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!

What’s the Deal with IPAs, Anyway?

Thomas Hartman, Innovation Brewer at ZX Ventures, sat down with us to chat about IPAs.

  Photograph Courtesy of  The Muse

Photograph Courtesy of The Muse

Let’s talk about the history of IPAs to get started.

The IPA, or India Pale Ale, was one of the first real bastions of American craft beer. At its beginning, craft beer was a revolution against “big beer” and “lite beer.” IPAs allowed budding craft brewers to produce intense flavors in a light-colored beer instead of a traditional heavy stout. In a typical enthusiastic all-or-nothing fashion, the craft beer pendulum swung rapidly toward over-the-top bitterness.

What’s the flavor profile of an IPA? How do we get there?

Craft brewers seeking to highlight American ingredients—and to differentiate themselves from macro breweries—put as many hops and as much flavor in their beers as they could manage. (Note that while hops have distinct flavors besides bitterness, hops are the easiest way to enhance a brew’s bitterness.) These styles evolved over time to showcase the intense flavors of local and specialty ingredients. Using different hop varieties, adding hops at multiple brewing stages, experimenting with lupulin powder (purified resins and aromatics from hop flowers), and dry-hopping are all methods to enhance the hop flavor and bitterness of IPAs.

Speaking of bitterness: a beer’s bitterness is measured in International Bitterness Units, or IBUs. The higher the number, the more bitter the beer. It’s widely believed that most drinkers’ palates cannot differentiate bitterness beyond a certain point, somewhere around 80 IBUs. Therefore, an imperial or double IPA logging 100 IBUs is probably overachieving, delivering more bitterness than most drinkers will detect (much less appreciate).

How do you see the IPA trends evolving over time?

I’m really glad to hear that the trend in IPAs today is toward lower ABVs and lower IBUs—less bitter beers with a more balanced flavor profile. Another great development in IPAs focuses on local hops or single-hop varieties. I’m particularly excited about rotating-hop recipes. For these, a single beer recipe is produced repeatedly, each time using a single hop variety but changing that variety from batch to batch. Each time the recipe is reproduced and a new hop is cycled in, the variations in flavor and mouthfeel reflect the hop used. For instance, Cascade hops bring a floral, citrusy flavor, emphasizing grapefruit. The same recipe brewed with Mosaic hops will tend to be more tropical and floral, whereas a third cycle using Simcoe hops will have more of a piney flavor. New hop varieties are in development all over the world today, including some that are truly out there! Perhaps there’s a hop variety that will appeal more to you.

Believe it or not, there’s an IPA style to suit nearly every beer drinker. If you want to dive back in and give IPAs another try, look for session versions, which are lighter and more palatable (one session IPA I’ve really been enjoying lately is Blue Point’s Mosaic). Avoid the hoppier West Coast styles and especially anything described as an imperial, double, or triple IPA—these are the “bitter is better” styles with double-digit ABVs and extreme IBUs. Also, consider trying some regional IPAs or specialty styles. From cloudy New England IPAs to roasty black IPAs, where the hops are most evident in the finish, to fruity or flavored IPAs, there’s something for everyone.

 

The Evolution of Beer Drinkers

ZX Ventures Innovation Brewer, Thomas Hartman, has noticed a change in the way beer drinkers approach brewers and beer subject matter experts. What’s behind the change? Check out his views here!

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What questions do you normally get about beers and how are they changing?

I used to hear a lot of basic beer style questions. For example, what’s the difference between an ale and a lager? (In case you don’t know: it’s all in the yeast. These two styles use different types of yeast that prefer to be fermented at different temperatures and therefore take more or less time to do their job of converting wort into beer.) Now, though, while I’ll occasionally get a softball like that, I’m often asked much more sophisticated and nuanced questions that are truthfully difficult to answer.

Today’s questions often focus on differentiating between very similar types or styles of beer. What makes these questions hard? As experimentation has blossomed within the craft beer world, the lines between styles are blurring. Definitions are either unclear or are no longer strictly applicable (if they ever were).

What are some examples of those more nuanced questions?

I’m frequently asked about the difference between a porter and a stout. (Are they even different types of beer or just two points on a spectrum of dark beers? Is the real difference, if there is one, in their treatment of barley?) Why is a particular beer labeled as a session IPA and not a pale ale or vice versa? (It’s arguably a matter of balance and intensity: a pale ale should have a good balance between its different component flavors, whereas an IPA, even a lighter session IPA, should be more hop-forward.)

