers adopted the brand concept, as they had a similar issue: their stores had no outside sales people. They required people to have a relationship with their buildings.People get sideways on this because of endorsements and celebrity based brands products.Wolfgang Puck food products leverage his personal reputation and the Spago / Pizzeria store brands. However, Wolfgang does not have a brand, his stores and packaged food products do.Nike has a brand. Kevin Durant does not. He has a reputation.It is a bastardization of the word. The word brand is headed toward enshrinement on the Mount Rushmore of bastardized business words, next to Strategy.

          2. Cezary Pietrzak

            I don’t follow your logic about a brand necessarily being an inanimate object. A brand is much deeper than a reputation. It’s a promise to deliver a certain type of product, service or experience – not just what people think about you. Reputation is flat term and doesn’t involve the nuances of brand-building, so to say people are limited to that term is oversimplifying the situation.Your product-centric argument is also incorrect because you’re trying to separate two things which are inseparable. Brand Jordan is as much tied to the person as it is to the shoes, apparel, endorsements etc. The products feed back to the person in the same way that the person lends certain perceptions to new businesses, all of which are brand. In a social media-centric world, you could also argue that a Twitter account, blog post or any digital media property – which is a representation of and inherently tied to the person – is a monetizable product (in Fred’s case, lead gen for entrepreneurs).Lastly, whether or not Fred Wilson actively manages his perceptions does not determine whether or not he has a brand. It simply determines the depth of his brand (which needs work).

          3. JamesHRH

            Its not logic you need to follow, its history.There is a reason Don Draper does not talk about Personal Brands on Mad Men……..because there was no confusing reputation & brand in the 1960’s.There were media personalities in the 1960’s, but they had shows that had brands (Walter Cronkite had a reputation for integrity; the CBS Nightly News brand suffered under Dan Rather, b/c he gained a reputation as a prima donna flake).You are wrong that brands are deeper than reputations. They are two sides to the same coin.I guarantee you that every successful retail stock broker / financial advisor in the last 50 years cared deeply about his personal reputation …… more deeply than anyone anywhere has ever cared about a brand, of any kind.Its far more fluid than your PoV allows.The main issue I have is that you are letting the tail wag the dog.You have taken your product / person / perception promise cycle from the world of sub-branding and you have missed that the person should be replaced by position.Sub-branded products are the anomaly. They are an extension of endorsement contracts. Sub brands allow brand companies to lock down powerful endorsers (and play to their egos).Sports endorsements were created to support the position of being #1 or being a winner. By tying a sporting champion to your product, you reinforced (not borrowed) that you were winning in your category & had the $$$ to pay up for he top endorsers.You mention MJ & Nike, but this started with Mark McCormack / IMG / Arnold Palmer.McCormack – a very sharp cookie BTW:… ) knew that it wasn’t about the endorser, it was about the endorser’s ranking (note in Wiki piece that he created rankings in individual sports like tennis and golf).McCormack was a genius. Arnold Palmer did just about anything & everything McCormack told him to do and made zillions as an endorser.McCormack then got very good at pairing highest quality positioning into endorsement deals, A famous one involves the CEO of Rolex sitting @ the finals of Wimbledon and realizing ‘this is Rolex’.Again, no people involved here (you had never heard of McCormack likely, noone know who runs Wimbledon & I forgot the name of the Rolex CEO the moment I read that story 20 years ago.). Brand positions being matched.So then McCormack realizes that retired guys like Palmer can represent the winning position on an evergreen basis – they are not competing any more, so they can’t lose. Their greatness increases over time with their cohort (past always better than present, etc.).So he gets them into course design, restaurants and other ‘experience businesses’ that they have no actual day to day role in: they merely ‘brand the experience’.And, there is your bastardization.If the restaurant sucked, it went under and Arnold’s reputation took a small hit (hint, he been paid already). It wasn’t because you couldn’t ‘extend his brand into food service’.Why? Because brands are not about people.Brands are about positioning products. I can tell you that the Tiger Woods irons I bought in the spring of 2009 are still terrific products. Nike’s brand promise – the best performing products – still holds, despite the massive downgrade in the reputation of the endorser / co-brander.And, if you want to argue that Tiger Woods has kept many of his endorsement deals, here is the response:- Tiger represents greatness- he is still in the hunt to beat Jack Nicklaus’s career major title- but, the moment he hits 45 and is at least 3 majors short of that accomplishment, he is about almost greatness and his value decreases wildly.So, current endorsers are placing bets that he starts winning majors again and that they can associate with greatness, via Tiger Woods. If he beats Nicklaus, he surpasses Nicklaus & Palmer as the GOAT and all off-course transgressions are forgiven / forgotten.Finally, why would Nike hop on Rory McIlroy so fast? Because winning is what Nike needs in an endorser & Rory is the best bet to do that in the next 15 years.If he verges on greatness, terrific. That’s the top position he can support.Oh, wait – one last thing. If people have brands, why does Tim Tebow not have a huge Nike deal?

