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The lesson of Juicero: corporate writing should not sound like a superhero movie

Image: Bloomerg

It’s been a tough week for Juicero, a startup company that makes an internet-connected juicing machine. Some Bloomberg reporters figured out you could make juice from the juice packs without using the Juicero machine at all. The CEO’s response on Medium is completely ineffective, because he can only see the world from within his limited, Silicon-Valley mindset.

Juicero has raised $120 million in capital so far to bankroll its high-tech juicing system. The system includes a juice press wields “enough force to lift two Teslas” and packs of chopped fruits or vegetables that come in a refrigerated box. The juicer costs $399 and the bags, which make one glass of juice each, cost $5 to $8.

The problem here is what moviemakers call “the willing suspension of disbelief.” Assuming you’re a fan of fresh juice, you have to believe that the convenience of chopped produce delivered by mail in plastic bags and a juicer that connects to the internet is worth the cost and trouble of this wonderful machine. Suspension of disbelief is a requirement to enjoy a superhero movie. It doesn’t work so well for consumer goods. As a result, Juicero is now the subject of ridicule from the likes of NPR, The Atlantic, and The Guardian (“The five most pointless tech solutions to non-problems“).

I’ll translate Juicero CEO Jeff Dunn’s Medium post for those who don’t believe in superheroes

Into this fray jumps the company’s CEO. He’s annoyed that people are squeezing the juice bags without the beautiful, powerful juicing machine his company built, and as a result, squeezing the life out of his company’s vision. So let’s take a close look at his heroic statement in Medium and how it looks if you’re not a Juicero superfan, with my own translations following in italics. I’ve added bold for weasel words in bold and bold italic for jargon.

A Note from Juicero’s New CEO

Hi, I’m Jeff Dunn. You may not know me in my new role as CEO of Juicero as I’ve only been here since November. But I’ve been involved with the company for the last few years as an active investor and board member working closely with Doug Evans, our founder. My career has led me from Coca-Cola to Bolthouse Farms and Campbell Fresh over the past nearly 40 years in the food business.

The journey from Coca-Cola to carrots to Juicero’s rainbow of fruits and vegetables has let me connect my work to my personal mission and passion: solving some of our nation’s nutrition and obesity challenges. I’m very proud of what my teams and I have accomplished in the last ten years, especially in regard to positively shifting the dialogue about our food system and how it can better serve all of us in health, nutrition, and sustainability. All of that was training for becoming CEO of Juicero — the single most ambitious and inspiring job I’ve ever held. Let me explain.

I am so committed to sustainability and health that I am going to take two paragraphs at the front of this to talk about myself. This company is my penance for working for Coca-Cola, which is about as far from healthy as you can get.

Last summer when Juicero’s Board and Doug asked me to join Juicero as CEO, it was driven by the recognition that we were launching a totally new long-term approach which would require a tremendous effort to innovate, improve and scale. Juicero’s mission is to make it dramatically easier and more enjoyable to consume more fresh, raw fruits and vegetables, and that’s a really tough nut to crack. It seems simple, but despite everything we’ve done to-date as a food community, we’ve barely moved the needle.

We are on a heroic mission to rescue the world from chopping and juicing its own produce. I am the only hero that can do it.

What I love about Juicero is that our team is attacking this issue in a way unlike anything I’ve ever seen. It’s incredible to come to work everyday alongside hardware and software engineers, food scientists, designers, farmer partners, and all our other team members who are committed to building a new way of delivering raw, plant-based nutrition. What we’re building is long-term in nature and requires us to innovate each part of our system — from Press, to Produce Pack, to how we source organic produce directly from farms, to how we deliver the produce to consumers’ doorsteps. It’s hard work and not perfect yet by any measure — getting this right is a process of testing, learning and iterating.

Juice sounds deceptively simple, almost as if you could get it by squeezing produce. To make sure you realize how complex it ought to be, I have to talk a lot about innovation and “raw, plant-based nutrition.”

So when I saw this week’s headlines about hacking and hand-squeezing Produce Packs, I had a one overriding thought: ”We know hacking consumer products is nothing new. But how can we better demonstrate the incredible value we know our connected system delivers?”

Squeezing those bags by hand makes us look silly. Please pay close attention to all the technology instead.

First, the Press. Our connected Press itself is critical to delivering a consistent, high quality and food safe product because it provides:

  1. The first closed loop food safety system that allows us to remotely disable Produce Packs if there is, for example, a spinach recall. In these scenarios, we’re able to protect our consumers in real-time.
  2. Consistent pressing of our Produce Packs calibrated by flavor to deliver the best combination of taste and nutrition every time.
  3. Connected data so we can manage a very tight supply chain, because our product is live, raw produce, and has a limited lifespan of about 8 days.

