NORTH AMERICAN GROCERY DELIVERY SERVICE
As the pandemic took hold in 2020 and shoppers became more apprehensive about making trips to the grocery store, Instacart found its grocery delivery and pick-up services across North America in high demand.
The business grew 4X during the COVID-19 pandemic, and the influx of new customers necessitated the engagement of more vendors and partnerships. Each new engagement required contract review and negotiation from Instacart’s legal team. To ensure their processes scaled properly and efficiently as they handled the new volume, Instacart’s legal operations team turned to Tonkean’s no-code process orchestration platform.
Veronica Yu, Director of Legal Operations at Instacart, joined Instacart as a junior paralegal several years ago. The company at the time looked very different than it does today. Since then, Yu has seen her team evolve from just a handful of legal professionals to a legal team of more than 50 people.
With that growth came the need to adapt. For example, tracking requests and conducting processes manually via email can be sufficient for a small team of attorneys and legal professionals. But as Instacart’s legal team grew, Yu knew she needed a platform partner that could help her more efficiently do things such as manage and track the status of every request. But she didn’t want to totally disrupt the way her team did things, either.
“The processes that worked for a 10 person legal team were very different from what we needed for a 50 person team,” said Yu. “We needed metrics and data to quantify all the hard work the team was doing, without adding more to their already overflowing plates.”
At the time, Instacart’s contract review triage and intake process was managed through an email inbox managed by commercial attorneys and contracts managers. When a contract arrives at Instacart, a complex and changing web of criteria determines which departments need to approve it, depending on the financial value, type of counterparty, type of engagement, and what the relationship will be. 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 falls on a legal team member—who is also responsible for reviewing the contract and ensuring contractual obligations are understood by the business.
This became harder to manage at scale.
“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,” said Yu. She started looking for platforms. But she didn’t quickly find what she was looking for. “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.”
Above all else, Yu needed a flexible platform that could stand up quickly—a vendor that needed six months to build out a solution wouldn’t cut it.
Another important priority was avoiding change management—for example, she needed a platform that could plug into legacy systems that Instacart’s legal team was already familiar with. And a critical third priority was supporting a “crawl, walk, run” approach that would start by addressing simple processes and wins quickly but have the potential to do much more.
“Instacart has always been a very fast-moving company. It became very clear to me that we needed a vendor that could adapt and move as quickly as we did,” said Yu. “We wanted to implement something that would be able to continue to grow and adapt with the company. So that’s what brought us to Tonkean.”
After working with the Tonkean solutions team to build a custom integration to its contract management system, Instacart was up and running. Of note: Neither Yu nor the commercial team who helped to design the workflows knew how to code, but Tonkean’s no-code interface made it simple to visually compose the ideal processes for their team. This was huge: while starting quickly was important, Yu says the bigger benefit was knowing how easy it would be to continue iterating on processes without the intervention of technical resources.
“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,” said Yu. “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.”
Tonkean makes it easier to keep track of moving pieces. 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 at any given time. Tonkean can also automatically generate documents to speed up the legal intake workflow.
“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,” said Yu. “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.”
As with most enterprises, some of Instacart’s complex processes need humans to remain closely involved, while others are a natural fit to be automated. Some basic contracts do not deviate from the template that Tonkean can generate instantly.
“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,” said Yu. “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.”
Automating those simple contracts frees up time for the legal team to focus on processes where human-involvement makes more sense.
“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,” said Yu. “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.”
Yu was likewise able to get Tonkean up and running without disrupting her team. Yu is the primary process maker on Instacart’s legal team, and is working on training other team members to maintain and build new workflows. The rest of the business at Instacart reaps the benefits of a smoother process through Tonkean, even though they never need to log in or learn any new way to work. Contract attorneys and contract managers do have the option to review Business Reports directly in Tonkean to see what requests have come in and what needs to be assigned, but many of them choose to continue working in the interfaces they were 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,” said Yu. “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.”
The most immediate benefit for Instacart of building processes with Tonkean has been a drastic decrease in the amount of time it takes to submit requests and receive a response from legal. Avoiding the risk of an important request going unmanaged in an email inbox is critical for Instacart and an important part of how they think about the return on their investment in Tonkean.
Tonkean’s Business Report allows the right people to have a high-level or detailed visibility into the status of each request, and where approvals or follow-up may be needed. This visibility allows legal to review the data and iterate their processes for the business whenever they need to. “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,” said Yu.
By adding efficiencies within the legal department, Yu says Tonkean has helped her team become better partners to their colleagues in other 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, Yu’s team can easily access and act on 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.
Moreover, Yu’s team can collaborate with other areas of the organization without burdening them or requiring they download new systems. “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,” said Yu.
Instacart Legal has already expanded its use of Tonkean to other use cases. And moving forward, Yu sees the potential for much wider use of Tonkean, especially for additional workflows on the legal team.
“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,” said Yu. “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.”
Yu credits her close partnership with the solutions team at Tonkean with helping ensure Instacart’s use of the platform was successful. She says with every issue or customization that they required, the Tonkean team was able to find a way to resolve it quickly.
“Tonkean is exactly the type of vendor I love working with. They acknowledged that we had certain requirements to build that were unique to our business and company, and they went above and beyond to make sure they happened,” said Yu. “Every company has different processes, workflows and ways they like to work. Having a system like Tonkean that is truly customizable and flexible allows you to accomplish what is best for your business. So if you want a system that can adapt to how your people work instead of the other way around, that’s Tonkean.”