I can’t stop thinking about Juicero.
It haunts me. I see Juicero in my sleep. It comes to me in my dreams.
The $400 Wi-Fi-connected juicer, billed by company founder Doug Evans as ‘the first at home cold-pressed juicing system’ promised so much when it launched in 2016. It promised convenience. Wellness. A world where a glass of fresh juice in the morning didn’t require you to squeeze pulpy citrus between your bare hands like a monkey.
It was as simple as pulling out a ‘produce pack’ (a sachet of prechopped fruits and vegetables), securing it between the Juicero’s flat squeezing plates and pressing a button to get instant cold-pressed juice.
It was Silicon Valley’s answer to the massive trend toward healthy living and cold-press juicing. It was a cure for the inherent frailty of the human condition.
But on Sept. 1, 2017, one year ago today, Juicero imploded in a dazzling shitshow of Silicon Valley bluster, techno hype and something about the threat of global spinach recalls.
One year on, the question remains: What have we learnt from the downfall of the world’s most overhyped juice loosener?
Trust the system
A few weeks ago, I found myself in a fugue state, mumbling about the internet-connected juicing machine that briefly promised to change the world, one glass of beetroot liquid at a time.
‘Remember Juicero?!’ I muttered to colleagues who most definitely did remember Juicero, largely because of how often I talk about it. They’d learned to tune me out.
‘Juicero…’ I’d whisper to myself. ‘What a time to be alive.’
If my colleagues had tuned back in and listened to my increasingly wild-eyed juice rants (they didn’t), they’d have known I wasn’t just referring to the Juicero machine. I was ruminating on the whole phenomenon, what Juicero’s final CEO, Jeff Dunn, called ‘the sum of the system .’
Kind of like how that first Dianetics book you bought opened you up to a lifetime of pricey thetan cleansing courses, the juicing machine itself was just the first entry point into a more expensive self-help lifestyle. Sure, there was the machine, but there were also produce packs that the machine squeezed — colourful bloodbags of prepulped fruit and vegetables with flavour names such as ‘sweet roots’. And there was the app that told you the origins of your food and sent reminders if your packs were about to expire.
Remember when you decided how fresh food was by smelling it, not by scanning a QR code?
Juicero knew how to pitch to buzzy coastal elites: Sell them the hardware, then get them on the hook forever by signing them up for a subscription ‘farm to glass’ juice service. (Subscription juice. Stop hitting yourself, Silicon Valley.)
The company’s whole aesthetic — from its machines, to its website to its advertising — took a leaf out of Jony Ive’s Apple design book, with sleek lines, poppy colours and a lot of white. ‘Perfected by Earth,’ the Juicero billboards read. ‘Pressed by us.’ If the machine was the giant juice-squeezing iPod, the Produce Packs were the 99-cent tracks you digested every morning.
The investors were on board — Juicero secured $70 million in Series B funding and looked set to succeed. The sleek machine, the connected app, the five flavours (and their corresponding chakras/packet colours) were all targeted at cashed-up Californians who wanted to actuate the gastro-intestinal wellness mood board they’d created at last year’s Cupertino Ayurvedic Cleansing Retreat.
Juicing was hard. Juicero was easy. Take my money.
Then Bloomberg came in and ruined everything.
In April 2017, in a video that will never not be funny, Bloomberg showed that Juicero’s produce packs were essentially giant ketchup sachets of fruit and vegetable pulp that you could scoop straight out of the bag and squeeze with your hands.
No need to scan the QR code on the bag. No need to sync the app. No need to insert the produce pack into the Juicero. In fact, you could ditch that compost squeeze-box altogether — just use your meat hooks and mash that fruit pulp like God intended! The Juicero’s plates (plates that could supposedly create enough pressure to lift two Teslas) were effectively nothing more than two giant, Wi-Fi connected hands doing what your own hands could do. Your hands were a Juicero, but in airplane mode.
Overnight, Juicero turned into the Fyre Festival of the appliance world, universally scorned as a symbol of Silicon Valley hubris and the answer to a question everyone realised they maybe, sorta, hadn’t been asking.
In response, Dunn penned a breathless open letter trying to convince the world his company hadn’t monetised the same process toddlers use to squeeze paint from a tube.
‘We know hacking consumer products is nothing new,’ he said.
Us normies — or those of us living outside the post-raw-vegan subscription juicing world — were told by Dunn, ‘The value of Juicero is more than a glass of cold-pressed juice. Much more.’
That value included produce packs that were ‘calibrated by flavor.’ It included the ‘connected data’ that Juicero used to manage its supply chain. Or the fact that Juicero could ‘remotely disable Produce Packs if there is, for example, a spinach recall.’
I’d been doing it all wrong. Here I was, using the supply chain of my legs and feet to walk to the grocer to buy oranges. I’d ‘hack’ the fruit by mushing it over a juicing cone, occasionally licking my hands like a child. Then I’d enjoy this hand-squeezed abomination in front of the morning news, watching breaking news about global spinach recalls in comfort and style.
But apparently my low-fi hand hacking is not how things are done in Silicon Valley.
Internet of Shit
Juicero represented everything the world hates about Silicon Valley ‘disruption’ in one single product.
We’re constantly told by startups and disruptors that legacy industries need to be shaken up. That the tech world needs to ‘move fast and break things’. But is the tech world really making life better? Do we really need to reinvent the stuff that was actually pretty alright in the first place? Do I need to appify my apples?
Juicero was classic Internet of Shit (yes, that Twitter account will change your world). It took a traditional product and added so many bells and whistles it became an unrecognisable Homer car of unnecessary complications.
Juicero isn’t alone in this world. Scan the website of any Silicon Valley venture capital firm and you’ll find plenty of startups reinventing the stuff you used to take for granted.
Feather, the service that lets you ‘subscribe to your furniture’. Washboard, the company that charged $27 to send you $20 of laundry quarters every month. Connected footwear. Subscription protein powder. Subscription perfume. Subscription underwear.
I don’t want to subscribe to my couch. I don’t want it to start buffering because my monthly credit card payment didn’t go through. I don’t want to have to recharge my shoes or answer a personality quiz to find my protein powder match. And I don’t want to have to work out a unique password to stop my underwear getting hacked.
Putting the ‘Hydra’ in hydration
Juicero might be dead, but it still consumes my every waking thought. My Twitter feed is filled with paranoid rants about subscription juicing. I sit at my desk, making gentle ninja hand movements and quietly singing ‘Jui-cero!’ to myself like Homer Simpson singing the Max Power theme song.
But while Juicero is gone, I’m still waiting for another two identical companies to spring up in its place. The first tribute has already arrived: An at-home cold-press juicer out of China called the Julavie, which launched in 2017 and kicked off a crowdfunding campaign last month.
I’m not saying we have to stop innovating or cut the tech out of our lives. But I also didn’t ask for the perfect storm we’ve somehow woken up in: a Silicon Valley amalgam of tech-bro babysitting, post-Goop wellness and the internet-of-spinach.
Let me live a simple life. Let me get back to nature. Let me squeeze fruit with my damn, dirty ape-hands.