GMBA

Jillian: Why ZX?

Here is a picture of me with VIVE – the beverage we built during my summer in Zxlerator!

Here is a picture of me with VIVE – the beverage we built during my summer in Zxlerator!

I didn’t go to business school intending to start a business, but I would be lying if I said I wasn’t tempted to become a founder almost immediately upon arrival at Wharton. It felt like everyone I spoke to was trying to start some sort of venture. I’ve always considered myself to be somewhat entrepreneurial in spirit, so I figured why not at least consider it. I started thinking about potential industries, spinning my wheels to identify the next ‘billion-dollar idea’ (like every single other first year MBA). It was a very humbling exercise. First, I lacked any in depth, industry-specific knowledge, which made it virtually impossible to identify salient pain points. Which brought me to another, potentially larger issue. Even if I were to identify a real problem to address, what right did I have to win? Prior to Wharton, I had spent 3 years working in Sales and Trading at a large investment bank. I had never worked in any of the sleeker industries like retail, biotech, or food and beverage. I had no pre-existing connections, no real networks to leverage. I would be starting from scratch… and frankly, starting from scratch is scary.

I have always struggled with the notion of ‘risk aversion.’ In business school, ‘risk aversion’ is perceived as a negative thing. But I argue that a healthy level of risk aversion can actually be incredibly valuable. I realized very early on in my Wharton career that while I may be entrepreneurial in spirit, I also carry a healthily degree of risk aversion. I do want to build my own venture, but I don’t want to have to start from scratch to do so.

Insert ZX Ventures. The perfect marriage of best-in-class industry knowledge, venture-led thinking, and high-performing teammates to de-risk the entrepreneurial process.

ZX Ventures offered me the opportunity to flex my founder muscle in a relatively low-risk environment. The ZXLerator MBA internship program gave me the team, the money, and the industry resources necessary to solve a real consumer problem and scale a viable business over the course of just one summer. ZX Ventures has one of the best MBA internship programs out there. I’m biased, but it’s true. Where else are you presented with a budget, a problem, and 11 fully-dedicated weeks to go solve it?

In my fulltime role here at ZX, I sit right next to a huge poster that reads: “Only invent if you need to.” ZX is not interested in recreating the wheel. We are interested in leveraging our resources, capabilities, and unparalleled industry expertise to push the beverage category further, fueling growth for AB InBev well into the future. If you’re like me - someone interested in building their own business, working with talented, passionate people, and gaining the tangible industry knowledge necessary to create solutions to address real consumer problems – ZX is the place for you. Because at ZX, you don’t have to start from scratch. You have the support of a $56bn global beverage leader behind you. Now that sounds like a pretty great set up for success.

Connor: Reflections

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I was first introduced to ZX Ventures in the Fall of 2016, a month into my first year at Columbia’s Business School. I was sitting in the library, trying to figure out this whole modeling/excel thing I’d heard so much about, when a friend swung by and asked if I was going to the ZX Ventures presentation. Honestly, a little unsure of what ZX was, my plan that day was to wrap up work and head home. Luckily, my friend said the magic words “there will probably be free beer,” which was good enough for me.

That afternoon sent me on brand new path. The ZX Ventures’ employees at the event, who were recent MBA grads, impressed me from the start with the challenges and roles they had already experienced in their brief tenure at the company, as well as the responsibility they were given early and often. Their passion for creating the future of an industry was simply infectious. They weren’t shy about emphasizing that ZX Ventures is a culture-driven organization, a company that believes in true ownership. I learned how ZX believes People are their greatest asset, and that the best environment for their people is informal and meritocratic, offering roles outsizing employees’ experience to give them challenges they have to stretch and grow into. As an added bonus, the beer was delicious. I was hooked.

As a summer intern in the 2017 Zxlerator, I learned the “ZX Operating System,” a methodology for bringing a company from ideation to launch by actually doing it – rolling up my sleeves with a team and getting out in the real world to solve real consumer problems. I started to see firsthand that people at Zx didn’t just talk the talk about culture, I was surrounded by ownership. Employees of all levels would take the reins on massive challenges, bringing passion and creativity to launching new businesses with an obsessive customer focus. I lived the highs and lows of entrepreneurial life in the accelerator, and started to believe in the methodology that so defines ZX’s approach: identifying an opportunity, dreaming big in its potential, and figuring out how to efficiently execute the mission.

I knew if given the opportunity, I would join ZX Ventures full-time, but I was unsure about what my first role would be. Should I lean towards something in my wheelhouse, and leverage my previous experience? After the expedited learning curve forced on me into the new role of an entrepreneur over the summer, I decided to aim for my next role to be completely outside my comfort zone to continue this rapid growth. I ended up joining the Finance team this June, and have been working on ZX’s strategic planning and resource allocation processes ever since.

