“Technology is wonderful.” How many times have we said that when we discover some fabulous innovation that changes our lives? There are many of them. Also, there are things that we make a big deal of that really aren’t all that big of a deal, but they seem like it, such as knowing what some reality TV actress had for breakfast or the 1,543,947th new diet product. And then, there are some things that simply should never see the light of day, but they do anyway. The technology world has its share of those. Let’s look at some downright ridiculous stuff that keeps showing up in the tech world.
“Throw Free Money At Customers” Is A Real Business Model
The main lesson tech learned from Uber isn’t “People will happily ride alone with a potential serial killer solely to avoid public transportation,” but instead “Investors don’t care if your company loses money, as long as it keeps growing.” This has created a new type of company where the entire business model is basically:
1) round up some cash,
2) give it away to customers without any real hope of making it back, and
3) nobody knows. Here’s a topical example:
MoviePass, whose whole deal was buying movie tickets at full price, then selling them to subscribers for a tiny fraction of that. Anyone familiar with the concept of “math” will see a problem there. They seriously figured they could make a profit off of people who bought subscriptions but didn’t use them, like a gym membership (forgetting that most people actually enjoy movies).
Then there was the car sale site, Beepi, which would hire mechanics to check and detail your car, sell the service for a small commission, and deliver it to the buyer with a bow on the front. They threw $150 million at this before going out of business.
But the king of “burning through investor cash without a clear idea of how to make it back” is music streaming. Market leader Spotify pays 70 percent of its revenue to music labels before trying to cover its own overhead. Tidal pays even more, and has been struggling to do so. At some point you have to wonder whether these guys might be better off shoveling cash into some lotto scratchers.
For every Uber or Amazon success story, there are 99 MoviePasses, Beepis, or Kozmos. Not that this is bad from a consumer perspective. If a bunch of investors want to foot the bill for your rideshare to a cheap movie while streaming Jay-Z’s entire catalog, then great! Just don’t expect it to last forever.
Blockchain. Whatever that is.
On the subject of money, we have this little wonder. “Blockchain” is a magic word that makes Silicon Valley investors throw money at you. Dozens of failing startups have saved themselves by pivoting to blockchain. Kik, the pervert-infested instant messaging train-wreck was close to going out of business before they announced a blockchain move. That nabbed them $100 million in new funding, even though “the child-sexting app has its own cryptocurrency now” might not be a guaranteed success story.
The dumbest part? The definition of a blockchain is so fuzzy that nobody seems to agree on what it is, or how it works, or what practical use they could possibly get out of it. To oversimplify it for those skimming this on the train ride, the first blockchains were strings of information that everyone could see, and were updated for everyone with every transaction. So if you paid your friendly dark web dealer for a duffel bag full of meth and AK-47s, they didn’t have to trust that you sent the money; you could both check the blockchain. Nice and easy!
But many famous “blockchains” don’t fit that definition. MasterCard’s highly publicized blockchain can only be viewed by invitation, so that’s out. The World Food Program loudly touted their adoption of groundbreaking blockchain technology, even though it only had one user (the WFP itself), making it indistinguishable from a regular backed-up database.
And investors keep falling for it. “Uber for buses” company Skedaddle raked in millions after announcing a blockchain project to “completely eliminate tipping” in some unclear way. Wearable tech company Loomia also sucked up new investment after promising to give each user a blockchain profile, as did P2P marketplace Listia, even though neither project seems to have any advantages over their existing payment tech. It’s really only a matter of time before that one surviving Blockbuster store unveils a blockchain-based lending system and instantly becomes worth more than Netflix.
On the upside, we just said “blockchain” like a hundred times, so we’ll be drowning in VC money by the time you read this. What a world.
EVERYTHING Should Connect To The Internet
Think of a household object. Any household object. Chances are good that somebody is currently trying to sell a version of that object that can go online, whether that’s useful to a single soul or not. Take L’Oreal, which recently premiered Keratase Hair Coach ($200), a Wi-Fi-enabled hairbrush that uses a gyroscope, accelerometer, microphones, and a “three-axis load sensor” to analyze your brush stroke and send hair-brushing tips to your smartphone. It also collects data to give you a daily “hair score,” meaning that for the first time ever, you can be flunking hair.
Presumably, there are people who want DARPA-caliber tech to detect every time a single hair breaks. It’s likely they are people who spend more time watching reality TV shows than they do speaking to their own children.
