How 20+ Failures Led to a Billion Dollar Success: The Story Of Instacart

March 22,2017

How 20+ Failures Led to a Billion Dollar Success: The Story Of Instacart

How many times are you willing to fail to succeed? Apoorva Mehta endured over 20 failed startups before starting Instacart - and today, 5 years later, he has just raised $400 million, valuing Instacart at $3.4 billion.

After leaving a job at Amazon, in 2010 Apoorva decided to try his own hand as an entrepreneur. But it wasn’t easy going. He tried creating an ad network for gaming. It failed. He tried a Groupon for food. It failed. He tried building a social network for lawyers. It failed.

In total, he tried over 20 startups over 2 years, which all failed. “I tried to get traction for those products. But the result was always failure, failure and more failure.”

What did Apoorva learn from all this failure? “The experience taught me that you shouldn’t start a company just to start a company. The reason should be to solve a problem that you truly care about.”

That’s when he turned his focus on a problem he was having himself - having to go buy groceries (ironically because he was too busy working on ideas that weren’t working). “You're working 14 hour days and the last thing you want is not to have good food in the fridge”.

That got Apoorva thinking: “It was 2012, people were ordering everything online, meeting people online, watching movies online, yet the one thing everyone has to do every single week - buying groceries.”

Deciding to create a company to provide home delivery from your favourite grocery store, Apoorva decided to motivate himself by not visiting the grocery store until he had finished his app:

“I began writing code for the first version of the app and, when it was ready, placed the first order. Then, I went to the grocery store, picked up my groceries and delivered them to myself.”

"So, technically, we started with one shopper in the summer of 2012 and have about 7,000 across the nation today.”

Apoorva learned from the earlier failure of Webvan, which had gone bust trying to maintain their own distribution and groceries. Instead, he partnered with the grocery stores and grew a national network of shoppers who would shop and get paid when an order came in, similar to Uber’s network of drivers.

The company grew exponentially, from $1 million in sales to $10 million the year after and $100 million in 2014. As Apoorva says, “You couldn’t get groceries delivered in one hour, you couldn’t get them delivered from all grocery stores in a market. Today Instacart does this, as a result of that we grew to get to this point very, very fast. We went from having three markets to 15.”

In 2015, Forbes named Instacart No.1 in their “America’s Most Promising Companies” list, the company grew from 15 to 35 cities and today Apoorva announced the $400 million investment led by Sequoia Capital, valuing Instacart at $3.4 billion.

What would have happened if Apoorva had quit after his 3rd failure? Or 10th? Or 20th?

What idea that isn’t working should you quit, so you can start on the one that will?

And if you don’t have the right idea yet, do what Apoorva did, and shop around...

“When one door closes another door opens, but we so often look so long and so regretfully upon the closed door, that we do not see the ones which open for us.” ~ Alexander Graham Bell

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