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!

download.jpg

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.

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!

FU0A1110.jpg

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!

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.

Summer Beer Trends

With summer heating up in the Northern Hemisphere, we sat down with Innovation Brewer Thomas Hartman to talk about the beer trends we can expect to see this season. Here’s what he had to say!

More Session and Sessionable Beers, Especially IPAs

The trend of making IPAs ever hoppier seems to have slowed, with the pendulum swinging back toward more mellow, drinkable session beers. In a session beer, brewers try to maintain the balance and flavor of an existing beer style while reducing the ABV (usually to about 4% or below). In addition to packing less of an intoxicating punch, sessions tend to be mellow in flavor. These are beers you can drink all afternoon.

It’s important to think about session beers as more than just watered-down versions of other styles though! A good session IPA, for example, is formulated with an eye toward specialty malts, mash formulations, and hop profiles that result in a less-overwhelming flavor, less bitterness, and a lower ABV while providing a distinct flavor that you’ll want to drink all afternoon. Look also for fruit flavors in some of these sessions and sessionable brews.

More Accessible Sour Beers

Just as the pendulum has swung away from outrageously hoppy, 110-IBU IPAs, the extremes of sour beers are receding in favor of a more accessible drink. The craft beer market is typically American: when we do something new, we start out really big! Early sours were mouth puckering, eye watering, and sometimes barely drinkable. Today both sour fermented and kettle sour beers are being developed in lower acidity, lower ABV versions. Blending with fruits, such as passionfruit, to balance sweetness with sourness is also a welcome development. Kettle sour beers, where the acidity is the byproduct of bacterial fermentation, are harder to control, but here too brewers are improving balance while maintaining the refreshing zing of these quintessentially summery beers.

More Local Ingredients and Local Variants

With the trend toward eating and buying local in other industries, it’s no surprise that beer drinkers are looking to drink local too. Small hop farms are popping up all over, with producers working to distinguish themselves with different and novel hop varieties. Both Michigan and upstate New York have vibrant hop-grower societies with an intense demand for their locally grown hops. The same is true of small malthouses providing locally sourced malts and other ingredients. Wine drinkers have known for years that the flavor of wines depends on where their ingredients are grown. Wine made from Malbec grapes grown in Chile is completely different from wine made with those same grapes grown in France. Similarly, Cascade hops grown in Yakima, Michigan, and Germany have distinct flavors and qualities. Expect to see more local ingredients and more regional specialties. The cloudy or hazy IPAs that are being perfected in New England are one delightful example of this regional specialization.

Non-Beer or “Near Beer” Options

With the uptick in local brewpubs and breweries as popular gathering places, there’s a growing demand for non-beer options for those who haven’t yet embraced traditional beer styles. This summer, look for more radlers: a 50/50 mix of beer and fruit juice or soda, generally light and crisp in flavor and only 2 to 3% alcohol. Some breweries are also developing malt-based “near beer” beverages, processing traditional wort in new ways to create drinks that appeal to a non-beer crowd.

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.

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

Jerome Pellaud, 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.