Back in the early days of the digital home, one secretive startup named Rearden Steel captured the imagination of many in space, quite a feat in a market with no shortage of buzz or aspiring entrepreneurs hoping capitalize on growing consumer interest in connected entertainment. Sure, the company's Atlas Shrugged inspired name had something to do with the intrigue, but a bigger reason for the high level of interest in the company was that Rearden was to be the next act for Steve Perlman.
Perlman had built quite a name for himself as the founder of Internet to TV startup WebTV. Eventually WebTV was acquired by Microsoft, and not too longer after Perlman left to create Rearden Steel. For over a year people wondered what exactly he was up to, and when he eventually lifted the veil, it was clear Perlman hadn't strayed far from his digital living room roots with Moxi, a company building connected entertainment devices and software.
And just as the world of connected entertainment saw its first high profile stealth startup hatch from the brain of a long-time pioneer hoping to leverage lessons learned from his previous startup, so too now do we find smart kitchen entrepreneur Doug Evans hoping to do the same with Juicero.
Evans had spent much of the previous decade with his previous company called Organic Avenue, a chain of juice bars that he had sold off to a private equity firm Weld North. Eventually Weld North sold off Organic Avenue to another private equity firm, who shut down the last of the chain's stores late last year.
I had learned of Juicero quite some time ago, but started to think they were up to something really interesting after I had heard Malachy Moynihan - who had led development on the white hot Amazon Echo - had left Bezos and company and headed over to Juicero. (I mean seriously, who leaves the Amazon Echo team to work on a new product?) I had known Malachy from his days at Linksys, but when I asked him what he was up to, he stayed true to the stealth and wouldn't tell me anything about what the company was up to (heck, he wouldn't even confirm he worked there, I had found out through someone in the industry).
But I figured if he had left Amazon for Juicero, the vision must be a big one. It turns out I was right. Last week when Juicero came out of stealth, the company unveiled not only a fairly expensive in-home juicer (more on that in a bit), but an entire supply and subscription ecosystem for fresh cold-pressed juice.
I talked to Doug for the Smart Kitchen Show podcast on the day of the unveil, and he told me the reason they had gone big and created a complete fresh juice value chain was he felt there was nothing that allowed him to do fresh juice in the home the same way he made it at Organic Avenue.
But even as big as his plans where from the outset, they became bigger over time. When he started creating the plans for Juicero four years ago, he had originally intended to see if the company could work with third party appliance makers to make the hydraulic cold press machine. He soon found out there wasn't as much interest from potential partners in creating the device, and so he decided he'd make it himself. Same with the production and processing plant. Originally Evans said he thought he could find a food packer and processor to help create the juice "packs" which go into the presser Keurig-style to make the juice in the home. But, just as with the presser, no dice.
So as he realized he needed to do more himself, he raised more money, and eventually Silicon Valley was buzzing about the juice startup that had raised $120 million.
Will they succeed? Too soon to say. Evans and Juicero is betting that health-conscious consumers will want to spend both $700 on an in-home juicer and subscribe to the company's prepackaged fruit and vegetable packs to create the juice. They also have to make sure their new production facility in California can meet demand and also that they can get their packs out in time using overnight shipping to ensure the type of juice freshness those who pay high prices at juice bars are accustomed to.
It's a tall order, but based on a model that's gaining favor in Silicon Valley. Whether it's startups like Tovala and their smart oven/subscription food service or those companies integrating Amazon's Dash Replenishment Service into their white good products, more and more companies are hoping to couple connected devices the recurring revenue model of home delivery.
The biggest challenge for Evans and Juicero will be getting a large enough user base of home juicers to allow them to scale up production in California and, at some point, build other production and processing facilities in other points of presence around the country.
It's a big - and potentially expensive - vision. But what else would we expect from the smart kitchen's first big stealth company?
This post was first published in Forbes