Operational Scalability: Camilla Opperman Morse of Nimbus On How To Set Up Systems, Procedures, And People To Prepare A Business To Scale
Foster a culture of adaptability and continuous improvement: A culture that embraces adaptability encourages employees to proactively respond to challenges, innovate, and stay ahead of industry trends, while a focus on continuous improvement ensures that processes, products, and services are regularly refined, optimizing efficiency and quality. Fostering a culture of adaptability and continuous improvement is ingrained in our business ethos. We regularly meet with our customers to understand what we can do better as an organization, and have updated equipment layouts, added services, and adjusted shift schedules based on that feedback. This has ensured that our shared kitchen remains at the forefront of industry standards and caters effectively to the dynamic needs of our culinary community.
In today’s fast-paced business environment, scalability is not just a buzzword; it’s a necessity. Entrepreneurs often get trapped in the daily grind of running their businesses, neglecting to put in place the systems, procedures, and people needed for sustainable growth. Without this foundation, companies hit bottlenecks, suffer inefficiencies, and face the risk of stalling or failing. This series aims to delve deep into the intricacies of operational scalability. How do you set up a framework that can adapt to growing customer demands? What are the crucial procedures that can streamline business operations? How do you build a team that can take on increasing responsibilities while maintaining a high standard of performance?
In this interview series, we are talking to CEOs, Founders, Operations Managers Consultants, Academics, Tech leaders & HR professionals, who share lessons from their experience about “How To Set Up Systems, Procedures, And People To Prepare A Business To Scale”. As part of this series, we had the pleasure of interviewing Camilla Opperman Morse.
Camilla Opperman Morse is the Founder and CEO of Nimbus. In her role as CEO, Camilla plans, implements, and integrates the strategic direction of the kitchen rental business, including real estate redevelopment and construction of licensed kitchen facilities, facility management and operation, and the ultimate leasing of kitchen space to food businesses.
Camilla holds a dual-B.A. in Political Science and History of Art from Yale University. She was the Captain of the Yale NCAA Division I Gymnastics team and two-time USA Gymnastics All-American. Camilla is the President of the Yale Gymnastics Alumni Board and is involved in City Harvest and The Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
My first foray into the hospitality industry was in college; I ran my school’s late-night snack shack for three years. It was an incredible experience — I did everything from menu creation, to ingredient procurement, to cooking on the line — and I absolutely loved it.
While I went into supply chain operations after graduation, after a few years, I decided I wanted to get back into food. After trying to launch a food business and feeling frustrated with the lack of viable commercial kitchen spaces in New York City, I solved my own problem and launched a commercial kitchen business myself, which ultimately became Nimbus.
That early experience in college instilled the love of the industry in me, while my experience in supply chain operations gave me the operational mindset needed to succeed in what has proven to be a very operationally intensive business.
It has been said that our mistakes can be our greatest teachers. Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
I’ve made so many mistakes to count as a first time founder — there was the time I mopped up spilled milk in our kitchen only to knock over the entire bucket of dirty mop water immediately after completely the job; the time I set off the fire alarm right after opening our Lower East Side facility because I hadn’t noticed a thin plastic film inside one of the ovens; or the time I spilled fish guts down all my front as a consequence of improperly bagged trash.
These messy incidents — which were quite demoralizing at the time but hilarious in hindsight — reinforce the significance of grit. Starting a company requires more than just a vision; it demands the unwavering grit to navigate challenges, overcome mistakes, and persevere through the less glamorous aspects of entrepreneurship.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Nimbus has two key differentiators in the shared kitchen space: our flexibility and our focus on community.
Members can cook in our kitchens for a few hours or a few years, while our competitors only offer long-term rentals. We’ve seen a fair amount of mixing and matching between the short- and long-term kitchen rental models; many operators begin as hourly members at Nimbus and have grown into longer-term dedicated members. Being a part of these businesses’ entrepreneurial journeys is the most gratifying part of the job!
We’ve also reimagined off-premise kitchens by focusing on community. Our digitally-enabled food hall in Downtown Brooklyn with on-site ordering and café seating serves as a bridge between our members and the neighborhood; through a variety of events such as pop-ups, tastings, cooking classes, and dinner parties, Nimbus ensures that its members have multiple touchpoints with the end consumer to boost brand visibility; and our open floor plan hourly kitchens facilitate collaboration between members. With this collaborative community, we’ve had members recipe swap, sell each other’s products, and even join forces to hire employees; its wonderful seeing our members support one another.
You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?
I think the biggest determinant of Nimbus’s success is grit. The entrepreneurial journey is inevitably fraught with challenges, setbacks, and uncertainties. Grit has enabled our team to navigate the inevitable highs and lows of building a business, providing the resilience needed to overcome obstacles, adapt to changing circumstances, and ultimately turn setbacks into opportunities.
