$41 Million Startup colour Is Forced Into An Early, Buzzword-Laden Pivot


Photo: New Work City

What do you do if you raised $41 million before launching and nobody uses your app? Pivot! To what?

Bill Nguyen, cofounder of much-yapped-about startup colour, now faces that very question.

In a Times story out today,  he attempts an answer:

“Nguyen outlined an ambitious plan to compete with Apple, Google and Facebook by tying together group messaging, recommendations and local search, all while making money through advertising. He plans to build applications that will use data from Facebook to create temporary social networks, say at a conference or sporting event, to help users meet people who grew up in the same town or like the same band.”

If reading so many buzzwords at the same time gave you an ice cream headache, you’re not alone.

Let’s try to unpack this, though.

It seems that the only thing colour’s next iteration is going to keep from the previous version is the idea of creating spontaneous social networks around your location and/or events. (That’s the only part of colour’s original vision that’s never been shown to work, but then again that’s the only part of colour’s original vision that’s original, so ok.) 

Add to that “recommendations and local search”, and that sounds like yet another check-in app to us. Plus group messaging because, why the heck not. 

So it sounds like a version of Foursquare where once you check-in you can group-chat on your iPhone with other people who are there. Which – precisely like the original version of colour – we can imagine being cool in theory in a handful of use cases like sports games and conferences but useless in most cases.

It’s great to have entrepreneurs with an ambitious vision, and it’s hard to blame someone for raising $41 million on an idea if they can.

But this sounds like just a soup of buzzwords and trying to do too much when competing with hyper-focused startups that are brilliant at doing one thing.

Other interesting stuff from the Times story:

  • colour’s co-founder Peter Pham, who recently left, was indeed “fired” by CEO Bill Nguyen, despite the startup finding other excuses.
  • colour has “38 employees [who] work in a space with room for 160, amid beanbag chairs, tents for napping and a hand-built half-pipe skateboard ramp.” Dear God. By contrast, Instagram has four employees. Four. 

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