I bet that you’ve heard about Juicero this week, the San Francisco-based startup that makes a countertop juicer that connects to your home wifi network and costs $400. The Bloomberg story that sparked the controversy on Wednesday had an eye-catching sub-headline (“Two investors in Juicero were surprised to learn the startup’s juice packs could be squeezed by hand without using its high-tech machine”), which led to hundreds of thousands of tweets an Facebook shares and follow-up articles in Forbes, Slate, Fortune, Quartz, and many others. Criticism abounded.
“You Can Buy This $400 Juicer or Use Your Hand. They Do the Same Thing,” one headline read.
“Startups like Juicero are incapable of seeing their own absurdities,” another author admonished, noting that “Bad startup ideas are a dime a dozen, but Juicero wasn’t some random product. It has a lot of funding behind it ($120 million, with backers that include Google’s venture capital arm) and is valued at nearly half a billion dollars.”
A third response put things even more bluntly: “You can get almost exactly the same juice without the company’s expensive press by squeezing their damn bags yourself with the hands God gave you.”
All of this consternation led the company’s CEO, Jeff Dunn, to offer a 30-day money-back guarantee, in a blog where he cited his passion for “solving some of our nation’s nutrition and obesity challenges.”
Let’s be clear, Mr. Dunn. The people who are struggling most with nutrition and obesity challenges across the country are, in fact, the 43.1 million people in poverty (including 14.5 million children) who are living on a median annual salary of $9,175, according to Feeding America. These are not your target customers.
But here’s what everyone’s missed during the public outcry about Juicero: Venture capital can solve real-world problems (like access to affordable healthy food), not just first-world problems (like wanting your juicer to be wifi-enabled).
I don’t think we should just criticize Silicon Valley’s entrepreneurs and mock VCs for investing in juicers. Instead, let’s get creative about how we invest in solutions to society’s toughest challenges.
We want to unleash the same forces of innovation and capital to actually solve nutrition and obesity challenges – not just talk about doing it, for PR purposes.
That’s why our firm, i(x) investments, is developing a new platform for early-stage investments, i(x) ventures. We are working with social impact experts Medora Ventures, Womble Carlyle, and Ampathy, and a range of leading VC firms and early-stage investors, to find the very best businesses addressing not only nutrition but also sustainable agriculture, clean energy, water scarcity, and other areas where we see the greatest potential for social and environmental impact.
We can all agree that Silicon Valley technologies are, far too often, solving Silicon Valley’s problems. But what if we could collaborate with the world’s smartest venture capitalists and some of our greatest tech entrepreneurs to build companies that create long-term wealth and lasting impact?
So let’s go beyond complaining about what’s wrong, and let’s start building something better by creating new pathways for innovators to solve social and environmental problems.
Join us where the real opportunity is -- where venture capital is least focused today, but most needed for tomorrow, and also where large total addressable markets mean greater opportunities for return over the long-term.