Meet Alan Audi, VP of Legal & Corporate Affairs

Alan

Tell us a bit about your career path. How did you end up at ZX Ventures?

When I graduated from law school, I joined a big law firm, mostly because I saw it as a great way to learn and figure out what kind of lawyer I wanted to be. Law firms are a great way to grow your confidence and develop nuts and bolts legal skills, but I always knew it wasn’t the right long term career choice for me. So after a few years I moved to a role in the pay-TV industry as an in-house lawyer, which was a fantastic growth experience. At the time the industry was under a lot of pressure from changing consumer habits, especially because of cord-cutters — young consumers who prefer watching content “on-demand” on platforms like Netflix instead of paying for traditional cable or satellite TV. I saw firsthand how even the most profitable industries need to adapt and innovate if they’re to thrive in the long run. So needless to say when an opportunity at ZX Ventures came up I jumped on it. What could be more exciting than helping AB InBev — the world’s largest brewer — get ahead of changing consumer trends and position itself for long-term growth?

You’re new to ZX, but not to ABI! How do you think your time at ABI prepared you for ZX?

It certainly helps to have built a network of friends and colleagues across the ABI organization. While ZX and ABI are independent, sometimes we need to rely on ABI’s resources to be effective. Knowing who to call goes a long way.

Since you’ve worked at both ABI and ZX – how do you see the ZX culture playing a part in your new role?

The great thing about both ZX and ABI is that both organizations really have strong corporate cultures that they live by. I think it’s fair to say a lot of organizations have aspirational statements about their people: who wouldn’t say that they’re a meritocracy, that they only want to hire the best people, and so on? But what’s interesting about ABI is that the culture really is lived here, and it permeates everything. You hear people say the one lasting competitive advantage ABI has comes from its people, and it’s amazing to see how much of our senior executives’ time is spent recruiting and nurturing talent. So when we talk about ZX culture, we really are talking about ABI’s culture. That doesn’t mean that ZX doesn’t do things differently. If we’re to stay true to our mandate for disruption, we need to be even more agile, faster and leaner than ABI. But the focus on people, meritocracy, and ownership are constants across the entire organization.

How is innovation a part of your role at ZX, both on the legal side and on the corporate affairs side?

Everyone at ZX is focused on being ahead of change, especially on the technology side, so it’s natural for us to approach our day jobs as lawyers and communications professionals with the same mindset. On the communications side, the traditional toolkit doesn’t necessarily make sense when you’re trying to reach a tech-savvy, socially-committed audience. And on the legal side, I think it’s fair to say that the legal profession is going to undergo a lot of change in the coming years. ZX is the perfect laboratory within ABI to test out the innovations coming through the pipeline, especially on the legal automation and artificial intelligence side.

What’s your favorite part about working at ZX Ventures?

I’m never more excited about my job than when I can get out into the field and see the frontlines of the ZX family of companies. Whether it’s visiting one of our fantastic new breweries or going on a trade visit to see how our new product offerings are being positioned, what’s working, what isn’t, staying close to the business is my favorite part of the job. The Legal & Corporate Affairs function can only be effective if we’re aligned with our internal clients, if we understand their challenges. There’s no substitute for getting out of the office and into the field, whether it’s the warehouse, the brewery, the market or the pub!

Finding Success in eCommerce at ZX Ventures

We asked Guilherme Lebelson, Global VP of eCommerce, to share his insight into finding success in the eCommerce world. Check out his tips on how we make this work at ZX Ventures!

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What do you consider the keys to success for eCommerce at AB InBev and ZX Ventures?

Our success starts with our people. While technical skills are often required for specific types of work, in general, we’re looking for people who will live by our culture. We want people who are passionate about dreaming big, having a sense of ownership, and taking on new challenges. When we find people who are excited by our culture, and who are open to constantly stretching themselves, we can develop everything else. We focus on potential and allow our people and our teams to grow into each new role. Once we have that team of great people, we can look at the market and reach out to our consumers to identify gaps or create new concepts. We try to start with a gap, clearly define that one problem, and apply our knowledge to find a solution or a way to close that gap. Then we monitor that solution: if it’s going well, and if it’s a scalable solution, we can grow it. If not, of course, we shut it down and try another idea.

