How Color’s Bill Nguyen Was Influenced by Steve Jobs, and Plans to One-Up Groupon

Bill Nguyen, serial entrepreneur and founder of real-time photo-sharing app Color, says he plans to outmaneuver Groupon much in the same way Google bested Yahoo.

Color app

“Steve Jobs loves talking about trucks,” says Bill Nguyen, serial entrepreneur and founder of online music service Lala. “What he says is that in the industrial age, trucks were awesome because we just had to move stuff around. All you ever needed was a truck. We’re no longer there. One tool doesn’t fit all anymore.”


That’s one reason why Nguyen created Color–his eighth startup–a real-time photo-sharing app built on the idea that other services weren’t designed for the post-PC world–the age of iPhones and iPads. With Color, he hopes to fundamentally change how we think of the app experience–that’s why there are no usernames, passwords, profiles, or friends.
Early criticisms aside–the app’s lousy early reviews in the iTunes App Store have garnered it only two stars, and just one day after its splashy launch, Nguyen was scrambling to defend its merits to skeptics–Nguyen says Color’s one step ahead of other photo-sharing, social media, and coupon services.

“When [Steve] describes the post-PC world, he says, look, all the things that were written [before] are almost doomed to fail because they weren’t written around that concept,” Nguyen says. “Everything Facebook built was based on an old technology. It was around this premise that you’re going to sit in front of this machine that has no idea who you are, so you need to tell this machine everything about you: who your friends are, what you like, everything else.”

That forward thinking is also affecting Color’s business model. (Yes, a business model. They actually do still exist.) As Nguyen explains, the company hopes to integrate aspects of Google, Groupon, and Foursquare.

“When we saw Groupon, we were blown away,” Nguyen says. “As soon as I had that wild moment, I instantly felt the Yahoo moment, which is that like Yahoo, it was just so broad. Even though Yahoo was bigger, Google was generating six times more revenue per user than Yahoo because it was better–because their ads actually made the service better. We thought, how do we Google Groupon?”

“What we saw on all these sites–whether it was Foursquare or everyone else– was that they would do these random ads nearby, you know, because you’re in Palo Alto you must want an ice cream or a bikini wax,” he continues. “Because we are so good at identifying exactly where you are, we wanted to make that experience slightly different.”

On Color, venues will soon be able to register their location with the service. When a user enters, say, a bagel shop, he or she will not only be able to see the people currently there, but also the people and friends who have visited in the past–all through photographs and comments. Nguyen imagines it will help users determine what to spend money on–in this case, maybe an everything bagel with lox, which looked so delicious in your friend’s picture–a Foodspotting for advertisements, if you will. Nguyen calls it “our version of Google AdWords,” and sees applications everywhere, from restaurants to ski shops.


Will it work? Well, Nguyen sure must have sold it to investors, who have already invested $41 million into the service. “As Steve would say, we plan to wheel in wheelbarrows full of cash at the front door,” Nguyen says.

Read More: Most Innovative Companies: Foursquare, Groupon, and Google.

About the author

Austin Carr writes about design and technology for Fast Company magazine.