Protocol | Workplace

Why Instacart is shopping for Big Tech talent

Dozens of employees from Amazon, Facebook and Google joined Instacart in the past year.

A green Instacart shopping bag brandished with the words "Milk & Eggs & Big Tech Employees"

Instacart is beefing up its top line, engineering, product and ads team with Big Tech hires.

Image: Instacart; Protocol Photo Illustration

For a moment, it seemed like Instacart was fixated on Facebook talent.

The company started the summer by announcing Fidji Simo, one of Facebook's big execs, as its next CEO. Just a few weeks later, Instacart tapped Facebook's ads leader, Carolyn Everson, as the next president.

But the truth is, Instacart is getting talent from all over Big Tech, from Facebook to Amazon to Google. Experts in tech management and recruitment said the volume of Big Tech hires isn't unusual — Instacart likely wants people with a track record of success, and those coming in could see a chance to take a leading role in a company that may go public down the line.

"Like many, they are taking a leadership role in their space, and talent likes to be where other talent is arriving," says Nada Usina, who leads the tech sector at management consulting firm Russell Reynolds. "They want to be a part of a leading company and when you see that an organization is investing in people, in tech and in the future, it's a pretty good trifecta to get connected with."

Here's a look at how the company is growing, where it's expanding, and what it all could mean:

Where is Instacart finding execs?

In the past year, Instacart has picked up leaders from companies like LinkedIn, Uber, Google and Amazon. The list, according to an Instacart spokesperson, includes:

  • Asha Sharma, COO, from Facebook
  • Nikila Srinivasan, VP of product, international, from Facebook
  • David McIntosh, VP of product, retail, from Google
  • Vik Gupta, VP of engineering, ads, from Google
  • Daniel Danker, VP of product, shopper & fulfillment, from Uber
  • Laura Jones, VP of brand & marketing, from Uber
  • Nick Giovanni, CFO, from Goldman Sachs
  • Christina Hall, chief HR officer, from LinkedIn
  • Rama Katkar, VP of finance, from Credit Karma
  • Ryan Mayward, VP of ad sales, from Amazon
  • Casey Aden-Wansbury, VP of policy & government affairs, from Airbnb

The spokesperson said a handful of companies, like Facebook, Uber, Google and Amazon, have "done what we're doing at scale," which is part of the reason they came to work for the company.

That begs the next question, which is what exactly the company is doing on a big scale. The company began upscaling its ads department last year by allowing food products to market their businesses themselves on Instacart's app and website.

From a personnel perspective, the spokesperson said some of its fastest-growing areas include advertising, data and analytics and product. And among Instacart's leaders, seasoned execs from places like Google (Gupta) and Amazon (Mayward) are helping to grow the company's ads.

The spokesperson said the company's ads revenue grew "triple digits" last year, and it's up triple digits year-over-year so far this year. According to The Wall Street Journal, the company raked in about $300 million in ad revenue last year, and is looking to grow to $1 billion by next year.

Where else are Instacart's hires coming from?

To bolster any sort of ads platform, the company needs a lot more hires than those who found their way to the top. In 2020, Instacart's staff grew 50%, and it's trying to expand by another 50% this year across nearly all of its teams, according to a spokesperson. Over the past year or so, the company hired a total of 970 people.

Like the company's new leaders, many of those hires come from the Big 4 — namely Amazon, Google and Facebook. In fact, an equal number of employees from those three companies came over to Instacart over the past year, totalling nearly 200 of the company's new hires, according to a Protocol analysis using LinkedIn data.

The majority of those hires now work in the company's quickly growing departments: engineering, product and data and analytics. Take, for example, the company's Facebook hires over the past year — Instacart hired about 70 total people from the social media platform, about 25 of whom work in engineering, 15 or so in product and about seven in data, according to the LinkedIn data.

Could these hires lead up to an IPO?

For management consulting experts, pulling from a range of big Silicon Valley companies means Instacart is trying to diversify its staff and pull homegrown talent. And for the people coming to the company, they say heading to Instacart gives them a chance to be part of a company's pre-IPO story.

"This is not different from Seamless or GrubHub or others — they would attract talent that is strong in tech, engineering, comp-sci, that kind of DNA. So not unusual," said Usina, the tech lead at Russell Reynolds. "It's hard to say what motivates individuals but en masse, I think the opportunity for companies like Instacart to attract people is that you have a chance to impact probably more in a pre-IPO setting than you would in a much more structured environment."

Usina added that it's relatively common for people from large Silicon Valley employers to move to an emerging business like Instacart, help it grow to a similar standing as their last employer, then migrate to the next rising business.

Nicky Garcea, a co-founder at the business management consulting firm Cappfinity and an organizational psychologist, said from Instacart's perspective, pulling talent from a range of big tech companies could mean the company is looking to scale its services (which, in some sense, looks to be its advertising), and is leaning on those in the industry who have already proven they've done it well.

Garcea added that hiring from a number of different organizations ensures Instacart diversifies its departments while it scales, whether it be from a racial and ethnicity standpoint or from a thought and creativity perspective.

Still, there's plenty of talent outside of large Silicon Valley employers that can help companies diversify, which some diversity and inclusion leaders are trying to push their businesses to explore.

"It's not unusual, when an organization wants to scale, that they do so through diversifying the talent pool," she said. "And recruiting from not just Facebook but Google, Amazon, is quite a well trodden-path in tech."

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