In our first year of operation, a key customer unexpectedly canceled their contract with us. Instead of letting this setback deter us, we rallied as a team, streamlined our sales pitch, and approached a new set of potential customers with determination. We were ultimately able to backfill the kitchen units for more than the original customer was paying us. This experience taught us the invaluable lesson that setbacks are often opportunities in disguise. It reinforced the importance of resilience and adaptability in the entrepreneurial journey — qualities that have since become integral to our approach in overcoming challenges and driving the continuous growth of our business.
Leadership often entails making difficult decisions or hard choices between two apparently good paths. Can you share a story with us about a hard decision or choice you had to make as a leader? I’m curious to understand how these challenges have shaped your leadership.
In the early days of Nimbus, a large customer expressed interest in taking over our front-of-house space to transform it into a back-of-house kitchen. While the proposal was financially appealing, the transformation would eliminate our community gathering space and posed a threat to the unique spirit of hospitality that defined our business. After careful consideration, we decided against the conversion, prioritizing the authentic customer experience, end-consumer transparency, and welcoming atmosphere that we were so focused on as an early brand.
This choice underscored our commitment to the values of hospitality, recognizing that the ambiance and customer engagement within the front-of-house space were integral to our identity. Although it meant forgoing a potentially lucrative opportunity, the decision contributed to maintaining the distinct character that set us apart in the market.
This experience reinforced the importance of aligning business decisions with core values. It taught us that financial gains should not come at the expense of compromising the essence of what makes a business special. By preserving the spirit of hospitality, we not only upheld our brand’s integrity but also deepened the connection with our loyal customer base who valued the unique experience we offered. This decision has since become a guiding principle, influencing subsequent choices and reinforcing the understanding that, in the realm of hospitality, authenticity is the ultimate currency.
Thank you for all that. Let’s now turn to the main focus of our discussion about Operational Scalability. In order to make sure that we are all on the same page, let’s begin with a simple definition. What does Operational Scalability mean to you?
Operational scalability, to me, means the ability of a business or system to efficiently adapt, expand, or contract its operations in response to changes in demand, size, or complexity. It involves designing processes, systems, and structures that can handle increased workloads, evolving requirements, and shifting dynamics without sacrificing performance, cost-efficiency, or overall effectiveness. In essence, operational scalability ensures that a business can seamlessly grow or adjust its operations to meet evolving needs and challenges while maintaining optimal functionality.
In the context of Nimbus’s co-cooking ecosystem, operational scalability is about creating a strong foundation that can accommodate additional locations and a growing member base without sacrificing the quality of our service. We are focused on developing the internal systems, processes, and team training to enhance the Nimbus experience and foster innovation and collaboration at every stage of expansion.
Which types of business can most benefit from investing in Operational Scalability?
Operational scalability is particularly important in capital-intensive businesses. Time and again, we’ve seen four-wall business operators enter new markets too quickly, which has strained operational capabilities, compromised service quality, and caused operations to open and close within only a few months.
Operational scalability acts as a risk mitigation strategy by allowing businesses to scale their operations in alignment with market demand, preventing the costly mistake of overcommitting capital upfront, especially in unpredictable market conditions. Additionally, operational scalability ensures that as operations expand, costs do not rise disproportionately. This efficient scaling prevents the expensive mistake of diminishing returns on the initial capital investment.
Why is it so important for a business to invest time, energy, and resources into Operational Scalability?
Operational scalability is a strategic imperative: scalability enhances cost efficiency by optimizing resource utilization, minimizing waste, and achieving economies of scale. Beyond financial benefits, scalability improves the overall customer experience, fosters innovation, and provides a competitive edge in dynamic markets. Ultimately, an operational mindset ensures the long-term sustainability of the business in an ever-evolving business landscape.
In contrast, what happens to a business that does not invest time, energy, and resources into Operational Scalability?
Neglecting the development of operational scalability can result in adverse outcomes, such as impeded growth, escalating costs, decreased customer experiences, and a decline in competitive standing. To thrive over the long term, businesses must prioritize investments in scalable operations capable of adapting to evolving conditions, thereby facilitating sustained growth without compromising quality.
Can you please share a story from your experience about how a business grew dramatically when they worked on their Operational Scalability?
In the early stages of our operation, we operated our hourly kitchen rental business in a free-for-all booking system without set time slots. However, this approach led to significant challenges, as it resulted in substantial dead time between shifts. The lack of a structured scheduling system meant that kitchen space was underutilized; as an example, one chef would use the space from 6am-11am, and the next chef would book from 1pm-7pm, making it difficult to rent the space out to an operator for the two hours between the bookings. Recognizing the need for improved operational scalability, we made strategic changes by implementing advanced scheduling software (big shout out to The Food Corridor), introducing set time slots, and streamlining our booking processes. This adjustment not only optimized kitchen usage but also eliminated the dead time issues, allowing us to accommodate a higher volume of culinary professionals and fostering a more vibrant and efficient culinary community.
