AI Powered Smoothie Shop Shutters After Two Months
Was BetterBlends all hype or a planned pilot?
In a world where the words “AI-powered” and “GPT” pop up in seemingly every other press release, BetterBlends looked like a chance to do things differently. As opposed to merely alluding to some machine-learning undetectably powering a piece of software, the new San Francisco-based business was going to use artificial intelligence to come up with new, individualized flavors for its smoothies. But after less than two months of selling its beverages, BetterBlends’ storefront is now closed. Did something go wrong, or was this all according to plan?
Co-Founders Michael Parlato and Clayton Reynolds opened their business in early September, not just ideating the concept, but personally working the blenders and juicers at their downtown storefront. Located at 6th and Market, they chose to retail in a part of Downtown San Francisco that had long been on the somewhat “downmarket” side of things, but has taken a turn for the worse with fewer downtown workers leading to rising vacancies.
By swimming against that current, the concept seemed to have the whole city rooting for it. The San Francisco Standard raved about the beverages; the Chronicle covered the opening; the new store even got a write-up from an Irish-oriented publication.
Parlato and Reynolds also had another thing going for them — their location was just a few blocks from “Cerebral Valley” — the neologism meant to mark the neighborhood in San Francisco that’s emerged as the center for much of the region’s AI boom. Surely those techies would be thirsty and loyal customers. Adding to that, the co-founders have tech bonafides themselves, having previously worked at food hall startup Local Kitchens. Based on that background, they spent $20k to build out the 900 square foot store, with plans to raise a $1.1 million pre-seed round.
The Hype & The Tech
So, how all in on AI was this business? Perusing BetterBlends’ Google Maps listing, it seems like GPT was doing more than making menu suggestions, it was also a big part of their marketing. Shots of “customers” have the telltale signs of being computer generated: odd lighting, hands that aren’t quite right, oversized smoothie cups with gibberish on them.
But we’ve all bent a few rules for the sake of marketing, right? BetterBlends’ real tech — the personalized menu system — entailed answering a few questions and selecting from a number of options, allowing a web app to spit out a customized smoothie ingredient list for each customer. Gimmick or not, the system seemed to push patrons to try new flavors. “It uncovered that I like turmeric,” reported one early reviewer. Customers could also share their blends with others, leading creations like “Mango Madness” to become popular. (It’s worth noting that Mango-A-Go-Go is the most popular flavor at Jamba Juice, no machine learning required.)
“It’s been an interesting ride. People have loved it for sure, but the question was did we want to build just a smoothie brand.”
Downtown Doom Loop or Planned Pilot?
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