This is a guest blog by Natalie Collins, Head of Xcelerate within Coca-Cola Amatil. We asked Nat to share her personal story on the journey of launching a brand new accelerator program and corporate partnership from within the organisation…
I’ve spent my career becoming familiar with how the “big end of town” operates. It’s been a rich experience learning the ins and outs of supply chain complexities, forecasting and budgeting routines, product portfolio rationalisation, NPD processes, corporate governance …. the list goes on.
Earlier this year I was given the opportunity to lead Coca-Cola Amatil’s first ever corporate accelerator, Xcelerate, designed to find the best and brightest ideas from across Australia and New Zealand in the areas of sustainability, customer experience and logistics.
Diving into the unknown
The remit was clear … jump in and learn as much as I could from the startup ecosystem that is disrupting the corporate landscape as we know it. Uncover their ‘secret formula’ and see if it’s possible to scoop some up and bring it in-house to drive growth for our own business.
Where are the opportunities for corporates and startups to come together and can Amatil tap into some of the magic that occurs when this happens?
Our Xcelerate program is powered by BlueChilli. Since day one, working with the team has been a treat. It is clear they’re a group of like-minded people drawn together by a desire to make a difference through enabling people’s ideas with technology.
They are passionate and practised – I’m yet to meet a ‘BlueChillian’ who hasn’t started their own business, more than once. Many have achieved successful exits, most are running a startup or two on the side and all of them are willing to share the stories of the scars they’ve earned along the way.
A Founder first approach
The Founders who were successful in being offered a place in Xcelerate are a breath of fresh air too – open to learn and eager to action. They appreciate the risk and reward associated with developing an idea into a scalable, investible business.
It’s a joy to watch them work at pace and with such enthusiasm and pride. Guided by the calm hand of BlueChilli, they lap up every bit of practical and bespoke advice they are served and apply it to building their business. There aren’t any workbooks, or classrooms, or tests at the end to check that you’ve listened. The proof is in the pudding, so to speak.
Each session of the 6-month program is crafted based on where our cohort of startups is at and what they need to learn at that point in order to build their business. Then they find the “BlueChillian”, or someone from within their extensive entrepreneur network, with the right experience to impart that knowledge.
The pudding and it’s secret sauce
The approach seems to be working. In less than five weeks, there are a number of minimum viable products (MVP’s) in the market and even some paying customers who aren’t blood relatives! It isn’t common to see that kind of pace in the world of enterprise – although it is our intention to change that.
So, what have I learnt sitting through all these masterclasses and panel sessions? What is this secret sauce that gives the startup world a competitive advantage? In short, it’s their absolute obsession with the customer and in solving a problem that’s experienced by enough customers who are willing to pay for a solution.
In businesses of all sizes it isn’t uncommon to hear the term “customer centric“ either as part of a company’s values, a pillar of a business plan or in remarks by Leaders.
I genuinely believe that everyone cares about it – they need to in order to survive.
What can corporates learn?
There is a lot we can learn from the approach players in the startup world take.
Startup Founders recognise that the customer is the expert in the problem, and the only way you can build the right solution/product is by asking customer after customer about their experience until you truly understand the problem that needs solving for. And it’s often not the problem you first thought.
I witnessed this through Xcelerate. Through the first few weeks, the Founders interviewed hundreds of customers to understand their pain points – and I saw their businesses evolve as a result. The problem they were originally trying to solve for wasn’t in fact the problem that was being experienced by the customer.
And if there’s no market, there is no business at the end of the day.
No frills, no worries
The other departure from the enterprise model is the “low res” approach to trialling and testing. It’s an old saying that we shouldn’t let perfection get in the way of progress, but startups take this to whole other level.
A startup doesn’t have the cashflow to invest in market trials so – driven by necessity – they build the most basic version of their product that someone can engage with and then test it with a handful of potential customers. They conduct market research first-hand to see what works and what doesn’t with customers, and then they tweak the product and try again.
With persistence and inspiration, they’ll find a solution that solves their customer’s problem and results in a sale – and another, and another. Then boom! Traction, and the business is viable and under way.
Not just the outside looking in
These insights aren’t exactly rocket science. In fact, you could argue that you’d learn this in any design thinking or agile product development course, so why not just send your people to one of those? Well, there’s nothing like making it real, and seeing customer centricity and market traction in action, in the field.
At Coca-Cola Amatil, we’ve done something radical and included some of our people in the Xcelerate program.
We invited our employees to submit their ideas and chose two to join the startups in building their idea into a business. Xcelerate is pulling in some world-class ideas from outside; but through our own team’s participation and the sharing of their journey, we might just see our own internal “secret formulas” go from drawing boards into board rooms.