4 Tech Horror Stories: When Products Go Bad

Tech is great, until it’s not.

To celebrate halloween, we’re looking at some more horror stories from the tech world. From failed features, to billion dollar investments going down the drain, here are some of the biggest Silicon Valley screams.

Take them as cautionary tales, or just enjoy the secondhand embarrassment!

An Error in Judgement and a $1.75bn Loss: Quibi

Let’s start with the biggest fail of the year…Quibi. If you’re anywhere near the tech world, Quibi needs no introduction.

With a name derived from ‘quick bites’, the goal of Quibi was to create short-form content made for mobile. On paper it makes sense. Our attentions spans are ever shortening, and people are looking for shows that fill a quick time slot (for example, while you’re commuting).

Unfortunately…no one seemed to want it. And the end result? $1.75bn down the toilet.

One of the biggest shocks about the death of Quibi, is that it seemed to be such a recipe for success. Big investors, big stars, and big talent in founders. But even six months ago when it seemed like Quibi had the world at its feet, once question remained unanswered. “Who asked for this?”

Despite 175 shows featuring celebrities like Chrissy Teigen, Jennifer Lopez, and top directors like Steven Spielberg, users weren’t biting. While official numbers haven’t been released, it seems likely that Quibi’s 7 million users at launch were mostly there purely out of curiosity. And for the 14 day free trial.

In an interesting take from Morning Brew, it might have been an over-reliance on celebrity marketing that forced Quibi into an early grave. Marketers showed that they were the least interested in working with celebrity influencers, preferring micro influencers which users feel are more authentic.

What lessons can we learn from Quibi’s demise? We asked our product expert Twitter followers;

This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things: Tay

An artistically-pixellated fluorescent image of a girl's face
Tay’s profile picture…straight out of a horror movie

That was the collective response from the internet when Tay went rogue. “This is why we can’t have nice things.”

The internet is a great place, but it can also be pretty terrible, as proven by Twitter when Microsoft used the platform to unleash Tay. Tay was (is?) an AI chatbot which interacted with users and learned from their responses.

Tay was designed to mimic the interests and speech patterns of a 19-year old girl. Interactions with users began as expected, with Tay talking about puppies and pop culture, etc.

Such innocence cannot last on the internet for long and soon the trolls came flocking! They exploited Tay’s ‘repeat after me’ function, making her say anything from holocaust denial to extreme political stances. Eventually this seemed to become integral to Tay, and she began coming up with very…um…not very PG tweets all by herself.

Tweet about Tay

Two days later, Tay was shut down bu Microsoft, but was accidentally re-released during testing. She got caught in an infinite loop, endlessly tweeting to herself.

Tay Bot infinite loop of tweets

The Black Mirror-ness of it all was soon shut down, with Microsoft announcing that Tay was being shut down for good. Well…maybe not for good. Microsoft have announced that they are working on Tay with plans to re-release her once they could ‘make the bot safe.’

While many users see this as a warning about the future of AI, in reality it was down to a subset of users exploiting a security vulnerability in Tay. And Microsoft have since released other chatbots to greater success, stating that they learned a lot from their experience with Tay.

According to Microsoft Cybersecurity Field CTO Diana Kelley, “learning from Tay was a really important part of actually expanding that team’s knowledge base, because now they’re also getting their own diversity through learning.”

Not So Picture Perfect: Everpix

Everpix. We gave it our all. Thank you, again. We'll miss it dearly.

Unlike the Quibi and Tay, when Everpix was at its peak, it actually enjoyed a lot of success! Everpix was once the world’s top photo startup, hosting over 400 million images from users.

Unfortunately hosting 400 millions images costs a lot of money…and the money running out is a nightmare for every entrepreneur. Even the best Silicon Valley startups can’t function without cash.

So when we say ‘success’ what do we mean exactly? Because at a time when Everpix seemed to be riding a high, they were quickly going broke.

Thanks to calculations made by The Verge, we know that Everpix managed to raise $2.3 million in funding, and received $254,060.57 in revenue from paid subscribers.

And yet with legal and consulting fees, office expenses, operating costs, salaries, payroll, and personnel costs, the company had a net income of -$2,294,818. It got to a point when they wouldn’t be able to pay their $35,000 Amazon Web Services bill.

Now imagine that they also had to pay their employees, and refund their paid subscribers.

The nightmare here, is that Everpix had every reason to succeed…but somehow it just couldn’t. They had all of the ingredients for a Silicon Valley dream, and yet it all went wrong.

Maybe Everpix was just ahead of its time, or they spent too much money on design too early, or scaled too quickly. Entrepreneurship is tough, and even the best laid plans can go awry.

An Early Grave: Juicero

When you’re drinking a fruit smoothie, do you ever think to yourself “Sure, this is nice. But it needs more internet!”

Internet of Things (IoT) is an incredibly exciting space to work in, and there are some things that we never knew we needed until they were invented. Or at least…that’s how it seems to consumers. But successful IoT companies actually conduct an incredible amount of research to make sure they have product-market fit.

Juicero was Silicon Valley’s attempt to bring the internet to…juice. Their mission is best summed up in their promo:

So for the low price of $400 for a WiFi-connected juicer, you could have fresh juices made on demand in your home. It seemed to make sense. People LOVE kitchen gadgets, like automated coffee machines and smart fridges. And people also love juice. Why wouldn’t it work?

Juicero’s nightmare started when Bloomberg released a 1 minute video…

That’s right. The $400 machine basically did the same thing as your $0 pair of hands.

It was something of a tipping point for Silicon Valley, even as late as 2017 when the whole Juicero business imploded, when people started to ponder whether everything needs WiFi.

It’s unclear how much user research was conducted, and what efforts Juicero made to make sure that people actually wanted a $400 juice machine…if they did they certainly didn’t expect it to be so redundant.

What happened to Juicero? Don’t ask the founder, he doesn’t like to talk about it.

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