High-Tech Luxury Juice Start-Up Faces Low-Tech Problem
LYNN NEARY, HOST:
Silicon Valley has a knack for telling you what you didn't know you need. And recently, venture capitalists thought you needed the Juicero, a high-tech juice press. It's like a Keurig machine for coffee - but for juice. The internet-connected machine squeezes juice out of a single-serving bag of chopped fruits and vegetables. Turns out, you can squeeze out the juice by hand. You may have seen the Juicero in your social media feed courtesy of Bloomberg's Olivia Zaleski. Olivia Zaleski joins us now to explain.
Thanks for being with us.
OLIVIA ZALESKI: Thanks for having me.
NEARY: Now, this piece of yours went viral because - I think because people couldn't believe that investors didn't know that you could actually achieve the same results as this very high-cost, high-powered machine - that you could achieve the same results with your bare hands.
ZALESKI: Yeah. Well, the reason that investors didn't know that the bag could simply be squeezed is because they ploughed a lot of money into this concept based on a 3-D printed, nonworking prototype. And I think that says a lot about Silicon Valley at the moment. There is a lot of money, and there is a lot of interest in hardware that has a recurring revenue stream around a subscription model, which is exactly what Juicero had. You would buy the $700 juicer, and then you'd pay $8 for each of the juice packs, almost like a razor-razorblade model.
NEARY: Now, somebody, I think in your office, actually did try squeezing these bags with their bare hands. Was that you?
ZALESKI: Yeah, that was me and my colleague Ellen Huet, who I also wrote the article with.
NEARY: What made you think to do that?
ZALESKI: Well, we had been tipped off by one of Juicero's investors. What he signed up for was very different from what was delivered. And he was surprised to discover that you could just simply squeeze the bag with your bare hands and that no hardware was necessary at all.
NEARY: So all this seems a little bit ridiculous. But you write that venture capital has pumped $120 million into this startup and that it was among the top-funded hardware startups in 2016. Why would this device be so attractive to investors in the first place?
ZALESKI: Well, I think Juicero was riding a lot of tailwinds - health and wellness was a really hot topic at the time that it was raising, the juice trend was huge - and then also the concept of connected devices, the idea that you could have something in your home that's not only valuable to the consumer but is also valuable to the company itself because it collects data about your habits.
NEARY: A juicer that collects data on you.
NEARY: Yes, believe it or not.
ZALESKI: So the Juicero device is Wi-Fi connected, meaning that it knows when you press a pack. And it collects all sorts of information about which pack that you use. And I think that was attractive to investors who thought that there would be further iterations of this machine where it could collect even more information about its users.
NEARY: So is there a cautionary tale here about Silicon Valley? Or is this just the gamble that anything could be the next iPhone and you have to take that gamble to find it?
ZALESKI: It's a combination of both, really. What we're seeing is a huge backlash here on social media. I think people feel anger about the idea of creating a product that solves a First World problem. But I also think we need to put into perspective that there are hiccups along the way when we are creating new things. Not everyone's always going to get it right. And I'm not saying we give them a free pass here. But I do think the intentions of this company were to actually create something that people really needed. Were they tone deaf about doing it? Yes.
NEARY: That's a Olivia Zaleski. She's a reporter at Bloomberg.
Thanks so much for joining us, Olivia.
ZALESKI: Thanks for having me.
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