If you have been reading this blog, you probably already know that the Coca-Cola Founders model is based on identifying real, immediate challenges across the Coca-Cola System and then partnering with entrepreneurs capable of developing new technologies and business models to tackle those challenges.
We’ve found that, despite the vast resources and expertise we have within Coke, entrepreneurs provide unique ways to help to solve some of our strategic challenges. They are building their businesses outside the confines of an existing one, which allows them to have almost limitless flexibility and affords Coca-Cola reduced risk. The benefit for entrepreneurs, of course, is if they can help solve one of these challenges, they can land a significant customer from day one – with the added ability to scale their new business across the Coca-Cola global System and beyond.
However, if you’re an entrepreneur trying to partner with a global enterprise like Coke, you will greatly increase your chances for success if you have an inside advisor – often a VP level or above – who can show you how to get results inside Coke. A good enterprise advisor like this understands what value the entrepreneur brings to the organization and then helps them make connections with key decision-makers across the company’s different business units. And in many cases, these advisors help the entrepreneur look for opportunities to pilot the solution in the business unit, in a pseudo-business development role.
But entrepreneurs also need to understand what questions they should be asking of their advisors to get the maximum value out of that relationship, and then shift the dialogue from selling to co-creation. Most entrepreneurs only see big enterprises as bears to hunt not actually learn from to help them refine their product market fit. Here are three questions we suggest every entrepreneur ask their enterprise advisor:
1. Ask what key words or phrases to use – or avoid.
Every organization develops its own unique language over time and an advisor can help an entrepreneur understand those nuances. For example, when Wonolo, an on-demand staffing portfolio company, was planning to test a minimum viable product with a major home improvement retailer in Arizona, the experiment was called a “pilot.” But inside Coca-Cola North America, this set off alarms and triggered a set of meetings with HR, risk management, and lawyers. That’s because in Coke’s language, a “pilot” means that research has been done and small tests have been completed in a small region. In the U.S., it’s also typical that pilots are rolled out across an entire region, like the West Coast. But all Wonolo wanted to do was test out their the concept in a single store. Fortunately, Wonolo’s advisors stepped up to speak with all the relevant groups inside Coke to explain that what Wonolo was actually doing was just a small test. Nothing more. This simple vernacular change made a big difference.
2. Find out if there are internal teams working on the same problem. If so, what can you learn from their approach?
Entrepreneurs on our platform work on big, wicked problems that need many different solutions. Think of an example like out of stocks. If we could always have a shelf, cooler, or vending machine with product available, then we could capture more than $1 billion in new sales annually around the world. That’s a big challenge and opportunity all in one. Wonolo can help us restock these shelves in real time. But, to put a “Wonoloer” to work, we still need to make sure the product is available to get to the back room of those stores before out of stocks happen. Fortunately, there are several teams inside Coke working on how to optimize this part of the last mile. The value that an advisor brings is to help Wonolo connect and learn from what those teams are doing to solve that challenge.
3. Identify how did the problem originated.
The best entrepreneurs know how to get to the root of a big problem. But it also helps to have some guidance about how that problem originated. That’s why we take all of the entrepreneurs in the Founders program through a deep immersion in our business. It’s a crash course, of sorts, into how our business creates value for consumers, retailers, bottling partners, and the Coca-Cola Company. Everyone has a different role and perspective within our business and also how he or she captures value within it. The entrepreneurs who have found the most success through our platform are those who understand where they fit into the fabric of the organization and can then articulate how their solution will add value across that chain.
When you add these lessons up, it’s clear that finding an internal champion is key for any entrepreneur interested in collaborating with a corporation. And asking the right questions of your enterprise advisor will both help you build your solution inside their business and avoid common traps. Finally, leveraging your advisor to understand the root of the challenge the company is trying to solve in the first place will help ensure that you are able to best communicate how your solution fits into the big picture.