Invisible Universe is building the Pixar of the internet

Final week, Realqaiqai, the Instagram deal with for Qai Qai (pronounced “kway kway”), the doll turned social media star belonging to Olympia Ohanian, the 3-year-old daughter of tennis star Serena Williams and Reddit cofounder Alexis Ohanian, posted two, side-by-side pictures summarizing the doll’s evolution. “The way it began” was the headline over a photograph a brown-skinned child doll carrying a purple tutu. Subsequent to it was one other line, “The way it’s going,” above an animated Qai Qai with a decidedly sassy look on her face, hanging a pose and flashing the peace signal. The post acquired almost 20,000 likes. 

Qai Qai’s journey from a doll that first confirmed up in Williams’ social media feed in 2018 when the tennis participant uploaded a video of Qai Qai mendacity forlornly on the floor, right into a spunky, animated character that now has her personal Instagram and TikTok accounts with over 3.2 million followers, is largely the work of a brand new, leisure tech startup referred to as Invisible Universe.   

Based by former Snap govt John Brennan—and with $8 million in funding from Ohanian’s Initialized Capital and Seven Seven Six funds, Williams, Will Smith’s Dreamers VC, Cassius Household, and former Zillow CEO Spencer Rascoff—Invisible first conceived of the concept of turning Qai Qai into an animated character along with her personal sly sensibility and righteous dance strikes.

“I used to be speaking to Alexis and beginning to discover that Serena would put up about tennis, her vogue line, and other people in the feedback could be like, ‘The place’s Qai Qai?’” says Brennan. “Individuals have been actually into this character. That’s when the lightbulb went off. I spotted that individuals have been falling in love with this concept of a doll that had a character.” Animated Qai Qai was thus born and given her personal social media accounts. At the moment, her followers are greeted with a gentle churn of posts and movies: Qai Qai deadpanning meme-ready traces (“Me proper after I inform my mates my presence is their reward”—as she sips juice from a wine glass; posing with Williams and Olympia in matching bathing fits; and bumping and grinding to the newest dance pattern.


Qai Qai[Image: courtesy of Invisible Universe]

Now the plan is to take the extra totally rounded character and develop her into an animated franchise that doesn’t simply exist on-line, however in TV exhibits, motion pictures, books, and extra. 

This notion of birthing characters on social media alongside influencers like Williams—who’ve large followings to plug into—after which transferring these characters into extra conventional lanes, is the core mission of Invisible, which is striving to grow to be “the Pixar of the Internet,” says CEO Tricia Biggio. A former senior VP of unscripted tv at MGM. “We need to launch indelible character IP in a world the place individuals are really spending increasingly of their time.” 

Tricia Biggio [Photo: courtesy of Invisible Universe]

Brennan mentioned the concept for the firm first occurred to him when he was at Snap, heading the firm’s sports activities partnership division. Whereas working alongside Snap’s AI and Bitmoji groups to safe licensing offers, “It acquired me pondering extra usually about this concept of character IP on the internet,” he says. “Our telephones are actually the hottest screens in our lives. And for higher or worse, social media is the hottest app on these telephones. It didn’t make sense to me that 99% of family, animated IP had nonetheless solely come from motion pictures, TV, and publishing. Why can’t the subsequent Toy Story come from Instagram or TikTok?” (Though these are Invisible’s major platforms proper now, the plan is to be platform agnostic.) It additionally didn’t make sense how a lot cash is usually poured into producing animated movies and TV exhibits which will or could not resonate with audiences. The low value of making animated characters for the internet, and with the ability to experiment with them—and tweak them based mostly on suggestions and commentary that seems in actual time—appeared like an apparent innovation. 

“It takes 4 to 5 years and a pair hundred million {dollars} to launch a franchise, solely to seek out out it really didn’t covert to merch gross sales,” says Biggio. “We are able to work in 30 to 60 days at a fraction of the value.” 

Invisible has already launched a handful of characters who’re building up followers on social media and testing this premise, together with Squeaky & Roy, two plush besties who dwell in the house of TikTok sensations Dixie and Charli D’Amelio; Kayda & Kai, Karlie Kloss’ digital assistant-slash-robot and docking station; and Crazynho, a happy-go-lucky monkey who lives with Brazilian soccer star Dani Alves. Invisible plans to launch extra characters later this 12 months with celebrities together with Jennifer Aniston. The actress, who is additionally an investor and advisor to Invisible, mentioned it was “thrilling so as to add creating an animated character to my résumé.” 

[Image: courtesy of Invisible Universe]

The method is to staff with an influencer whose model suits with Invisible’s, after which creatively collaborate on a personality which is dropped at life by Invisible’s in-house staff of illustrators, 3D artists, and animators. “Our bar is not simply, oh, you’ve 50 million followers, you’ve 100 million followers,” says Brennan. “It’s extremely vital from a price and model perspective that you simply’re the sort of particular person we’re going to collaborate on a chunk of IP that may go the distance and actually be household pleasant.”

John Brennan [Photo: courtesy of Invisible Universe]

Invisible has created its personal proprietary workflow optimization software program that enables its staff to create content material at the fast-paced charge of social media. For instance, when Squeaky & Roy participated in a flexibility problem on TikTok—which acquired 11 million views—and Invisible seen that followers have been asking for a room tour in the feedback part, animators set to work. “They have been like ‘Room tour! Room tour! Present us your room!’” Biggio says. “In order that day we put into the pipeline a chunk of content material the place the two characters are giving a room tour. Inside 36 hours it had virtually one million views.” 


For celebs like Williams and Aniston, the partnership creates a brand new enterprise alternative and income stream, and is interesting as a result of it includes comparatively little work. Williams may ship a screenshot she thinks could be nice so as to add Qai Qai into, however in any other case Invisible depends on footage they shoot early on in and round a celeb’s home. “In case you have a look at the final 12 months with COVID-19, the means the animation business blew up, one of the greatest causes is that it’s a extremely light-lift ask of celebrities,” says Biggio. As well as, it’s one thing they’ll do from the consolation of their houses. “We actually took a web page from that and benefited from that, as a result of it was one thing that individuals may do this was actually creatively participating however not a large time dedication.”  

Katelin Holloway, a founding associate of Seven Seven Six who sits on the board of Invisible and is an alumnus of Pixar, says Invisible represents “the place the business is transferring.” 

“I actually see the longevity on this in the means I don’t see in conventional animation and even different inventive processes which are comparatively caught of their evolution and growth,” she says. “Right here, you might be dwell building, and your viewers can react with a coronary heart or an emoji. And it’s one thing that is so low engagement for them. You’re not dragging individuals right into a movie show like we used to do at Pixar and organising large check screenings, getting reactions on storyboards, which is insane to me. Right here, you double faucet on an Instagram story.”