Countless success stories have emerged from the Cornell entrepreneurial ecosystem, but Rosie, an ecommerce platform for local and independent grocers, tops most lists.
Founded by Nick Nickitas as a Cornell MBA student in 2013, the Rosie team was a member of the 2014 eLab cohort. Nickitas has been an active member of the community ever since, serving on the eLab teaching team and joining Rev: Ithaca Startup Works.
Rosie saw impressive growth throughout its first several years of business. Then, at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, the demand for online grocery ordering and delivery exploded — and Rosie grew along with it. That year alone, Rosie tripled the size of its team and increased the number of retail and wholesale partnerships by 900%, going on to raise $10M in Series A financing.
In September 2022, Rosie announced its acquisition by grocery e-commerce giant Instacart. Now, over 6 months into Rosie’s tenure as an Instacart company, we caught up with Nickitas to learn more about his startup story and the way he’s continuing to make a mark on the Ithaca community.
Q: What was the inspiration behind founding Rosie?
Nick Nickitas: Local businesses are the backbone of our communities, but they face tough competition from national online-only retailers and tech giants. As I observed the impact on local businesses in my hometown, I knew I needed to help them compete. With e-commerce on the rise and online-only companies emerging in the market, I saw an opportunity to support main street businesses by enabling customers to buy groceries from their favorite local grocery store and have them delivered to their door. And so, the idea of Rosie was born. Today, we’re proud to be one of the leading grocery e-commerce software companies for independent retailers nationwide, helping grocers offer their customers easy and convenient online shopping options.
Q: How has the entrepreneurial ecosystem at Cornell, specifically your involvement with eLab and Rev: Ithaca Startup Works, supported you throughout your startup journey?
NN: The startup ecosystem at Cornell played an instrumental role in propelling Rosie to where it stands today. As one of the first tech companies to graduate out of eLab and Rev: Ithaca Startup Works, we had access to invaluable mentorship and advisory services that helped shape our vision and guide us on the path to success. We were able to learn about customer development, establishing product-market fit, and the resources provided by Cornell allowed us to house our growing team and expand our operations.
Rev was particularly crucial in our journey, providing a great foundational ecosystem that enabled us to progress to the next stage. Our ability to leverage this support and grow is testament to the quality of Ithaca and Cornell’s entrepreneurial ecosystem and the strong foundation it helped us build. Even after moving just two blocks away, we continued to leverage Rev for mentoring, meeting space, networking, and local recruitment.
Q: Why did you decide the time was right to sell to Instacart?
NN: Joining Instacart marks the next step of our exciting journey. For nearly a decade, we’ve poured our hearts and souls into supporting the success of local independent grocers, and I couldn’t be more proud of all we’ve accomplished together. At our core, we share Instacart’s vision of empowering the future of grocery, and I’m confident that our collaboration will amplify our efforts to help local independent retailers to thrive. Together, we’re continuing to drive innovation and deliver easy to use and affordable digital solutions that exceed the expectations of our valued retailer, wholesaler, and brand partners’ customers.
How are you furthering Rosie’s original mission in your current role as General Manager of Local Independent Grocers at Instacart?
NN: Today, we’re proud to bring our vision to life by introducing innovative solutions on the Instacart Platform that empower independent retailers. We’re launching local grocers with Instacart fulfillment capabilities that allow independent retailers to unlock new potential by opening up more delivery slots for their customers, expanding their delivery radius, and streamlining delivery times. This solution is a gamechanger for many independent retailers who have previously faced growth limitations. By increasing their order volume without the need to increase staffing capacity, we’re helping pave the way for their success.
As part of the Local Independent Grocery team at Instacart, I have a passion for solving the unique challenges facing independent retailers today. Now more than ever, Instacart is dedicated to developing technology and tools to enhance the success of our retailer partners.
Q: How is Rosie continuing to make an economic impact on Ithaca as an Instacart company?
NN: Rosie by Instacart’s headquarters in downtown Ithaca remains a valuable hub for local employees who prefer an office environment. It’s a place where teams gather for hackathons, department meetings, and to socialize with their colleagues. While many of our team members work remotely, we cherish our roots and homebase that is still in Ithaca, New York.
In fact, we’re thrilled to host our first official Team Jam in June, where we’re bringing together our entire Instacart division for a few days of team building, planning, and strategy sessions amidst the beautiful Finger Lakes landscape. It’s our opportunity to show our team why Ithaca is so special to us, and why it’s known for being Gorges!
Q: You’ve been an eLab mentor for several years and recently spoke at an “eLab: Where are They Now?” panel during the Entrepreneurship@Cornell Celebration. What does it mean to you to be able to give back to current Cornell students who are aspiring entrepreneurs?
NN: I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to share my knowledge and experience with aspiring entrepreneurs at Cornell. By doing so, I hope to contribute to the growth and development of the next generation of founders. Throughout my own entrepreneurial journey, I’ve been fortunate to receive guidance from mentors and professors at Cornell. It’s an honor to pay that forward and help build a stronger foundation for emerging entrepreneurs.
Q: Can you share any insights or lessons you learned from your experience as an entrepreneur that could be valuable for others starting their own businesses?
NN: Nothing is sacred. Things don’t always go according to plan, and being able to pivot and adjust your strategy to suit the conditions of the market is crucial. The willingness and ability to adapt is critical to scaling your business through the good times and bad.
Embrace Grit. Grit is the mental toughness and passion that propels you toward achieving your vision for life. It’s the key to remaining focused and motivated. Rather than courage or exceptional talent, grit is the tenacity, perseverance, resilience, and willingness to keep you going despite obstacles. It is quickly adapting to new circumstances and being committed to work hard for long periods, trusting that if you can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel, you will light it up yourself.
Surround yourself with relentless humans. People who plan in decades, but live in moments. Train like athletes, but create like artists. Obsess in work, relax in life. People who know this is finite, and choose to play infinite games. Find people going up mountains. Climb together.