How do you stay focused on the end results of a project or goal?

The key here is that it’s all about keeping our eye on the goal we want to achieve, not on a specific tool or “buzz word” technology. We don’t believe in focusing on how we do things in and of itself. We look to put our consumers first, build great products, and deliver results. We always look toward our dream and our challenge and select the best tools and technologies that will help us achieve that dream.

How do you manage the changing needs of a company or consumer base?

It is critical to continue adapting as we grow. Right now, ZX Ventures is a very new company, but we’re already global and we’re rapidly growing in terms of our footprint. That’s launched us on a great journey of learning how to deal with different types of businesses and different operational models. In the beginning, we tried to fit everything into a one-size- fits-all solution. Now, as we’re expanding, we’re watching the data and learning that we should adjust our operational models to accommodate where we are and what we’re trying to achieve. Some businesses need to have a more decentralized model, where decisions can be made on a hyperlocal basis; on the other hand, some of our fully digital products benefit from a globally centralized team.

How ZX Ventures Defines Success

 Gabriel Mello, Global VP of Specialty Sales, defines how ZX Ventures measures success and which qualities the team looks for in potential candidates.

Gabriel Mello discusses the three traits he looks for in future teammates.

Gabriel Mello discusses the two ways in which he defines success.

When Knowing About Beer Is Your Job: Educational Happy Hours

Etkin Tekin, Global Manager of Specialties and Innovation, talks to us about one of the most engaging aspects of his job: The Educational Happy Hour.

What’s the main purpose behind the educational happy hour?

Working for AB InBev and ZX Ventures requires a solid base of knowledge about beer to effectively promote our business. That means we need to speak the language of beer! So, one of our constant goals is to enhance the education of our team.

We have an ongoing educational program to ensure that all our employees have the knowledge and tools they need. We want to convey a consistent, accurate message as beer ambassadors, which means having a standard vocabulary and complete understanding of beer flavors and styles. The Specialties team at ZX Ventures has the amazing privilege of heading up that effort, and one of our favorite methods is an instructive happy hour.

What is the structure of these events?

Our happy hours begin with a short lecture. We walk our participants through a few technical aspects of the beers we’re describing, explaining the key flavors and characteristics they should notice. For example, one of our classes focused on the difference between ales and lagers. These styles are distinguished by the different major yeast strains used, with each producing a distinct beer with qualities typical of that style. Another recent class compared a pale ale with a German pilsner.

After the discussion comes the tasting. Once we’ve given everyone some context regarding what they’re about to try, we put their palates to the test. We provide beers for blind tastings and ask our attendees to describe what they experience; what they can taste, smell, and feel for each beer, as well as their overall impressions. It’s also an opportunity to see how well people can articulate a beer’s characteristics, which is a valuable skill for us to have.

Can you give us an example of a comparison that might come up at an educational happy hour?

Some of our comparisons are quite sophisticated. Take our last happy hour, where we discussed Belgian golden ales. We provided three examples, including our own Leffe Blonde, for tasting. We often do these blind tastings to compare our portfolio of beers to other major brands. For example, we provided our Goose IPA along with two other brands to see how many people could differentiate those and recognize our beer! We also ask which beer everyone prefers and why.One important note about our happy hours is that we work with real market conditions to give our team relevant context for our portfolio. We get the beer for our tastings from a retail store, so we get what’s on the shelf. Sometimes we find that beers have been on the shelf too long or haven’t been stored well. It gives us a real-world market context, reminding us that there are limits to what we can control in producing beer. These happy hours are an opportunity for us to see what’s actually being sold and identify what we can do better.

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!

Using Customer Feedback Loops at ZX Ventures

By Alex Nelson

In an ever-changing market, where technological advances and paradigm shifts happen daily, how do you make sure your products stay relevant? How do you stay on point when your market is an ever-evolving, moving target? At ZX Ventures, we have learned the importance of staying close to our customers and letting them drive our innovations, from the outset of a new product all the way through to its realization. Customer feedback keeps us focused on our most important goal: ensuring that our products are helpful and useful every day.

