Start with some capital, any capital at all, and so long as your brand has growth potential, you could be the next Starbucks or Rockstar.
This message was repeated on the second day of BevNET Live Winter 12 in Santa Monica, CA, as representatives from big-time brands shared their paths from humble beginnings to current prestige before a bevy of note-taking startups.
Some messages overlapped: both speakers Scott Greenburg, an investor and attorney, and Todd Berardi, CEO of HiBall Energy, in relating their personal stories, encouraged entrepreneurs to have marketing flexibility and to listen to their consumers to help brands thrive.
Nick Shore, senior vice president for MTV, also listens to consumers — and helps his company adapt accordingly. His studies of the ever-changing nature of millennials turned them into a series of shopper trends for beverage marketers.
Executives Jason May and Joey Cannata of Rockstar Energy, which has succeeded largely on its ability to market itself to those millennials, shared their near-rags to riches climb with tales of ambition, dedication, and devious salesmanship.
Ben Lee, director of business development at CircleUp.com, said that if you have a great story and product like Rockstar Energy, there are ways to fund your project without reaching into the parental wallet.
Stay Flexible, Obey the Consumer
The day began with Greenburg, a partner with K&L Gates, who reflected on investing in Starbucks, then known as Il Giornale, a Seattle-based cafe that sold coffee and tea. Greenburg said that eventual Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz had a greater vision for the company than its founders. Schultz traveled to Italy and studied the culture, movements and styles in cafes. He observed the customers and baristas, the interior design and the coffee. By Americanizing the tradition of Italian coffeehouses without gutting its spirit, Schultz created a goliath.
“He combined that incredible passion with really smart decision making, pragmatism,” Greenburg said.
An experienced and successful investor aside from his Starbucks coup, Greenburg said that startups thrive with astute ideas.
To find the right idea, he said, brands must truly define their message or product, pour their heart into it, build a team, adapt whenever necessary and execute with passion.
As Starbucks began to grow, Schultz forgot about tea for a while and focused on coffee. He abandoned previous product ideas in favor of lattes — the initial concept for which, Greenburg noted, was hotly debated inside the Starbucks organization. Schultz’s decision-making process often defaulted, Greenburg said, to the idea that it wasn’t Shultz’s brand; it was the consumer’s brand. Ideas sprouted from simply observing and listening to his customers.
“The customer wants one thing,” Greenburg said. “We’re going to listen to them.”