The Repair Angle In Wired’s Big McDonalds Ice Cream Expose
Wired’s recent story of Kytch is notable for exposing the truth about McDonald’s notoriously fussy soft ice cream machines. But it is also about why a right to repair is so important.
Andy Greenberg’s recent story in Wired Magazine profiling the Internet of Things intelligence start-up Kytch got a lot of attention. Much of that attention was due to Greenberg’s success in shining the light of truth on a heretofore unexplainable phenomenon: the strange tendency of McDonald’s ice cream machines to break down.
The fast-food chain’s finicky ice cream dispensers had already seen at least one employee assaulted by angry ice-cream seeking customers, became the stuff of “memes” and spawned a popular website: “McBroken” in 2020 that tracks broken ice cream machines across the U.S. (As I write this, 22% of the McDonald’s ice cream machines in the state of New York are not working.)
Greenberg’s article pulled the curtains back on that, with a story of opaque and balky machines sold at steep discounts to McDonald’s franchisees by the fast food giant’s longtime supplier Taylor Company. The machines did an uneven job of doling out ice cream cones and McFlurries, but were reliable in generating thousands in service and repair business for Taylor authorized service providers, at great cost to franchise owners.
But the even bigger story behind Kytch is about the right to repair itself. Indeed, Taylor’s error prone soft ice cream machines, with their indecipherable error messages, hidden service menus and sequestered operational data are a cautionary tale of what happens when manufacturers succeed in erecting walls to owner- or independent repair and servicing.
Long and short: the absence of repair and servicing options makes it very easy for OEMs like Taylor to create rackets: unfair business models designed to extract money from “customers” while providing little in the way of service or benefit to them.
I had the opportunity to interview Jeremy O’Sullivan, Kytch’s co founder recently on my podcast. In a wide ranging conversation covering two episodes (below), we discuss his initial foray into the business: a self service soft ice cream kiosk known as Fro bot that had both the blessing and encouragement of Taylor’s leadership.
Ultimately, O’Sullivan’s struggles with Taylor’s equipment when launching Fro Bot led to him to launch Kytch: an Internet of Things analytics startup that could help Taylor owners better manage their equipment. But that idea - O’Sullivan learned - ran up against what appeared to be Taylor’s real business model: a kind of designed incompetence that requires Taylor’s customers to make heavy, ongoing investments in expensive, authorized repair and servicing.
Check out my conversation with Jeremy below. You can also use this link or the button above to jump to the part of our conversation where we discuss the right to repair. Or listen to the whole conversation in episodes 215-1 and 215-2 of The Security Ledger Podcast, below.