The food tech landscape is littered with devices that coulda been and companies that had great aspirations but for various reasons failed spectacularly. Now, two of the most infamous hardware failures, the Juicero and the Coolest Cooler, are being resurrected — as toys.
Internet collective MSCHF has dropped its collection of Dead Startup Toys (hat tip to The Verge), featuring five famous tech hardware flameouts: One Laptop Per Child, Theranos Minilab, Jibo, Juicero and Coolest Cooler. Each toy is a mini version of its real-life (well, real dead) counterpart made out of PVC, costing $40 a piece.
Along with the tiny collectibles, MSCHF has also released some deep satire explaining its move, writing on its website:
Behold these beautiful mutants, hoisted on petards of their own solid-aluminum-unibody construction. We salute these voyagers, flown too close to the blood-red suns of their own fever dreams, on wings made of oh-so-flammable dollar bills, whose inexplicably sincere hopes became our most surreal entertainment…
That sharp tongue isn’t spared when it comes to either the Juicero or the Coolest Cooler. Juicero, of course, was the company that raised $120 million and sold a $400 juice machine that squeezed juice from proprietary packets of fruits and veggies. The company died almost overnight when Bloomberg reported that your hands basically worked as well as the machine. Juicero had actually set up a pretty sophisticated supply chain and packaging process that could justify some of its fundraising, but most people only remember the hardware, which, as MSCHF points out, is pretty easy to make fun of:
A teardown of the Juicero machine revealed massive overengineering and production spend clearly approved without input from either a businessperson or production manager. The machine was full of specialized custom-tooled parts, all in service to a fundamentally flawed general operating concept that involved applying force by means of a flat plate with 0 mechanical advantage. This contributed to both its massive cost and remarkable non-utility.
For its part, the Coolest Cooler was an early example of hardware crowdfunding that goes nowhere. The multi-function device (it had a blender and a speaker!) raised $13 million on Kickstarter, but the company behind it was woefully unprepared for the realities of mass production and eventually wound up in hot water with the Oregon Department of Justice. MSCHF sums the whole situation up pretty well, writing:
The Coolest Cooler stands as a cautionary tale for crowdfunding as a whole, and possibly the landmark event in the crowdfunding paradigm’s fall from grace. For that at least we salute it in memoriam.
I’m not sure whom would purchase these toys, but they are a playful reminder that not everything that glitters in food tech is gold. And that even good ideas, when poorly executed, can wind up remaining famous for all the wrong reasons.