On Wednesday, a whole bunch of people learned about Bodega. Not the family-owned corner stores popular in many major American cities, but the start-up from two former Googlers whose idea was introduced to the public in a Fast Company article that portrayed the new company as one that sought to put those stores out of business.
A “Bodega,” the ex-Googler thing, is basically a fancy box that uses an app-based system of unlocking and payment to provide nonperishable, convenience-store-type goods to people in a specific location. The founders want to set up “Bodegas” in gyms, apartment buildings and offices (among other locations) and restock them based on the demands of those locations.
The thing is, “Bodega” doesn’t really replace the bodega. Instead, it appears that Silicon Valley has invented a vending machine. A high-end vending machine. Maybe a minibar.
If this sounds familiar — an “invention” that already exists — that’s because it’s been kind of a running theme in Silicon Valley products, particularly those that tend to make a lot of people mad. Below is a roundup of some of the “best.”
What it “invented”: A wifi-enabled juicer with a powerful press designed to squeeze juice from a proprietary bag of fruit and vegetables.
What already existed: Your hands, Capri Sun, juicers.
This, in case you don’t remember, was the infamous, $400 juicer that sold its customers prepackaged bags of fruit and vegetables that, it said, could be pressed into delicious juice using only its machine. But Bloomberg figured out that the machine was unnecessary. You could just squeeze the bag with your bare hands and get about the same amount of juice.
Juicero shut down its expensive juice system this month.
What it “invented”: A replacement for the corner store.
What already existed: Vending machines, minibars.
Bodega, in taking the name used to describe the beloved New York corner store, seemed to do everything right, if its ultimate goal was to inspire online rage. Its name and early press coverage strongly suggested that its goal was to put a category of often immigrant- and minority-owned businesses out of business (something the founders later denied). The Bodega boxes look like what West Elm would sell if it sold vending machines. And its logo? Inspired by the famed bodega cat, who would be out of a home if the bodegas actually shut down.
What it “invented”: Lyft, but for people who are cool with traveling on a set path in a shared vehicle for a lower rate.
What already existed: A bus.
Lyft Shuttle, launched as an experimental service in March of this year, was promoted as a cheaper, commuter-friendly alternative to hailing a Lyft. As the Verge noted, the entire thing more or less duplicated what a city bus already does: travels on a fixed route, picks up and drops off riders at predetermined spots and transports a larger group of people at one time.
What it “invented”: A drinkable meal-replacement shake.
What already existed: SlimFast
Soylent calls its shakes “ready-to-drink meals,” aimed at those who feel they have no time to think about or enjoy food, but still need to provide fuel for their imperfect human bodies. When it launched, Soylent’s Silicon Valley connections and crowdsourced origins got it a lot of tech coverage. But as one of the Guardian’s tech reporters explained, there seems to be only one real difference between Soylent and the many meal-replacement drinks that have been sold to weight-conscious women for decades: “When I hear about Soylent, it’s almost as though SlimFast never existed, like Soylent emerged from the ether. Because it’s made by and for men, now we call it tech.”