In Hollywood, a botched career often takes many years to reverse—if it turns around at all. But in tech, where failure is worshipped, the men who fail spectacularly don't have to worry about history. Each new day is a new chance to play with someone else's money, no matter how badly you fucked up the last time. Just ask Peter Pham.
In Nellie Bowles' comprehensive, whirlwind strut down Silicon Boardwalk, or whatever they're calling the L.A. startup scene this week on Recode, Pham's name sticks out, sorely, each time it's mentioned. He's invoked and quoted alongside west coast industry stalwarts, people who have of course had their business misses amid their business hits. His new startup incubator, modestly named "Science," raised over $110 million last year, Bowles reports, a gesture of trust that seems completely incompatible with how badly Pham embarrassed himself and his investors the last time he tried to do something.
Failure doesn't begin to describe what happened to Color, a convoluted photo-sharing app with $41 million in funding (before it even launched), a trillion dollars in press hype, and no apparent purpose.
But it reinvented nothing. It was a monument to uselessness, to frivolity, a cathedral with no doors. It never attempted to justify its enormous hype or explained why anyone should use it, and, sure enough, no one turned out to use it.
This was a "failure" in the sense that massive organ failure is still technically failure, or that Fukushima was a reactor failure. It was a mushroom cloud failure that almost matched the firework show of anticipation that preceded it. To this day, people debate whether Color was a bigger nuclear clusterfuck than Clinkle. It's become synonymous with business disaster and software delusion. You think you've got it bad? "Sure, but wow, remember Color?"
Color was fun to laugh about. No one got hurt. It was maybe even worth it, somehow, if it meant fewer expensive fuckups in the future. But in just a couple short years, Pham has failed upwards, meteorically, from industry laughingstock to managing hundreds of millions of dollars. We should all be lucky to blow it so badly.