A juicy solution is sometimes the problem

EDIT: Monday 4th September 2017. Looks like Juicero hasn’t been able to overcome their challenges and will be shutting down.

One part of my job that I really enjoy is when I sit down with stakeholders and come up with a solution that we can test against. I see excitement on faces, especially when we think up an idea that seems to be truly novel.

The part I probably enjoy the least is when the solution fails to deliver. Now, failure is all part of the process of innovation – testing against a hypothesis and fast prototyping are clearly part and parcel of how innovating works.

However, when everything you do – no matter how many pivots you try – leads to failure or a brick wall can be completely soul-crushing. Yes, we learn, we celebrate the failure and we move on with more valuable knowledge, but knowing fundamentally that an idea is plain wrong can lead to costly or catastrophic problems.

Failure of a solution is usually because it solves the wrong problem, or worse, it solves an imaginary problem

Let’s look at an example. Did you hear the one about Juicero, the wifi juicer with proprietary fruit and veg pods? The saga was widely reported on in the tech and business press.

Solving the problem of… Wifi-less juice?

I love this example. In a nutshell, you have a company (and investors) who decided that a regular juicer or blender did not suit the needs of today’s busy young professionals. So they launched a $700 wifi-enabled juicer.

The device was completely over-engineered, using premium materials and a very complex bag-squeezing mechanism to press the proprietary juice bags (which also cost $5-$7 each). What’s worse, it turns out that you don’t actually need the juicer to get the juice out of the bags!

Subsequently, they dropped the price to $400 and the CEO of the company tried to articulate the value of the juicer, talking about QR codes and expiry dates, or reminders with Wifi and the ability to control the fruit and vegetable content of the pouches.

A few months later, the company is in real trouble. At the time of writing, they are laying off 25% of their staff and looking at completely changing the business model (including a focus on much cheaper hardware and product).

Wrong way round

I believe that with Juicero, they had an idea that they thought was super-cool, but they really didn’t consider the market and the needs of their customers. They over-engineered a solution, trying to retro-fit to problems that they assumed their customers had.

In the end, the moral is ensure you spend enough time understanding the problems your customers or stakeholders have, then choose one to solve and test, test, test to make sure that any solution created does not become just another problem to solve.

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