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7 Of The Most Pointless Startup Innovations

Too many products solve no real consumer problem

20Oct

Silicon Valley is internationally viewed as the world's most important and innovative startup hub. Such are the myriad game-changing companies that either originated there or now reside in the Valley, the area is quite rightly recognized as a hotbed of tech solutions and product development. As impressive as these accolades are, though, it is an area not without its faults. Issues of culture are endemic in the bay area, with a relatively homogeneous white male population all too regularly accused of gender or race discrimination.

One of the less explicit issues with Silicon Valley (and indeed the startup community at large), though, is its tendency to get caught up in its own hype. The area is regularly reinforced as being a hotbed of progressive ideas with regard to technology and innovation, which leads to second-rate products receiving undue attention from both the media and venture capital firms looking to cash in on the next Uber. And this mentality has spread and is no longer limited to the hallowed halls of the Valley. What all this leads to is some truly terrible innovations that solve absolutely no real consumer problems, and here are seven of the worst:

Juicero

Unfortunately for Silicon Valley juicer startup Juicero, it has quickly become something of a parable for the needless excess of startup invention. It's IoT-connected juicing machine - sold for $400 - squeezed the contents of its prepackaged diced fruit and vegetable pouches to make a juice drink upon request. The company caught the eye of investors, raising $120 million to bring the product to market.

The problem for Juicero is that Bloomberg quickly discovered that the machine itself was essentially redundant, and that users could squeeze the pouches themselves with a similar or even more time efficient outcome. 16 months after launching, the company is shutting down. Clearly, an internet connection is not enough for consumers to shovel out $400 for a machine that does nothing they cannot do themselves. Even if we consider that the product can act remotely, people aren't quite that lazy.

Washboard

You can imagine that Washboard seemed like a great idea for a short time, before the reality of having to sell it to the public became apparent. The central premise of the startup is that a lot of people find themselves without enough quarters to pay for their laundry in local laundromats. So what if there was a company that could send you a supply of quarters? For $27, Washboard would send customers 80 quarters in a bag. That works out at 33 cents for every 25 cent coin. Naturally, only the laziest among us would consider that worthwhile expenditure, and Washboard was quickly outdone by companies that offered to actually do your laundry for you, like Laundrapp.

Pause Pod

The Pause Pod is a classic case of an 'innovative' startup reinventing the wheel and selling it at a premium. The Pod promises to be the 'world's first private pop up space suitable for ALL your relaxation needs.' It's a space for sitting and laying down in isolation in the office, at home, and outdoors. What is blindingly clear when looking at the product is that it is, in fact, a tent. Indistinguishable from a regular camping tent at a first glance, the Pause Pod comes with all manner of additions, from an extendable area in which to lay down to a reading light.

It's a popular tent, though. The Kickstarter campaign was fully funded in just 30 minutes, and the project now sits at over $117,000. Each tent is set to retail at around $200, and the combination of the lack of originality and the price has led to intense scrutiny online. It remains to be seen whether or not the Pause Pod will be a success. It's not necessarily the lack of a reading light that stops executives setting up tents in their offices, after all.

Bodega

One of the more controversial 'innovations' on this list is Bodega. Two former Google employees have received $2.5 million dollars in a first investment round to fund glorified vending machines that will be dotted around in apartment blocks and colleges, for example. The 'kiosks' will automatically restock with what the local users are buying regularly, thus becoming personalized to the area in which they're placed. Ultimately, there is very little offensive about vending machines, but the product is little more than that.

The controversy comes when you consider the branding. By removing the need for apartment block residents to leave the block for essentials, Bodega is going directly into competition with the much-loved bodegas that are dotted around urban centers across the US. To use the name of the institution you are attempting to make obsolete is culturally insensitive at best, particularly when the institution is heavily linked with immigrant culture. Bodega solves the tragic issue of having to walk five minutes to get to the local shop, and it's one of Silicon Valley's most tone deaf innovations to date.

Parrot Pot

In the list of problems that you don't even think about because they're so minor, forgetting to water your plants is somewhere near the bottom. But there's a product on the market to make this particular stress a thing of the past. Parrot's Pot is a plant pot that will monitor your plant's level of fertilization, temperature, and the level of moisture in the soil and it will notify you when it needs more water. It holds enough water for three weeks of watering so you can forget about your plant while keeping it healthy.

Ostensibly, better cared for plants can only be a good thing. We've all been guilty of accidentally killing a plant by not feeding it enough, and Parrot's quest to stop that happening is admirable. The problem comes when you consider the price. $170 is, bluntly, far too much for a plant pot. It's a price that will almost certainly put off the vast majority of people, so it's difficult to see where Pot's market is. Only the most keen home botanists would invest that kind of money into something that monitors a plant in such detail. The new wave of connected devices is exciting, but expensive plant pots are not. Until they become cheap enough to make sense to people, they're not going to take off.

Sano

Every so often, there are products brought to market that appeal directly to no one. Sano Intelligence is a Silicon Valley healthcare startup that launched in 2011, and has quietly been raising upwards of $20 million in venture capital to fund its flagship product - a glucose tracker than sticks to skin and monitors the wearer's blood via an app.

The product is being billed as a healthcare device that allows users to track their own biometric data, monitoring blood sugar levels and metabolism. These devices have existed for around 15 years, though, as pointed out by Gizmodo. They're widely used by diabetics and are put through rigorous testing by the FDA before they're given approval. Sano has not yet begun to seek such approval (though it does plan to) and its product is currently geared toward those without diabetes. Sano is marketing the product as preventative, but it seems highly unlikely that those that aren't diabetic would see it as a worthwhile investment. It hits neither the health-conscious market because of its simplicity, but it won't appeal to a diabetic because of its lack of confirmed rigor.

Soylent AI

Given the impending explosion of artificial intelligence (AI) in our society, it's unsurprising that brands are looking to jump onto the trend early. One way they can benefit from the technology relatively early on in its development is to use it as a replacement for customer service or user enquiries. This is often needless, though, as in the case of Soylent's new AI-powered personal assistant that promises to answer any questions a customer may have about the startup's products.

According to Quartz, though, the software was very basic, and the answers it gave were 'mostly arthritic.' Named Trish, the assistant is part of a push to bring the brand to life, but its lack of functionality and, bluntly, reasons for existence have made it something of a laughing stock. Silicon Valley can often be accused of producing technology for technology's sake, and this is one that falls firmly in that category. 

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