Recently, two former Google employees unveiled their new concept: Bodega, a series of “five-foot-wide pantry boxes filled with non-perishable items you might pick up at a convenience store,” which work by connecting to an app that charges your credit card if you take something out of the box. If this sounds like a vending machine, or perhaps a hotel mini-bar, that’s because it is. In a splashy story in Fast Company, the two former Google employees explain that they’ve received funding from “senior executives at Facebook, Twitter, Dropbox, and Google”—about $2.5 million in funding, actually—with hopes of installing thousands of their kiosks in gyms, dorms, and apartment buildings. The end goal of Bodega is to collect data about its customers in specific areas, and then “use machine learning to constantly reassess the 100 most-needed items in that community.”
Between a clumsy attempt at appropriating bodega culture—the company’s logo is a nod to bodega cats—and a baffling logistics and business model, the Internet swiftly lit up with critiques of the company.
The public outcry was fast and furious.
The company responded to the mounting criticism later Wednesday in a Medium post, the apology vehicle of choice for rueful start-up founders. “Is it possible we didn’t fully understand what the reaction to the name would be?” co-founder Paul McDonald wrote. “Yes, clearly. The name Bodega sparked a wave of criticism on social media far beyond what we ever imagined. … It’s clear that we may not have been asking the right questions of the right people.”
The takeaway: Be smart. Be sensitive. Get advice from people already in the automated retailing industry.