These off-beat startup fails have a lesson for us


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As we’ve written before, we can learn a lot from failure, so maybe there’s something to be said for Juicero. The company launched in 2016 to make and sell Internet-connected juicers that worked by squeezing packages of pre-sliced fruit also sold by the Juicero folks. Once a customer bought a juicer, the idea went, they would also regularly buy the fruit packs to stay caught up on their fix — think of it as a juicy Keurig.

The only problem was that the juicer ran at $400, had an oft-buggy connection to the web that hurt the device’s operation and, get this, had the squeezing power of an average set of hands. The weakness of the juicer was revealed about a year after launch, leaving most to wonder why the heck anyone needed to buy the machine when they could basically just squeeze a juicebox for far less. Juicero quickly fell into meme status and, upon failing to build a strong case for its product, lost whatever VC potential it had left. The company got its final squeeze in 2017.

Juicero is a study of a startup failure that drew from something familiar. Washboard is very much not that. The (extremely) short-lived company existed for a brief, shining moment in 2014 running on the idea that nobody seems to have quarters for laundry when they most need them, a problem some of us have definitely faced. However, Washboard attempted to solve that problem in a way we just weren’t ready for — by delivering them to your door for a fee that surpasses the cost of the quarters themselves.

The startup was in business for about two weeks, which leads one to ask if it was ever really in business at all. Its founder said at the time of the company’s demise that “nearly 100% of the internet thought Washboard was an absolutely absurd concept” and that he “had a very difficult time convincing people the service was even real.”

So what can we learn here? Probably the biggest thing here is that you need to be able to deliver something that has actual value to people. Juicero got off to a strong start with plenty of buzz, but ultimately sold a pricey block of plastic. Meanwhile, the leaders of Washboard, though realizing that consumers are willing to pay a premium for convenience, ultimately pushed that envelope a lot too far.

Maybe both of these startups were just ahead of their time. But the more likely answer is that they both give a keen lesson that, while there’s clearly excitement for innovation, customers expect to get their money’s worth up-front and will sour fast if given otherwise.

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