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If a new startup called Color has its way, photo sharing will never be the same. The company is creating a completely smart phone-based 'social network' of sorts for photos, but instead of focusing on people, it's focusing on location, a concept some have likened to Twitter-for-pics.

Interesting? Maybe. Innovative? Questionable. But Color is already attracting lots of attention having already raised $41m before launch. Color's backers include notable investors, including preeminent venture capital firm Sequoia Capital.

Firms like Sequoia invest in people, and Color's management team is impressive. Amongst the company's seven founders and 30 employees are Bill Nguyen, who sold his last company, Lala, to Apple, and Peter Pham, formerly of Photobucket, and BillShrink. Color's technical lead is DJ Patil, LinkedIn's Chief Scientist before he was lured away to Color.

The company's plans are ambitious, and with $41m in the bank, it's putting the pedal to the metal. Case in point: it reportedly dropped $350,000 to acquire the Color.com domain name.

But just as in the first .com boom, money, an All-Star management team and an expensive domain name might not be a good predictor of success. Already, Color has some interesting critics and is the subject of snarky jokes.

If the initial reviews it's receiving in the App Store and Android Market are any indication, Color's investors may soon wonder if they made a $41m mistake.

Will Color simply prove to be a case of poor execution, or a solution searching for a problem? Perhaps. But I think the poor reception has a lot to do with expectations.

$41m for a brand new photo sharing app is a lot of money. Publicising (or failing to keep confidential) the fact that you spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on a domain name is not cool in startup land. Turning on the PR hype machine before you know you have a product polished enough to promote is a bad idea.

Obviously, launching a new business and proving yourself to consumers is very difficult no matter who you are and how much money you have. So why is it that consumers will beat down a startup like Color over a UI that needs improvement and a dearth of content while being unbelievably forgiving to similarly 'rough' new products? One word: expectations.

$41m in pre-launch funding from some of the biggest names in venture capital, high-profile founders with a track record of success and an extravagant domain name purchase all add up to one thing: the expectation that Color is going to really, really kick butt. After all, what excuse does it have not to?

There's a lesson here for all companies: when launching a new product or service, how you position and promote often plays an oversize role in how well your product or service is received.

Create the impression that you're promising consumers the world, and chances are they'll expect you to deliver everything in it.

Take a more modest and humble approach that emphasizes what you're trying to do -- not all the resources you have to do it -- and chances are you'll find some support and positive feedback even if you're rough around the edges.

Patricio Robles

Published 25 March, 2011 by Patricio Robles

Patricio Robles is a tech reporter at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter.

2392 more posts from this author

Comments (4)

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Pete Austin, MarketingXD

Color got almost everything right, until the point at which they launched.

The issue was that their marketing was unexpectedly successful, buying them a lot of goodwill, and meaning that they had unexpectedly more to lose.

AT this point, Color should have taken a final reality check, noted the suddenly increased risks, and pulled back - doing a limited beta in tech friendly cities where their model would work best. They could have spun this as a "staged rollout" to avoid overloading their servers. This would have reduced the anger of people going online in suburbia and finding nobody else nearby to share with.
http://blog.marketingxd.com/post/4061005620/this-is-your-last-chance-to-make-a-first-impression

A second issue is that, as an anonymous image sharing site, Color must have known of the problem of perverts on chatroulette (my immediate comment was OMG). Color should have initially launched as an adults-only, until there was evidence of how the service would be used. Making this a 4+ app seems very unwise.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chatroulette

Latest review, at the time of writing, from
http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/color/id427763573?mt=8

Terrible
by Doverpro110
This is nothing more than Chatroulette - only a matter of time before the porn shows up. Fact is, I don't give a crap what people are doing 150 feet from me. Might be useful near a strip club. No thanks - should have given the $41 Million to bathe all the PhishHeads.

over 5 years ago

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giles palmer

has anyone noticed the elephant in the room -- the guys have spelt colour wrong ! they'll kick themselves when they realise....

over 5 years ago

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Phil O'Brien

Don't worry Giles - they took us "English" speakers in to account and bought the Colour.com domain name too! So the $350,000 is probably an underestimate on domain name spend! North of $500k I have read....

over 5 years ago

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Paul Gailey

With the backers and founders of such stature, the advent of Color is a nail in the coffin of privacy, and that's why it's such a big bet because as an implicit proximity based social network, it's also acknowledging that infact social networking is an increasingly laborious and stressful exercise. All that listing, friending, following, notification email logjam hell actually makes the digital keeping up with the joneses a bit of a nightmare. The benefit of social networking is still a function of your ability to manage and juggle the mechanics. The promise here is that the ghost in your oh so powerful machine will do the heavy lifting for you and with critical mass adoption, persistent connections, and privacy oblivious/share happy generation, the argument has merit.

Deus ex machina ?

over 5 years ago

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