Bill Nguyen is the mad scientist behind Lala, which Apple bought in 2009, and most recently Color, a video broadcasting app for smartphones that lets you share what you're doing with friends no matter where you are. Color got off to a rough start when it launched last year, and even supposedly turned down a $200 million offer from Google, but Nguyen is far from discouraged. He took some time to talk to us about building big things, failing at other things, and even the benefits of owning a nice down jacket. You can find him on Twitter at @BillNguyen.
Where are you? What have you done so far today?
Got to Color early this morning because my Facebook News Feed was going off. Had a green tea and a Kit Kat for breakfast. Then, I was off to working on a product demo.
So the new Color app is greatly optimized and built for 4G LTE networks. What comes after 4G LTE? How fast will wireless data get, and how soon?
Coverage. Coverage. Coverage. The speeds are pretty lights-out and good for any Web-based application including streaming video. We just need full coverage to enable the migration from the desktop to a post-PC world. Verizon has coverage like no one else. We'll have cable broadband speeds within a year with full coverage.
Color is built on top of Facebook. Do you think Facebook will be around forever? What are the risks of using the Facebook platform?
Facebook is a legit platform. I can't see past five years, and I only see their platform growing during that time. People are sharing in so many ways. Zynga. Pinterest. Color. But underneath the covers it's still Facebook.
"Since my first startup, we've tried to build things with the intent that they'll be around."
How does it feel when people don't like something you've built? Do you listen to critics, investors, bloggers, and commenters when they tell you what to do?
It's definitely not ideal, but I take it with a grain of salt. Since my first startup, we've tried to build things with the intent that they'll be around. Onebox is still around to keep people's email. iTunes Match keeps the spirit of Lala alive. We're trying to build a social tool leveraging the latest hardware so what you capture will still be good enough years from now.
What technology in the market today is most exciting to you? Where will it be in 5 years?
Digital cinema and photography. How we see film and TV will be transformed by the super high resolution cameras at Red. I can't wait for The Hobbit. That technology is trickling down to phones. The processing power on smartphones will soon reach a level where we won't have to choose between pictures and videos, recorded or live. We'll have everything. Our phone cameras will be a perfect window into what we're experiencing. The challenge is nailing the user experience. We're working on software designed around the "metal" or hardware on the phones to get there faster.
I've noticed that you like wearing down coats. Why do you like them so much? Where, physically, is human evolution headed?
I'm obsessed with puffy down jackets. No matter where I am it feels like I'm still in bed. We're headed toward the singularity, right? Brains in a jar. Teleportation.
When you start a product from scratch, how do you organize your thoughts and prioritize your goals?
I usually start with a bunch of open web browsers and Adobe Photoshop. It helps a lot to visualize it as pixel perfect as possible.
"We're headed toward the singularity right? Brains in a jar. Teleportation."
You visualize Color as a "visual status update." In ten years, what will a status update look like?
Today, we're talking about low-res video from one camera. In ten years, we'll have full HD+ video linked between multiple cameras. We'll be able to visit anywhere in the world from our phones.
What past technologies have inspired your work the most?
Logo. It was a simple programming language like BASIC but for kids. It inspired me to make games and fostered a love for computing; HTTP 1.1. It was the first version of HTTP that introduced keep-alive. It assumed that the browser had a persistent connection. That happened when we left AOL dial-up behind for broadband. Every application on the web is different because of HTTP 1.1. Wireless is not there yet, but hopefully we can help.
What's the best book you've read lately? How has it impacted you?
Facebook S1 is a book right? It's kinda important to understand your partners so I sat down and read it cover to cover. While it's mostly legal work, there's a lot to understand about how their business is changing.
Who's your favorite person in the Valley, and why?
Rob Fisher, the King of Palo Alto. He owns about every restaurant around my office. He feeds me, my team and my family. It's hard to name the technologist since there's been so many that have shaped my thinking and ideas. That list is endless.
Aside from Facebook, which is your favorite social network to use and what value add does it offer?
Kickstarter, because I like the idea of investing in companies anonymously and not providing any feedback that will screw up the company. It's the opposite of the Valley.
What's your computer and software setup?
I start with an iPhone 4S for half of my day. I blend into a Mac Pro with 12-core Westmere box at work because I work with lots of large files. I transition to a MacBook Air with a DIY 512GB SSD install for meetings. Finally, I roll over to a new iPad at home.
You're clearly an excitable guy. How do you stay focused?
Aspartame. Lots of it. The job is also pretty fun so that helps a lot.
When was the last time you failed, by your own standards? What did you do after you decided you failed?
Failing is pretty normal. Over the weekend, I tried to power wash the driveway and the pressure was too low. I headed over to Home Depot and bought some tools. Four hours later, it was working again and by 6PM I finally finished the driveway. I've got serious short term memory loss and getting bogged down from stuff that doesn't work is not something that happens to me. We really try to focus on the possibilities and less on what happened or its impact.
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