Bodega, which markets glorified vending machines where users can buy groceries, boasts: Eventually, centralized shopping locations wont be necessary
A tech startup called Bodega that hopes to replace mom-and-pop shops with unmanned boxes that rely on an app and artificial intelligence is facing a massive backlash from immigrant business owners and skeptics across Silicon Valley.
The company, founded by two former Google employees and launched on Wednesday, is marketing five-foot-wide pantries that users can unlock with their smartphones to pick up non-perishable items. There are no humans at the stores which are already stationed in spots like apartment buildings, offices and gyms and a computer program automatically charges customers credit cards, according to Fast Company, which first reported on the startup.
Although the boxes appear to be little more than glorified vending machines, the companys executives have been widely mocked, and criticized for explicitly stating that their mission is to displace neighborhood corner stores and put family-owned shops out of business.
The vision here is much bigger than the box itself, co-founder Paul McDonald, a former Google product manager, told Fast Company. Eventually, centralized shopping locations wont be necessary, because there will be 100,000 Bodegas spread out, with one always 100 ft away from you.
McDonald backtracked on Wednesday, claiming in a blogpost that he is not trying to put bodegas out of business despite his earlier statements to the contrary: Challenging the urban corner store is not and has never been our goal.
The goal of disrupting a long-running industry and eliminating human interaction from the process of shopping at a convenience store is embedded in the roundly ridiculed Bodega name, which appropriates a commonly used term in the US for corner stores typically run by immigrants.
Its sacrilegious to use that name, and were going to do whatever we need to do to fight this, Frank Garcia, chair of the New York State Coalition of Hispanic Chambers of Commerce, told the Guardian. It was devastating to find out and its not fair to the local bodegas now that dont have the angel investors that these guys have.
McDonald and co-founder Ashwath Rajan have secured funding from high-profile players in the tech industry, including investors from First Round Capital, Forerunner Ventures and Homebrew and senior executives at Facebook, Google, Twitter and Dropbox, Fast Company reported.
Garcia said his grandfather was the head of the Latin Grocery Association in the 1960s and helped coin the term bodega, a name widely used for stores in New York City today.
Its his legacy and the legacy of these immigrants who came here with nothing to start a little grocery store, and came up with a concept to really help the community against racism, he said, noting that existing grocers often would refuse to serve Puerto Ricans. Dont use our community to make a fast buck.
McDonald claimed that the company conducted surveys in the Latin American community to understand if they felt the name was a misappropriation of that term or had negative connotations and alleged that 97% said no.