As Color fades into irrelevance, we look back at other inglorious tech busts

by Brad Spirrison

Color iPhone appLaunched in March with $41 million in venture capital and a gushing media at its disposal, the Color app for iPhone and Android is seriously in the red.

The New York Times reported earlier this week that developer Color Labs “is now overhauling its app” with the hope of attracting a meaningful audience. For the record, we thought the first iteration was an unpolished threat to privacy.

Color, which also recently bounced co-founder Peter Pham, is now the poster child for what many believe to be a bubble revolving around iPhone apps. Many of us in the press often see things as black and white. So when startups like Color raise tens of millions of dollars without a complete product or discernible business model, we should have the green light to compare it to other debacles from the previous tech boom.

Boo.com

This fashion apparel site was put on the chopping block in May 2000 only months after launching with $135 million in venture capital funding. Among the London-based company’s fatal flaws was publishing a website that took several minutes to load. A half-baked warning on its home page advising visitors that the Boo.com was “designed for 56K modems and above" was little help to those who couldn’t sign-on in the first place. In 2001, co-founder Ernst Malmsten detailed his misadventures in a book called Boo Hoo: A dot.com Story from Concept to Catastrophe.

TheGlobe.com

A decade or so ahead of its time, TheGlobe.com was the first online social network to take off when it was founded by Cornell students in 1994. The company’s 1998 IPO posted the largest one day gain at that time, with a share price that rose from $9 to $87 before the first trade hit the books. Around that time, co-founder Stephan Paternot boasted on CNN that his new wealth made him “ready to live a disgusting, frivolous life.” Three years later those same shares were traded for less than a dime. Before essentially folding in 2008, the company was nailed for spamming MySpace users.

Pixelon

While there is absolutely no indication that Color Labs is up to anything fraudulent, no list of dot-comedy casualties can be complete without Pixelon. Founded in 1998 as an online video distribution company, Pixelon is best known for sinking $10 million into the iBASH ’99 party at the MGM Grand Las Vegas (headlined with a performance by The Who!). It was later revealed that Pixelon was founded by a convicted felon wanted by the authorities for multiple stock market-related scams. The company folded in 2000. Sounds like a killer party though!

govWorks

While TheGlobe.com had a few minutes of infamy on CNN, an entire film was devoted govWorks and its corporate misfortunes. Profiled in the 2001 documentary Startup.com, govWorks burned through about $60 million in venture capital trying to get users to purchase municipal services on its site. By the time citizens became comfortable paying for things like parking tickets online, govWorks ran out of cash and in 2001 was sold for a song to First Data Corporation.

Petopia

You have probably heard of Pets.com and its famous sock puppet mascot. What about Petopia? One of several online pet food and supplies sites that collectively raised hundreds of millions of dollars in 1999, Petopia was in line for a $100 million IPO in March of 2000 before the wheels stopped on that era’s boom. By the end of the year, Petopia’s assets were rolled into Petco, an existing investor. The URL of a company that once employed 200 people now points to nowhere. And you’d think a site like that would have nine lives!