In recent years, venture capitalists have funded all manner of improbable ideas. An app that lets random people call and wake you up. A bathroom scale that posts your weight on Twitter.
And then there is Doug Evans’s brainchild. With no experience running tech companies and a bungled juice-bar chain under his belt, he has extracted a remarkable $120 million in investments from Silicon Valley titans, including Google Ventures and Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, and big companies like Campbell Soup.
His pitch: a $700 machine that makes an 8-ounce glass of juice.
Mr. Evans is a raw-food evangelist, although “occasionally I eat steamed vegetables, to not be dogmatic,” he said. He wears shoes made of hemp. But even as Silicon Valley retreats from its recent boom, this unlikely entrepreneur has persuaded top investors to throw their money at one of the most enigmatic start-ups in years.
His company, Juicero, opens for business this week. But what is it?
Is it a juice-ordering app? Is it just another kitchen-counter contraption? Or is it a 111,000-square-foot food processing factory, staffed by dozens of hourly workers, washing and slicing up fruits and vegetables in Los Angeles?
It is all of these things. “It’s the most complicated business that I’ve ever funded,” said David Krane, a partner at GV, formerly Google Ventures. “It’s software. It’s consumer electronics. It’s produce and packaging.”
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 unproved 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 machine itself is a white plastic slab roughly the size of a food processor. To get some juice, you insert a pouch that resembles an IV bag and press a button. A couple of minutes later, a thin stream of vividly colored liquid squirts into a glass.
For health nuts willing to pay a premium, Juicero promises the platonic ideal of juice. Plus, the machine never needs to be cleaned.
But getting from farm to glass involves a daunting mix of hardware, code and food processing. The arrangement relies on a smartphone app, always-on Wi-Fi, QR codes, high-tech packaging and an army of workers slicing fruits and vegetables in very particular ways.
Ultimately, however, what makes Juicero so special is not quantifiable by conventional science, said Mr. Evans, the founder and chief executive.
“Not all juice is equal,” he said. “How do you measure life force? How do you measure chi?”
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