Mentor Spotlight: Brandon @ Instacart

Mentor Spotlight

To summarize Brandon's career journey in one line: Finance Undergrad → Account Management @ PIMCO (Business associate role supporting multi-billion dollar institutional client base) → Catalog @ Instacart (retired the suit and tie for a t-shirt, taught myself SQL, helped grocers build virtual storefronts) → Retail Analytics & Insights @ Instacart (joined team early as an analyst, helped scaled it, and now manage a team of 4 driving growth for partners through data)

The Basics

Describe yourself with 3 emojis & give us a little context on why you chose them!

🥕 - I’ve spent the last 4+ years thinking about analyzing groceries (as a job!) and have loved every part of it  

🌁 - I was born in San Francisco and have been a lifelong (and recently very lucky) fan of all local sports teams 

🍕 - I’m constantly on the lookout for a good slice of pizza near me, regardless if I just ate a meal!

Where are you currently located?

📍 Currently live and work remotely in San Francisco

Career Pivots

What prompted you to want to pivot industries from Investment Banking to tech?

After studying finance in undergrad, I knew I wanted to start my career in a more traditional track to establish a strong foundation of professional skills. At PIMCO, I appreciated learning from really talented mentors and the opportunities to build good habits, from mastering Excel shortcuts to handling myself in meetings. After a few years, however, I found I wanted to have a more direct impact on the business, preferably in a high-growth environment where I could get closer to data and solve business problems in creative ways, which drew me to tech. 

What drew you to Instacart and how did you find your first role in tech?

At the time, a few friends and family had already made the pivot from a traditional track to startups, so the jump did not feel that risky at the time. I did not have a specific role in mind – but I wanted to leverage my client-facing experience at PIMCO while getting closer to the data. I first heard of Instacart through a podcast – How I Built This with Guy Raz – and an interview with the founder Apoorva. The story and mission of the company resonated with me, I was fascinated by the chance to work with grocery stores and a tangible product like food, and more practically, I could understand the business model! 

After finding a posting on Linkedin, my interview process at Instacart was quite seamless – except for the fact that I had never heard the word ‘SQL’ up until halfway through my first interview with the hiring manager. Everyone was incredibly friendly and supportive, however, and I’ll always be grateful to the team that took a chance on me. I joined the Catalog team, which at the time was quite technical and SQL-heavy, as it was responsible for helping retail partners build their virtual catalogs and expand coverage across the country. Over time, with the help of many mentors and countless reps, I built my SQL muscles and began leveraging it in my day-to-day role.

The Commons

What's your favorite thing about being a mentor?

  1. Seeing my mentees grow over the course of the Sprint, from the first week to the last week, and build confidence in both analyzing data and framing business problems
  2. Observing the community come to life in Slack, and the generosity of different folks in lending their time and expertise to help with any question that comes up!

What should people who are thinking about joining The Commons know about it?

While incredibly valuable and tactical in their own right, the Sprints are gateways to joining a really vibrant community, with direct access to real people in real jobs that you will almost certainly work with (or want to work with) at some point in your tech career!

Tell us about your current role! 

What’s the role? What team are you on? What is your day-to-day like?

I’m currently a manager on the Retail Analytics & Insights team at Instacart and lead a team of 4 Senior Analysts. We sit within the Business Development org, partnering cross-functionally across the company to develop data-driven insights and drive growth for our retail partners. Our partnerships with our retailers are at the core of our business, and my team directly covers a wide range of our largest grocery and non-grocery partnerships. Bringing groceries online can be complex, and our mandate is to understand the dynamics of the marketplace across macro business, operational, and customer trends. 

In our day-to-day, the team leverages complex SQL analysis to uncover short and long-term trends, partners with the Business Development team to drive decision-making across key initiatives at a set of partners, and crafts stories with data in monthly and quarterly business reviews. SQL is critical to the role, as it helps us bridge technical and non-technical stakeholders and empowers the team to be self-sufficient when solving problems in creative ways.

Tell us about a cool project you’ve worked on

Project Objective: Understanding the business impact of inflation

Project Overview: This project involved creating a series of slides to frame the business and customer impacts of inflation for our retailers. The project involved several steps – from first identifying the key themes surrounding inflation that retailers are interested in, to analyzing multiple slices of data to uncover key drivers and building a dashboard for tracking, to finally building out an external-facing story with clear takeaways.

Your role: Manager (led project with my team)

What made it so interesting? One of the most rewarding parts of my role is having access to data and the opportunity to help develop thought leadership regarding key trends in our business. At Instacart, because we partner with such a diverse range of retailers and move high volumes of orders across North America every day, we have a front-row seat to the key events impacting our retailers, customers, and shoppers that may also make the regular nightly news – ranging from Covid waves, to seasonal holidays and severe weather, to supply chain shortages, to understanding themes like inflation and concerns of an upcoming recession. We get to analyze and digest all of these events through data!

Advice for someone who wants to follow in your footsteps!

What advice would you give to your former self at the beginning of your job search? 

Two general pieces of advice:

  1. When you’re evaluating a new role, evaluate your fit with your future manager as much as the role or company itself. In my experience, having a great manager and team that you ‘fit’ with is so critical to how you view your daily work life, the culture you experience at the company, and your opportunities for growth. Fit varies by person – as people respond differently to different management styles – my advice is to just find the one that resonates with you. Especially at larger companies, every team is different, and often-times the roles all have similar descriptions filled with the same recurring buzzwords. Your manager and team will define your actual day-to-day experience, and they can be your biggest cheerleaders!
  2. Early in your career, don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty and volunteer for projects outside of your comfort zone, even if (and especially when) you don’t have any prior background! It’s a great way to build your network and develop empathy for other parts of the business. Tech companies also grow and evolve so quickly – after 2 months, you might be the most tenured subject-matter-expert on that project within the whole company! To the first point – just ensure you have a supportive manager and the right structure/environment around you to learn and contribute effectively.

Something Fun

Two truths and a lie:

🎙 Podcast: It’s a tie between Plain English with Derek Thompson, and Warriors Plus Minus from The Athletic staff

📰 Where you get your daily news: Twitter, The Atlantic, NY Times App 

📚 Book: Greenlights by Matthew McConaughey

🌟 A CEO or leader you admire: Steve Kerr

Interested in learning SQL to dive deeper into data analysis and prep for a role at a company like Instacart? Check out The Commons Strategy & Operations Sprint.

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What's the difference between BizOps and Chief of Staff?
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