Instacart files to go public on Nasdaq to try and unfreeze tech IPO market


Fidji Simo, chief executive officer of Instacart Inc., speaks during an interview in San Francisco, California, on Thursday, March 3, 2022.
David Paul Morris | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Instacart, the grocery delivery company that slashed its valuation during last year’s market slide, filed its paperwork to go public on Friday in what’s poised to be the first significant venture-backed tech IPO since December 2021.

The stock will be listed on the Nasdaq under the ticker symbol “CART.” In its prospectus, the company said net income totaled $114 million, while revenue in the latest quarter hit $716 million, a 15% increase from the year-ago period. Instacart has now been profitable for five straight quarters, according to the filing. PepsiCo has agreed to purchase $175 million of the company’s stock in a private placement.

Instacart said it will continue to focus on incorporating artificial intelligence and machine learning features into the platform, and that the company expects to “rely on AIML solutions to help drive future growth in our business.” In May, Instacart said it was leaning into the generative AI boom with Ask Instacart, a search tool that aims to answer customers’ grocery shopping questions.

“We believe the future of grocery won’t be about choosing between shopping online and in-store,” CEO Fidji Simo wrote in the prospectus. “Most of us are going to do both. So we want to create a truly omni-channel experience that brings the best of the online shopping experience to physical stores, and vice versa.”

Instacart will try and crack open the IPO market, which has been mostly closed since late 2021. In December of that year, software vendor HashiCorp and Samsara, which develops cloud technology for industrial companies, went public, but there haven’t been any notable venture-backed tech IPOs since. Chip designer Arm, which is owned by Japan’s SoftBank, filed for a Nasdaq listing on Monday.

Founded in 2012 and initially incorporated as Maplebear Inc., Instacart will join a crop of so-called gig economy companies on the public market, following the debut in 2020 of Airbnb and DoorDash and car-sharing companies Uber and Lyft a year earlier. They’ve not been a great bet for investors, as only Airbnb is currently trading above its IPO price.

Instacart shoppers and drivers deliver goods in over 5,500 cities from more than 40,000 grocers and other stores, according to its website. The business took off during the covid pandemic as consumers avoided public places. But profitability has always been a major challenge, as it is across much of the gig economy, because of high costs associated with paying all those contractors.

In March of last year, Instacart slashed its valuation to $24 billion from $39 billion as public stocks sank. The valuation reportedly fell by another 50% by late 2022. Instacart listed Amazon, Target, Walmart and DoorDash among its competitors.

Headcount peaked in the second quarter of 2022, Instacart said, “and declined over the next two quarters, reducing our fixed operating cost base.” At the end of June, the company had 3,486 full-time employees.

The biggest area for cost reductions has been in general and administrative expenses. Those costs shrank to $51 million in the latest quarter from $77 million a year earlier and a peak of $102 million in the final period of 2021. Instacart said the drop was the “result of lower fees related to legal matters and settlements.”

Simo took over as Instacart’s CEO in August 2021 and became chair of the company’s board in July 2022. She was previously head of Facebook’s app at Meta and reported directly to CEO Mark Zuckerberg. Apoorva Mehta, Instacart’s founder and executive chairman, plans to transition off the board after the company’s public market debut, according to a 2022 release.

The company’s board also includes Peloton CEO Barry McCarthy, Snowflake CEO Frank Slootman and Andreessen Horowitz’s Jeff Jordan.

Instacart will be one of the first independent grocery delivery companies to go public. Amazon Fresh, Walmart Grocery and Google Express are all units of large corporations. Shipt was acquired by Target in 2017 and Fresh Direct, another direct-to-consumer grocery delivery company, was bought by global food retailer Ahold Delhaize in 2021.

Sequoia Capital and DJ Capital Partners are the only shareholders owning at least 5% of the stock. Instacart said those two firms, along with Norges Bank Investment Management and entities affiliated with Technology Crossover Ventures, D1 Capital Partners and Valiant Capital Management, have “indicated an interest, severally and not jointly” in purchasing up to $400 million of shares in the IPO at the offering price.

Instacart’s move into AI has come largely through a string of acquisitions in the past two years. Those deals include the purchase of e-commerce startup Rosie, AI-powered pricing firm Eversight, AI shopping cart and checkout solutions provider Caper, and FoodStorm, a software startup specializing in self-serve kiosks for in-store customers.

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