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Instacart and Tonkean

Why Instacart Partnered With Tonkean

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At the onset of 2020, Veronica Yu, Senior Manager of Legal Operations at Instacart, oversaw operations for a small team of legal professionals—totaling about 15 employees in all. The team ran on simple processes that left her generally able to sleep well at night. But by 2021, Yu’s team had expanded to more than 50 people, and the demand on her team’s time was becoming intense. Instacart’s business 4X’d during the pandemic, as consumers became more apprehensive about making trips to the grocery store. The influx of new customers necessitated the engagement of more vendors and partnerships to enable the platform—along with the management and oversight of many, many more contracts and requests that needed to be reviewed by the legal team. 

The Instacart commercial team already had a complex job. When a contract arrives at Instacart, an intricate web of criteria determines which departments need to approve it. Some contracts require little human review and involvement while others require multiple approvals across different teams. 

Largely, the responsibility of obtaining and tracking those approvals fell on the legal team member who was also responsible for reviewing the contract and ensuring contractual obligations were understood by the business. 

With every team at Instacart moving rapidly to scale and to meet the needs of consumers in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, directing all this traffic and managing these already complex processes became much harder. Veronica knew Instacart Legal needed some help, possibly in the form of a technology partner.  

Veronica told us that she sought a partner with several specific features. She needed:

  • A flexible platform that could “stand up quickly”—a vendor that needed six months to build out a solution wouldn’t cut it. 
  • A platform that would work with Instacart’s legacy systems and processes, which the legal team was already familiar with, and that could begin providing new value to users without mandating much change management.
  • And, finally, a platform that could “grow with the team,” and accommodate a “crawl, walk, run” approach to technology implementation. In other words, a platform that could address simple processes quickly, but lay the groundwork for users to do much more—becoming even more powerful partners to the business—later on.

One specific example of a workflow that needed immediate help was Instacart’s contract review triage and intake process, which previously had been facilitated via email managed by a group of commercial attorneys and contracts managers. It largely fell on the group to track how the workload was being distributed. Veronica’s team needed a more efficient way to direct traffic and to track the status of requests.  

Instacart case study Tonkean

More simply, Veronica’s team needed a tool that could help them do more with less. “The processes that worked for a 10 person legal team were very different from what we needed for a 50 person team,” she said. “If we needed to pull a report of what the prior 3 months, 6 months, or 1 year looked like, that would’ve been an extremely manual process with managers having to ping each person on their team for updates and sift through emails. We needed metrics and data to quantify all the hard work the team was doing, without adding more to their already full plates.” 

This being Instacart, however, Veronica also stressed the importance of moving fast. “Instacart has always been a very fast-moving company,” Veronica added. “It became very clear to me that we needed a vendor that could move as quickly as we did. We wanted to implement something that would be able to continue to grow and adapt with the company.”

That’s why Instacart’s legal ops team turned to Tonkean.

Tonkean’s no-code process orchestration technology, Veronica said, checked all the boxes for what they needed out of a partner in ways that other platforms didn’t. 

“I looked at more traditional platforms to address the intake and ticketing problems and legal-specific systems that would generate simple documents or contracts for signature. I was struggling to find one platform that could handle both: the extremely simple requests requiring little human intervention and the complex requests that require multiple layers of approvals and must be drafted by a team member. Tonkean was able to handle both, in something I could build out myself.” 

“In the short term, we really needed a high-level view of our data that could be easily accessible and tracked by the team and leadership,” said Veronica. “Being able to compose modules to track those metrics was key, but we also wanted to look forward to a system that could evolve into something more advanced. We saw Tonkean as the right solution to start simple, but compose more complex workflows over time and automate manual processes everywhere in the department.”

[Want to learn more about how Instacart increased efficiency by 30% with enterprise no-code? Check out our free webinar here.]

Veronica and her team started by automating the contract review triage and intake process. “With different workflows and approval processes depending on the counterparty type of any contract, it was the responsibility of the legal team member reviewing the contract to manually keep track of the constantly-changing criteria and make sure the right approvals were given in addition to handling the actual legal review,” she said. “But now, we are able to collect all of that information at the start and automate the approvals, via email, through Tonkean. Our business counterparts are still approving the deals in the same way they are used to, but we are able to take away a manual step in our legal team’s brains that does not need to be there.”

Of course, they didn’t stop there. “With Tonkean, we are able to automate the easy requests so that all it requires is one email to a legal team member to say ‘I just need your stamp of approval on this after Tonkean has already drafted it.’ WIth one click, it is quickly off their plate,” said Veronica. 

Instacart Legal: a better business partner. 

