Why Color’s bad first experience will always “color” this company in app stores


Like with the earlier Path, first experiences matter and are mattering more every day. Why?

Because most of the startups in the mobile space are NOT getting most of their users from a great post in Techcrunch, or a tweet or a video from me. And with 500,000 apps to choose from we won’t go back and give folks another chance. There are too many five-star apps to consider for us to go back to trying two-star ones.

Where are the droves of new users coming from? The featured lists in app stores. iTunes has become a DOMINANT way for apps to get more users. Why do you think Angry Birds keeps releasing all those updates? (So they are able to get another “featured” spot on the iTunes store and gather another few million users).

So that brings us to yesterday’s release and hype fest of Color. Where did the hype come from? Well, they got funded for $41 million. Really? Wow.

When I started up the app I had a horrible first experience. So did many other people. The reviews on iTunes are scathing and are averaging two stars. That’s the kiss of obscurity right there. In fact, the company knows this and has put a warning right on their home page “don’t use Color alone!” That’s not enough, cause most of us don’t live in San Francisco or New York.

Last night this pissed me off so much that I opened up my iPhone and gave a rant about Color that’s going around the Internet.

In it I explain why I had a bad first experience (I don’t live in a big city with tons of early adopters, so when I started it up there aren’t any other pictures in the system) and what I would have done about it (copy Foursquare, who only released in San Francisco and New York — I couldn’t even use Foursquare for the first year of its life because I didn’t live in a big city). Foursquare’s “bad first experience” was much better than Color’s, because I could at least understand the use case. Here I’m left wondering.

This is also the problem with taking so much money, I note in my audio rant. They felt they had to “go big, or go home.” Compare this to how Foursquare launched. Controlled, small, and focused on making sure that the first real experience was good.

To the VCs: you’re gonna get burned if you keep pouring in so much money on new companies. $41 million? For a new company that hasn’t proven themselves? Really? Just because you have superstars on board? Really?

I wanna see that pitch deck. It must have had some magic unicorn dust sprinkled on it or something. In fact, someone posted this Color pitch to the Internet which is very funny.

But, seriously, I hope Color has a secret plan we’re not all seeing. Just the promise of building a new social graph isn’t enough.

Speaking of which, look at the reviews it’s getting on iTunes. Average is two stars. Compare to Instagram. Average is five stars. How much money did Instagram have when they started? Not $41 million.

Users care about great experiences, they don’t care how much money you collected on Sand Hill Road.

One last thought. This is the kind of app that would have been a lot of fun to use at SXSW. It should have launched there. Whoever slipped the release date to after SXSW should be fired. They missed the market window and will never get it back.



34 thoughts on “Why Color’s bad first experience will always “color” this company in app stores

  1. Its one more bubble that will hit the US tech industry like the good old .COM bubble. Sorry but the VC`s and investors in the US learn nothing.


  2. – They felt they had to “go big, or go home.”

    There’s nothing wrong with that, but they’ve got to hold the hand of the user. If an app requires the user to read a Techcrunch article before they really understand the point of it, it’s failed.

    It feels like an app that’s been tested by the people who built it. The tech is impressive, the execution is insanity.


    1. I think this is one of the biggest issues of the US economy you don`t need to be big, a global player to be successful. Sure on some point you need external invests but careful and only if your business works. Bootstrapping is the way to go. But sure some investors make more money on pus the shit and go out fast with 10000 % profit. Thanks to this we had the first internet bubble, the subprime crises and all the nice stuff. And its not only an company issue. Bigger, higher, faster, better, richer … does not work!


  3. While I had a similar reaction to Color, I have to give them credit for pushing the envelope on innovation in the mobile photo sharing space. Rather than trying to compete with better filters or different game mechanics, they’re trying to fundamentally change the way in which media is shared, how real-world connections are made and how location becomes the nexus of the entire experience. So, big marks for audacity and innovation.

    All that being said, I’m genuinely confounded by some of the choices Color has made and the practical implications and limitations of their app. For example, the app doesn’t require any user authentication (e.g., no Facebook Connect or Oauth). Instead, Color simply asks the user for a first name and a photo. Given that the underlying premise is that all photos are public and streamed to anyone in close proximity, it seems to me that not requiring user authentication is simply inviting spammers and Chatroulette types to post photos of their wangs which will end up in your feed. Explain that to your kids when they open up the app!

    I’m also shocked that there does not appear to be any way to share photos or links to photos from the Color app. For example, there’s no post this to Twitter or send to a friend. As a result, all the photos in Color are locked inside their gated wall. It seems insane to me that I can’t share photos with my friends and family but total strangers that happen to be within 100 feet of me get to see all my pics.