We start getting customer input at the very beginning of our product-design process. We set up initial face-to-face learning sessions with our end consumers to help us design products that they actually need and want. When we’re first launching a product, that level of in-depth customer access helps us to understand our users’ concerns. Our approach also allows us to observe our users’ current solutions so we can learn about the problems they have and why they’re dissatisfied. We then iteratively use that information to design a better product, observe our users’ trials with the new product, and get immediate user feedback on how well it works.

As we move from initial plan and design into scaling up a new tech product, we use metrics to help us keep a finger on the pulse of our customers’ use experience and to measure their overall satisfaction with our products. Net Promoter Scores are the primary metric for tracking customer satisfaction and potential business virality. We also use other metrics for tracking customer behavior, such as one-click surveys, page view counts, and search term analysis, to develop deeper business insights.

One of the easiest ways we build customer feedback loops is through traditional customer service contacts. Accessibility is the key. Online chat windows are standard practice, but we also ask, in every email or contact with our customers, for their feedback on how we’re doing. Users can respond to all of our business emails so we don’t miss out on these direct means of getting feedback! Social media comments are another straightforward way to monitor how our customers feel about our business and about our competitors. We track consumer sentiment and respond rapidly to complaints or concerns, allowing us to keep a pulse on our users. We also assemble panels of our top customers—our most loyal fans—and rely on their feedback for new business ideas.

We stay involved with customer feedback loops by making our customer service team an integral part of our organization. We want to know that our customers’ top issues are on everyone’s radar. Our product team spends time every week working directly with customer service, reading emails, chat histories, and other comments. Because our team members stay close to the customers and hear about their issues firsthand, they can be responsive to our users’ needs.

What we learn from our customer feedback loops directly influences our product strategy and our development road map. Did our competitor just launch a new feature? What are customers saying about it? How can we offer them something different and stay relevant? Making sure our customers have ways to reach out to us, and that everyone on our team hears what they’re saying and responds to it, is how we evolve with a changing marketplace.

From Clydesdales to Unicorns: Bringing a Startup to Life

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By Sergio Esteves

AB InBev prides itself on being as quick and efficient as a much smaller company. The culture is surprisingly similar to that of a nimble, young startup business—but at a tremendous scale. Still, AB InBev realized that prioritizing creativity and growth—not to mention disrupting existing practices—would be easier in a separate, compact startup. Thus, the genesis of ZX Ventures.

ZX Ventures was created to disrupt AB InBev’s core business by prioritizing different things—creativity, outside-the-box thinking, and rebuilding from the ground up. It’s hard, in a big company, to create a new way of doing things or a new business or service. Those are tasks we can focus on here.

I still think of ZX Ventures as a crazy dream, even though I’ve been working here for almost a year. We bring to life the incredible vision of our founders: to put great people to work in a tiny “think tank” and incubator environment, where we get to pursue wild ideas and experiment with small changes (and sometimes big ones), sailing uncharted waters.

I was always empowered to be creative and innovative at AB InBev, but it’s leveled up at ZX Ventures. We’re so small that we can try out a crazy idea from left-field, and if it works, that’s great. If it doesn’t, we haven’t lost much because implementation was inexpensive.  We can test out ideas without fear of failure and without needing to compete with huge brands. Maybe we’ll find some solutions that will apply to AB InBev’s core businesses, or maybe we’ll expand the market!

I like to say that we’re creating unicorns at ZX Ventures. We’re already creating magical results from our weirdest, most out-there dreams. Even I don’t know what we’ll come up with next—but that’s the advantage of running a small startup company within a large business. 

ZX Ventures in China: Working in the Eye of the Hurricane

By Martin Suter

I have had the wonderful fortune to live and work internationally—which I recommend to everyone—my entire life. I am now able to continue that adventure through my work with ZX Ventures. When I moved to China this year to lead our Chinese market eCommerce team, it was actually a bit of a homecoming. I first lived here in the late 1980s, when China was on the front end of its economic development. Today, being in Shanghai and working with eCommerce, I’m living in the eye of the hurricane. Online shopping trends and new explosive growth patterns happen here first. It’s a tremendous opportunity to test out new ideas in a dynamic and active market.

