As an employer, managing staff isn’t always as straightforward as one would hope. Employees call-in sick, go on vacation, get stuck in traffic or are unable to get to work because of other unforeseen events, and you are left with a job to be done and no one to do it. The impacts of this situation can vary: some companies can easily adapt or reschedule activities to another day, but the problem intensifies when applied to industries such as retail. If there is a problem or gap in the distribution chain, products don’t get to the shelf, consumers can’t buy them and, as a result, no profits are being made. When talking about a company with a huge market impact such as Coca-Cola, the damage can be measured in the billions.
That is exactly the kind of problem that AJ Brustein (former Coca-Cola marketer) and Yong Kim set out to solve when they came up with the idea for Wonolo.
Short for “Work. Now. Locally.”, Wonolo is an on-demand staffing platform that connects companies with a workforce network for short-term, last-minute jobs. Based in San Francisco and Nashville, the startup is helping companies deal with last minute staffing problems across the U.S. since they launched in 2013 from within the Coca-Cola Founders platform.
Brustein and Kim were challenged by the beverage giant to help solve some of Coke’s biggest intrinsic problems. They realized there was a huge opportunity in filling this gap between last-minute staff shortages and a massive wave of unemployed young people, eager and most of the time qualified to fulfil these needs. Tapping into Coca-Cola’s resources, they managed to gain a firsthand experience of the struggles of their target market, both from the company and the worker’s point of view. They got to ride along with truck drivers, do the job as helpers at retail stores, and directly communicate with Coke’s frontline operations such as their production and distribution centers. Then, they built a very low-budget MVP and reached out to Coca-Cola’s partners to pitch Wonolo to key executives in operations, HR, and legal.
This was an advantage that most startups don’t even get to think about. It not only landed them their first clients, but it has also helped them develop the product with feedback from real customers and prepared them to answer all the difficult questions.
"In our early days of Wonolo, we knew that the unpredictable staffing problem we wanted to solve was highly relevant not only to Coca-Cola but to many of its partners as well, including large retailers, hospitality companies, and consumer product goods companies. We also knew that our solution, leveraging mobility and software, could potentially disrupt a traditional staffing industry (a $100 billion+ opportunity) while positively impacting millions of people’s lives by giving them job opportunities in the most flexible way.”
Now about five years since launch, Wonolo has spun out of Coca-Cola and raised a total of $60 million in funding. The startup accommodates a database of over 300,000 jobseekers and employs about 65 people in the United States, and another 70 in the Philippines and Vietnam.
The Coca-Cola Founders platform was a partnership with entrepreneurs from all over the world to create startups that could fix real-world problems. Working closely with a Coke senior manager in their local market, the founding entrepreneurs would become 100% owners of the startup, setup as a separate legal entity from Coca-Cola from the very start. Once the startup was validated and ready to scale, the corporation would convert the investment into a minority equity share based on market valuation.
"Every big, established company struggles when it comes to leveraging new, disruptive technologies and/or business models to drive growth. Think about it—they’ve spent decades iterating on their business model designing all of their processes and systems to scale it. Most struggle with the speed and flexibility they need to integrate new solutions without disrupting their core business. And that’s why we developed our Coca-Cola Founders platform."
Coca-Cola decided to close the Founders program in early 2017. Besides Wonolo (visibly the most successful startup to come out of the project), companies like Weex Mobile and Hivery are still active and in direct connection with Coca-Cola's management.