Color, the much-hyped photo-sharing app created by serial entrepreneur Bill Nguyen that famously nabbed $41 million in funding then promptly flopped, is back with a scheme to tap the giant pool of users it needs to survive.
Nguyen has unveiled a partnership with Verizon to provide exclusive features to 4G LTE customers. But can such an agreement save Color?
The service was built on the idea that lots of people would share with lots of other people in their immediate proximity—a so-called "elastic" social network. But the Catch-22 has always been that if no one immediately started using Color, no one would want to, because the network would be the digital equivalent of Salton City.
The Verizon solution to all of this sounds familiar.
"We have a little secret we're working on," Nguyen said with his characteristic smirk when questioned about this hurdle during a visit to Fast Company offices last year. "We think we have a way of introducing this to 200 million people all at once."
Nguyen was hinting at possibly teaming with Twitter. It didn't happen. And his eighth startup ended up being a major flop. Even after pivoting and becoming a tool for live-video sharing, Color failed to escape the $41 million ghost town it had built. Now, again, Nguyen believes he has an answer for critics and a solution for his distribution woes.
According to Nguyen, Color will now come preloaded on new Verizon 4G LTE smartphones. Users will be able share live video with friends and on Facebook, broadcasting up to 30-second feeds with audio. If you're on AT&T or another network, you'll still be able to view broadcasts and share your own, though without audio and at a lower frame rate.
"We could try to build a product that works for everyone, or we thought, 'You know what? Heck, there's going to be 100 million people on 4G LTE within the year on Verizon,'" Nguyen says.
It's a scaled-back version of the strategy he hinted at a year ago—I asked him then whether he was referring to Twitter, and he said, "possibly," with an ever-widening grin. It's unclear whether that was ever in the works. A spokesperson for Color declined to go into detail about what Nguyen was talking about. "We chose to develop on Facebook rather than Twitter," the spokesperson would only say.
For Color, the Verizon partnership does bring access to a large user base. It's far from guaranteed, though, that the app will be adopted simply because it comes default on future smartphones. Plenty of people immediately delete pre-installed network apps such as AT&T's Code Scanner and U-Verse Mobile apps on Windows Phone, and Blockbuster's app on certain Android devices. For Verizon, Color gives the company an opportunity to both show off the speed and power of its network and trash its competitors. During our chat, Nguyen was certain to point out that his team simply "couldn't make it work" on AT&T.
Plus, if adopted, Color will also be quite a bandwidth hog—with its high-res, live video and audio—a great excuse for Verizon to make up for lost revenues from all-access data plans. "The app is free, and other charges will apply according to a customer's data package," the press release indicates.
But more importantly than Verizon making money here, does this partnership finally mean Color will start bringing in revenue itself? The infamously overfunded startup hasn't brought a nickel back for investors, who are likely anxious to start seeing some indication of a return. Is there a financial exchange with this partnership?
"There is...but we can't talk about it," Nguyen says. "Let me put it this way: I've never paid anyone to use my product."
[Image via: Flickr user EdCleve]