The ZX Ventures office here in China reflects our status as a lean, agile startup. We’re located in an accelerator, surrounded by other startups. The creative energy in this space is ridiculous. We thrive on that growth vibe and encourage our people to take advantage of it—to really participate in the profusion of creative new ideas all around them. I see my role as the head of the eCommerce team largely as getting people infected with the startup virus, and being in this space is critical to that process.

Through my time with numerous startups, I’ve learned that the keys to a successful startup are autonomy, velocity, and agility—values that apply not just to the business and how it operates, but to the individuals working there as well. So, we provide everyone on our team with a degree of autonomy in how they execute on their ideas, giving everyone both responsibility and accountability. As far as velocity, I like to say, if you’re going to fail, fail fast. That way, you can learn the lesson from your failure and move on with that knowledge.

Part of what makes us so successful as a startup here is that the eCommerce market in China is unique. Some characteristics are cultural and unique to this region, such as the infatuation with celebrities and celebrity endorsements, but others are probably going to spread around the world. China’s mobile proliferation, with 80 to 90% of online transactions conducted from mobile devices, is likely to become a global trend. We get to experiment with how to best use that modality here, so we can drive that trend in other markets as it catches on.

I have been lucky to live and work in different countries and different cultures throughout my career. I would encourage anyone, from a professional perspective, to stretch their horizons beyond their home countries. Getting that real-life global perspective, and being taken out of your comfort zone daily, is both a provocation and a challenge, helping us grow as individuals.

The 8 Must-Know eCommerce Metrics for Success

By Guilherme Lebelso

In a customer-centric company, the data we gather from our customers and their user experiences on our eCommerce platforms is critical to growing our business and continually improving our products. Data provides us critical insight into the sorts of products and experiences our customers are looking for, which allows us to better curate our selection to meet their needs.

At ZX Ventures, we use eight key metrics that allow us to better understand our customers’ needs and adapt our eCommerce platforms to meet them. While there are other metrics a company could use to monitor eCommerce, these metrics stand out for their impact on our bottom line and our ability to grow our platforms to benefit our customers.

Some of the key metrics we track are:

  1. Customer Lifetime Value (LTV). Customer lifetime value measures how much revenue a single customer can be expected to generate over his or her lifetime as our customer. LTV also allows us to analyze customer patterns, which we can use to predict future needs or desires. (KISSmetrics has a great explanation of LTV, available here.)

  2.  Traffic. This may seem obvious, but a key metric is site traffic—how many people visit the platform. Many of the other metrics turn on this data: without traffic, there are no sales to analyze. It is our job to provide quality content to attract customers and entice them to spend more time on the site, ultimately resulting in purchases and repeat visits.

  3. Conversion Rate. The conversion rate reflects how many customers make purchases once they are on the platform. The higher the conversion rate, the better your product is performing.

  4. Churn. In line with LTV is churn, the number of customers who do not come back to your website after initially exploring a platform. Obviously, the lower the churn (and highest recurrence), the better. Our goal is to engage with our customers in a way that makes them want to come back to our site and purchase products over and over.

  5. Average Order Value (AOV). As the name indicates, the average order value looks at how much each customer spends, on average, per order. This factor depends on both traffic and conversion rate.

  6. Customer Acquisition Cost (CAC). This metric is found by dividing the cost of acquiring customers by the number of customers acquired during a specified period. For example, a company would have a CAC of $1 if that company spent $1000 in a year and acquired 1000 customers in that time.

  7. Cost Per Action (CPA). Also called cost per conversion or pay per acquisition, this is measured based on a pricing model that allows companies and advertisers to pay for every individual acquisition—each click, impression, etc. This allows the company to track which advertisements are the most effective.

  8. Contribution Margin (CM). CM is the final price of a product after all variable costs are paid for, including fixed expenses such as overhead. The CM directly correlates to the cumulative profit that a company can earn from each unit sold.

Ultimately, our loyalty is to our customers. Therefore, our goal is to create the best eCommerce platform possible to meet their needs. By understanding these metrics, we can work to consistently improve the customer experience, increasing the chance that our platform will become their go-to option for online purchases.