From StartUp to ScaleUp

David Butler, global Vice-President of Innovation at Coca-Cola Company, came into town this week. Around 200 people turned up at Fishburners, to find out what Coca-Cola is doing to stay relevant.

David is exploring Coca-Cola’s role in the new era of innovation by setting up ‘Accelerators’ in 7 cities globally. Sydney was the first city to have this special ‘business unit’, due to maturity of the startup community in combination with the size of their Coca-Cola subsiderary.

Scaleup = Starters + Scalers.

The Accelerator works from within the start up communities, building relationships and ideas. The opportunity for Coca-Cola is to move startups to scaleups. Traditionally, corporate are very good at scaling. Startups on the other hand, are very good at starting, but often times not so good at scaling. That is because the two require very different skills. For starting, you need to develop assets, do rapid iterations, collaborate, pivot and take lots of little bets. To scale, you need to leverage your assets, work on network effects, execute and plan, and make a few big bets. To leverage the relevance of their scale, Coca-Cola is thus opening up their large amounts of resources, data and channels built over the last century – to those who are good at starting. An idea they have is to do a Hackaton, to see what people can do with their distribution data.

Coca-Cola hopes to enter and disrupt new markets, which they currently cannot imagine to serve. They are all for enhancing the diversity of the ecosystem, instead of focussing on incremental growth within their existing ecosystems (which, believe it or not, is still a growing market). The two areas they focus on are ‘well-being’ and ‘distribution’. Looking at well-being, this concept is very different here, than it is for instance in Bangalore.

The two crucial things for this Accelerator model to work ‘within’ or ‘next to’ the big corporate system of Coca-Cola, are to be supported to learn by doing and to not call it an ‘innovation team’. Often times, an innovation team is the first thing to be killed when times get though in big companies. Also, you could spend 3 years working on your idea, and get McKinsey to have a look at it, before you launch, but that’s not going to work in this new era.

To work like this, the Accelerator team has had to force a few changes within the company, for instance how they interview the founders for the cities, as well as how they get small budgets approved. Would you believe it’s easier to get $500.000 than $5000?!

They’ve just gotten started, so it will be a while before we will see the whether this innovation strategy works. Stay tuned!


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