Note: This story is part of a Journey series on the new Coca-Cola Founders platform. Read the first installment here.

In 2013, Coca-Cola launched a new model for creating seed-stage startups called Coca-Cola Founders. The model is based on the company partnering with a global network of experienced entrepreneurs.

“We don’t invest in ideas, we invest in people,” says David Butler, Coke’s global VP of innovation and entrepreneurship. “We select experienced entrepreneurs to be part of our founder network before they develop their startup, business model, product or even an idea.”

Butler continues, “One of our co-founders is a Y Combinator graduate, another was part of a startup team that had the largest exit in their country. The co-founders are unique, but they all share this level of amazing experience. They’ve been there and done that and know what it takes to not only build a great product but also a great team, and a great company. ”

Butler believes there are three basic elements to creating a high-growth startup: a product or service that solves a problem a lot of people have; strong strategic partners; and access to capital. Coca-Cola, like most large established companies, has access to assets and capital, but isn’t designed to attract the talent needed to develop products with the agility of a startup.

“After a few failures in the beginning, we learned that to do this the right way, we needed an entirely new operating model – with new processes and systems,” Butler said. “Big companies can’t just decide one day to do what startups do – it’s a structural thing. Big, successful companies are designed to execute, not explore and experiment. I think this is the biggest hurdle for most companies when it comes to truly partnering with the startup community.”

Butler and his team took what they call a “founders first” approach to building their new operating model. The model is based on the co-founders' needs and the way they are used to working, not around Coca-Cola’s existing processes and systems.

“So far, it’s working. We’re not taking a victory lap yet, but we think this approach will prove to be critical to our success” says Butler.

According to a recent Kaufmann study, 54 percent of U.S. Millennials either want to start a business or already have one.

“We’re getting ready to ride one of the biggest entrepreneurial waves the world has ever seen. For us, this is not a PR stunt or a new marketing campaign. This is about fundamentally changing the way we work to open up and literally co-design new solutions with entrepreneurs,” says Butler. “Our goal is to help co-founders grow their business while also growing ours—creating a ‘win-win’ for everyone.”

From Bangalore to Berlin to Buenos Aires

Through the platform, founders aim to solve big problems that lots of people have. They start with some of Coca-Cola’s biggest challenges, then go beyond to explore the wider market opportunities including new technologies and business models. “Though these types of problems are typically global, we know that in order to solve them, founders must focus on their neighborhood, their city, and their country first – then scale globally,” says Butler.

Rio de Janeiro co-founder Gian Martinez says that one of the greatest benefits of the platform is “the real possibility to create a business that is truly global in scale.”

Franki Chamaki

The Coca-Cola Founders Platform is built around an international network of local co-founder teams in a growing list of cities all over the world. Teams are currently operating in Bangalore, Berlin, Buenos Aires, London, Mexico City, Singapore, Rio de Janeiro, San Francisco, Sydney and Tel Aviv.

Franki Chamaki, a co-founder based in Sydney, quickly realized the unfair advantage that partnering with Coke could provide. “When I first heard about the platform, to be honest, I was skeptical," he recalls. "It’s not like it’s some kind of magic wand. But having a strategic partner from day one is very different. Having open access to the deep relationships, the global reach and smart people inside of Coke has allowed us to focus on building a startup we could never have created on our own, outside of this platform.”

Ross Kimbel, director of global innovation, adds, "We’re looking for co-founders who live and breathe lean – as in the Lean Startup Method, which emphasizes minimum spend and maximum speed. This highly experiential and experimental approach enables our co-founders to solve problems quickly using the least amount of resources. This creates another “win-win” for both the co-founders and Coca-Cola. The co-founders go from an idea to a business model very quickly and Coca-Cola has minimal upfront investment. This allows us to de-risk the startup very quickly, creating the most value with the least amount of resources – something most large companies struggle with when it comes to innovation.”

Meet the Co-Founders

Coca-Cola co-founders speak Portuguese, French, English, Spanish, Hebrew, German, Dutch, Kinnand and Mandarin. They love to travel, make wine, surf, write code, design, farm (sometimes vertically), play soccer, watch Seinfeld, eat enchiladas, tell stories and kayak. Many have been mentors and advisors in their local startup communities. Most importantly, they are makers – they love to build things. Be it products, teams, or relationships. They live for the struggle and satisfaction of creating something from nothing. 

Jason Hosking
Jason Hosking

In early 2013, Franki Chamaki and Jason Hosking became the platform’s first recruits. They are Sydney-based entrepreneurs who share a passion for mentoring other entrepreneurs in their local startup community. Franki previously worked in strategy and innovation at AMP, where he helped to build their Design Thinking practice as well as their innovation crowdsourcing platform. A self-proclaimed “lean disciple,” Franki is fanatical about using the Lean Startup Method to prove assumptions. He often consults on Lean inside Coke as a way to help Coca-Cola build a more entrepreneurial culture.