    Finally, the fact that the only available privacy filter is “public” means that users will be very selective when they use Color. For example, I would never take photos of my kids if anyone in close proximity to me could access these photo. As a result, users will think twice about how and when to use Color. In a highly competitive market for user attention and engagement, that’s not a tenable proposition. I’m certain that Color will need to add a “private” filter very soon to address user demand for selective privacy.

    The Color team and investors are clearly smart, experienced and have an audacious vision. I’m sure they’ll adapt, refine and pivot to address the market opportunity. As it stands, I’m left scratching my head but hoping for their success.


  4. Have to agree, Robert. I’m confused how a product like this could generate $41M in funding … has to be because of the founders and the hope that they can hit it big with a crazy idea. Hope they have some sort of real plan, because that slide deck was rubbish.


    1. Investors want to believe there’s another social graph beyond Facebook and they are funding anyone who has a reasonable plan to build one. Path is in the same boat.


  5. I couldn’t even listen all the way through – I know that exact frustration, but from other products. Too many other products.

    In my opinion, you’ve already given this one too much coverage. Once it’s been said how they screwed up, the discussion deserves to be dropped. There’s too much better stuff out there that deserves the attention. “I will not publish about that again until after they DELIVER a positive experience.”

    But, as a lesson for ALL to learn, even in this age when everything needs to be “agile” and quick to market, there’s no excuse for inadequate UX testing, especially of installation/startup.


  6. I commented on the value of rep this morning after speaking quickly with Laurent Eschenauer about the funding, and reading the TechCrunch coverage. While this team didn’t have the huge success of Flipboard when it first launched, what they’re trying to do is fundamentally different. I’m a fan of risky mashups of social tech, even if first experiences for everyone aren’t uniform.

    My impressions and expectations were different because I understood what the Color app was before I installed it. Maybe the team behind the app won’t succeed, maybe they’ll iterate fast and kill it with updates. We’ve seen it before where bad starts turn into amazing products and companies, and “rebranding” is as easy as changing the name of the app and focus. Tracked.com turned into Hashable, that’s a great overhaul/rebranding story.


    1. I understand the reasoning behind it too, I read Techcrunch before downloading this (amongst other reports) but I always approach things with the eyes of a new user, and it fails and fails big time.

      Yes, you can pivot and reposition and rebrand and all that, but that’s VERY expensive for a team that’s already gotten so much coverage (and who spent $380,000 to buy their domain name).

      Yet another reason why it’s often times better to be a starving startup at first.


      1. Agree and disagree with you on this one Robert. I subscribe to Guy Kawasaki’s “Bootstrap as long as you can THEN gun it.” line of thinking. So, we’re in agreement there. But, I’m going to disagree with your point about abyssmal ratings in the early days of an apps launch by pointing out one nice example of how bad ratings PROPELLED the app to loftier heights (and a nice eBay exit to boot): RedLaser. The founders talk about this pretty plainly at http://uxmag.com/strategy/how-ux-can-drive-sales-in-mobile-apps and it’s an interesting read. Just the flip side of the coin. It really comes down to the founding team and their temperament… Time will tell. And that $41M round is plenty of motivation to get to solving the problems RFN.


  7. It’s hard to find the time to read everything you tweet, post, blog, but when I do, I’m always impressed and better off. Thanks!


  8. One thing every app must do is if user decides not to login/create a account, then show some content that does not require login like popular photos, instead of saying login is required to use app – that is bad user experience. checkout: http://gramfeed.com


  9. I actually see lots of upside to this platform. Look at how many people at concerts are taking videos and pics with their devices. I’ve often thought how awesome it would be to have access to all that content. Just one example. The downside is that they have ownership of your content. Meh.


    1. Microsoft did this years ago. I remember seeing Crowdfire at the 2008 Outsidelands music festival in Golden Gate Park. Its idea was probably ahead of its time in terms of adoption but the general idea was solid – create albums around shared experiences.


  10. Robert, spot on analysis on the launch. Having done my fair share of VC pitches, I’d REALLY like to see that pitch deck too. I just don’t get why I’d want to share my photos with strangers in a restaurant, bar, train, airport, lavatory, hotel, apartment complex etc. There’s really only one very voyeuristic use case that we can all think of. There must be something in the business model that is so compelling, something that hasn’t been disclosed. It’s the only explanation.


  11. Robert – You mentioned iPhone, but you should also take a look at the Android feedback. The app has one of lowest ratings I’ve ever seen for the amount of reviews. It’s rated 1.5/5 stars with 253 reviews.


