The One Thing Instacart's Now-Billionaire CEO Changed After 20 Failed Startup Ideas

At 33 years old, founder Apoorva Mehta's grocery delivery app has a valuation of $17.7 billion.

learn more about Nick Wolny

By Nick Wolny

Bloomberg | Getty Images

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Instacart is having one heck of a year. The company spent $27 million on efforts to help secure the recent victory of Proposition 22 in California, which will shift labor laws that benefit gig economy-driven startups. But prior to their success at the ballot box, the company was already stacking up one achievement after another this year.

In April 2020, Instacart had its first profitable month of operation, an increasingly rare find in Silicon Valley. And successful strategic partnerships continue to emerge; in Q3, the delivery app added retail giants Sephora and Bed Bath & Beyond to its options.

Thanks to additional investment rounds in 2020, the app's valuation has more than doubled, making founder and CEO Apoorva Mehta a billionaire at just 33 years old. But prior to founding the mammoth grocery delivery app, Mehta was a failure many times over. What was different about his approach to Instacart that made the company soar?

Related: California Votes to Strip Employee Protections From Uber and Lyft Drivers

Over 20 failed startups in a two-year period

Starting a business takes grit. In addition to overcoming bleak statistics – 20% of businesses fail in the first year and 50% fail within five years – being a startup founder requires passion, drive and a good deal of trial and error.

A software engineer by profession, Mehta left his career at Amazon to explore entrepreneurship. He found the challenge of startup culture to be intellectually demanding and stimulating; in one particular business pursuit, he spent a year building out a social networking platform specifically for lawyers.

A critical piece was missing from the equation, though: passion. In an interview with the Los Angeles Times in 2017, Mehta noted that "When I went home, I wouldn't think about it because I didn't care about lawyers." If you're feeling the same way about your business or side hustle… change something immediately.

Related: The Difference Between Inspiration and Motivation

The San Francisco-based entrepreneur loved to cook, and Mehta recalls the inconvenience of having to run around town to pick up certain special ingredients. Just like that, a business idea was born.

Timing is everything

The value proposition of Instacart is nothing new and had even been the business model of publicly-traded companies in the past. But the way consumers were acclimating to smartphone ecommerce was creating a huge opportunity.

Mehta had extensively studied the success and failure of Webvan, a grocery delivery company that climbed to a valuation of $1.2 billion after its 1999 IPO. Less than three years later, that company went bankrupt.

This time was different, though. In observing the steady rise of fellow San Francisco startup Uber, Mehta knew customers were becoming increasingly comfortable with app-based transactions. The timing was right for a new brand to step in and run to the front. Mehta built Instacart's prototype in about a month, and he even delivered groceries himself at the start to work out any kinks.

Related: 6 Reasons Why You Should Prototype Your Idea Before Developing It

How to develop your next business idea

Passion is critical for any startup success, but it's important to also know your market and ensure you don't end up building something no one wants. Here are a few ways to improve your chances of success.

  • Get the brutal truth. When looking to get feedback on a business idea, the worst thing you can do is ask your mom or a group of friends what they think. Seek out real feedback from prospective buyers.

  • Stay in the know on market trends. It's not about what you know — it's about when you know. Staying up-to-date on trends and technology for your respective industry can help you stay at the front of the pack.

  • Get hyped about the reason your business exists. How does this business improve the world? If it's so you can drive a Lamborghini, go back to the drawing board. Having a clear vision and mission for the purpose of your business will become a source of renewable energy and inspiration when times get tough.

According to Mehta, "The reason to start a company is to bring a change that you strongly believe in to this world." Zero in on the change you want to make, look for market opportunities, and your next successful business idea will be here before you know it.

Nick Wolny

Entrepreneur Leadership Network VIP

Writer, Speaker, and Consultant

Named a "40 Under 40" by Houston Business Journal, Nick Wolny is the founder of Camp Wordsmith, a business and writing membership for entrepreneurs. His weekly longform newsletter on online business, "The Slide Grease," goes out on Sundays. Wolny currently resides in Los Angeles.

Related Topics

Editor's Pick

Have More Responsibilities at Work, But No Pay Bump? Use This Script to Get the Raise You Deserve.
Black and Asian Founders Face Opposition at All Levels — Here's Why That Has to Change
Business News

This OnlyFans Star Was Once Part of a Fanatical MLM Cult. "I Was Forced Into Celibacy."

Cami Strella was lured into a multilevel marketing scheme but escaped to start her own six-figure-a-month business.

Business News

'Our Kids Aren't Even Safe To Order Food': Mother Outraged After DoorDash Employee Uses App to Flirt With Teen Daughter

One mom is going viral on TikTok after catching a DoorDash employee attempting to flirt with her 15-year-old daughter through the messaging service provided through the platform.

Cryptocurrency / Blockchain

When in Doubt, Don't: 4 Lessons to Learn from the Crypto Implosion

Before making any big investments in a hot new technology, take a full inventory of the doubts behind it.


Invest in Yourself: 10 Things Every Working Woman Should Do This Year

When striving for success, it is easy to forget about your mental and physical health. But without health, you cannot fully succeed. Follow these ten lifestyle strategies for success in your personal and professional life.


This Is the Overlooked Tool Your Business Needs to Reach Your Target Audience

Voice search is growing, and your business can utilize this important functionality to get more customers. Here's how.