This is already paying dividends. For one thing, after integrating Tonkean into their operational infrastructure, Veronica and her team immediately saw a decrease in the time between requests being submitted and a response from Legal. This was critical for Instacart and an important part of how they think about the return on their investment in Tonkean. 

Tonkean—which can automatically generate documents to speed up the legal intake workflow—has also allowed the legal team to operate more efficiently and with a more effective level of oversight.   

“As we got more and more visibility into our processes and workload with Tonkean, we’ve been able to look at our dashboard, evaluate all the requests we were handling, and assess where we can make improvements or build out more automation,” Veronica said. “More efficient resource allocation has been a big benefit from Tonkean, because we can determine which buckets of requests need to be handled by a team member, which buckets can be automated by Tonkean, and which buckets can be addressed via self-service resources.” 

Tonkean allows Veronica and her team to make better use of their data.

Instead of relying on a team member to keep track of different approvals, Tonkean’s Business Reports provides Instacart with an overview dashboard of the status of every legal request. 

All this has turned the legal ops department inside Instacart into a better enterprise partner across business units. When a cross-functional stakeholder wants better visibility into the number of vendors Instacart engages with, or what Instacart is spending on each vendor, Veronica and her team can easily access and make immediately actionable all such data. If a new business unit needs the ability to review or approve a specific type of request, this change can be made quickly to incorporate that business unit into the workflow. 

The various methods to collect approval also set Tonkean apart from other business platforms.

“Many of the traditional systems require you to access that system directly to collaborate. On the legal team, we have a different concern where we don’t necessarily want all pieces of information to be published and visible to the company,” Veronica said. “With Tonkean’s ability to send notifications or gather approvals via email or Slack, we are able to collaborate in a way that is easy for the external team member but allows us to maintain control over who can access information.”

Tonkean creates other kinds of value for the business writ large, too; the rest of the business at Instacart reaps the benefits of Tonkean even though they may never need to log in or learn any new way to work. Legal team members do have the option to review Business Reports in Tonkean, but all can also choose to continue working in the interfaces they’re already familiar with. 

“When we receive a new request, we send that via Slack to a channel that includes the entire contract review team. Everyone can see the requests coming in, and tag others as needed to discuss who the best owner is for that request,” Veronica said. “Other aspects of the workflow, like approvals and contract discussions, are set to run all through email. Legal teams like email and are used to operating that way. Tonkean allows us to stay within email when we want to.” 

Instacart and Tonkean

Perhaps most impactfully, however, Tonkean helps Instacart’s legal team be a better business partner by helping the team focus more comprehensively on the high value work they need to be spending their time on. Using Tonkean to automate simple processes that were being handled manually—processes that transcribe form standard templates, which Tonkean can handle instantly—frees up time for the legal team to focus on areas where they actually need to be involved.

“I have come to terms with the fact that no technology is going to be able to handle certain deals or contracts that are especially complex,” Veronica said. “But that is another benefit of Tonkean: we are tracking the work we have automated with the work that is handled by many humans, all within the same ecosystem.” 

The importance of accessibility and no-code.

There was another crucial element of Tonkean, however, that made Instacart’s success possible: its no-code accessibility. Neither Veronica, nor her team members who review contracts, knows how to code. But Tonkean’s no-code interface makes it simple to compose the process solutions fast, and to continue iterating on processes without having to rely on IT support.

“We did a phased launch where we would introduce the new process to one team at a time, collecting feedback from each team as we added them to the workflow,” Veronica said. “And throughout those phases, we were able to assess the feedback, make changes and incorporate them in real-time. We had the flexibility to look at our workflow and say, ‘You know what, this step really doesn’t make sense in practice for the way this team works, let’s fix that,’ And we’re able to make that change in the same week that it was reported.”

Veronica is the primary process “maker” on Instacart’s legal team, but she is working on training other team members to use Tonkean to maintain and build new workflows. Thanks to Tonkean’s no-code UI, this shouldn’t be too hard. 

What comes next for Instacart with Tonkean should be exciting. 

Since adopting Tonkean, Instacart Legal has begun using it to automate workflows and optimize processes for other use cases. And moving forward, Veronica sees the potential for even wider use of Tonkean. 

“There’s a lot of manual work that Legal still does, just because people are used to doing it that way. Since launching Tonkean and hearing about what we have built for contract review intake, there’s been a lot of interest to automate other processes within the team,” Veronica said. “So, I don’t think we’re done yet. Even with the contract review processes already in place, the big benefit of Tonkean has been that it is so flexible we can continue to adapt it. So I think we’re going to iterate on it probably forever.”

Speaking for the company, a “forever partner” is definitely the kind of partner we aim to be.

[Want to learn more about how Instacart increased efficiency by 30% with enterprise no-code? Check out our free webinar here.]

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