It's pretty rare for a piece of journalism to expose so many pimples and stray hairs and malignant oozing welts with a flashbulb of deadpan earnestness as did this piece about a product launch. An "enigmatic" product. A product from a company an investor called "the most complicated business I've ever funded."
It was about a juicer. A really fancy juicer. A juicer with more than $100 million in funding from Silicon Valley heavyweight investors, with the stamp of tech-design luminaries on its construction and form. A juicer from a serial entrepreneur with a failed juicing company in his wake. A juicer that requires not just a steady wireless Internet signal, but also a QR-code, and also a supply chain that includes organic farms and laborers washing and methodically chopping lemons and kale and parsley, a 111,000-square-foot food-processing factory, and a special FedEx delivery, to even function. Oh, and an app. One must not forget the app. Because the app tells the human using the plastic-encapsulated produce about the farms that sowed that produce. The app displays pastoral images of the farms, in pixels.
It is the juicer of our time. It is probably the juicer we deserve.
The New York Times piece laid out how this juicer, the Juicero, was dreamed up, funded, and produced. And how the current zeitgeist permitted such nonsense:
Many of the tycoons who inhabit Silicon Valley are obsessed with health and longevity while harboring the conviction that technology can improve anything, even one of nature's most elementary foodstuffs -- in this case, juice. And they believe that niche trends, if properly disrupted, can become billion-dollar markets. Juicero is the latest expression of these techno-utopian impulses.
It is also the latest example of an unproven start-up raising enormous sums of money. Born in an earlier era in the Valley, the headier times of 18 months or so ago, Mr. Evans's idea captivated some of the industry's most ambitious investors. In today's more conservative financing environment, such a pitch might not get funded.
No matter. In coming days, Juicero starts taking orders.
The Washington Post did the math, and determined the stuff that comes out of the QR-code-labeled pouch from Juicero will cost -- forget the $700 you put down for the juicer -- 22 times more than average store-bought apple juice. It also called the juicer "everything that is wrong with food today." CNET called it a "home-juicing system designed to squeeze your wallet dry."
It will be right at home next to your 26-pound personal robotic chef and your app-enabled automated bartending device. Perhaps the fact it has been tested -- and approved -- by Gwyneth Paltrow should have been enough of a warning sign. And as it launches this week, certain media were quick to simply note its existence (TechCrunch), and others to go so far as to tout the device as one that will "change your life" (Vogue).
Perhaps it is all an elaborate hoax by its creator, a former paratrooper and convert to veganism who, to gain funding for the project, moved 3,000 miles from home into an old shopping mall on San Hill Road (and, yes of course, that worked out for him). It's not a hoax. We wished for an April Fool's joke; instead we got a glaringly obvious indicator that the mania of venture capital firms has become so hyperbolic it can no longer see straight, even when it squints.
At least we don't have to look for indicators of a bubble anymore.