Last week, we closed an investment in Oddcast, our eighth portfolio company and Brad will be joining the Oddcast board of directors.

Oddcast is the leading developer of web-based avatars for businesses and consumers.

For some time now, we have been thinking about the relationship between identity and web services. Combining the two makes our digital experience more relevant, as we see with TACODA’s success in the behavioral targeting model, or even as we express ourselves as a firm through this blog, rather than by putting up a boilerplate company website.

Software vendors, mobile carriers, video game publishers, etc. are all trying to create a unique experience—one that reflects the look, feel, and preferences that a user wants. Some, like MySpace, have put the tools of self-expression in the hands of the user. They realize that creation of passionate users involves the sense of ownership that comes from user contribution to the product. A ringtone and a skin, in the same way, make it “my phone” versus “a phone” and being able to put oneself in as the video game quarterback of the Giants makes it “my Madden football”. The ability for a consumer to “create’ or to at least customize their own service is an increasingly important requirement for consumer facing web services.

Self expression in content and services creates a two way street. The explosion of blogs, shows us that media is not just about broadcast. More and more content, commentary, and feedback is being generated everyday as digital publishing tools gain mainstream adoption. People who were previously just consumers of media are now publishers and remixers who want to express their own personal views. Through these means, and by growing participation in social networks, users are expressing their identity and presence online in more intentional ways. Whereas this digital presence has started to appear haphazardly in search results and in a disaggregated way on multiple social network silos, users are now looking for ways to integrate and manage their digital persona.

Marketers can leverage personalization in order to create stronger direct ties to their customers and potential customers. In a digital world, brand control is tenuous at best, and is ineffective in the face of growing consumer leverage. Instead, by allowing consumers to express themselves in terms of the products and entertainment they consume, marketers will benefit more from the unprecedented speed and virality of grassroots, word of mouth marketing, as well as behavioral metadata.

We believe the increasing popularity of Avatars is one of several indicators of the consumer’s willingness to invest time and energy to create a digital persona. When we surveyed the market, we came to the conclusion that Oddcast had the most lightweight, flexible and capable web-based avatar implementation.

Oddcast built an attractive business offering avatars to businesses, large and small. We are thrilled to be working with this experienced team to build from this foundation to deliver avatars to consumers and to making those avatars available wherever those consumers are on the web and on the mobile devices in their pockets.

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