          4. Cezary Pietrzak

            Sorry, I’m not following your logic, especially the point about bastardization which automatically assumes that branding is a bad thing.My biggest problem is your assumption, however, is that equity flows primarily from the person to the product, and that there is very little influence from the product to the person. I think that a bad product (ie bad promise) can damage someone’s personal brand as much as a bad personal brand can damage a product’s perceptions. For example, your Nike clubs promoted by Tiger Woods are functionally unchanged after the scandal, but I guarantee you that their perceptions have suffered despite them being manufactured by Nike (which may change over time).In any case, it’s doesn’t make sense to argue on historical technicalities because the word brand has evolved in such a way that this specific context is largely irrelevant.One final thought:If products can be personified, why is it that people can’t be productized?

          5. JamesHRH

            Products cannot be personalized, only positioned.People can’t be productized, but their reputations can support product positions.Figured you might decide I was being semantic. I am not.Your point about my TW irons supports me, not you.Products are 90% of the consumer’s perception. The irons still create a perception that meets Nike’s brand promise – they are excellent. If the irons were personalized, as you suggest, I would trust them as much as Elin trusts Eldrick.What you say makes logical sense, it’s just not actually valid, in the real world.Real world logic proofs are like math – they don’t evolve, they just exist.

    4. bsoist

      I could not agree more!

    5. JamesHRH

      Actually, you are quite wrong.His avatar and the AVC logo are his visual identity, but that’s not much (as you note).The things he says and does in person do not build his brand, they build his personal / professional reputation.The blog posts are Fred’s only product. The posts would could deliver on a brand expectation, except that no brand exists and Fred does not write posts to deliver a branded experienced.He writes what is on his mind, which, particularly with @fredwilson:disqus , completely lacks the discipline associated with any well managed brand.AVC would have a brand if he advertised AVC in some fashion and set an expectation for what you would experience here.But, he doesn’t & it doesn’t.

  19. Brett Bedevian

    When you asked for suggestions for the new look i mentioned how crucial the avatar was and i cant lie i was pretty upset when it was missing. I think it is great you brought it back and it adds so much more charater to the slender new look.

  20. matthughes

    I ignore services where I can’t land a decent handle any more.I would love to use matthughes on every service but will settle for something close, however reluctantly – I use matt_hughes on disqus.It turns out my name is relatively common, although I’ve never met another Matt Hughes.

  21. Brandon G. Donnelly

    I’ve been thinking about the same thing recently: whether real name + avatar is the best way to go. Interestingly enough, I just designed an avatar/logo for my Tumblr blog (coupled with brandondonnelly as my username) and I instantly saw an increase in followers. I guess people really do judge a blog by its avatar.

  22. Chimpwithcans

    Online identity amazes me in that we are now all in control of a brand with almost limitless exposure. The consistency of your message and engagement, fred, is key to your online identity success. In particular I am amazed at your openness on the web. Very admirable. New blog looks great. Longtime reader.

  23. Salt Shaker

    FW: “My name and my avatar is now my online identity and brand”The AVC brand is really a combination of USV+FW+Commenters. All equally important. Your stature and success as a founding partner at USV provided the imprimatur for you to create a blog w/ authority/credibility. Your candid, intelligent posts, with a spirit of openness without prejudice or malice, gives AVC its tone/personality. You def are the heart and soul of AVC, but the commenters stir the soup and provide the seasoning. The AVC brand is the total sum.

  24. JLM

    .I think you should square off the upper left corner and only have the right side angled.JLM.

    1. JamesHRH

      The addition of the avatarallelogram has accentuated the less than eye appealing asymmetry of the AVC word mark.It subtraction by addition.Avatar was powerfully, if humbly, effective when it was on the About page.IMNSHO.



  26. bsoist

    The return of the avatar! Excellent!I’ve been bsoist almost everywhere for more than twenty years. For those that are interested, here is the story …There was a time when usernames could not be longer than 8 characters. So, using what was becoming the standard in those days – bsoistmann, was out. Just my last name would have been my choice anyway since it’s fairly uncommon, but it is still too long.My last name is German ( though I am predominantly Irish ), and it ends in a double n. There was no way I was going to just chop off one of those. People spell it wrong all the time already, I don’t need more of that.So, among the possibilities, I went with bsoist.BTW, When my wife first went to work for Amazon, they insited on tsoistma despite her protests.

