Because there’s nothing Silicon Valley can’t look at and think “hey, I can disrupt that,” a new start-up is explicitly trying to take down an integral facet of city life. Bodega, a swanky vending machine founded by two former Google employees, announced its launch by firmly planting itself in opposition to mom-and-pop corner stores. Shortly afterward, pretty much everybody on Twitter savagely roasted them.
Bodega announced itself to the world and simultaneously drew the internet’s ire with an article on Fast Company that hit the web Wednesday morning. The article explains how Google vets Paul McDonald and Ashwath Rajan were building 5-foot-wide boxes filled with non-perishable items like you might get at a brick and mortar bodega. The “tech” aspect of the start-up involves an app that unlocks the box and a camera that tracks what you take from it, so Bodega can automatically charge your credit card.
What McDonald and Rajan have done is make a pretty vending machine. Fine. What really got people up in arms was how the described their “vision.”
“Eventually, centralized shopping locations won’t be necessary, because there will be 100,000 Bodegas spread out, with one always 100 feet away from you,” McDonald told Fast Company.
Those “centralized shopping locations,” also known as actual IRL bodegas, are typically independently owned and they’re frequently integral parts of a local community or neighborhood. Bodegas are also frequently a means for recent immigrants to the United States to support themselves. Bodgea (the start-up) says nuts to all that. But, hey, don’t worry. McDonald and Rajan say they did surveys and the people they talked to didn’t see a problem with appropriating the term “bodega” and making it the name of a start-up that’s intending to take the real deal out.
Many folks on Twitter were angry, if unsurprised, at Silicon Valley’s tone-deaf attitude towards disruption.
Others noted that, in addition to being a pretty horrifying example of gentrification via tech, Bodega sucked because it couldn’t even offer the actual amenities of a true bodega, like breakfast sandwiches.
Other’s were upset that Bodega adopted a cat for its logo, a riff on the bodega cats that are often found sleeping among the canned goods in a local bodega.
(Cats aren’t the big problem here, however.)
There’s a world where the paltry tech behind Bodega could work with minority store owners instead of explicitly trying to fuck ‘em over, as one Twitter user noted.
Anyway, it’ll be fun to watch how Bodega deals with the PR nightmare they willingly walked into. Maybe Bodega will die before it ever gets a chance to ruin a single small business. Maybe it will just change its name to something that less self-defeating. Maybe tomorrow there will be an even dumber, more harmful tech start-up that everyone will get angry about. It’s always an adventure living in a burgeoning technocracy/dystopia.