A startup called Juicero sells a $400 machine for making fresh-squeezed juice. Customers buy the machine and then they get a subscription to special Juicero bags of unsqueezed fruit. You put a bag into the machine and push a button, and in a couple of minutes you have a cup of fresh-squeezed juice.
But a pair of Bloomberg reporters discovered something hilarious: Squeezing the bags with your hands works about as well as doing it with the machine. You don’t really need a $400 machine at all.
Investors have pumped $118.5 million into this dubious invention. And the fact that the company was able to raise that kind of money says a lot about the state of Silicon Valley right now.
In recent years, there has been a ton of venture capital money sloshing around the San Francisco Bay Area. As more and more money has poured in, companies with plausible business plans have been able to raise larger and larger sums — often long before they had a shipping product.
Juicero’s business plan reads like a pitch-perfect parody of contemporary startup culture. One investor told Bloomberg that Juicero was building a “platform” for a new model of food delivery. The company’s subscription-based model is reminiscent of other food delivery startups like Blue Apron and Nature Box. And of course the company has a sleek, wifi-connected gadget to squeeze the juice.
The technology is mostly superfluous from the customer’s perspective. But the technology dimension was crucial for fundraising. As one investor put it to Bloomberg, “Their venture firm wouldn’t have met with [Juicero founder Doug] Evans if he were hawking bags of juice that didn’t require high-priced hardware.”
To be fair, investors may not have known this is what they were getting when they put up the money to get Juicero off the ground. Venture capitalists often invest in companies that don’t pan out, and this might prove to be just another company on that long list.
But it’s unlikely that Juicero could have gotten as far as it did — raising $120 million to build a needlessly complex juicing machine — in a less money-drenched investment environment.