KAMEREO exists to redefine the food and beverage industry using technology — they are Vietnam’s first tech-enabled B2B platform for restaurants and retailers to source and secure produce. Khai Ta’s passion for the F&B industry and the value of working directly with the farmers led him to KAMEREO.
When Khai joined KAMEREO in January 2021, he filled the role of Optimization and Strategy Manager. Little did he know that within the same year, 11 months in, he’d become the company’s second in command — the chief operating officer (COO).
KAMEREO's philosophy is centered on the “Kaizen Spirit,” which is all about doing things the best way to improve and progress. For instance, they prefer to use the term optimization instead of improvement. As its COO, Khai applies the same philosophy in everything that he does.
His key responsibilities include handling several departments: Operations, Customer Success, Supply Chain, and Optimization. He also has seven employees directly reporting to him. For Khai to do all that, time management is vital.
“Every team is equally important and should be spent time with,” Khai said. “To identify what every team needs to prioritize, we need to know where the blockers are, what is falling behind or what are the key projects at the moment, and which have the greatest impact on the company’s growth.” And for that to happen, data and trackers should come in handy to help them identify the tasks they should take care of first.
Prior to joining KAMEREO, Khải spent a year and nine months at Grab as Strategy Lead. He managed a team of 10 in three cities performing various activities to provide a clear competition landscape in Vietnam. At Grab, Khai conducted various in-depth analyses on internal performance to bring new insights helpful for business improvements and worked as an internal consultant on a variety of operational aspects, among others.
To him, there’s not much difference between working at a huge company like Grab and an up-and-coming startup like KAMEREO. Khai takes pride in his company’s huge market potential and a team of young and dynamic individuals.
“What I learned from Grab is precious and most importantly we know everything is doable and achievable,” Khai said. “I feel honored and excited to be part of KAMEREO at this early stage and spread faith, energy, passion to the team and together navigate the ship towards success.”
From putting out fires to making sure the daily operations run as smoothly as possible, the role of the COO is complex to define and differs quite a bit from company to company. We sat down with Khai to learn more about his role at KAMEREO, how he manages tight deadlines and his working relationship with CEO Taku Tanaka.
What is your morning routine like and how does it change when you’re in a rush?
As Kamereo is operating in a warehouse base model, managing a huge number of SKUs (stock-keeping units), we are faced with many operational challenges on a daily basis. Every morning, I basically review the previous day’s performance. I then based everything on the business metrics we use to identify the problems we need to solve as soon as possible. After that, I crosscheck on the progress of our key projects, set up meetings with the team to review and address any blockers. In case I’m in a rush, I make sure I leave people some notes or organize a quick meeting to keep the team on the same page about what we need to do and why it is important.
In your opinion, what matters more toward a COO’s overall success: people or profits?
To me, it’s always the “people” and it’s the most important element. When I worked in the food delivery industry, I saw those top market players such as Grab, Gojek, Baemin have very similar technology, budget, and know-how. But the one thing I noticed that kept them going and helped them become big is the people — there was teamwork and hunger to excel. I believe when we have the right people, we’ll succeed and profits will come after.
Having to lead several departments, what are your communication and decision-making styles?
I make sure that every single member is well aware of where we are going and how important every single task is. Whenever we face challenges, the team can easily and quickly identify solutions that align with the company’s direction. At Kamereo, communication and decision-making are in a flat structure. It means we encourage everybody to participate in the discussion as well as share and make decisions together.
What type of relationship do you have with the CEO and how does it affect the company as a whole?
Our CEO, Taku Tanaka, is very casual and keen on listening to people. There is literally no distance between us, we sit next to each other and discuss openly throughout the day. But despite that, he doesn’t micromanage us in any way. In fact, he lets us decide on our own and gives us the trust and confidence to lead. Thanks to Taku’s very open and friendly approach, encourages us to stimulate more ideas and initiate collaboration among teams. What I admire the most about Taku is he spends lots of effort in sharing with the team what is going on and the company’s direction. He values people and focuses on clarity, and on team communication. Because of that, all of us at KAMEREO are well aware of our goals and values. I believe having clear communication is extremely important to create a positive work environment.
How do you act in the face of ultra-tight deadlines?
To manage tight deadlines, we need great team collaboration, understanding, and commitment to achieve that. Basically, I trust my team and learn to delegate to people when needed, I keep it transparent so my team knows what’s happening exactly and they can provide the kind of help we need. Then, I will double-check on the progress and ensure we have sufficient capacity and resources to get the task done.
How do you give and receive feedback like a pro?
I always make time for my team and maintain an open conversation with everybody. I demonstrate respect and appreciation while talking with people. Instead of saying “I need you to do this,” I would say “our team needs you to do this” which shows employees know that they are important and the team is counting on them. In return, when receiving feedback, I always start with “I’m not always right, I need to hear the team's opinion and I would like to understand more from your side” to encourage people to share more.
KAMEREO is still at 0.1% of your journey (or early stage). Can you describe to us what KAMEREO looks like at 50%?
It will be extremely exciting, I couldn’t help myself thinking about that. Definitely, we will have more warehouses, operating in multiple cities, serving thousands of customers, and much more advanced technology to handle a high number of orders. Until then, we have tons of things to do and prepare. To us, the foundation is important — we need to streamline processes, optimize sourcing, purchasing, and operational excellence. Then, we continuously invest in people and systems to set up for larger-scale growth. More importantly, we will be protecting and demonstrating our strong purpose and that is to redefine the F&B industry with the help of technology.