ZX Ventures is the kind of place that encourages these types of challenges. I’m often reminded of Pedro Earp’s comment at one of our school events, “we want to push people out of their comfort zone so that they are in a position to grow. We want to find that job that you may be uncomfortable in for six months, good at for six months, then great at for six months. Then we’re going to find the next job you’re uncomfortable in, and cycle goes on and on.” I’ve seen firsthand how this ethos combined with a meritocratic reward system empowers employees to drive their own career path, attacking new and exciting challenges that peak their curiosity and passion.

I’m just beginning my journey in this company, and while the innovative exponential growth challenges are amazing, the people inspiring, and the culture empowering, this idea of Sisyphean dedication to improving yourself is what makes me most excited to get to my desk in the morning.

From my position, I’ve seen the large challenges we’ve set for ourselves in 2019. We’ve continued the practice of dreaming big, and expect great results from our teams around the world. And while I don’t know what comes next for me personally, I can’t wait to find out which road I’ll need to rise to meet next.

Kendra: What’s an Intrapreneur?

Any derivation of the word “entrepreneur” coupled with a company that brings in over $50 billion in annual revenue probably seems like a divergent concept.

At least, that was my impression when I first heard about the opportunity at ZX Ventures.

I was in my first year of business school at MIT’s Sloan School of Management and had just stepped away from being an entrepreneur for close to three years. I had founded a company called Spice & Spoon, a cocktail services platform (think cocktail classes executed by mixologists for private parties and corporate team building/events).

I was bitten by the entrepreneurship bug and felt strongly about ownership, building new things, and solving consumer problems. On the other hand, I was exhausted by the struggle for resources, access to the right people, and financial limitations.

Coming into my MBA program I was hyper-focused on food & beverage innovation and looked across opportunities in various companies. If I had to summarize what drew me to ZX, it would be three things:

  1. Opportunity to learn (from people and process),
  2. Real authority and ownership (in a major way that I did not see elsewhere), and
  3. Big dreamers (a reflection of the passion and enthusiasm you might not expect from an industry giant).

Fast forward two years and here I am, working to build a startup within an existing company. When people ask what I do, I sometimes say “intrapreneur,” other times I’m a “founder,” a “global manager,” or that I work in “new product innovation.” All of these titles and associations are true. As amorphous as this may be, the way I describe what I do is the perfect characterization of what my job entails – constant evolution and bringing together dichotomous mindsets and processes.

At its core, I am an employee of Zx Ventures, the global growth and innovation group within Anheuser-Busch InBev, paid a salary like any other company employee; however, I’m given the freedom and decision-making rights of an entrepreneur.

I control my product, from recipe to design; I own my execution strategy; I pitch to raise money internally, just like an independent founder might pitch to a VC. Funding is in no way guaranteed, and there’s a burden of proof. I have ownership, I’m building something new, and I’m solving a consumer problem.

Overall, this job sounds pretty awesome right?

And it is. It is awesome. When operating within this kind of structure, the benefits are countless: from deep industry knowledge, to distribution, to best practices, not to mention the greatest asset—access to the best and the brightest people. However, I’ve had to learn how to overcome different types of challenges from the ones I overcame in my days as an entrepreneur. The constraints are real, and the expectations are high.

I can also say what I do as an intrapreneur is not unique to the rest of the company; at least not at the heart of it. My fellow MBAs have started building careers across our many functions, from marketing, to finance, to strategy. We call ourselves a company of owners – so no matter the function, we are all constantly challenged to be drivers of our change. It may not be in everyone else’s job description, but from my perspective, at Zx Ventures we’re all intrapreneurs.

Kendra, GMBA Class of 2018, a pitching on Demo Day during her Zxlerator internship. She’s now a full-time “intrapreneur” as a member of the Explore team.

Kendra, GMBA Class of 2018, a pitching on Demo Day during her Zxlerator internship. She’s now a full-time “intrapreneur” as a member of the Explore team.

Jessica: My Trek to Patagonia’s Best Kept Secret

Read from Jessica Douglass, GMBA Class of 2018, on a journey to Patagonia as part of the GMBA Deep Dive!

Read from Jessica Douglass, GMBA Class of 2018, on a journey to Patagonia as part of the GMBA Deep Dive!

As a GMBA program participant working within ZX Ventures, I have invaluable opportunities to learn about many different parts of the company through our sessions and regional “Deep Dive” programming. A Deep Dive is a week where the entire GMBA cohort travels to an Anheuser-Busch InBev zone to hear from executives and experience the local ways of doing business. My cohort just returned from an incredible trip to Argentina that brought the company to life in a brand-new way.

