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In defense of Juicero and other really dumb food startupsby@nickparkerprint
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1,980 reads

In defense of Juicero and other really dumb food startups

by Nick ParkerSeptember 1st, 2017
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Juicero just <a href="https://www.theverge.com/2017/9/1/16243356/juicero-shut-down-lay-off-refund" target="_blank">shut down</a>. They raised $118 million, and their product was “ an internet-connected device that transforms single-serving packets of chopped fruits and vegetables into a refreshing and healthy beverage.”

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Juicero just shut down. They raised $118 million, and their product was “ an internet-connected device that transforms single-serving packets of chopped fruits and vegetables into a refreshing and healthy beverage.”

And an hour ago I agreed to defend them on twitter.

Before I go on, let me just say this isn’t a ret-con of what Juicero was actually about. As far as I can tell the founder, Doug Evans, just really really likes juice.

This is my attempt at understanding why KPCB, Google Ventures, and 15 other qualified investors gave them all that money. Maybe this is the story their fundraising team was pitching, or investors were hearing, even if it wasn’t Evans’ vision.

What if we tracked all our food?

Imagine everything you eat or drink could be digitally identified by your appliances. Your fridge knows what’s in it. Your oven, stove, microwave, or toaster knows how to cook everything, and it’s all networked so it’ll warn you if the eggs you bought have salmonella. Or if everyone else in your town who bought sushi yesterday has been getting sick for some reason — maybe the shipment was left in the sun for 6 hours.

Now I’m with you, that all sounds dumb and almost as frivolous as Juicero. You’ve got a nose, you can tell when food is bad, and what kind of idiot can’t read instructions on a bag of hot pockets to set the oven temperature?

However, I bet this is going to happen anyway for a few reasons:

  1. Digital tracking will only get cheaper. As it does, the bar to justify it will drop and eventually be met.
  2. Even though we have noses, tons of people get sick and 3000 US persons die from foodborne illness every year.
  3. Your kitchen will probably be completely automated someday. Robochef would much prefer instructions from a database to the tiny printed ones on the side of the bag.
  4. If Robochef and Robofridge know what you’ve eaten, they know what to buy next. They can save you from this cycle.
  5. If anyone manages to lock you into their food tracking system they can shave profits off your food spending, which is enormous. Over $700 billion/yr of food consumed at home, in the US alone.

In short, software really is going to eat the world, and part of that is eating food.

Back on the dumb startups

So why on earth was Juicero worth $118mm? Why does this $1500 oven exist? How come there are so ridiculously many meal-kit companies burning venture money?

I think investors see this coming, and thanks to crazy unintuitive power laws, they’re willing to take 300 strikes for the one insane home-run that owning the food delivery network will be.

Juicero might have been a really weird bank-shot at this future. The June oven was totally an attempt to bootstrap this future before Robochef is really ready. Even the mealkit startups maybe had an element of ‘but automation is coming!’ in their optimistic revenue maps.

I love cooking, and I can still admit it: a kitchen that does all the ‘kitchen stuff’ for me would be awesome. Might make me feel like a baby — a certain orange forum heavily ridiculed the idea earlier today — but I’d save a solid hour a day and that adds up. Juicero seems super dumb, but if this is what they were shooting for I’ll mourn their death a little bit.

Who’s gonna win?

Jeff Bezos, duh. Guy’s already got a delivery network, and a robotics arm. At any point he can go ‘Hey fyi our new appliance line can automatically cook anything bought via Amazon Fresh’ and they own this market.