A new startup launched by two former Google employees aims to replace the corner store – but city dwellers on Twitter don’t seem too happy about that.
The idea behind the startup, called Bodega after New Yorkers’ preferred term for the local convenience store, is to place interactive pantry boxes full of nonperishable goods in convenient spots so you can just grab and go without making the trip all the way to the corner.
The founders, Paul McDonald and Ashwath Rajan, first talked about the concept in a profile in Fast Company.
The startup has raised venture capital from notable investors like Josh Kopelman at First Round Capital, Forerunner Ventures’ Kirsten Green, and Homebrew’s Hunter Walk. According to a story by TechCrunch, the total amount raised was $2.5 million.
An app unlocks the box, and camera sensors see what you take to charge you accordingly. The startup has been testing the concept in locations like gyms, apartment lobbies, and offices. The idea is to flood the world with Bodega boxes so that one is “always 100 feet away from you,” McDonald told Fast Company. For now, it’s launching with 50 locations on the West Coast.
Criticism of the idea came swiftly. The thought of Bodega the startup threatening real bodegas made people uncomfortable.
As Elizabeth Segran writes in Fast Company, “The major downside to this concept – should it take off – is that it would put a lot of mom-and-pop stores out of business.”
Many on Twitter said the idea was similar to an already readily available technology: regular old vending machines. Many struggled to see the difference between the two, as vending machines at places like airports are omnipresent and sell all manner of objects.
Others took issue with the name. “Bodega” is a Spanish term that roughly translates to cellar, storehouse, or warehouse, but it has come into modern parlance to refer to corner stores usually owned or run by immigrants in large American cities. When asked whether the use of that term might be offensive to some, McDonald, the startup’s CEO, said he wasn’t worried.
“I’m not particularly concerned about it,” McDonald told Fast Company. “We did surveys in the Latin American community to understand if they felt the name was a misappropriation of that term or had negative connotations, and 97% said ‘no.’ It’s a simple name, and I think it works.”
People criticized the concept on Twitter:
literally if you had told me this was a plot line on silicon valley i would have told you to stop being so cynical
— Maya Kosoff (@mekosoff) September 13, 2017
Calling a Eames-lite combo of garage door opener and minibar “Bodega” is trolling or ignorance, both of which should give investors pause.
— Paul Ford (@ftrain) September 13, 2017
Weird that they're calling this heinous vending machine "Bodega" and not "Gentrification Box" https://t.co/xPCozclRRD
— Tristan Cooper (@TristanACooper) September 13, 2017
McDonald did not immediately return Business Insider’s request for comment.