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The Controversy of Bodega and their upscale vending machine

Have you read about Bodega?

It’s new type of upscale vending machine designed by two ex-Google employees that has caused a flurry of news articles and sparked a debate over a whole hot mess of issues including automation, cultural identity, racism, innovation, Silicon Valley and even logistics.

The company ‘Bodega’ was founded last year by Paul McDonald and Ashwath Rajan with the aim of making our small daily purchases easier by eliminating thousands of corner shops (and real family run bodegas) and replacing them with hundreds of thousands of more targeted, automatic ‘Bodega’ machines.  AS McDonald said in an interview with Fast Company, “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.” Meaning that you don’t have to travel as far, or spend as long buying your snickers.

The result of their efforts is an indoor lock box or vending machine that looks like the mid-century sideboard of a supremely thoughtful and organised obsessive compulsive. The company also claims that through ‘machine learning’ the machines will be able to personalise their product range for their location and market.

Bodega vending machine Paul McDonald Ashwath Rajan

After reading several excellent articles about the whole venture, I’m very much of the opinion that it’s a decent idea that has has been executed incredibly badly.

I wouldn’t want to lose the pleasure of shopping in a bodega or local corner store and I’m sure I’m not alone in this. I can see the benefit of having more vending machines that sell products rather than just food, however, the company should be looking, for now at least, to have the two options happily coexist.

The two founders have clearly misunderstood some of the social aspects of shopping in small grocery stores and bodegas, and have chosen a name which makes them seem culturally insensitive, at best.

Even worse, McDonald backpedaled on their former statements in a post on the ‘Bodega’ company blog on Medium, which all but confirmed that they had adopted the name without thinking through how it would look like cultural appropriation and ivory-tower like misunderstanding of the struggles of immigrant businesses and small businesses.

Here are three recommended reads to help you make up your own mind:

  1. ‘Fury at ‘Bodega’ tech startup that aims to put corner shops out of business’, Sam Levin on The Guardian
  2. ‘Bodega is either the worst named startup of the year, or the most devious’, Adi Robertson on The Verge
  3. ‘Two ex-Googlers want to make Bodegas and Mom-and-Pop corner stores obsolete’, Elizabeth Segran on Fast Company

Top photo by Shawn Hoke/ Flickr; middle photo/ Bodega.

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