I’m struggling to write about the demise of Juicero because CNBC already published the definitive article yesterday.
Here it is, in its glorious entirety:
News broke Friday morning that Juicero, the company that sells a WiFi-connecter juicing machine, has shut down.
Its business model:
- Entice consumers and businesses to spend $400 on a juicing machine (cut from its initial price of $700)
- Sell them on subscriptions to its juice packets.
The company was founded in 2013 and had received $120 million in venture funding by 2015, attracting such well-known VC names as Kleiner Perkins and Google parent company Alphabet Inc.
Put another way:
Reminder: the valley’s best and brightest invested in Juicero. Total funding of $119m is more than SpaceX’s funding in its first 4 years. pic.twitter.com/FokHZBk1jz
— James Wang (@jwangARK) September 1, 2017
Juicero’s primary “innovation” came with the limited expiration dates on its juice packets.
The juice packets sold for $5-$7 apiece (depending on flavor) and had a shelf life of 7-8 days. Because each packet came with its own QR code, the Juicero machine would refuse to work on packets more than 7-8 days old.
Also, the packets yielded just 8 ounces of juice per serving.
Sorry, no. A whole can of V-8 juice (64 ounces, literally 8x as much) sells for as little as $3.
Even juice bars in major cities offer you 12 ounces of juice for $8, and that’s made from fresh vegetables that are pulverized into juice as you watch.
While I’ll admit that the founders probably sold the dream of this internet-connected work of art as doing for vegetables what Flavia and Keurig did for coffee machines, there are two obvious problems:
- Capri Sun got there first
- Consumers quickly realized that the high-tech juicing machine was unnecessary, because people could just squeeze the juice out with their hands.
Juicero got $120M in VC funding LOL pic.twitter.com/eemnP2ADWU
— Ståsh (@killsformoney) August 22, 2017
As usual, Twitter did not disappoint:
wow juicero went under
guess they were really feeling the squeeze
certainly a pressing time for them
probably ran out of liquid assets
— Steph Davidson (@stephcd) September 1, 2017
The bigger issue here is how Juicero as a company managed to convince some of the biggest names in Silicon Valley to bankroll such a venture so obviously ill-conceived that it would have been laughed out of the room on Shark Tank.
Already, analysts are holding up the 20/20 hindsight failures of Juicero and Theranos as examples of irrational exuberance by Silicon Valley.
Seeing a broader trend, Wall Street Journal reporter Eliot Brown noted that “startups Juicero, Jawbone, Beepi, Quixey, Sprig, Luxe, Yik Yak together raised well over $1.2 B. All have shut down this year.”
The Big Picture
Further, Matt Stoller published an amazing analysis in Business Insider.
He notes that:
“Monopolies are now so powerful that they dictate the roll-out of new technology, and the only things left to invest in are the scraps that fall off the table.”
Here, the monopolies in question include Facebook, Google, and Amazon. Or, pretty much, the larger VC firms that rush to buy into concepts like Juicero or Theranos.
But the larger issue is that Silicon Valley was born out of government intervention to prohibit monopolies.
- Both Motorola and Texas Instruments owe their start to the the 1956 break-up of AT&T, which allowed other companies to use and build upon its transistor technology.
- An antitrust suit against IBM to prevent its owning both hardware and software led to the rise Microsoft.
- The 1990s suit against Microsoft that required its software to support web browsers other than just Internet Explorer enabled the rise of Google.
Critically, however, times have changed.
Stoller notes that:
“But there hasn’t been a Sherman Act Section 2 anti-monopolization case for 15 years. And the anti-merger Clayton Act is not being enforced. Neither Bush, nor Obama, nor Trump (so far), has seen fit to stop the monopolists from buying their way into dominance and blocking innovation.”
I’ve long thought that Silicon Valley is supporting a bigger bubble now than what we saw during the first tech boom in 1999-2001.
The difference is then, it was a rush to go public and cash out via an IPO.
Today’s bubble is different – tech startup founders instead rush to land VC funding long before a sufficient customer base or product-market fit have been secured.
The difference is that this time, the funding is private, not public – so ordinary stock investors are largely insulated from real economic losses.
Rather, the true damage from this bubble is psychological – a generation of Millennials have been raised on tales of instant millionaires minted by Uber, Instagram, and AirBnB and thus glamorize and pursue “entrepreneurship” above all else.
I’ve written about this before (The Entrepreneurship Myth).
The points I made there more than a year ago are even more true today.
It’s easy to laugh at the stupid money thrown at stupid ventures like Juicero that solve a problem nobody has.
But the high-profile and expensive failures of companies like Juicero and Theranos are real warning signs of disfunction in Silicon Valley — where a small group of companies wield near-monopoly power and the hunger not to miss out on the next Uber- or Facebook-style unicorn ends up inhibiting innovation rather than fostering it.