🛒 Communications Introductions: Cynthia Horiguchi
Senior Director of Communications at Instacart
In This Edition
🏆 Taking big, bold professional bets
❓Embodying humility to ask questions
🎨 Challenging ourselves to think creatively
Cynthia Horiguchi is senior director of communications at Instacart, where she leads retail and enterprise communications. Her team is responsible for telling the story of how Instacart and its partners are transforming retail with technology. Previously, she led industry communications at Google Cloud. Her other roles at Google included security and privacy PR, as well corporate and financial communications, and before Google she built a communications program to help catastrophe risk management company RMS transition to the cloud. She’s a USC alumna and lives in San Francisco with her wife.
What sparked your path into Communications?
I worked on the high school paper. I loved the experience of writing and editing with my friends – plus, the teacher sponsors sometimes bought us bagels and Jamba Juice.
I went to college as a journalism major, but there were a lot of questions about the future of news at the time. I began to look around at other opportunities and found public relations, switched majors, and wound up loving the work. I have been in corporate communications my entire career.
What’s your favorite Instacart feature?
Our Recipes tab! Having to find all the right ingredients often keeps me from trying new recipes, and Instacart’s Recipes tab makes it really easy – you can click a button and everything you need goes right into your cart. My wife and I use it all the time so that we’re not just making the same five meals all the time. I showed my mom and she’s a fan too. She became an enthusiastic customer during the pandemic and relies on Instacart to this day.
What work are you particularly proud to have accomplished over the years?
I’ve always been drawn to companies making big, bold bets. It’s fun – and challenging – to be among people who are shooting for the moon. I like being part of trying to turn vision into reality.
When I worked at RMS (Risk Management Solutions), a catastrophe risk management company, they were taking a big risk themselves by moving their software from on prem to the cloud, to be sold as SaaS (software-as-a-service). Our customers were mostly in financial services and insurance – not the most risk-taking industries. We turned out to be a bit early and the first iteration failed. The shift was hard and took a lot longer than expected, but I learned a ton from that experience.
That led me to my next job at Google where at the time, it was early days for a big bet on cloud. There, I saw the importance of having clear strategy, solid execution, and in making the right investments for success. Google Cloud crossed $20B in annual revenue by the time I left five years later.
Instacart has a similarly bold vision. Most people know us as a grocery app – because that’s how they interact with us – but behind the scenes, we’re powering a lot of very interesting innovation in grocery and retail.
For example, we’re helping retailers build better e-commerce experiences that are connected to brick-and-mortar stores. We’re building a lot of interesting technology for retailers – like smart carts that help you navigate through the aisles and let you scan items and bag as you shop. Or digital shelf tags that flash when you’re looking for an item and can give you extra information about a product – such as whether its gluten-free or kosher.
Those are just a couple examples of how we’re working with retailers to shape the future of retail. We have big ambition, and it’s exciting to be part of trying to make it happen.
What are the skills that are most important for someone to succeed in communications?
Humility! In communications, I really like that we get to learn about so many different topics. I often tell people that my job is to “ask smart people dumb questions.” Especially when tasked with absorbing very deep technical information and translating it, having the humility to admit when something doesn’t make sense is key to developing a good understanding. Or, the willingness to brainstorm and share ideas even if you’re not sure they’re “good” ones. You never know what spurs a great idea.
I also half-joke that my ignorance is part of the value I add. If something doesn't make sense to me – as a comms person who lives and breathes our story – then it’s not going to make sense to the outside world.
We have our specializations in communications, but the core skills are broadly applicable. Really good communications is hard. But, with the right amount of humility and curiosity to absorb new information, the skills can be applied very broadly.
How do you continue learning about the field of communications?
I try to get out of my immediate bubble, get different perspectives, and analyze the story behind the story. I like trying to imagine what happened behind the scenes. I’m also always on the lookout for interesting moments that people are doing that are different and can teach me something. It’s important to not fall into a rhythm, to keep your creativity and not overly stick to the playbook.
For example, one story that really resonated with me is when Satya Nadella was featured in Good Housekeeping. It came out right around Microsoft’s Ignite conference and I imagine it was part of their communications strategy. It was unexpected, and very humanizing. It’s always stuck with me and I use it as a reminder we should keep challenging ourselves to think creatively.
How have you collaborated with internal communications in your career?
Over the course of my career, internal communications has been growing in importance. A former boss used to stress that internal is more important than external. When you look at the research from Edelman’s Trust Barometer, trust in employers has been rising, and that’s a testament to the importance of internal comms and the impact of doing it well.
The stronger the connection points are between external and internal, the stronger you are as a comms team. You want to be consistent. We’re all storytellers and there are a lot of ways we can learn from each other.
Fast forward to the future — what do you think communications at work will look like?
We are in a new world with remote work and we’re interacting with each other in different ways. Collaboration tools are evolving, and the ones that emerge as the most effective will be very important.
The boundaries of what community means is rapidly changing. We’re in a new phase of how connections happen and that means there are a lot of changes happening in our world.
All these barriers are falling down. It used to be that you had to have physical proximity to build community. Easier access to mass travel changed that, and then the internet took it even further.
Having a common language is a barrier right now. We haven’t quite seen that fall yet, but with AI-powered translation tools, we might see it in our lifetime. That will be a major shift.
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"I often tell people that my job is to 'ask smart people dumb questions.'"
Yep. All day long I'm like "explain like I'm 10 years old pleeeeeeze."