Another big area of questioning relates to specific ingredients. Which hops are represented in this beer, and what does each do for the flavor profile, individually or in combination? And, especially recently, where were these hops grown? I just sampled several batches of a beer that were made with the same hop variety but with the hops in each batch sourced from several different countries and climates. The resulting beers were wildly different in flavor and character. This is a fascinating area for future development!

What do you think is behind the changing questions you’re getting in the industry?

People who are drinking beer today definitely know what they’re talking about. Compared to other industries, these people are intensely passionate and have made the effort to educate themselves on beer. They’ve been exposed to a lot of different things, and have both a wider and deeper knowledge about beer in general. All of this is now reflected in the types of questions I get as a brewer. Craft beer has always waged this battle to educate consumers, both to justify the higher price tag of craft beer and to engage people with a deeper experience of beer. The growing education we see today results from several sources.

First, the internet is critical. Craft beer represents 12 to 15% of the beer market by volume and 20% by dollars spent, and these drinkers want to appreciate what they’re paying for. Fortunately, if beer drinkers want to know the difference between the flavor profiles of specific hops, they need look no further than Google. More and more they’re asking questions—smart questions too—and then researching and looking into the answers.

Second, there’s a growing recognition of beer-drinking as an acceptable hobby, accompanied by substantial resources for hobbyists. Paralleling the wine world and its sommeliers, the Cicerone program has developed a training and certification course for enthusiasts. To join the ranks of the 2,500 certified Cicerones worldwide, an applicant must pass a four-hour exam that includes taste tests and a written portion. Other large organizations are similarly dedicated to educating drinkers about their beer.

Finally, the homegrown local beer industry has contributed to the education of beer drinkers. With a whopping 5,000 breweries in the U.S. today, every community has some form of small brewery or local taproom where people gather. As people spend more time among their kindred local beer enthusiasts, they are learning what they like (and don’t like) and how to talk about beer in a nuanced and specific way.

It’s exciting to see the evolution of beer drinkers here in the U.S. and around the world. In terms of beer as a hobby, I can’t wait to see where we go next.

Beer Etiquette: How to Order a Beer You’ll Enjoy

We sat down with Etkin Tekin, Global Manager of Specialties and Innovation, to get some insight on how to order a great beer. Check out his tips here!

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With the popularity of craft beer and local breweries today, how do you get started in deciding what kind of beer to order?

No one can possibly be familiar with every beer available everywhere today. It’s worth it to develop your ability to order a beer you’ll enjoy, even when you don’t recognize anything on the tap list. This is especially true when traveling and looking for a great beer to wind down after a long day.

Remember that craft beer practically begs for exploration, with its myriad styles and flavors. In the face of that much variety, people are often afraid they’ll waste their money (or their drink quota) on something they won’t enjoy. It’s the same way with food: if a menu offers both a range of intimidating specialty entrees and a simple burger, customers will skew toward ordering the burger. Initially, it might be difficult to step out of your beer comfort zone, but the rewards are tremendous. Challenging yourself and intentionally expanding your palate will help you discover new beers—some of which are bound to be excellent—and enable you to enjoy an increasing range of choices.

How should you approach picking out a location to start trying something new?

A dive bar won’t have the diverse beer list or the experienced staff you need to make an informed decision. Look for a draft beer list with depth—both a variety of offerings and a complexity of styles and flavors. Online reviews can be a great resource when you’re unfamiliar with the options in your area. Some things to look for are restaurants that offer beer-pairing dinners and bars that host tap takeovers, since this shows focus and a passion for good beer. When you enter an establishment, judge for yourself: how clean is the bar? Does it have an appropriate variety of glassware, properly stored upside-down? Do servers rinse their glasses before pouring beers? Do they pour with care or sloppily dunk the tap head into each glass? Finding a reputable craft beer bar with staff that can be trusted is the key to having a great experience.

What about asking questions once you’ve found the right bar?

