How This Global Foodtech Company Built a Thriving Culture During Crisis
“Kitopi’s secret sauce is not in its food, but its people,” quips Mohamad “Mo” Ballout, the cofounder and CEO of the Dubai-based cloud kitchen company. Kitopi, which stands for “Kitchen Utopia”, is a smart kitchen network that helps cook and deliver food to customers on behalf of restaurants through its own kitchens. It helps restaurants scale quickly in the digital age, rather than in the traditional brick-and-mortar way. Since its launch in 2018, Kitopi’s 1,200-person team operates across over 30 kitchens and works with 120 restaurant partners across UAE, Saudi Arabia, and Kuwait, with plans to re-enter the UK and U.S. markets in 2021.
Today, while many foodservice businesses are struggling because of the pandemic, Kitopi is powering through - in the last two months, the company has continued to hire for critical roles, opened five new kitchens across UAE and Saudi Arabia, and launched a groceries delivery platform
The Org spoke with Kitopi to learn more about the company’s initiatives during the pandemic that have allowed it to continue being on track.
Taking a pandemic policy and reimagining it into a company strategy, Kitopi launched its ‘work-from-anywhere’ policy this August.
“Colleagues can choose to work from our offices if they wish, and many still like to come in to collaborate with each other in person, but they’re no longer required to,” Mo said. “We recognize that an office is just a physical place, working productively is a state of mind and that can be done from anywhere.”
Seeing the ‘work-from-home’ policy as a force for good, Kitopi thought to change the messaging to ‘work-from-anywhere’ so as to not sound restrictive or prescriptive.
“We want to empower our colleagues to work from anywhere they feel productive and happy,” explained Stacey Pinto, Brand and Reputation Director at Kitopi.“This goes beyond home.”
When asked further how this was received by the team, Pinto added, “Extremely well. We have further enabled Kitopians to decide how they want to manage their time. Funnily enough, many Kitopians actually return to the office simply because they miss interacting with their colleagues. The rest are either working from home or home countries.”
To ensure continued employee engagement and align communications, Kitopi conducts one monthly global all hands and one monthly global tech all hands. There are daily updates on the company’s Slack channels focusing on leadership, mental well-being, and culture. The company constantly looks for quick and efficient ways to stay connected. For instance, they recently adopted Donut, a Slack enabled collaboration tool that pairs colleagues at random so they can get to know each other.
“All of these are our ways of staying in tune with our people - we communicate with them first and then externally,” explained Pinto. “To further encourage team building and promote colleague happiness, we’ve also launched a weekly sports initiative in its Dubai headquarters. Entirely optional, Kitopians can get involved in team sports such as basketball or football.”
With the activities being a success with colleagues, Kitopi is looking to extend the initiative in its other offices in Saudi and Kuwait.
Fostering Innovation and Entrepreneurship
Kitopi has not only scaled its kitchens and the number of brands it works with, but also launched several new initiatives. Shop Kitopi is a one stop shop for groceries that will soon include on-demand meals, currently offering delivery all over Dubai. The company is also working with global food brands in helping them expand their offering to the MENA region.
“Our values encourage innovation and entrepreneurship, so there are a lot of ideas waiting to come to life at Kitopi,” Pinto said.” Leaders set the example by encouraging colleagues to collaborate - it’s always "us" instead of "I." Kitopi’s success is our success. And that’s precisely how Shop Kitopi was born. When the pandemic hit and uncertainty loomed over our heads, everyone in the organization automatically jumped in to share growth hacks and new initiatives that would encourage people to order food; we’d then work together to perfect these ideas, no one had to be told twice to step up and get involved.
“It was remarkable and inspiring to see. We had over 50 workable ideas in a matter of a few days, and within two weeks from the start of the pandemic, our frozen meals and meal kits pilot was launched. And eventually ShopKitopi.com”.
At Kitopi, team members are encouraged to think like entrepreneurs and failing isn’t looked down upon. Milestones and successful ideas are shared with the broader organization at the monthly All Hands.
“We continue to place a lot of emphasis on celebrating our Kitopians on the frontlines, that is, in our kitchens - without them, none of this would be possible," elaborated Pinto.
Building A Culture of Learning
“When we hire, skills are important but we also focus on everything else - who are you? What are your values? What are your goals?” Mo said “At Kitopi, these are all equally important as what qualifications someone brings to the table.”
To promote a culture of learning and to keep its people motivated during these challenging times, Kitopi partnered with LinkedIn Learning in May.
“We designed a special program for those who are hungry to learn every day,” Pinto explained. “With Kitopi - LinkedIn Learning program, learners are choosing courses and learning paths according to their gaps and interests across different topics and complete the learnings at their own pace. We have also created a community of learners (via a private Slack channel) where learners can share their inputs with each other while engaging in healthy competition to see who learns the most! We just celebrated the completion of 7000+ videos by learners. Over 300+ courses have been completed with an average of 7.44 hours of learning by an active user.”
“People and culture, though always a work-in-progress, should always be a business objective,” Mo said “Despite the pandemic, we see our people working harder than before and their satisfaction levels are also high. We are one of the first companies to openly implement work-from-anywhere in the region; we want to make sure it works for our colleagues as well as for the business in the long run but right now, we’re looking at it from a lens of the safety and wellbeing of our people which is the priority.”
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