Remembering Juicero, the Ultimate Silicon Valley Flop

In 2016, Juicero raised $120 million in venture capital. Just 16 months later, the company shut down.
Remembering Juicero, the Ultimate Silicon Valley Flop
Graphic: Karl Gustafson
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How often does this happen to you? You’re sitting in your well-appointed kitchen when all of a sudden, you have a maddening craving for 8 oz. of raw, cold-pressed juice. You have no fruit, no vegetables, and absolutely no goddamn time to blend them.

This was the precise problem that Juicero was founded to solve. For a paltry $699, the company offered a sleek, internet-connected robot that would dispense nutrient-dense juice from astronautical packets whenever this incredibly specific craving hit.

Juicero sold itself as “a stealth-mode juicing startup,” tantalizing venture capitalists eager to monetize the confluent crazes of the internet of things (IoT) and raw diet trends. Investors like Google Ventures and Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers threw $120 million at Juicero founder Doug Evans, a former investment advisor who went full granola, thinking they had found the next Theranos for their portfolio. They were mostly right.

Juicero was only in operation for 16 months, and in that time, the business slashed prices on its flagship product, ousted Evans, and got embroiled in a series of intellectual property lawsuits. The media scorched the company as an effigy of Silicon Valley’s self-involved assheadedness, and five years after it shuttered, the name “Juicero” persists today as a cautionary tale of tech hubris.

But the story of Juicero deserves much more than its place as a salient piece of internet trivia. Juicero is the result of the Valley’s most memeable inclinations converging, the bar sinister of technophilia, fad diets, and good old-fashioned carny chicanery.

How to turn a juice company into a tech unicorn

Evans became a vegan after attending a meeting of the Big Apple Vegetarian Society in 1999. Five years earlier, both his parents had died young and his brother had developed type 2 diabetes.

“I was suddenly confronted with the idea that I was genetically predisposed to early mortality,” he wrote in a 2016 Medium post. “Both of my parents died in the same hospital, and we all ate the same, standard American diet.”

Around that time, he met his former partner, Denise Mari, who introduced him to the concept of fresh-pressed veggie juice. In 2002, the two turned her small Lower East Side organic popup into a grocery store called Organic Avenue. Their vision was “to do everything L.O.V.E. (live organic vegan experience) and plant-based — no additives or preservatives,” and the store grew quickly amongst New York City new agers. Organic Avenue expanded to 10 locations and was even touted by health fabulist Gwyneth Paltrow en route to $20 million in annual revenue.

But before long, the juice cleanse trend fell out of fashion. Organic Avenue was traded amongst investment firms, ultimately shutting down in 2015. Evans, who had left the company three years prior, told The New York Times he disagreed with the decision, saying it “[did not] represent a decline in people’s interest in better nutrition and juicing.”

Across the country, Silicon Valley was developing an obsession with healthy living and longevity. Trends like biohacking, anti-aging pharmaceuticals, and intergenerational blood transfusions began to take hold as the tech world’s biggest players looked for ways to optimize their bodies. Evans had become hooked on raw juice while he was with Organic Avenue, and after he left, he’d been searching for a way to source juice that was as fresh and nutritionally dense as what was produced on the commercial level.

The nascent IoT trend was cresting, the home kitchen transforming into an interconnected network of WiFi-enabled appliances. Evans knew he wanted to do something to bring raw juice to more people, but he also knew angel investors wouldn’t fund that dream. Instead, he turned his expensive health habit into a tech company.

It took him 1,200 days and 12 different prototypes, but Evans finally landed on the piece of equipment that would come to be known as the Juicero Press, a countertop machine that looked like an iMac that pissed green froth. The Press worked with proprietary single-serving bags, which it would squeeze into a glass, and after each pressing, it would update internet logs of your juice consumption.

Juicero’s investment appeal hinged on the combination of an expensive device and an ad infinitum $8 cost per juice packet (delivered weekly). VCs saw Juicero as the next Nespresso or Dollar Shave Club.

“Investors are very intrigued by businesses that combine the one-time sale of hardware that ends up leading to repeat purchases of consumable packages,” investor Brian Frank of FTW Ventures told Bloomberg in 2017. In the same article, a Juicero investor named Doug Chertok spoke promisingly of Juicero’s potential as a platform for revolutionizing how people buy and consume fresh fruits and vegetables.

“Juicero is still figuring out its sweet spot,” Chertok said. “I have no doubt that they’ll be very successful.”

$120 million vs. two human hands

From the very beginning, the media was skeptical of Juicero’s mission to “invent products, services and experiences that help people consume the fresh foods that manifest true health and longevity. Fast Company called it “a solution for rich people that’s worse than the problem.” The Atlantic went further, saying Juicero “isn’t exactly dumb, it is something far worse than dumb in the venture-capital world. It is boring.”