Once you’ve chosen your location, grab a seat at the bar, and be as engaging as possible with your bartender. Relay information about what you like and what you’re in the mood for. Are you a hophead? Do you love complex barrel-aged stouts? Let your server know! Be inquisitive, especially when traveling to a new destination. Asking the right questions— such as what a beer tastes like, what it’s similar to, what it pairs well with—is the best way to identify beers that you’ll enjoy. Ask what your server enjoys or what the best beer on tap is. What would your server order for his or her shift drink? Depending on the sophistication of the bar and your bartender, you can glean some outstanding recommendations this way. And, most importantly, be courteous and friendly—your goal is for your bartender to want to guide you on your tasting journey.

Trying new beers is one of the best parts about traveling. The next time you’re in an unfamiliar location, seek out a great beer bar and make friends with your bartender. You’ll have an experience you can remember, and might even find your next favorite beer too!

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.

Company Culture at Zx Ventures

Guilherme Lebelson, Global VP of eCommerce, and Jerome Pellaud, Global VP of Specialties, discuss their favorite aspects of the company culture at ZX Ventures and how these facets enable success. 

Guilherme Lebelson, discusses what he loves about the 10 principles of the company culture at AB InBev and ZX Ventures.

Jerome Pellaud, Global VP of Specialties, talks about the opportunities for learning, growing and making an impact at ZX Ventures.

Jerome discusses taking calculated risks and learning on the job at ZX Ventures.

  Photograph courtesy of The Muse

Photograph courtesy of The Muse

What is the Zxlerator Program?

By Luke Cherrington

We recently kicked off our second ZX Ventures Zxlerator in the heart of NYC. We have an amazing cohort of 50 (!) intrapreneurs and summer interns tackling 14 huge challenges. This is all driven by a key question, “How do you start new companies inside a large organization?” Let’s discuss.

Zxlerator is the internal accelerator program of ZX Ventures and AB InBev.  We think we’ve built something unique.  Accelerator programs tend to be run by investment vehicles with external, existing startups. Think Techstars, Angelpad, YCombinator, etc. They take an early stage company and give support, mentorship and investment to make it grow faster (i.e. “accelerate” it). We’ve built on this concept. Using Zxlerator, we take internally-generated ideas and put them through a structured three-month program to see if they can develop into validated, launch-ready businesses.

During the program, existing employees and summer interns work together to identify a real problem, validate a solution, and build a viable business model. Basically, they start a business. These ventures are early stage – often starting from just an idea – so we start out with an intensive two-week boot camp. This is a crash course in how to start a company. During boot camp you’ll hear phrases any experienced entrepreneur would recognize. Build, measure, learn. Desirability, viability and feasibility. Experiment, experiment, experiment. Now that we’re into the core program, teams have a slew of internal and external mentors to call on, and programming designed to help them leverage our core business.  We’ll wrap the program with Demo Day, and make final decisions on which ventures we’ll fund.

The ventures in Zxlerator, first and foremost, are solving real problems for real people. We’re not looking for incremental innovations to existing products or processes within our business. Our core innovation team can (and does) crush that type of innovation. We’re focused on new problems that have yet to be addressed. We also expect teams to adapt and pivot from their initial thesis. Testing, learning, and potentially changing course if they find a more important problem to solve. It’s agile innovation.

So why did we create Zxlerator? Simply put, we needed it. If you’re going to fail (most new product innovations do), better fail fast and fail cheap. Learn, adapt, and try again. This isn’t exclusive to AB InBev. All companies are quickly understanding it’s critical to add this new methodology to time-tested innovation. Exploring, validating and launching new ventures on the pillars of lean and design thinking. It’s also imperative internal intrapreneurs are given a vehicle to build inside their company. Zxlerator is our vehicle.

And it really is all about the people. Whether for interns or longtime employees, Zxlerator offers the experience of an entrepreneur with the support and resources of a global company. From the very first day of the program, they are treated as founders who own a business – and are expected to demonstrate the ownership and urgency worthy of the title.

We have every confidence this summer’s cohort is going to absolutely rock it and build investment-ready businesses. It is an experience unlike any other – transformative for both our participants and our company – and we couldn’t be more excited to see where the teams land.

Our Leadership Styles

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

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.

The compounding potency of unrelenting urgency

By Lex Solit

Imagine a corporate world where every employee attacked each project and each meeting with the urgency of Jack Bauer in 24.  While I prefer positive zeal to never-ending apocalypse-prevention, there is no denying that sustained urgency is a “top 5” source of competitive advantage.

Weightlifting is a great metaphor for business, in that once you work yourself into a certain condition, what was once an excruciating push can become “light work”.

