Quick Reflections On Seeing Instacart From The Early Days

A bit more than a decade ago, when I was just starting Haystack (a $1M “debut” Fund I), I was a venture partner with Bullpen Capital, juggling lots of consulting roles with a variety of VC firms, and recently became a father, all in the span of a few months. With a small fund checkbook in hand, and as an avid user of Instacart and friend of Apoorva’s, I made to overture to him to let me invest. Graciously, he accommodated me, and I recount that history in this post from late 2013.

Since then, Instacart has been on a journey that saw the on-demand delivery wars (Uber, DoorDash, Sprig, etc.), Amazon buying Whole Foods for $14B (!!!), the demand shock of the pandemic shutdowns, post-pandemic re-opening and the subsequent shifts in consumer behavior, the more recent economic downturn that began toward the end of 2021, and the shift in its executive leadership — all while transforming into an ads business. Those are a lot of big swings of the pendulum over the past decade, going all the way back to their humble yet gritty early days in Y Combinator.

I wanted to write this post as a thank you to Apoorva and Max, especially, in addition to the early Instacart team. Without Instacart as an early calling card for me, I’m not sure Haystack would exist today. This investment was that consequential to me. It was about survival for me at that point in time.

By identifying Instacart early and convincing Apoorva to let me invest a bit, that small gesture quickly gave me a small taste of industry cred I’d long wanted but never received. Instacart quickly raised a Series A, then Series B, and then a Series C, all by industry heavyweights. On a more personal level, as years passed and we had twins (now a household of 5), being involved with Instacart enabled us to transition from a month-to-month lifestyle and finally invest in a home and begin to settle the kids down in school. Just as discovering the app during the 2012 Thanksgiving break was a magical fix, so too was being a small part of the ride so we could finally put down roots in the Bay Area as a family.

So for me, the news of Instacart going public as $CART conjures up mostly a mix of painful and joyous memories. I remember how hard it was to crack into the investing game. I remember how much our household used Instacart as a customer while having our first kid and then twins. Friends around the country know of Instacart, which used to surprise me in the early days. In a way, it helped give me a work identity when I didn’t have anything to hold on to career-wise.

I know there will be lots of haters, fans, and skeptics chiming in about $CART as it goes public today and has its valuation be subject to the whims and gyrations of hedge fund computer algorithms. There will be fans, like me, who appreciate how difficult a business this is to build; there will be haters, who want to see a company falter; and there will be scores of skeptics who don’t believe a company like Instacart can survive in this new economic climate.

I’ll opt to be a fan.

In drafting this post, I was reminded of my youth. I would often accompany my parents to the grocery store. My dad enjoys packing things – luggage, boxes, and so it happened to be, grocery bags. So I would learn to bag the groceries with him while we were checking out. Fast forward to the present, I still bag my groceries when I’m at my local market preparing for a home-cooked meal. [Yes, I still shop in an actual physical local market when I’m setting up to cook an adult meal.] Oftentimes, the checkout clerk will notice I’m bagging quickly and efficiently and ask me “Do you work for Instacart?” I’ve gotten this question perhaps 50 times, to which I always respond, “Yeah, I used to.”

In closing, I would like to thank the founders and early teams, as well as wish the current team the best of luck on the next decade ahead. Congratulations!