It’s not just juice! It’s a system! It’s so cool. Because with all this technology I can finally protect you from rotten fruits and vegetables!

The value of Juicero is more than a glass of cold-pressed juice. Much more.

The cost of Juicero is higher than a normal juicer. Much higher.

The value is in how easy it is for a frazzled dad to do something good for himself while getting the kids ready for school, without having to prep ingredients and clean a juicer.

It’s in how the busy professional who needs more greens in her life gets App reminders to press Produce Packs before they expire, so she doesn’t waste the hard-earned money she spent on them.

Every superhero needs ordinary people to save, like frazzled dad and busy professional woman.

These are just a few examples of the value that the Juicero system offers, and we’re just getting started. As I said, this is a long-term vision and we’ll encounter bumps in the road, but our team and our investors understand the important problem we’re trying to solve, and they’re committed to helping us get there.

Since I raised $120 million, I need you guys to believe there is an actual problem here. In the world of the future, this will be important, believe me.

The sum of the system — the Press, Produce Packs and App — working together is what enables a great experience. However, you won’t experience that value by hand-squeezing Produce Packs, which to be clear, contain nothing but fresh, raw, organic chopped produce, not juice. What you will get with hand-squeezed hacks is a mediocre (and maybe very messy) experience that you won’t want to repeat once, let alone every day.

You should spend $399 and $8 per bag so you don’t get juice on yourself.

 We strive to put our customer at the center of everything, and to do so with utmost transparency and integrity. That’s our business credo, as well my own personal belief system.

If you realized that you could make juice without this machine, the problem we’re trying to solve would go away. So I need you to believe this is an actual problem that customers have.

While it is never easy to face some of this week’s headlines and critiques, we’re still learning, listening, and improving, and we confidently stand behind our promise to help people on their journey to health. So, for the next 30 days, we’ve decided to extend our Happiness Guarantee to any Juicero customer — new or old — who feels that we aren’t making it easier, more enjoyable and delicious to form a healthy habit. That means that if you send us your Press, we’ll refund the money you paid for it. Period.

Nonbelievers, get off this bus now, please.

I’m committed to engaging the community in conversation about how we best serve our customers with raw, plant-based nutrition. You can reach me at jeffdunn@juicero.com, so please share your thoughts. I look forward to reading them.


Bring it on. You can press me with the force of two Teslas and I will still believe!

On clarity and audience

Jeff Dunn’s post is free of most of the usual types of corporate bullshit. The problem here is one of audience.

The smaller audience (those who believe in the problem he is trying to solve and his solution) will find this reassuring. This includes his employees.

The larger audience (investors, potential customers who haven’t bought in yet, general readers) will find this communication absurd, because it embodies a Silicon Valley “tech solves everything” mindset for a problem that they cannot comprehend. This communication makes things worse, not better, for that broader audience.

Steven Pinker refers to “The Curse of Knowledge” — the problem that you cannot conceive of an audience that doesn’t know what you know. The Curse of Knowledge makes your writing ineffective. To write well, you must get out of this insider mindset. It’s a lesson that Jeff Dunn has failed to heed, which is why his defense of his company sounds so ridiculous.

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  1. I thought his post was about the best you could do in a terrible situation. The proof of this is in your translation. Sometimes, when you translate on your blog, you take corporate bullshit and translate it into speech that people can actually understand. The translated speech, absent bullshit, makes a more compelling argument. In this case there is no argument to be made. — and your translation is merely stated the truth — that Juicero is what happens when you throw money and top notch design talent at a flawed idea. In other words, there was no bullshit here, just the group-think and me-too ism that always infects the places where creativity and finance intersect. (E.g. Hollywood, Silicon Valley, and Madison Avenue, to name a few )

  2. Wait. You had me at “raised $120 million”.

    I need to talk to those investors, because I have a really great idea, and if they ponied up $120 mil for that, mine should be worth at least twice as much. I can’t tell you what it is because I know you’ll steal it. 😉

    I thought we put this kind of nonsense behind us with ideas like Pets.com shipping bags of kitty litter across the country back in the late 1990s. Guess not….

    1. Yup. Looks like the only thing that got juiced was the pool of investors. Then again, it means Juicero now has a dual purpose: it makes a good sap, too.

  3. Do I assume as part of the extortionate pouch cost comes a recycle/return process? If not, they’ll make Keurig/Nespresso/other coffee pods look like environmental boy scouts.

    In further news, the producers of “Silicon Valley” repackage the upcoming season as a documentary for the History Channel.