Then there’s the Griffin Connected Toaster ($99), which sends a notification to your smartphone when your toast is done. Perfect for those who can’t hear the sound of the toaster while swimming in their giant money bin. For some real Star Trek meets Idiocracy lunacy, the toaster can also pair with the upcoming Griffin Connected Mirror (estimated at $1,000), which displays the weather, news headlines, and toast readiness while you brush your teeth. So much more convenient than glancing at your phone.
There are even smart flip-flops, which pair with an app to send you “special offers” (ads) as you walk around. Not even the makers seem able to justify this.
Onvi is developing a toothbrush that films the inside of your mouth and beams the footage to your phone, presumably to market to some fetish community we haven’t heard of.
And if you’re thinking Silicon Valley can go shove this tech where the sun don’t shine, don’t worry. They literally can with the Kinsa Smart Stick rectal thermometer ($125). You simply connect the thermometer to your phone via the headphone jack, and it displays the results through an app! Just, uh, make sure you plug each side into the right hole.
A Keurig For EVERYTHING
The moment Keurig announced their “DRM for coffee” (fancy machines that only work with the company’s own coffee pods), all of Silicon Valley desperately scrambled to come up with one for every other drink, even if it meant making existing products hilariously worse in the process. The most famous example is the saga of Juicero, the $120 million company that expected you to pay $400 for an “industrial-strength” juice squeezer because they didn’t think anyone would try to squeeze the packets with their hands. Hands typically cost $0. The company is no longer with us.
Meanwhile, Teforia, the “Keurig for tea,” raised millions to market an “internet-connected tea infuser,” which used “machine learning” and “advanced algorithms” to produce the perfect cup of tea. It originally cost $400, then $649, then $1,000, and then went out of business in late 2017, because it turns out people can make a good enough cup of tea without taking out a bank loan.
But the best/worst example has to be Kuvee, the $179 Wi-Fi-enabled wine bottle. Instead of using a corkscrew like some sort of primitive, knuckle-dragging cave-dweller, you would slot “proprietary wine cartridges” into your Kuvee. A touchscreen would let you access information about the wine (normally accomplished by reading a label) and show you an estimate of how much was left (normally accomplished by looking at the bottle). To sweeten the deal, battery life was awful, and you had to awkwardly remove and insert various cartridges if your guests wanted white and red wine. It was in no way an improvement over not paying $179 to only buy wine from one company.
Like Juicero and Teforia, Kuvee soon went kaput. But don’t worry, we’re sure the “Keurig for horchata” will be along shortly to fill the gap.
Innovative Ways To Pay For Water
If you thought the whole “Keurig for everything” craze was out of control, wait ‘till you hear what is happening with the most basic element to human life – water.
Reefill was launched after its founder somehow came to the conclusion that “there’s no place to get a drink of water in Manhattan.” His solution was for the customer to pay a $2 monthly subscription to fill a water bottle from a network of “smartphone-activated water fountains” in coffee shops. We’re talking about tap water here, which most of these shops already give away for free. It’s the perfect service for when you suddenly need to lose $2 for tax reasons, and no other reason.
Reefill’s machines do have a button that lets you get tap water for free, while needing a subscription for “chilled and filtered.” Thing is, the “chilled” part doesn’t always work, and New Yorkers already pay for their water to be filtered via, you know, taxes and whatnot. Reefill also claimed its real target was bottled water, which is definitely a wasteful product that future generations will point to when explaining why they hate us. But people are already free to carry a bottle and fill it up in coffee shops. “Man, if only this water was more expensive, I’d do it more often,” said no one, ever.
Then there’s the trend for untreated and unfiltered “raw water,” which is currently flying off the shelves around Silicon Valley, presumably accompanied by an increase in toilet paper sales. Entrepreneurs include Mukhande Singh (real name Christopher Sanborn), who buys spring water for 2.5 cents a jug and sells it for $38.49. His “Live Water” supposedly expires after a month, but is free of “mind control drugs.” So keep that in mind — that is, if the powerful psychics at Aquafina let you.
Another raw water seller is Juicero founder Doug Evans, who says he sneaks across private property in the dead of night to collect spring water. Again, Silicon Valley gave that guy 120 million U.S. dollars. Next thing you know, these people will be proclaiming the virtues of collecting human waste and consuming it. For a considerable fee, of course.
You know how you can be going about your day and see someone do something so remarkably stupid it makes you literally stop and wonder, “why is that person out in public unsupervised?” That person is probably a high-ranking executive in some Big Tech firm. One can only imagine what these poor fools will fall for next.