Startup News & Analysis

It’s all in the name: Why US tech startup Bodega faced backlash

Martin Kovacs /

Bodega

Source: Bodega, Vimeo

Bodega, a tech startup aimed at disrupting the corner shop industry in the US, has drawn ire over its choice of name, with social media anger quickly building following news of the company’s launch.

The company, which has “created small, automated stores stocked with essentials” accessible via app, has this week been in damage control mode, addressing criticism that its name is appropriative and that it is trying to put small corner shops out of business.

Bodegas are common in the US and are generally small stores selling food and alcohol. The startup is attempted to put an automated spin on the concept.

“With the tap of a button you get access to everything inside and can take whatever you need,” Paul McDonald, Bodega co-founder and chief executive, explains via a Medium post.

“A set of cameras inside the cabinet use computer vision to recognise what you take  —  just grab items off the shelf. When you’re done, close the doors and walk away. Your credit card is automatically charged. And Bodega learns what sells and restocks accordingly.”

McDonald had outlined his ambitions to Fast Company, stating that the vision “is much bigger than the box itself”.

“Eventually, centralised shopping locations won’t be necessary, because there will be 100,000 Bodegas spread out, with one always 100 feet away from you,” he told Fast Company, while also stating that he was “not particularly concerned” when asked if he was worried that the name might come off as culturally insensitive.

However, amid the ensuing backlash, McDonald followed up with another Medium post, writing that the reaction “certainly wasn’t what we expected”.

McDonald acknowledged the company didn’t fully understand what the reaction to its name would be, acknowledging that it had “sparked a wave of criticism on social media far beyond what we ever imagined”.

“When we first came up with the idea to call the company Bodega we recognised that there was a risk of it being interpreted as misappropriation,” he said.

“We did some homework — speaking to New Yorkers, branding people, and even running some survey work asking about the name and any potential offense it might cause.”

However, as McDonald notes, the right questions may not have been asked of the right people.

“Despite our best intentions and our admiration for traditional bodegas, we clearly hit a nerve this morning, we apologise,” he said.

“Rather than disrespect to traditional corner stores —  or worse yet, a threat —  we intended only admiration. We commit to reviewing the feedback and understanding the reactions from today.”

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Martin Kovacs

Martin Kovacs is a journalist with experience covering the IT, consumer electronics, retail, finance and energy sectors.

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