This week, I had the chance to interview Kim Gandhi, COO/CPO of SRVE and a Product Advisor at BWG Strategy LLC. Kim is an enthusiastic and energetic leader with a variety of experiences in various careers including IT Outsourcing and Delivery, Health Insurance, Retail, Restaurant Management and International Trade Show freight forwarding.
In this interview, she talks about SRVE, her career and the inspiring story that changed her professional life.
Tell us more about SRVE and your role at SRVE.
I joined SRVE a few months back as the Chief Operating Officer and the Chief Product Owner. SRVE is in startup mode, so we’re very small. Our whole team, including our contractors, and our partners is about 15 people. We all wear quite a few different hats and kind of do whatever needs to be done in a startup.
SRVE is a chef-based software platform, that helps create new culinary experiences. Our goal is to de-risk the experience for both personal chefs and their customers. Our personal chefs are creating awesome concept menus and our goal is to empower them to find new ways of working and do what they are passionate about — creating amazing meals at our customers’ homes! What our platform does is it allows our customers (both, the chefs and the consumers) to connect — it’s almost matchmaking, the customer comes on to the website, sees the type of cuisine that the chef is offering, sees if the chef is available, and if the chef is available, the customer picks the date, and then they go forward from there, and the chef goes over to their house cooks for them.
What has been the effect of COVID-19 on SRVE?
Most of my COVID-19 period really was with the company that I was with before, which was Cargill. Part of the reason that I came over to SRVE as a startup is that the whole restaurant industry is going through disruption. Many chefs don’t have jobs. The way that the restaurants are now limiting the number of customers that can come has really opened up a whole new business. So last year, during heavy COVID, SRVE actually struggled because you couldn’t have the chef’s go into people’s houses. But now, since the restrictions and lockdowns are slowly lifting, the ability for the chef’s to go to people’s houses and cook has risen. And we’re actually seeing a growth trajectory, because our customers are going into restaurants and realising that the restaurant experience isn’t the same as pre-COVID, for example, you have to remember to have your mask on when you get up out of the chair and go to the bathroom or leave the restaurant.
The bigger challenge, though, is that the customers are also tired of being at their house — either cooking for themselves or having food delivered to them, and they’re looking for a new alternative.
When the company began four or five years ago, it was looked at as an alternative for wealthier people who can’t afford to have a full-time personal chef, but want a chef once in a while. However, post-COVID, customers go into a restaurant, spend just about the same amount of money in a restaurant that they would in their house — for a more comfortable, safer experience with fresh food and no restrictions — and this has really kicked off our business.
How was your journey been like? How did you approach and resolve any challenges you were faced with?
One of the good things that I’ve done with my career is, I haven’t ever put myself into one box. When I started my career about 30 years ago, I was not even in IT. I was actually in a marketing career. I wasn’t very happy with it and didn’t make a lot of money doing it. And so, I moved into IT.
I’ve always tried to stay ahead of things that interest me or intrigue me. I’ve been both a customer as well as a consultant. My last stint with Cargill, wasn’t as much on the IT side as it was on the business side.
In my younger days, most meetings were all men, if you’re in IT, it was mostly a man’s world. But we’ve changed and evolved. I had a leadership role at Cargill, and 50% of my team was female. So I had inclusion and diversity and all of those things that at the beginning of my career never would have been possible. I had seen promotions go to men, but I think progress has been made.
And then when the CEO approached me about the startup and gave me a chance to be the Chief Operating Officer, I knew I was very lucky to have had that opportunity. I’ve been lucky enough that people have looked at my talent and not looked at what sex I am or what colour I am.
What would be the one incident that you believe has had a significant effect on your professional life?
I think I go back to one of the first leaders that I worked for. I had just started with a company and my boss had given me a bunch of names of people that I should be aware of and who they were. My way of doing that was to set up meetings with all of those leaders and interact with them. One of those leaders took me under his wing and said to me,
“Do you want to know why I decided to meet with you? It isn’t because of your job or the task you’re doing. I’m an executive and you’re a project manager and this is so unexpected! I wanted to see who you were and what you wanted to talk to me about.”
At the end of the conversation, he said,
“I want you to think about always doing the unexpected. Take those risks, always be professional, always check-in and ask, but take those risks, because you’re not going to break the company by not taking risks.”
Those were my 30s and at that time I was moving into a totally different career. And having someone gives me that freedom and that empowerment to question the status quo, to question how things were, as long as my intent was to grow the company, really stuck with me. So every time, across the different companies and different roles in my career, when I’d be faced with a challenge, I’d think of those words.
So what is the one book that you have read and would recommend, and why?
Empowered by Marty Cagan, is one book I would definitely recommend. It revolves around product leadership, product ownership and in general on where product management is going.
What would be one piece of advice that you would like to give to those who are just starting with their careers?
‘Make sure you have a seat at the table’.
I still remember. Back in the early days of my career, if you were a woman in a meeting, you sat along the back wall, you never sat at the table. When I came into a leadership role, I didn’t allow people to be at the back wall. It didn’t matter if there weren’t enough chairs, we got a bigger room because I wanted everyone to not be just a passive participant. I wanted them at the table, I wanted them engaged, I wanted them giving us their ideas.
Even if you’re just starting out in the world, you have a totally different perspective than those of us that have been doing it for 20 years. And having those viewpoints and having those questions are very important. If you’re sitting on the back wall behind the group of people that are at the table, 9 times out of 10, you would never say a word, but if you’re at the table, you’ll talk.