Pedro Earp is the Chief ZX Ventures, which he launched after nearly 17 years with Anheuser-Busch InBev and its subsidiary AmBev. Pedro has worked in multiple divisions during his tenure with AB InBev, including marketing, consumer connections, and mergers and acquisitions, and he brings that breadth of experience to bear in the global startup arena. We sat down with Pedro to discuss his past with the company and where he sees ZX Ventures going in the future.
Why did you choose to work at AB InBev in the first place?
I chose AB InBev for two reasons. First, this company has an amazing culture, and I don’t mean just what they believe in but rather how people behave. One of the key aspects to that is our belief in ownership—in giving people responsibilities and then letting them own their future. Other companies talk about having an ownership mind-set, but sometimes it’s all on paper. Here, it’s what people do, day in and day out. Our culture is alive and active on a daily basis. When I was interviewing for the trainee program I remember looking at the 10 principles on the wall and thinking that if I had my own company these would probably be the 10 principles I would have on the wall.
Second I felt excited about the big dreams we always had, and to get to do that through the beer industry—well, I’ve always been very passionate about the product! I’ve loved beer my whole life, but I’ve also always loved getting together with people. Here, we’re in the business of happiness, and I’m proud to be part of a company that gets to provide happiness and connection to people.
The combination of a big dream, the culture and beer is what sold me on working with AB InBev. But when I started, I never thought I would spend my whole life here—it’s been 17 years now. Sometimes people ask me and my colleagues that have been here for a long time why we haven’t left. I always say that I have never felt like working for anybody else and I always had the chance of having big dreams and following my passions here.
What was the goal in launching ZX Ventures?
AB InBev is an amazing company, especially in terms of being able to scale business. Some of our key brands today like Budweiser or Skol were small regional brands and we were able to transform them into national market leaders and sometimes global leaders. AB InBev’s execution capabilities and discipline make it possible for us to take a small business and use our skills to scale it and transform that business to a nationwide production level.
But the skills and mind-set that you need to create business are very different than the skills and mind-set you need to scale businesses. Business creators need to have consumer empathy to identify what consumers need and how they can grow the customer experience. A lot of design work is required to create a product or a solution that consumers will enjoy and use. Your people have to be obsessed with learning, because your first solutions aren’t going to work, and you’ll need to revise your approach. You have to take risks and work in an environment of uncertainty. This is a very different discipline than trying to scale a business. Scaling a business is about copying what works and having the operational excellence and the ability to find and apply the right technologies to win.
In the future, companies that can’t master both—creation and scaling—aren’t going to last. That’s why we created ZX Ventures: to learn and get better at creating new businesses. Paul Graham once wrote, “If big companies weren't incapable in something, there would be no room for startups to exist.” We’re making sure that AB InBev is gaining new capabilities, through ZX ventures.
What do you think is the most useful characteristic for someone starting out at ZX Ventures?
This ties back into what I said before, about how at AB InBev, and now also at ZX Ventures, we’ve always had the ability to attract really great people, and then we give those people ownership and keep them engaged in their work. It’s very different from a lot of other companies, where you’ll see a visionary leader and everyone around him is just acting on his vision. We’re all owners here, so we’re looking for people who can fit into that culture of ownership and responsibility. We also have a history, through some of our brands, that goes back to the 13th century. To us, that means we have a responsibility to build a company that will last another thousand years. The trick is to build an environment and a culture that constantly attracts people who are better than we are, who can take the company to an even better place. We’re not interested in personal agendas; we’re building an organization for the long term.
Do you have a favorite memory from your time with AB InBev and ZX Ventures?
Well, my favorite story is one that I actually wasn’t there for. I heard about it from a banker who was at this meeting, and it’s always stuck with me. It was back in 2002, and AB InBev was trying to do a transaction where we were competing with a large European brewer. Both companies were making offers. The seller had to decide whether he would partner with us or with the other company. At the end of our presentations, he asked us both why he should partner with us. The other company answered first and gave all the right business answers. Its spokesperson outlined how it had great financing, a global brand, and the ability to diversify. But then our shareholders got to answer, and they said listen, we think we’ve found a way to attract, promote, and give opportunities to outstanding people, and while lots of companies talk about that, we’ve actually been able to implement it. That’s going to allow us one day to be the biggest brewing company in the world. So that was back in 2002, and 15 years later, we’re the biggest beer company in the world. It goes back to my point about attracting and giving ownership to the best people—that’s what got us here.