Here is the primary question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are the “Five Most Important Things A Business Leader Should Do To Set Up Systems, Procedures, And People To Prepare A Business To Scale”? If you can, please share a story or an example for each.
- Strategic planning for growth: While the minutiae of day-to-day operations can be all-consuming, it is crucial for business leaders to carve out dedicated time for strategic planning to ensure the long-term success and adaptability of their business in an ever-changing landscape. As the owner of a shared commercial kitchen, strategic planning is paramount for anticipating the needs of our culinary community. For example, recognizing the rising demand for flexible kitchen spaces, we conducted market research to identify key trends and potential growth areas. This informed our decision to expand our facilities, ensuring we were well-prepared to accommodate an increasing number of culinary professionals seeking our shared kitchen services.
- Training to empower: Empowered and skilled teams are essential pillars for scalable and successful operations; investing in proper training systems is crucial to ensure team members have the skills, knowledge, and confidence needed to perform their roles effectively. Training fosters a sense of ownership and expertise, empowering team members to contribute meaningfully to the company’s success and navigate challenges with resilience and creativity. At Nimbus, empowering and training our team is a priority to maintain high standards of service. Recognizing the pivotal role of our kitchen staff, we invested in comprehensive training and retraining programs, which has enhanced the skills of our team members but equipped them to handle the increasing diversity and volume of culinary professionals utilizing our shared kitchens.
- Establishing clear standard operating procedures (SOPs): SOPs offer clear guidelines on processes, reduce errors, and improve overall quality. Clear SOPs are also crucial for onboarding new team members, facilitating their understanding of workflows and expectations. Moreover, SOPs contribute to compliance with industry regulations and standards, promoting a culture of accountability and fostering a structured and well-organized work environment. Clear SOPs are the backbone of our shared kitchen’s efficiency and consistency. We established precise procedures for kitchen cleanliness, equipment usage, and member interactions. These SOPs create a standardized workflow, and as we expanded our shared kitchen model to new locations, these clear procedures ensured a seamless and consistent experience for our users.
- Implement scalable systems: Scalable systems can handle increased workloads without a proportional increase in complexity or cost, ensuring optimal resource utilization. This adaptability enables businesses to capitalize on growth opportunities, meet customer needs, and stay competitive in dynamic markets. Implementing scalable systems has been instrumental in optimizing our kitchen operations. We introduced advanced scheduling software that allows our users to book specific time slots; the technology ensured efficient kitchen space utilization, providing a foundation for future scalability and enhanced user experience.
- Foster a culture of adaptability and continuous improvement: A culture that embraces adaptability encourages employees to proactively respond to challenges, innovate, and stay ahead of industry trends, while a focus on continuous improvement ensures that processes, products, and services are regularly refined, optimizing efficiency and quality. Fostering a culture of adaptability and continuous improvement is ingrained in our business ethos. We regularly meet with our customers to understand what we can do better as an organization, and have updated equipment layouts, added services, and adjusted shift schedules based on that feedback. This has ensured that our shared kitchen remains at the forefront of industry standards and caters effectively to the dynamic needs of our culinary community.
What are some common misconceptions businesses have about scaling? Can you please explain?
Businesses may mistakenly assume that scaling occurs quickly and follows a linear trajectory. In practice, scaling is often a gradual and iterative process. It requires careful planning, monitoring, and adjustments to ensure sustainable growth. My advice to business owners is to move as quickly as possible without compromising quality.
We’ve taken a measured approach to growth, focusing on establishing a strong New York City presence before considering growth in other markets, which has allowed us to hone our operating playbook and give us confidence as we enter new markets. At Nimbus, we really only wanted to scale and open additional kitchens if we knew they’d be successful.
How do you keep your team motivated during periods of rapid growth or change?
Maintaining team motivation during rapid growth or change involves a multifaceted approach. Open communication, inclusive decision-making, and continuous training empower the team, ensuring they understand their role in the broader vision. Recognizing achievements, providing flexibility, and emphasizing the positive impact on the culinary community contribute to a supportive work environment. Setting realistic expectations and acknowledging the challenges associated with growth foster a sense of unity and shared purpose, promoting a motivated workforce capable of navigating and thriving in dynamic circumstances.
With all that said, the Nimbus team is just as excited about our growth as I am. We are very thoughtful about our growth and overall scaling plans, so while announcing two new locations seems rapid from the outside, this is something we’ve been preparing for internally for some time now!
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“The day you plant the seed is not the day you bear the fruit” serves as a reminder that meaningful accomplishments and success require dedication, consistent effort, and resilience.
I’ve been working on Nimbus for almost five years, and many of the things I did early on in the entrepreneurial journey are only coming to fruition now. The media often makes it seem like entrepreneurs are overnight successes, so this quote helps me understand that the journey toward achieving goals is gradual and often involves overcoming challenges.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!
Operational Scalability: Camilla Opperman Morse of Nimbus On How To Set Up Systems, Procedures, And… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.