In June, we hosted two fantastic speakers for our monthly Venture Talk series to explore the operations of eCommerce food delivery - Azella Perryman and Sagar Sanghvi. Azella is the Caviar National Catering Operations Lead at Square, and Sagar is the VP of Finance and Strategy at Instacart.
By Elizabeth Somerville from SAP Bay Area
During this evening conversation, Azella and Sagar discussed the logistics and operations of managing people and finances in a hyper competitive marketplace. While Caviar and Instacart are quite different, they still run up against very similar challenges of relying on a large workforce of delivery drivers and new startups nipping at their heels. What struck me about their conversation, was their honesty and self-awareness. As growing companies in their industries that arguably each have larger competitors (DoorDash for Caviar and Amazon for Instacart) commanding the space, both Sagar and Azella bring fresh eyes and contrarian views to their companies that is very much needed.
Sagar explained that a unique challenge Instacart faces compared to most eCommerce companies is not being aware of when grocery stores run out products and shoppers need to replace those items with something else. Imagine if Amazon ran out of a product your ordered and just sent something else to you... "I like to tell people, we're better than most folks at it. We still suck at it. There's a lot of room to improve," said Sagar. Without having access to a store's inventory, one way Instacart is working to improve that situation is by creating algorithms that predict when a store typically sells out of certain products to alert a customer when they make that selection.
Caviar has also faced its own share of challenges. Having been acquired by Square in 2014, the company has had bumps in the road merging the two very different cultures. Azella explained that when she first joined Caviar, there was very little structure in how they scheduled the delivery drivers, causing the company to be unaware of how many drivers they would have for the following week until the end of the day Friday. One of her first projects in her role was to completely restructure that aspect of the business and institute an accountability point system. Long story short, it was a quick and drastic change that was not well received by the drivers. Her big lesson learned was to take the time first to test out her program and solicit feedback before rolling it out widely. "That's what I went there for," Azella said. "To learn. To fail. To try some stuff and see if it works. To try some stuff and see if it doesn't work."
When addressing their competition, both Azella and Sagar certainly acknowledged it exists, but they also approach their competition similarly - by being aware, but also focusing on their own organizations and making the best experiences for their customers. In the end, the true differentiator is how companies are able to rise in the experience economy. Sure, was it a tough day for Instacart when Amazon acquired Whole Foods? Of course it was. But, that hasn't stopped Instacart from continuing to improve their user experience and do what they do best as a company.
If this short summary made you even more curious you can watch the whole interview here.