As the obits piled up, Apoorva Mehta couldn’t help but shake his head. It wasn’t his death that the press was heralding, but that of his startup, Instacart, a five-year-old grocery and retail delivery service valued at $3.4 billion. That morning in mid-June, Amazon stunned the world by announcing its purchase of Whole Foods for $13.7 billion. As shares of grocery chains plunged, many in the tech press noted that few had more to lose than Instacart. Whole Foods was not only an Instacart investor but also its biggest customer at the time, accounting for nearly 10% of sales.
Even as pundits turned on him, Mehta, 31, says he felt nothing but vindication. For years he’d been telling grocery chains they should prepare for an all-out assault from Amazon. Services like AmazonFresh and a plan for its own futuristic brick-and-mortar grocery store were only the beginning, he warned. While Mehta hadn’t expected the Whole Foods purchase–no one had, it seems–that only made his pitch more urgent. As Whole Foods executives broke the deal news to Mehta and Instacart’s chief business officer, Nilam Ganenthiran, in a 6 a.m. call, the two messaged each other with thumbs-up emojis.