A Look Back: Advice to our Younger-Selves

René Paula, Global VP of Legal, and Jerome Pellaud, Global VP of Specialties, unpack their experiences by discussing what they wish they knew at the start of their careers. 

René offers three crucial pieces of advice he wishes he knew earlier in his career.

Jerome gives advice to his younger self about doing what he loves and using that passion to make an impact on the world.

Insights from our Specialties Team: Craft Beer Trends in the U.S.

Jerome Pellaund, Global VP of Specialties, maps out the impact of influential craft beer trends in the U.S. and how you can brew more than beer.

Jerome explains that you can brew beyond beer as long as you have yeast or bacteria, and a source of sugar and a process.

Photograph courtesy of The Muse

Photograph courtesy of The Muse

Mentorship Matters: What I’ve Learned, and What I Try to Give Back

Photograph courtesy of The Muse

Photograph courtesy of The Muse

By Gabriel Mello

My first standout mentor found me early in my career, when I had been with the company for only a couple of years. I was still very young, and I was new to the idea of this workplace culture. His feedback galvanized me into living that culture and adopting it as my own personal ethic. Later, when I was about five years in, I worked with another mentor who taught me everything I know about managing people. He was amazing—he could guide people with completely different profiles and styles and extract the absolute best work from each of them. What I learned from him was instrumental in developing my own leadership. Finally, I worked a third mentor who educated me about strategy. He demonstrated how to make a plan that is clear and visible and then how to mobilize people to work toward that goal. I was fortunate to have people who were complementary to my needs depending on where I was in my career.

Recognizing that, I take an individualized approach with the people I’m coaching, tailored to their capabilities and needs at the time. For example, my central team members in NYC work in smaller teams and don’t manage large groups of people, so my first goal for them is to help them obtain the technical knowledge they need. I usually can’t fill all those information gaps, so I look for benchmarks: people who have done that deep dive, who can teach them the key skills required to master their roles. For example, if a mentee of mine is responsible for devising strategy, I will work to find best-in-class performers who can teach that person how to incorporate new strategies for success. Another approach is to work with leaders on a global scale so that a background in different markets can be developed while accelerating the learning curve of taking on a new position.

For those working in the field on larger teams, both technical and leadership skills are of critical importance. Everyone’s situation is different, but I generally try to coach these managers, teaching them how to motivate people, how to increase their own influence, and how to give people the right challenges so they can deliver their best. For example, because ABI and ZX Ventures are committed to cross-functional development, we often have employees who excel in one area and are moved to a new one to further that development. As a mentor, I will advise on the team building strategy in cases like these so that the team complements the abilities of its leader. This allows for short term success while giving the leader the time to learn without having results suffer as he or she is brought up to speed on the specifics of the business operations.

Mentorship is key to development, but what employees need varies as they progress through different stages of their careers. If employees need help with leadership skills but don’t have the right people around at the right time to help them develop those skills, they’ll struggle. Ideally, we identify the needs of our people and give them the opportunity to work with mentors who are strong on the capabilities they need at the moment. That’s what I’m trying to achieve through my mentorship, to honor the people who guided me.

Our Leadership Styles

Take a look at how different leadership styles help our teams deliver great results.

René Paula, Global VP of Legal, discusses his management style and how he challenges his team.

Jerome Pellaud, Global VP of Specialties, talks about his leadership style of reaching for new heights while staying up to date on the interesting details.

Gabriel Mello, Global VP of Specialty Sales, discusses his management style and gives some advice on global management.

Building Partnerships at ZX Ventures

Pedro Earp, Chief Disruptive Growth Officer

“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” (African Proverb)

No matter how many smart people we recruit, there will always be many more smart and passionate people out there. We believe in pairing up so we can achieve much more with our partners than we could alone. Everyone benefits: we can use our platform to help other people fulfill their dreams, and we learn from the passion and capabilities that our partners bring to the table. But who do we collaborate with, and how do we build those partnerships?

When we work with someone, our objective is to create a true partnership which leverages their passion and knowledge and gives them an opportunity to make a much larger impact than they would be able to on their own. We’re not out to take over other brands or breweries; we want to build a mutually beneficial collaboration that can help each side achieve their dreams.

Three key principles guide our decisions to create partnerships:  

First and foremost, we look for great people who share our underlying values and beliefs. Our culture is an integral part of who we are at ZX Ventures, and it drives everything we do. If we’re partnering with a brand or business, our initial interest is based on their passion and ability to do something better than us that we can learn from. But more than that, we want them to share our mindset and culture. To ensure the long-term success of a partnership, we look for partners that believe in building great teams, have an owner mindset, believe in meritocracy and have a constant desire to improve. In many cases, we’ve found that the people at small businesses sometimes live those values even more intensely than we do, especially when it comes to ownership. Having both partners share those values and expectations is essential to a solid, long-term partnership.

