Silicon Valley Is Wetting Itself Over a $700 Juicer
Venture capital firms have pumped more than $100 million into Juicero, a company that promises to "disrupt" the juice industry with a very, very expensive appliance.
I want to understand the $700 juicer. I mean, I understand the $700 juicer as far as the mechanics of it go: You buy the thing, it sits on your counter, you get pre-made packets of fruit and vegetables in the mail, you stick those in your $700 juicer, out comes eight ounces of juice.
What I want to understand is why everyone loves the $700 juicer. The company behind it, Juicero, just got $70 million in venture capital cash from the usual Silicon Valley suspects; in total, it's raised $120 million in funds from investors including GV (a.k.a. Google Ventures), according to the New York Times. Gwyneth Paltrow and Dr. Oz reportedly love the $700 juicer. A Vogue writer said that watching the Juicero machine in action was a moment "when I've felt, with palpable certainty, that time has slipped into the future." She went on to say that the juicer was right up there with "the advent of the Hoverboard, the invention of the Venmo payment, the first time my fingerprint unlocked an iPhone." That article's headline, by the way, promised that the $700 Juicero would "change [my] life." I just want to understand that statement, as it relates to a $700 juicer.
Is it the way the $700 juicer looks? It looks, basically, like a big iPod that pees juice into a glass, which makes sense as Apple design dude Jony Ive reportedly had a hand in it. Is it the way the juice tastes? Everyone says that it tastes better than normal juice, and I'm sure it does, because in addition to the $700 juicer you have to pay $4 to $10 for individual packets of fruits and vegetables, and when you pay a shitload for something, it usually is pretty nice.
Is it the way the $700 juicer is being sold? Juicero isn't just going around saying, "Hey, here is a $700 juicer, everyone!" Instead, it's doing that thing Silicon Valley people do, throwing out terms like "disruption" and "farm-to-glass philosophy"; on its website, it describes the $700 juicer as a "personal cold-press juicer that's engineered to press nutrient-dense, raw produce into a glass in minutes." In other words: a juicer. It also touts the complicated system behind the $700 juicer: The company buys produce, hires workers to wash and chop it, and sends it out in those pre-made packets, which also come with QR codes so the Juicero, which is WiFi enabled, can check to make sure the produce is fresh. If the produce inside the packet is not fresh, the $700 juicer will not turn it into juice. It's a complicated way to make juicing as convenient and mess-free as possible, but that's apparently the point. Investors are not excited by a $700 juicer. They are excited by combining a bunch of techno trends in a way that results in a new philosophy in juice-making, even if the end result appears, to the naked eye, to be nothing more than a $700 juicer.
Maybe people are excited by the story of Juicero founder Doug Evans? He is the kind of company founder who starts out a Medium post about his company (titled "Journey to Juicero") by saying, "I believe there are no chances in life — only choices." He then goes into the story of his life, which involves graffitiing subway cars in New York in the 80s, working for famed designer Paul Rand for seven years without getting paid, and starting a juice shop that was later sold to investors who fired him. That is exactly the kind of guy who you want selling a $700 juicer, I guess.
I know that people can't be excited about this YouTube ad from Juicero. For a disruptive company, this is oddly like a traditional informercial, complete with people confounded by something as simple as bringing a tote bag to a farmer's market. Making juice with an ordinary juicer, in Juicero's reckoning, is a series of unpleasant, almost impossible tasks:
Maybe the secret of the $700 juicer is that the people looking at it don't see a $700 juicer, they see the future, a time when the ordinary functions of living are stripped of complications and mess. Juice, in the future, doesn't involve interacting with actual fruits or vegetables or even going to the juice store and clumsily asking a worker what you want with your mouth like some kind of primate. Instead, a packet is delivered to your door—ideally by drone—and you pop it into one of your many machines, and out comes your desired juice. There's an app that tells you when you're out of packets, and even suggests juices that you might want to try.
There are other humans in this vision of the future who have to do the unpleasant behind-the-scenes work to produce those packets—the agriculture and the processing and the packaging and so on—but you, $700 juice machine owner, don't have to think about them, and they recede into the background. That is what is so exciting, presumably: The idea that things are getting easier and more streamlined and just all-around better for humanity, or at least the bits of humanity who can afford to live in the future.
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