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Coca Cola’s investments in startups is the real thing for innovation

David Needle | June 16, 2017
The biggest soft drink company in the world is investing in a wide range of startups because it’s a good for business move.

"At our company the cultures comes from the top. My CEO is also chief digital officer and fosters the thinking that anyone can contribute," said Comstock. "We have a suggestion box and regular hack days. The next one is around AI."

One example was a recent effort to make everything self-service. "When we got out of the way, the ideas that came back were amazing and everyone is participating.

Comstock said it's important to make everyone feel they can participate rather than "siloize" innovation. That said, he noted that someone has to "herd the cats" so there aren't crazy projects out there that don't relate to the company's mission.

 

Keep the focus on the needs of the business

"We'd love to focus on innovation for innovation's sake, but if we did we wouldn't have jobs. It has to be tied back to business needs," added Tom Cullen, vice president and CIO at Driscoll's, the $3.5 billion supplier of fresh berries.

For Cullen, working with business partners on moonshots is of interest, but he thinks it's important to focus on improvements to "the small stuff" when it comes to his company. "Maintain trust with your team and create an environment where they feel they can fail and you have their back," he said.

Boehme also made an interesting point about how hard it can sometimes be to evaluate whether what appears to be a good idea is worth investing in because so much of its success or failure can be a function of timing.

He recalled Pets.com, which became the poster child for all the high-flying internet firms before the dotcom crash in the early 2000s. But last month PetSmart bought Chewy.com, the leading online retailer of pet supplies (the same idea as Pets.com) for a whopping $3.35 billion.

"We laughed at the sock puppet (the mascot Pets.com featured in its ads), and when Pets.com crashed we all said 'what a bad idea'," said Boehme. "The problem wasn't that it was a bad idea, it was that it was 10-15 years too early."

 

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