Leadership

30-year-old CEO of a $3 billion company shares leadership lessons learned from Jeff Bezos and Steve Jobs

In 2012, when he was just 25 years old, Apoorva Mehta founded the same-day grocery delivery start-up Instacart. Now 30, Mehta has grown it into a 10,000-person operation worth $3.4 billion.

To help the app succeed, Mehta not only had to make smart business decisions, but also serve as a strong leader. To do so, he drew inspiration from two of his role models: Jeff Bezos and Steve Jobs.

"From Steve Jobs and Jeff Bezos, the biggest thing that I have learned is to not to conform," Mehta tells Fortune.

Founder and CEO of Instacart Apoorva Mehta speaks onstage during TechCrunch Disrupt SF 2016.
Steve Jennings | Stringer | Getty Images
Founder and CEO of Instacart Apoorva Mehta speaks onstage during TechCrunch Disrupt SF 2016.

He explains that, at Instacart, he doesn't rely on conventional wisdom and strategies that have worked for successful companies in the past. Rather, he wants his team to be innovative and respond to challenges creatively.

One way he does this is through the mantra, "Of course, but maybe," which is shorthand for saying, "Of course that's one way to do it, but maybe we could try it another way."

"It sort of emphasizes the fact that of course this is the way things have been done before, but maybe if you use new technologies or look at the problem in a different way, you can come up with a solution that's much, much better," he says.

After all, Apple and Amazon are forerunners in their fields. Both companies have developed technology that push the limits of what has been done before and change the way we live and interact. Neither conformed to the limits of what was already out there.

Amazon.com founder and CEO Jeff Bezos
David Ryder | Getty Images
Amazon.com founder and CEO Jeff Bezos

While Mehta presumably admired Jobs from afar, he had some actual interaction with Bezos: Prior to founding his company, Mehta worked as a supply chain engineer for Amazon, where he spent a few years observing Bezos' leadership style and watching the billionaire skillfully guide his 341,000 employees.

It took Mehta a few tries to successfully apply what he had learned. Between his stint at Amazon and launching Instacart, the CEO founded about 20 other start-ups.

"I knew nothing about these topics, but I liked putting myself in a position where I had to learn about an industry and try to solve problems they may or may not have had," he told the L.A. Times.

Steve Jobs
Justin Sullivan | Getty Images
Steve Jobs

Eventually, his love of cooking but lack of a car sparked the idea for Instacart.

Though Mehta admits he didn't give much thought to leadership early on, he's more aware now of how his management and influence affects company morale and growth.

"As a founder and CEO, your company tends to reflect your personality," he tells Fortune. "For the company to be the best version of you, you have to make sure you are really honing into your strengths and making sure you complement that by hiring some amazing people who can be better than you at your weaknesses."

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