Jason learned about Coke’s new model while working with a local Sydney VC firm. After working for several years in consulting and corporate strategy, he returned to Sydney and reconnected to his passion for entrepreneurship by joining Rocket Internet, a global startup incubator, in 2012. On his decision to join the Coca-Cola Founders platform in 2013, Jason says, “I couldn’t sleep at night thinking about what we could achieve if we got it right. I knew the journey wouldn’t be easy, and we were going to challenge a lot of existing structures, but having senior level support from Coca-Cola gave me confidence that we’d be able to navigate through it.”

The Sydney team is actively working on a few different startups at various stages, one of which is dedicated to making vending machines smarter. Vending Analytics is based on an algorithm that leverages data to predict the optimal portfolio, product, and price mix that should be used to stock individual vending machines, resulting in increased sales and profits. Initial investment was just $10,000, and early market tests show tremendous value potential with an 18 percent lift in sales volume and reduced restock trips per machine.

By August 2013, the Coca-Cola Founders Platform had added another team in San Francisco before Ricardo Suarez and John Cooper from Mexico City joined the network. Ricardo Suarez is a serial entrepreneur who has been founding startups since he was 20 and was named one of the most innovative entrepreneurs in Mexico. In 2011, he founded Yumbling, a behavior-based entertainment app, and sold it to Grupo Expansion two years later. He also led the growth and expansion of JackBe which was acquired by Software AG. Ricardo has dreams of one day directing feature films, so be on the lookout for his name in lights.

The other half of the Mexico City co-founder team is John Cooper. John is passionate about helping founders build startups. Previously, he was an entrepreneurship and innovation lecturer and mentor at Tecnologico de Monterrey, teaching students how to identify market opportunities and wrap them up in sustainable business models. In his down time, he’s perfecting his curry recipe. John is driven by a simple question that his dad asked him when he experienced adversity as a child: “What are you going to do about it?”

Together, Ricardo and John are building Truu Mobile, a transformative mobile service provider designed for teens, by teens. 

Ricardo Suarez
Ricardo Suarez

Soon after John and Ricardo came on board, the platform added two entrepreneurial rock stars from Rio de Janeiro – Gian Martinez and Wilton Neto. Gian was a rising star inside Coca-Cola, leading creative development for Coke across Brazil. After successfully starting two startups inside Coke, he jumped at the opportunity to join this new platform. “I could feel this new entrepreneurial wave building inside of Coke and here in Brazil. I remember the first time David and I discussed this, the timing was exactly right for me to do this and I’ve never looked back.”

An engineer by trade, Wilton founded his first startup at the age of 16 and has been creating new businesses ever since. “I build startups to add value to other people’s lives. It’s addictive,” he says. Wilton’s most successful venture to date, B2Learn, was named one of the 50 most innovative startups in Brazil before being sold in 2011. That same year he started ViajeMe, a site to inspire leisure travelers. He was excited about the opportunity to partner with Coca-Cola through the Founders Platform because, he says, “of the opportunity to build something bigger than I could build outside.”

John Cooper
John Cooper

Gian and Wilton are creating Winnin – “the world’s best videos ranked by you.” Every hour, more than 100 hours of video are uploaded to YouTube. Gian and Wilton realized an opportunity to help a key market segment for Coca-Cola – teens – sort through the noise to discover video content that appeals to them. Winnin aggregates video content from multiple platforms (You Tube, Vine, etc.) and allows users to find and rate the best ones.

In less than six months, Winnin has attracted more than 1.5 million unique users across Brazil. They’ve tapped into a big need a lot of people have, while simultaneously creating a new media channel for Coca-Cola allowing us to connect with teens in a very authentic way.

In September 2014, the Founders Platform welcomed its newest co-founder team: Idan Dadon and Efrat Barit in Tel Aviv. Idan has founded two successful startups in the food and beverage industry, and Efrat is the platform’s first female co-founder, a new mom, and a tech heavyweight. The opportunity to create impact at global scale was what attracted both of them to Coke’s new model.

Some teams are just getting started by validating the problem they’re chasing. Others are busy building their teams, bringing on other strategic partners and validating revenue models. But all of them want to build a high-growth startup at global scale. And when they do, the impact will be measurable.

“We’re not building farms in space," Butler says. "Moon-shot programs are great, but this is about solving big problems a lot of people have right now. Our goal is to create a win-win – help great co-founders build irresistible companies while helping us grow Coca-Cola at the same time.”