  12. I must admit that I went through a bit of Scoble fatigue, and had been away from the site for a while, but this post about Color is a great way to return. Great discussion and comments! I was watching David Heinemeir Hanson (37 Signals) going off about Color last night, but Robert’s review and the subsequent comments really helped better understand the failures of the startup. I think what the folks at Color are going through is a perfect example of why things shouldn’t be rushed to market (not to mention paying a king’s ransom for things like domain names).

    As a photographer, the idea of not having control over my images, or even the ability to share them as I chose, stops me dead in my tracks. In a way, this app reminds me, roughly, of the now defunct Kin Studio.


  13. I think color is one of the most out-of-the-box ideas that actually got enough attention in a while. 41 million funding is a way to get attention. Marketing is done differently now. I agree, UX sux, but who cares? this is not aimed at masses yet. We will get the ux right, once we figure out how to ride this.
    So, watch out for creative uses of this app pop around us – those will drive the development. And there’s no other way to do it as to release it now, because Color’s development is dependent on mass tests.
    I think they understood the lean iterative process very well, and pushed it to the next level.


  14. One thing I think Color should implement right ways is the ability to select photos from your color stream during an event, trip, meal, whatever and group them into shareable collages that can be posted to other social feeds. One of the things that makes Instagram so successful is the ability to share something unique across the social graph. My friends and family love the Instagram photos that show up on my Facebook page and a color-powered collage of a family vacation would be even more popular.


  15. Wondering if there’s any data to support the split between downloads coming from browsers of the app store featured lists and downloads otherwise. I’ve got none myself, but I personally won’t pay for an app just based on a feature in the app store or a 5 star review, because like you said, there’s already too many of them. I’d definitely look up some external reviews and all the better if it comes from one of your videos or a feature in Techcrunch. Even better yet, a word of mouth recommendation from a friend. To use your Angry Birds example, I’d never have tried it if it wasn’t for the hype.

    This comment really has nothing to do with how good of an app I think Color is or could be. I’m just more in the camp of thinking they’ve got a chance to eventually (and hopefully soon) make it a great product while continuing to ride the hype wave in the meantime. It’s too soon to say that having some bad early reviews is a death sentence. The people who are giving it bad reviews are generally ones who are reading news about startups and funding, like all of us here. That hardly represents the hundreds of millions of users it’ll take to become a blowout success and those people have yet to get their first impression of it. So to backtrack, you’re probably right that being featured in the appstore is crucial for eventual mainstream adoption. So, if the app never gets better and never eventually gets featured, then I guess they’ve got problems. They’ve got the team and the connections to do both though.

    The reason people are hating on it so much isn’t really because they launched early, missed an opportunity with SXSW, have a crappy UX, a lack of privacy options, or whatever else they’re doing wrong. Startups are usually applauded for that lean startup launch strategy and lots of founders will admit to having made a ton of executional mistakes on their path towards building a successful company. It’s really just the 41 million dollars issue along with overblown scrutiny of a version 1 release of an app. I blame the investors more than the founders though. If I was working on something as risky and gamechanging as everyone says it is, I’d take the 40 million dollars and run. It’s good for the founders to say “Go big or go home,” but we should be worried when investors are being so irrational.


  16. Good read. With all this controversy and bad reviews, I feel like I have to download color and check it out for myself. As they say, maybe there’s no such thing as bad PR!


  17. For me the lesson of Color is that social apps (or sites) need some kind of network independent value. As an example, Instagram lets you take cool photos—for free. There’s a value. The social aspect is extra and will build over time. If you don’t have anyone in your radius on Color then it’s just a convoluted version of the camera I already have. Pointless.

    It’s sad that the only REAL reason anyone is talking about this is because of the money invested.


  18. Robert – Totally agree with you, and especially on this point…

    “One last thought. This is the kind of app that would have been a lot of fun to use at SXSW. It should have launched there. Whoever slipped the release date to after SXSW should be fired. They missed the market window and will never get it back.”

    When I first heard about Color the other day, I downloaded it, launched it, and went, “Huh?” Then I thought about it and immediately went, “This could have been big.” I fired off a post (http://petertkane.com/why-didnt-color-ship-at-sxsw) about the same thing. Why didn’t this thing launch as SXSW? It makes NO sense.

    It’s an app designed for early adopters in an already crowded space that relies on a lot of people being in one place at the same time.

    For a while, I thought, “OK, maybe there’s something else…some other reason.” Then, I read that they’re building updates into it to prevent people like you and me from downloading it and then not being able to experience it.

    I don’t care how smart the people are that built this. They botched the launch. Big time. I mean, seriously, one week after SXSW?


  19. This app doesn’t even work. I have been using it for 6 days now and have not yet seen a single picture in the whole app from someone else other than me! CRAP!


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