Second, the business must have a superior product with a sustainable competitive advantage. This differs based on the types of businesses we are considering for new partnerships. It could be a specific beer, a brewing method, or a technology product. Whatever the partner’s product, we want to see excellence and scalability.

Third, the business model itself must be sound. We are looking for equal partners, so we want to work with businesses that can generate sustainable, long term value creation opportunities. We want to leverage our platform to create long-term synergies on top of what that business can already do on its own. We aren’t interested in “cheap acquisitions” where we need to rescue or rebuild a struggling business from the ground up.

Over time, we have learned that successful partnerships have a few things in common. For example, both parties must have the conviction that they are better together than separate. The parties need to believe that each one brings something unique to the table that makes both of them better. Without that complementary mindset, the relationship won’t work. In addition, listening to each other and constant communication are key – we exchange ideas early and often, and our relationships often begin with site visits to better understand how our partners are currently doing things and where we can step in to add value. Finally, there needs to be an owner for every decision to be made. If everyone involved feels responsible for every decision, the relationship gets complicated and convoluted; no one knows who is in charge of what. Usually, the final decision needs to belong to the partner that is in a better position to make the decision (the one who is closer to the issue, has the most experience, has more at stake, etc.). All partners should have an agreement and understanding of who’s responsible for what.

A great example of this kind of mutually beneficial partnership was our first acquisition of a craft brewery, Goose Island. Both John Hall, the founder, and his son, Greg, are visionaries—they created a craft beer in Chicago and built a huge market for it when craft beer was entirely new to the U.S. But they were still a regional brand. Our partnership enabled Goose Island to reach a national market. We’ve helped them grow Goose IPA from the #15 IPA in America to the #2 top-selling brand today. Now we’ve expanded their beer globally to 7 markets and we have Goose Island brewpubs operating in different markets around the world. We’ve maintained their values and creativity while providing a platform that allowed them to expand and fulfill their dreams.

With each partner we bring on, our hope is that we can help them achieve their ultimate vision while also benefiting from their knowledge and skills. We look for partners that have big dreams, great teams, similar values and understand that we can be more successful together than we could if we stayed apart. At ZX Ventures we are very proud of the fact that only one of our many partners has left the business since they’ve started working with us. Our partnerships allow our partners and us to grow and learn while expanding great beer globally.

Advice for Prospective Employees

Gabriel Mello, Global VP of Specialty Sales

I’ve been interviewing a variety of people recently, so I’ve had the opportunity to think about what advice I’d give to someone who’s interested in working with us at ZX Ventures or AB InBev. I’m looking for people who combine ambition, openness, and a global mindset, whether they’re an experienced professional looking for a change or someone at the start of their career.

First, we have to have people who really want to make an impact and drive our business’s growth. In a meritocracy like ZX Ventures, where we promote ownership and provide constant growth opportunities, our employees must be internally driven. Second, by openness, I mean having an unquenchable desire to learn new skills and information. This business is changing so quickly that people who aren’t always growing their knowledge are falling behind. Even looking at my own profile, if I didn’t continually learn new things and advance my skill set, I wouldn’t have the right profile for this company within as little as 10 years! Third, we require people who are global citizens. I’m specifically interested in people who can live in and work with cultures that are dramatically different from the U.S., like India or China.

I can’t overemphasize the importance of that global citizen mentality. I’ve seen a lot of people come through the door who love the idea of being in a global company, but what they really want is to live on the “good side” of the globe. They’re excited about New York and enjoy traveling some, but they’re not actually comfortable living and working in a lot of different cultures. We’re looking for people who are mobile and truly global, and who at the same time want to leave—and live—their legacy. In fact, if I could revisit one part of my career path, I would have left Brazil sooner. I don’t consider it a mistake, because everything that has happened has led me to where I am today. But to really be leaders for our global teams, we have to understand the differences between markets and between countries. We have to know how to manage diverse people in various places who have different cultures and values. There’s no substitute for international experience to develop those skills.

Let me also clear up one myth. Sometimes that mobile, fast-growing, technology-oriented profile discourages people who are mid-career, who think I’m only describing people at the start of their careers. I need a whole range of people, depending on the roles I’m filling. If I have an open position in revenue and management, I may need someone with experience in those fields. I might need someone who can jump in and help me without having to learn and come up to speed. Or depending on the type of challenge, I may need a different profile, someone I can invest the time in to develop into a leader. It’s exciting to work with both groups: mid-career professionals with specific experience and skills and early-career talent whose careers can evolve within our organization.

Wherever you are in your own career, if you think you bring the right combination of drive, willingness to learn, and global citizenship, drop us a line!

Lessons Learned in the First Year of ZX Ventures

By Pedro Earp, Chief Disruptive Growth Officer

In the first couple of years of running ZX Ventures, we’ve already learned a lot of great lessons that are helping us grow and improve and that are also being applied at our parent company, Anheuser-Busch InBev. Opportunities that we initially thought would work out very well turned out to be less successful, and options that seemed weak at first have worked out much better than we expected. These lessons have applied not just to products or marketing strategies but also to the way we organize our business and ourselves.