The first half of the week was in the city of Buenos Aires, learning about the local marketing challenges, how they’ve successfully repositioned some major Argentinian brands, and how that’s translating to a sales strategy on the ground. We visited the Quilmes brewery and experienced a beer pairing with (delicious) local foods. But I think my entire class would agree that the most impactful part of the trip came towards the end of the week, during our trip to Patagonia.

When we stepped off the plane in the town of Bariloche, I could hardly believe my eyes: the sun was setting behind a vast stretch of mountains. The next morning was even better, waking up to the glistening lake waters nestled between snow-capped mountains. But of course, the best moment of the trip was arriving at our Patagonia microbrewery, situated at the top of a hill overlooking the expansive scene I just described. Sipping a 24.7 Session IPA while surveying one of the most beautiful landscapes I’d ever seen was a moment I’ll never forget.

It really drove home what an incredible insight the Patagonia brand team has landed upon: once a craft beer establishes a discernable place and face, everything else is easy. From the logo, matching the outline of a classic Patagonia mountain range, to the story of their pine ale created by a brewer who wanted to capture the feeling of being at the brewery, every initiative seems to flow naturally from that exact spot on earth.

As part of the Specialties team at ZX Ventures, I can attest that we try to bring this insight to our brands every day. We’re constantly centering around the core truths of our brands—their founding teams, original brewery location, and authentic stories—in setting brand strategy. Whenever we come up against an existential conflict, we always come back to the place, face, and story of the brand to lead our way.

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Alex: Behind the Scenes of Zxlerator

Read a behind-the-scenes take on the experience of running Demo Day 2018 from Alex Savona, new member of the Explore team and former Zxlerator intern!

Alex Savona, GMBA Class of 2018, pitching to internal investors at Demo Day 2017 as an intern.

Alex Savona, GMBA Class of 2018, pitching to internal investors at Demo Day 2017 as an intern.

June 11, 2018 was a day of firsts. It was my first day of work at ZX Ventures, and it was also the first day of the third Zxlerator program, which brought together 27 MBA and undergraduate interns and 26 intrapreneurs. But this wasn’t your normal first day; the buzz around the coworking space and “problem statements” was very familiar. That’s because this was my second Zxlerator.

Last summer I was a GMBA intern on the TAPT venture, where I spent 13 exhilarating weeks launching a start-up alongside other interns and ABI employees. The experience culminated in a pitch at Demo Day, which is the moment when each of the Zxlerator teams show off the product of their summer’s efforts. It didn’t take long for me to fall in love with ZX’s ways of doing things, the ZX Explore team, and the Zxlerator program – it was all unlike anything I had ever seen before. From the start I knew this was something I needed to be a part of. I was over the moon when I received my full-time offer back to the ZX Ventures team and the opportunity to help with the coming year’s Zxlerator.

Now I was seeing the program from a completely different angle – as someone helping to run the Zxlerator rather than a participant. I immediately jumped into Bootcamp, helping our coordinators refine content from last year and collecting examples of work done to show our new class. But most importantly I was going to be an Explore Partner for three of the teams, serving as a mentor to help these ventures throughout the process.

As a brand new team member equipped with one summer of Zxlerator experience, I wondered how much value I could offer to seasoned employees of the company and my MBA peers. But then, just like last year, I decided to trust the ZX operating system. I leaned on my experience as a prior “consumer” of the accelerator to guide my teams and offer them tips for running experiments, validating hypotheses, presenting to VPs, and preparing for Demo Day.

Not only was I able to leverage that knowledge myself, but the rest of the Explore & People teams running the accelerator leveraged it too. They so innately felt that “the consumer was the boss” that they quickly and openly accepted my suggestions to the program, continuously building, measuring and learning, to bring our strong program satisfaction score even higher, up to 94%. Perhaps most excitingly as a new hire, the team lived up to the ABI principle that the company’s people are its greatest asset. They trusted me off the bat to help shape the program and mentor three of the teams - the most of any Explore Partner. It was incredible to see how much one could learn in one Zxlerator and how the experience fundamentally changed how people thought about problem solving. Alums of past accelerators wouldn’t miss Demo Day for anything; they even showed up wearing their ventures’ swag! It gave me hope for how this program could become even bigger, with former participants sharing this mindset back in their countries, business units, and future accelerators.

As Demo Day concluded and I took off my headset in the AV booth, I was sad to see the program end, but I realized this was just the beginning both for my career at ZX and the Zxlerator. There were funding decisions to be made, recruits for next year to find, feedback to implement, and opportunities to take the program even further in 2019.