We interviewed Verónica Orvalho, founder and CEO of Didimo as one of the award winners from Tech Tour’s programmes in 2021.
Q: Introduce yourself and tell us more about your current position and company?
VO: I am Verónica Orvalho, founder and CEO of Didimo. I am also a professor at the University of Porto. I founded Didimo in 2016, following many years of research in computer graphics, computer vision, interaction models and how humans connect through technology.
Didimo is the leading provider of automated high-fidelity, user-generated digital humans. Didimo can turn any 2D selfie into a realistic, fully animatable 3D digital human avatar. We can do this in under 90 seconds and for less than $1 each. So for the first time, companies can allow their customers to create their digital twin to provide better experiences and services.
Didimo is first focused on delivering a B2B service, helping enterprise companies embed digital human technology into their services and experiences. We target the gaming, VR meetings, fashion and communications industries. Our initial traction began with gaming, made possible by the industry’s greater technical fluency and speed of adoption of technologies. As VR enterprise solutions grow, that is the second-fastest growth category for Didimo. While fashion retail and retail, in general, is a bit behind those other two segments, we are strategically developing relationships and POCs as this will ultimately be one of the largest segments for our services. As the market grows and use cases expand, we will begin to target B2C services, allowing consumers to take and transit their didimo digital human to any experience they wish.
Our company currently has 26 employees, based in Portugal and the UK, working constantly to innovate and improve what is possible with digital humans. They really are amazing people.
Q: What keeps you up at night?
VO: Lol. Many things. I’m a mom, a professor, a leader of a startup. But from a business perspective, there are two key things that are really important to me.
First, we are building a technology that can help people…that can better represent people and encourage them to engage digitally in new ways. It is really challenging deep tech work, but if we can help companies to adopt this, then they can really provide better services and better help to their customers. And people can feel more included, more supported, more engaged in digital spaces. While it is easy to implement our service, it is not yet intuitive to businesses how to get the most from this technology…but we know their consumers will seek it out, once offered. So we need to work to educate enterprise companies and show them the many ways this technology solves pain points and grows revenue streams.
Second, digital behaviors have become rather extreme and sometimes online spaces are not safe or supportive and that causes people to disengage or feel hurt when all they want to do is connect. As we are building the next interaction model, we feel strongly that your identity in the metaverse must be true to your identity just as in real life…when that happens, you have better trust with others and you more consistently display your integrity and character which makes digital spaces healthier and more honest. We have a strong role to play in helping people engage in this more authentic, more integrity-filled way with digital twins. I want to ensure the metaverse is open to everyone, and that everyone has positive experiences.
Q: Tell us about your product? What problem is it solving and what makes your solution unique?
VO: With web3 and the metaverse, there are whole new ways people can interact, learn, play, shop and share. People are at the center of this new world. You will interact through your own digital twin and reduce barriers (like touch screens and typing) that limit what you can do today. Everyone can see this need.
But creating lifelike digital human avatars quickly and at scale is very challenging from a technical standpoint. Some companies offer mostly stylized avatars…a character that kind of represents you. These are right for some uses and environments…and they are fast and fun. But they don’t really capture your real self…your true-to-life look, your features, your expressions and emotions. didimos - our digital human avatars - do just that. So we can put people, as themselves, directly into the action. You can now play in games with your friends. In e-commerce, you can try on clothing to see how it looks on you and how it fits you. You learn new skills quickly by trying in an environment without risks. There is so much potential that we did not have before.
Q: How did you start your journey and where are you now on the road to achieve your ambition?
VO: I have been studying computer graphics, computer vision, gaming, and human interaction models for over 20 years. This expertise has allowed me to work with amazing companies ranging from IBM to Amazon to Disney and more to help define how characters are created, animated, and bring emotion to life. In my research lab, we unlocked a way that this technology could help children with autism to better connect with their families, learning to engage, read emotion and connect effectively. This work was life-changing for the families involved. That’s when I knew we were on to something that could benefit everyone. That we have a way to improve digital interactions and make them more human and have scalable way to do so. So I started Didimo to meet that vision. We are well on our way, with customers using our technology platform today and new advancements rolling out each quarter. It’s exciting to see this all come to life.
Q: Can you share a story of a client using your product/service and what influence it had to them?
VO: Several clients are using our product…across the gaming, VR, and retail industries. Clients like Drest are empowering their customers to see themselves in the latest styles and expand their sense of personal style. Soliel Games is integrating personalized characters into their video games. And one of our clients is starting to move their celebrities into the metaverse and invite consumers to meet them personally….all through didimos. In each of these cases, the end-user has a richer, more meaningful experience and that enhances loyalty, purchase, and advocacy for these brands.
Q: What is your company’s biggest achievement to date?
VO: We have been working at this for a long time. It is really complicated technology. So in one sense, our biggest achievement is that we have solved how to automatically create a full 3D digital human that can speak, move and express emotions. Via our platform, anyone can create their lifelike digital twin. It works for everyone on the planet. We don’t need users to input gender, age, race, or any data like that. Just a photo. And we can create their digital double.
On another front, we have earned three patents on our technology. Our most recent is for a new way to serve data, faster and with greater accuracy. Obviously, with a richer digital world, these files can be large but consumers don’t have to wait. We have found a way to serve these files quickly and easily. In fact, it is such an advancement that we earned a patent for the solution.
Q: What was the tipping point that made you a doer and impacted your vision?
VO: I have always been a doer. That’s why I’m a professor. I love sharing and learning and challenging myself and others to achieve goals.
What’s interesting is that it was a bit of a struggle for me to decide to create Didimo as a business. At first, I resisted because I didn’t feel like I should start a company. But our technology continued to win awards and acceleration support like Techstars. I guess the tipping point was understanding that what I had in my hands could really change the future of how people would communicate and engage. Most importantly, I wanted to make sure that my next innovation would get into the hands of users, not just stay as an incredible research innovation. Finally, a good friend convinced me to start a company. It’s been full speed ahead since then.
Q: How do you see your company making a difference in the future?
VO: We really believe we are giving tools to put all people at the center of their digital experiences…to authentically engage and own their interactions. We think that is very important. A world where are digital experiences are more human and fulfilling.
Q: How is the current situation impacting your business? What is your company’s immediate response to the situation? What are the alternatives (products, services) you are now thinking on?
VO: As interest in the metaverse has taken off in the public this year, there is now a lot of interest in what we are doing. We are continuing to advance the quality of our product. We are now adding a range of body features to extend what didimos can do. And we are working with some amazing partners to bring more emotion, more voice, more wardrobe choices and others to our customers.
Q: How did Tech Tour help you on your journey? What is most the most useful part of our programmes for you?
- Raising awareness of who we are and how we can impact the future of society through technology.
- The one-on-one conversations with Jean-Michel.
- The quality of the webinars and know-how of the speakers.