Theranos and Juicero died, but Dead Startup Toys keep their vision alive – CNET

Theranos Minilab toy

A living testament to failure and fraud.

Dead Startup Toys

The world of tech is filled with big dreams, as well as big failures, and sometimes big lies. There’s now a site selling limited-edition toy versions of products created by iconic failed startups, including Theranos, Juicero and Jibo. The toys are arguably just as useful — or perhaps more so — than the real-life products that inspired them. 

One such toy is designed after the Theranos MiniLab created by “a multibillion-dollar medical startup built upon falsified test results and flagrantly deceptive malpractice,” writes the Dead Startup Toys website, which comes from MSCHF, a Brooklyn-based startup that’s created other viral products. In 2018, the US Securities and Exchange Commission charged Theranos, its founder and CEO Elizabeth Holmes and former President Ramesh “Sunny” Balwani with fraud in relation to false promises surrounding the company’s portable blood analyzer. 

The Theranos saga was gripping. While Theranos, Holmes and Balwani had told investors their portable blood analyzer could conduct comprehensive blood tests from drops of blood, the SEC said the analyzer could only complete a small number of tests and that the company “conducted the vast majority of patient tests on modified and industry-standard commercial analyzers manufactured by others.” A few months after Holmes stepped down as CEO, the company shut down. Now, the product has been immortalized as a toy that can probably analyze blood just as well as the real thing could. 

Unfortunately, the toy version of the Theranos MiniLab has already sold out, but you can still get your hands on models of other infamous products, like Juicero, an “IoT juicer ultimately outperformed by literally squeezing the vegetables with your bare hands,” Dead Startup Toys writes. The company behind the $400 Wi-Fi-connected juicer shut down in 2017 after people realized it didn’t really serve a purpose. The toy version of the dead gadget is priced at $40 (£29, AU$53). 

In addition to Dead Startup Toys, MSCHF has brought us products like Alexagate, a cap that fits over your Alexa Echo and uses pulsed ultrasound to jam the microphone to help protect your privacy. This is the company’s 50th “drop,” or rollout. As MSCHF puts it, “Every drop is different, and we never do the same thing twice.”

MSCHF didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment. 

jibo-product-photos-5

Jibo died before it could be your friend. 

Tyler Lizenby/CNET

Among its other toys based on failed startup products is a Jibo, modeled after the “social robot” with “all character and no function,” as Dead Startup Toys put it. CNET’s 2017 review says: “Jibo wants to be your friend and nothing more,” and “his cute personality feels determined to distract you from his otherwise basic skills.” The robot met its death in 2019, but some lucky customers were able to snag a toy version of Jibo on Dead Startup Toys before it sold out. It’s not clear how much they paid for their new, just-as-useless-as-the-original friend, but hopefully much less than the $900 price of the real product.

Other products include a $40 mini laptop representing the failure that was the One Laptop Per Child project and a toy Coolest Cooler, “an overspecced combination cooler/speaker/blender that failed to deliver so thoroughly it was investigated as fraud,” Dead Startup Toys writes. That toy is also sold out, so you’ll need to find a new home for your mini blender and ketchup packets.

Big fans of failure can also opt for Dead Startup Toys’ Collector’s Bundle, which is “the entire mid-2010s venture capitalist experience in one box.” You can get models of all five useless products for $160 (£115, AU$214), to serve as a heartwarming reminder that not all ideas are worth pursuing. Priceless. 

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