Less than a year after launch, Juicero slashed its price from $699 to $399. This did little to stem the ridicule. In October, the company brought in former Coca-Cola president Jeff Dunn to act as CEO, replacing Evans, who became Chairman of the Board. The headlines did not abate.

“Silicon Valley often has this idea that it can do things more efficiently or optimally, more rationally, more science-based, and generally better for your health and wellbeing than decades of the past,” says Ellen Huet, who reports on startups for Bloomberg. “But it also had an LA health vibe, like intermittent fasting, so it was an overlap of those ideologies.”

On April 19, 2017, Huet and her colleague Olivia Zalenski published a well-reported summary of the company: “Silicon Valley’s $400 Juicer May Be Feeling the Squeeze.” While the story itself captured the voices of investors and skeptics alike, it was the 1-minute video embedded in the story that struck a deadly blow to Juicero.

Do You Need a $400 Juicer?

In the video, Huet stands in the Bloomberg staff kitchen with a Juicero packet in her hands. She squeezes it over a cup, and the juice dispenses—no multimillion-dollar technological revolution needed. Huet found that it was, in fact, quicker to get 7.5 oz. of juice out of the packet with her bare hands; the Juicero Press took 30 seconds longer to dispense the full 8 oz.

“When we first tested it, we weren’t sure what was going to happen, but we were surprised how easily it came out of the bag,” says Huet. “We wanted to do a good-faith effort. We timed it and measured, and we even weighed it … That was a pretty colorful memory that I don’t think I’ll forget.”

Juicero had lofted claims that its Press operated with four tons of force—“enough to lift two Teslas.” The simple visual of watching a journalist’s hands achieve 1,200 days’ worth of R&D felt like a triumph of man vs. machine.

The day after the Bloomberg article ran with its accompanying video, Dunn published a response on Medium. In his missive, he dismissed Huet’s hand-squeezing as “hacking” that did not “demonstrate the incredible value we know our connected system delivers.”

The next day, it came out that Juicero had filed a patent lawsuit against Jusir, a Chinese company, earlier that month for “seeking to trade on Juicero’s commercial recognition and goodwill and to freeride on Juicero’s investment in research, development, and marketing.”

Huet admits the juice was tasty, and she’d heard from sources in the commercial space about how valuable the cleanup-free process was, but these reflections and Dunn’s galvanizing words were too little too late. The company was irreparably embarrassed. Worse, Juicero was losing roughly $4 million a month.

A $55 million investment package fell apart. The company started offering refunds and buybacks to Press owners. There were plans for an updated Press that retailed for $199; those never materialized. In August 2017, the board voted to close the company. Evans wasn’t there, having quietly stepped down prior to the decision. Instead of the boardroom, he was at Burning Man, posting Instagrams.

“I’ve heard a lot of people, in the time since the story came out, talking about good intentions gone wrong,” Huet says. “You can have this idea with the best intentions and a lofty vision for what you’d like to create, and you end up creating this beautiful, strong, gleaming machine, and somehow lose sight of the fact that the machine is not needed for its main purpose.”

A failed juicer’s legacy

Just after Christmas 2018, Bartesian, a Canadian startup that had ascended from Kickstarter, launched its first product: a countertop robot that mixes cocktails for you. The tech blogs called it “the Keurig of cocktails and balked at its $399 sticker price. Bartesian launched in September 2019 and, two years in, secured $20 million in venture capital, even adding Mila Kunis to the board.

Though Juicero has become synonymous with Silicon Valley’s shortsightedness and the Press has been reduced to a gag gift, to say the startup world has learned from its failure is giving the technologists far too much credit. Failure is destigmatized in tech to the point where it’s practically worshipped. Every bad idea that sucks up millions is just one iteration away from being a golden goose.

Evans, on the other hand, is out of the tech world. He has moved out of the Valley and off the grid. He popped back up in headlines shortly after Juicero’s demise for his misguided evangelism of raw water, a passion he discovered on that ill-timed trip to Burning Man. These days, Evans is known as “the sprout wizard. In 2020, he published a book touting sprouts as “an ultra-food for health, weight loss, and optimum nutrition.”

Evans does not like to dwell on Juicero. In 2018, he spoke to VICE during his raw water kick, but he threatened to storm out if the interviewer pressed more on the topic. He’s at peace with the result. For Evans and the tech world at large, the goal remains unchanged.

“Certain dreams I had were shattered,” Evans told VICE in a moment of hand-washing sincerity. “But my destiny may not be tied to my dreams.”