Last year, a startup named Juicero came to market with an amazing idea. Americans already like juice — so why not sell them a $ 400, Internet-connected, DRMed juicer that only accepted ridiculously overpriced “juice packs?” Surely there’s no way a product like that could turn out to be a scam, and there’s no way Silicon Valley’s best and brightest could be sucked into dumping money down an emerald-hued, GMO-free drain. Except, of course, it was and they were.
Here’s how Bloomberg described the situation:
One of the most lavishly funded gadget startups in Silicon Valley last year was Juicero Inc. It makes a juice machine. The product was an unlikely pick for top technology investors, but they were drawn to the idea of an internet-connected device that transforms single-serving packets of chopped fruits and vegetables into a refreshing and healthy beverage.
That paragraph should tell you everything you need to know about whether Silicon Valley’s claims to meritocracy are valid. Extremely rich people driving cars with house-sized price tags thought a $ 700 juicer (it’s since come down to $ 400) with DRM and Internet connectivity deserved $ 70 million in funding last year.
Juicero’s former CEO and current chairman of the board, Doug Evans, is no stranger to grandiose claims. Last year, in an extensive interview with Recode’s Kara Swisher, he compared his work on cold-pressed juicers with Steve Jobs’ role in launching the PC market. Here’s Evans on the contents of a Juicero press:
There are 400 custom parts in here. There’s two motors, there’s 10 printed circuit boards, there’s a scanner, there’s a microprocessor, there’s a wireless chip, wireless antenna. There’s 775 aircraft-grade aluminum. There’s a gear box. There’s latches that support 16,000 pounds of force. So this is basically a monster of a machine inside this veil of this nice aesthetic.
Got that? Monster machine. Heavily customized. And absolutely required to get all the nutrition out of your juice sack. According to Evans, the mandatory Wi-Fi-enforced DRM (the machine won’t press an “expired” juice pack) is required to maintain nutritional content and transparency, as opposed to being a business decision that helps Juicero sell juice.
The only problem is, it’s completely untrue. Tests — by which we mean “People squeezing Juicero packs with their bare hands” — yield an identical amount of juice. Not only does it taste the same, it can even be faster to squeeze by hand than to use your $ 400 to $ 700 paperweight to press it for you. Tests indicate that the Mark I Hand can squeeze 7.5 ounces of juice in 90 seconds, compared with 8 ounces in two minutes for the $ 400 Juicero.
According to Evans, he built 12 prototypes over three years, all in the name of creating a countertop appliance that could squeeze juice as well as your own two hands, with the added benefit of refusing to squeeze juice that had “expired.” That particular bit of DRM was a bold move for Juicero, given how well it worked for Keurig.
Multiple investors have now complained they were not informed the juice could be squeezed by hand, that the machine prototypes turned out larger than Evans had promised, and that they wouldn’t have met with him if they’d known he was “hawking bags of juice that didn’t require high-priced hardware.” At the same time, however, all of this seems more than a little ridiculous. If you’re considering investing millions of dollars into a project, wouldn’t it make sense to actually examine the hardware and evaluate its performance for yourself, including whether the contents can be hand-squeezed from the bag? Evidently not.
If you want juice, drink juice. If you want more fiber in your fruit, eat a piece of fruit. Don’t buy a massive paperweight that claims innovation in the cutting-edge art of bagjuice squeezing.