Allow me to briefly expound on how I define urgency, crystallize the nature of its dividends, and lastly, share some thoughts on how to harness the power of urgency in a positive and engaging way in one’s organization.

What is urgency in a business context?

When people think of “urgency,” they often think of short sprints or fire drills. Every role or team has defined peaks when key outcomes are finalized or deliverables are handed up the chain. Urgency is all about turning on the after-burner when that big report is due for the big boss.

There are two flaws to this mindset. The first is that when you focus your idea of “peak performance” only on “peaks,” you miss optimizing impact on the 85% of non-peak times. Urgency, properly applied, is briskly jogging the whole marathon. The second is that “peak” periods are often cascaded down from more senior levels, meaning the “urgent spike” approach is a reactive response to an extrinsic demand. Urgency, properly applied, is like the joyously furious offense of Allen Iverson decimating the Lakers in Game 1 of the 2001 NBA Finals – it is an intrinsic desire of an individual team member to make each play count.  

Why is it so important?

The simple math of compounding returns. The results of an organization are a function of the aggregated actions of each employee in each second. Thinking in the speed/quality/cost framework, urgency, properly applied, can directly translate to increased speed with negligible (or limited) offsets. 

In my business (restaurants/retail), one of the biggest barriers to growth is the cycle time of expansion. The time it takes to find locations, negotiate with landlords, get permits, construct a place, and hire people necessitates an almost masochistic passion for the end product (which I fortunately - or unfortunately- have).

The most complex retail format I operate is the brewpub. Think 13K square feet, 250+ seats, a brewery on site. They are knarly but beautiful beasts.  The normal cycle time (end to end) for a project is 18 to 24 months. My team was able to open 4 brewpubs in 4 different countries in 10 months – doubling the speed of established operators while building a team from scratch. I’ll talk more about how we accomplished this in a future post, but just think about the value created by “getting in the game” one year sooner: the money, the learnings, the market presence, the people and infrastructure on which to build the next wave.   

How do you create/harness urgency?

As one of my recent hires astutely told me, “culture is just the way we do things”. Any leader in any organization has the opportunity and responsibility to shape the culture, like when Kanye dropped the Yeezy 2's.

1.)    Crank dat galvanizing mission

Few will stroll downhill to nowhere, many will sprint uphill for a pot of gold. To arm your troops with that “battery in the back”, I suggest framing the mission not just at the company level, but also at the team, project, and “quick sprint” level. There is glory to be had in the gargantuan and in the granular, and shortening cycle times between “accomplished missions” helps create the right dynamic. 

2.)    Grab the loose balls yourself

That leaders need to set the example is widely accepted for a reason. To create high-urgency teams, it is critical to not only expect speed from your teams, but to put pressure on yourself in a way that is visible to them. Set targets for yourself that are stretched. Commit to deadlines for specific items yourself and then show your team that you can consistently meet or exceed them.  

3.)    Coach for offense

Defense = “we have the monthly performance review, scramble and get the numbers and get me some pretty pictures!!”

Offense = “What do you believe you can achieve on this in the next 60 days? Are there any other ways you think we can drive XYZ metric? If you had to what you just said in the next 30 days, what would you need to change?    

In reality there will always be a combination of the two, but it’s all about the skew.

4.)    Remove the blockers, provide the enablers

Urgency is of no value until it turns into speed. Unblocking barriers to execution can sometimes mean streamlining decision-making processes or even re-thinking policies - where the cost exceeds the benefit. When your team sees you unblock barriers, it has both a practical and symbolic effect.

Enabling people in this context means more than autonomy and coaching – when it comes to moving really quickly, great leaders should collaborate upfront with team members to identify project-specific resources or tools that will reduce friction.  

Thanks for reading, and I welcome any thoughts or comments. Unfortunately, I must tend to some urgent business!

Our Culture in Action

Check out some recent videos from our leaders discussing culture at ZX Ventures.

Alex Nelson, Global Head of Product, discusses pushing the boundaries with her team.

Alex Nelson, Global Head of Product, discusses the value placed on ownership across all levels at ZX Ventures.

Sergio Esteves, Global VP of Brand Experience, discusses the importance of hiring the best people and keeping our teams diverse.

Sergio Esteves, Global VP of Brand Experience, reflects on accomplishing what was deemed impossible by others.