Bodega, a new startup, launched today, and faced instant criticism of their name and it’s the impact their business could have on actual Bodega’s. There were calls of cultural appropriation in the use of the name, only exacerbated by a business model that could be interpreted as designed to compete against local (and often minority) owned corner stores.
The founders of Bodega quickly put up a blog post (So, about our name…) explaining their innocent intentions. The most highlighted sentence in that piece so far reads:
But it’s clear that we may not have been asking the right questions of the right people.
I’ll come back to that thought in a moment. That same day, Hunter Walk, a partner at the VC firm homebrew and an investor in Bodega put up his own post about the investment (Thinking About Bodega), and his perspective on the reaction to the name of the company. I follow Hunter regularly on Twitter, and while I’ve never met him, I think he’s one of the more insightful VC’s who Tweets and Blogs regularly. But his last paragraph relates to the point I want to make, and connects back to the sentence above from the founder of Bodega.
Once that research came back positive, I was sold. It didn’t occur to me that some people would see the word and associate its use in this context with whitewashing or cultural appropriation. I heard it in a different way than some others are hearing it today. And that leaves me wondering why, because as an investor, and even more importantly as a human being, it’s an awareness that I need. So like the founders, I too want to listen and better understand the lines between homage and respect versus exploitation and insensitivity. Today tells me it’s a personal blindspot and to assist founders, to help them see around corners, I need to see clearly.
When I talk to people about the importance of focusing on Diversity and Inclusion within an organization, or within the VC community, one point I always make is that there is a business imperative to ensuring your leadership and your employees are diverse. You and your team have to represent the diversity of your customers, your audience, your clients, so that you can understand the cultural language, issues and concerns as you create your product, your messaging and build your brand.
Going back to the quotes above, both the founder of Bodega and Hunter Walk refer to ‘asking the right questions of the right people’ and wanting ‘to listen and better understand the lines’. You can try to go seek out those with the answers…or you can build diversity into your company, your firm, and your network of investors, board directors and advisors, so that this sensitivity is a feature of your organizational design.