For example, when we first launched our eCommerce business, our assumption was that we would use some type of centralized model, like Uber or Google. We thought we could develop and market a uniform product and service that we could release at different sites around the world. Over time, we learned that consumers in different markets responded to different value propositions. In markets where craft beers are difficult to find, our customers wanted a platform that offered rare craft beers in a convenient way, where they could find and understand the different craft offerings, and then choose between them and access those beers. But in other markets, the value proposition is much more centered on convenience. People there didn’t care so much about specialty beers; they just wanted to have our most popular beer delivered within 30 minutes. These markets required a completely different approach.

What we learned from that experience is that our value propositions vary a lot more by market, and our teams working in those markets have to be able to make adjustments. That’s why we empower our local teams to move fast and make independent decisions based on what they’re seeing on the ground in their area instead of trying to centralize every decision. In today’s world, companies that don’t empower local teams to operate are not going to succeed. The world is just too big and too varied for one central office to know what’s going to work everywhere.

What we really want is the best of both worlds: making those agile market-specific adjustments in the appropriate locations but also leveraging our global synergies and learning from experiences around the world so we can apply that knowledge anywhere. We have some rituals to help us exchange that information, where on a monthly basis we’ll put our heads together and discuss the best practices we’re finding around the globe. For example, we’ve learned that in Europe, a lot of companies will do a special holiday package, such as a case of all different types of beer. We discussed where else that approach might also be successful, and this year, seven or eight markets are launching that as a new product.

For a company like ZX Ventures, our real competitive advantage is our global presence and our decentralized management. We’re doing our best to learn what’s valued and what works in each discrete market, and then we see where those ideas can translate into a different market. Every day brings new lessons, and that keeps our work fresh and interesting.

Product Development From Start to Forever

Photograph courtesy of The Muse

Photograph courtesy of The Muse

By Stefanos Metaxas, ZX Ventures Global Product Manager

Giving customers what they want isn’t important just in tech, but in industries ranging from consumer goods to hospitality. Product managers must constantly innovate to surprise and satisfy their customers. But how do we actually develop those products from ideation to launch and beyond? The tech industry has created an excellent process for innovative product development, but it’s surprisingly rare to hear a straightforward and helpful description of it. That can be frustrating as a new product manager, when all you want is a step-by-step guide on how to get started.

Below is a high-level outline of what works best for my team at ZX Ventures. This cuts through the fluff often found in tech articles explaining product development.

Identify a hypothesis for a user problem. What problems are people having? I identify problems in a variety of ways. For example, I may have a personal frustration in my daily life that I’m sure other people share. Analyzing disruptable industries and their sticking points can suggest new approaches. To generate ideas, I’ve often interviewed prospective users about product frustrations in their personal or professional lives. One example might be that pet-owners want to know if there are any GMOs in the packaged foods they buy for their furry friends.

Test the user problem hypothesis. Is the problem we identified one that other people care about? I use a combination of continued interviews, larger surveys, analysis of existing market research and data, and a low-cost signup form or landing page to test customer response to my hypothesis. Based on the results, I either go back to step one and try again or continue with the product development. In our pet-owner example, I might post a questionnaire to online communities of pet owners and people in the pet food industry. I can also create a landing page with an email signup explaining what I want to develop and advertise that through Facebook to gauge interest.

Design the minimum viable product (MVP). What is the MVP that will fulfill the user problem I’ve identified? I assemble my entire team as well as trusted advisors to brainstorm features that together will solve the user problem. Our team uses Jeff Patton’s book, User Story Mapping, as a guide for product feature development. All stakeholders should walk away in agreement on what features the MVP will use to solve the user problem. In our example, that might include the ability to scan barcodes and view a warning if the product contains GMOs.

Kick off development sprints. Focusing their efforts in agreed-upon sprint periods (e.g., two weeks), developers work on the back end to support the features identified in the mapping exercise. The design team creates wireframes that lay out those features and surveys potential users for their input. They then develop the full user experience (UX) based on iterative feedback from potential users. Once the UX is working, the developers implement it, and the designers move on to the next features.

Launch, gather feedback, and repeat. As soon as the MVP is ready, we launch it and collect feedback about its functionality. We use feedback to constantly evolve and improve the product with new features and refinements. Before we introduce or update a product or a feature, we always make sure we have metrics in place to measure its success. That way, the development continues, and the product grows! In our example, it could start as a simple scanning app, but could soon become a platform to order non-GMO pet food online or even open physical stores one day.

This process has worked to keep my team at ZX Ventures continually innovating and creating products that meet real customer needs and solve real problems. I hope it helps you as well, regardless of the industry you work in.