It was the third and concluding day of Startup Weekend at Coca-Cola. Final presentations were in approximately seven hours and our three-person group was feeling the onset of exhaustion. Patience had expired long before. None of us had felt the crisp Atlanta autumn breeze all weekend due to voluntarily quarantining ourselves in the Coca-Cola Innovation Lab for the previous 50-something hours, working feverishly to present our start-up concept to a group of talented entrepreneurs, change-makers, and distinguished judges. It was at around 11 that morning when we realized we were nowhere near ready to present, the clock was ticking, but we were on to something.

Two days prior, at the culmination of the tiresome Friday grind, Startup Weekend kicked off. The room was brimming with developers, designers, tech gurus, and the like – all vehemently convinced that their ideas would change the world. Some 10 teams formed after a brave few individuals (most in a pizza-induced haze) offered 60-second pitches to the room, sputtering through lofty speeches in hopes of acquiring the talented human capital assembled throughout the room, all hoping to build the next hit mobile app or service.  

Our angle was a little different. We decided to tackle an internal Coca-Cola system challenge. We set out to build a prototype and business model for Coke Case (if you happen to work in the legal department, please ignore this article and go about your business) – a curated selection of premium international and limited edition Coca-Cola products from around the world, aimed at facilitating the discovery of, and access to, our diverse portfolio of over 550 brands. Talk about "lofty."

The three of us, all marketing consultants working in different areas of the Coca-Cola business, arrived at this idea after exchanging stories about our favorite Coca-Cola products. Mark shared stories of his longtime affinity for Manzana Lift, which he discovered during one of his trips to Mexico many moons ago. Nick told of his small cache of Rani products, procured during one of the internal Global Marketing Town Hall meetings of yore. Lee, one of the more practical spenders in the group, seriously contemplated purchasing a can of Surge for $7 on to satiate his yearning palate. As we reminisced, we felt more and more compelled to share these moments of happiness and discovery with the masses – not just those lucky individuals who have the opportunity to travel the globe or visit the World of Coca-Cola Tasting Room.

Startup Weekend Coke Case

As it turns out, the Coca-Cola system is an incredibly complicated beast. We tapped our network to learn as much as we could in a short amount of time. Supply chain was an obvious concern, but in our digging, we heard stories of failed attempts to provide access to international brands in the past – we learned of poor sell-through of select brands in specialty retail, syrup and concentrate supply chain complexities, ingredient procurement challenges, importation issues, intricate bottler contracts that limit opportunities, sales velocity and volume considerations, FDA limitations; the list went on.  

But when we spoke to consumers, we learned that access to these brands is exactly what they want. Our consumers love the tasting room at World of Coca-Cola. They all have memories of traveling abroad and sampling interesting and unique products that they wish they could share with friends here in the United States. Some had family members that yearn for a taste of home. Almost everyone we spoke to thought the Surge reemergence was legendary. Some asked about Coke Blak. Some inquired about New Coke. Others begged for us to influence the powers-that-be to bring back Sprite Remix.

In short, people want access to these products. They are passionate about these brands. And as the world’s largest non-alcoholic ready-to-drink beverage company, it is our duty to facilitate these moments of happiness by giving the people what they want. Just because we cannot logically stock every shelf in America with 550 brands does not mean we cannot use today’s proliferation of e-commerce to help foster, then meet, this demand.

Startup Weekend Coke Case

As the clock continued to tick, we continued to argue – every bullet point, slide, one-liner, etc. We binged on junk food and energy drinks to keep our eyes open. We destroyed countless dry erase markers during our erratic scribble-fests on the white boards. We took multiple calls with internal contacts that have faced importation challenges in the past. We tapped our networks and begged family and friends to complete multiple surveys. We strained every synapse in our brains. We laughed. We cried. The weekend was challenging, to say the least, but the more we learned about the Coca-Cola system, the more we were determined to crack the "Case." None of us would argue that this weekend was one of the best we’ve ever had.

With an hour remaining, we finalized our presentation and finished constructing our prototype (a repurposed Macbook Pro case full of beverages procured from Buford Highway Farmers Market). It didn’t look great, but it worked. Nick pitched Coke Case flawlessly. The judges were impressed and after the presentation, we heard more stories of beloved, inaccessible brands. Then we were presented with yet another hasty deadline – an additional 48 hours to create THIS 90-SECOND VIDEO for the Global Startup Battle. Sleep would come later, we surmised.

Despite the complexities of the Coca-Cola system, we realized that our network of distinguished colleagues is truly remarkable. We were amazed at the willingness of busy coworkers (during a holiday week, no less) to clear their calendars to take a phone call or a live meeting – we could not have produced a successful presentation without the help of internal champions and supporters such as Ivan Pollard, Scott Ryan, Matt Hughes, Brandi Woods, Ashish Arya, Jen Brevick, Karen Brunke, Carie Davis, Kevin Burke, Anthony Newstead and Jenny Wilburn, (let’s not forget Kelli Sogar, Steve Merwarth, and Courtney Crimmins, our daily supervisors, for allowing us to step away to pursue this opportunity) and all of the external folks that helped out as well (Shane Reiser, we’re talking about you here).

Long story short, we are all capable of amazing things when we look past plans and objectives. We don’t only need to focus on our day-to-day. We are talented. We are smart. We are beyond capable of helping one another to create amazing things. When we work together and tap into system knowledge we can achieve unimaginable feats. If we can accomplish so much in only one weekend, imagine what we can do as a company by adopting an entrepreneurial way of working and thinking. It’s time to show the world that large storied corporations are capable of innovation too.

That said, we must always be willing to take risks in order to innovate and stand out. We must ask for help and strive to be more informed. We must utilize our resources and respective networks. And, despite all odds, we must continue to persevere, no matter how tired and/or disheartened we may feel.

To all those who offered a helping hand, thank you. To everyone else, VOTE FOR COKE CASE HERE and keep your eyes peeled. Our work isn’t anywhere near complete.

Want to get involved with Startup Weekend? Find an event near you by clicking here.