  27. RichardF

    I welcome the return of your avatar. I prefer the unadulterated version but I guess it doesnt work with the new design.

  28. Donna Brewington White

    I’m enjoying the new design. The blue is really working for me, along with the clean simplicity and readability…just plain aesthetically pleasing.I’m struggling a bit with the avatar. The fact that it is leaning. Doesn’t bother me that it’s leaning right. 😉 The idea of you being in a slanted space and partly chopped off. That makes me uneasy. But I will get over it. You do look good in blue.

    1. JamesHRH

      I bet the avatar finds its way back to the About page.These new modern bars don’t need folk art on the walls!

  29. paramendra

    I am Paramendra everywhere (I am hoping this is a great minds think alike thing) and I run a much lesser danger of the name getting usurped on a new service. It is a rare name as is and I am not fredwilson famous.

  30. howardlindzon

    looking good billy ray….

    1. Jim Canto

      …feeling good, Louis!

      1. JamesHRH

        That is an impressive response post.

  31. Mat Mullen

    This feature slipped into Disqus last week, but we’ve made it a lot easier to update your avatar and bio without leaving the site you’re on. Just click your avatar and hit “Edit Profile”.

  32. DoryphoreRelevé

    In Europe Germany seems to have the strictest standards, but there is a similar sliding scale, although different.

  33. Semil Shah

    The ending of this reminded me of Secret. It’s iPhone only right now — but curious if you have any views on it so far?

  34. Robert Holtz

    Fake Grimlock! Lookin’ good in that pic. That was right before he ate the cameraman. LOL.

  35. Narendra001


  36. John Revay

    “But over time, I just started using it everywhere. And I do mean everywhere. Including LinkedIn.”Hummmm for some reason – I don’t recall Fred be a fan or a user of LinkedIn. – I think he still has the same 334 people in his LinkedIn Network from when I first joined the AVC community over two years ago when I sent him a linked in request.I wish I knew him back when he was accepting requests.

  37. Mintu Borah


  38. timraleigh

    I really like your avatar, always have. The illustrative style implies a friendly approachable personality which I think is backed up by your blog and comments. So for me, it’s all good for your “brand”. On the other hand I am not crazy about the avatar in the parallelogram. It is weakening and interfering with the contrast between the informal avatar with the more formal ‘AVC’ word mark. I always thought this subtle interplay was an interesting “branding” message which I interpreted as approachable yet disciplined.Again, these are purely subjective comments and not meant to offend…

  39. Jonny Schnittger

    I have an idea for a new company… I’m going to go to every online service and register the account fredwilson if it’s available. I will then sell the account to you for a small fee, I will of course allow you to buy in bulk if that suits. I’ll accept paypal/credit card/cash.Thanks!/J

  40. Guy Lepage

    I would agree with part of your branding. You are the brand. Not a number or avatar. Personal brands are much more different than corporate. People want to identify with Fred Wilson. Not a character. It’s much more personable and therefore human if we see Fred’s pic.For a great analogy I will refer to the troubles of the British royal family. Before the death of Princess Diana, the queen did not open herself up to the public. With the families popularity at an all-time low, she took a bold step forward and recognized the humanity of Princess Diana herself and opened herself up to the public a bit more to show humanity and affection. This helped turn around the popularity of the family and probably saved the existence of royalty in Britain.Someone coming from a branding background I would say by changing the “Fred Wilson” brand to include any personable traits would further add to the brand. Brands can change and evolve.. I would personally like to see Fred the man..If your branding claim was true you would see the majority of athletes and celebrities branding themselves in the way you currently do.My two cents. 🙂

  41. JimHirshfield

    Well, his avatar in the conversation is square – straight up.BTW, yours is slanted.

  42. jason wright

    i think of avc as the community brand and the avatar as Fred. this is a troubling muddy merger.

  43. panterosa,

    I agree the slanting is off, shapewise, but I also dislike how it cuts into the composition of the picture, so I prefer the square. I also prefer larger – it’s too small to read visually.

  44. Matt A. Myers

    If the edge of the image was closer to the A, then it would balance better – and you’d get used to it soon enough.

  45. Matt A. Myers

    Yup. At minimum it needs to hug closer to the A

  46. LIAD

    noticed that too.OCD in overdrive.

  47. Aaron Klein

    What? I love it.

  48. ShanaC


  49. JamesHRH