Talking tech since 2003

By now you have heard that the CEO of Color, the failed photo app, Bill Nguyen is reportedly out of the company. The entire story behind the company that we knew of to date has been interesting to say the least. From the flaunting of its $41 million raised in venture capital from big name venture firms such as Sequoia, the promise to deliver one of the most innovative applications that we had seen in years, to the supposed all-star talent — none of it mattered.

The only thing impressive about the company (to date) was its theatrical launch which focused more on the vast amount of money it raised in venture capital, and less about the application itself because it was so difficult to figure out how to use that it was just bound to fail. As far as I was concerned though, even after the rocky launch, the all-star founding team could still make the company work and get a better version out of the door. That never happened. The other two co-founders left, the product fell apart, and Bill spent his time vacationing, rather than being in the office figuring out how to reinvent the company. How could it be any worse? It turns out it could be, and was worse, way worse.

In fact, if you read Sarah Lacy’s incredible article (which I highly recommend you do), Bye Bye, Bill: How Nguyen Doomed Color from the Start, you will see just how bad it was at Color, even prior to the launch of the app.

Here are a few of my favorite excerpts:

Nguyen crowed that Sequoia found the idea so bold that they put in double the money they put into their initial investment in Google… There was only one reason to lead with that instead of the product: Because Nguyen had launched his previous companies in a very different time when the size of your series A was what mattered.

And I would say an overwhelming majority of the headlines made mention in some way to the massive round of funding the company made.

I remember when Max Levchin was launching Slide. At PayPal they’d concocted a clever method of paying users $20 to refer a friend, and the product spread rapidly — and it was cheaper than how other companies were grabbing users back then. With Slide, he was struck by how his pedigree, his experience, his team, his cash — none of this could force adoption. There was no trick the way there was in the late 1990s. “You just can’t force users to get up off their asses and use your product,” he told me in exasperation at the time.

It’s true, web users today are much smarter and with how prominent social media is today, it’s easy to make or break new companies. Remember Cuil? The search company that was supposed to dethrone Google. They also raised a massive funding round and went all out with their launch, only to wind up failing.

And Nguyen didn’t know enough about how the media game worked anymore to ever take control of the narrative again… I spoke with a close friend of Nguyen’s in the aftermath of that launch. I explained why I thought the strategy was so out of touch. This person just shook his head and went on an exhausted screed about how he tried to explain that to Nguyen before launch until he was blue in the face. But Nguyen had launched companies before, and he thought he knew better, this person said.

The best founders and CEO’s surround themselves with best people, actively listen to them, and utilize that feedback in one way or another. Apparently, it seems like Bill thought he knew better than everyone else.

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