Meet Khai Pham, a visionary entrepreneur reshaping how we manage lactose intolerance.
Armed with a business degree from USC, Khai’s journey took an unexpected turn after an eye-opening internship experience. After leading strategy and operations at a tele-orthodontics startup, he took the big step to start his own venture: Milky.
Milky stems from Khai’s personal struggle as a lactose intolerant person. Collaborating with Dr. Michael Seidman, he created Milky, a revolutionary lactase supplement designed for convenience and portability.
The path to Milky’s creation was marked by challenges. Khai and his team encountered manufacturing hurdles and setbacks, but their unwavering dedication and problem-solving spirit prevailed. Join us as we delve deeper into Khai’s journey with Milky.
KHAI PHAM’S JOURNEY WITH VENTURE FOR AMERICA
Venture for America profoundly shaped Khai’s career. Khai revealed the exceptional prospects that startups offer compared to larger corporations. In bigger companies, promotion chances often hinge on the person above you advancing or departing. However, in startups experiencing rapid growth, the entire business expands, creating numerous opportunities.
As a result, Khai’s hard work earned him two well-deserved promotions in just one year, leading him to become an Associate Director, with his initial compensation increasing four times by the time he turned 23. More importantly, Khai was able to engage with more substantial challenges much earlier in his career.
LEADERSHIP LESSONS AS YOUNGEST DIRECTOR
Climbing the ranks at Candid and achieving the distinction of being the youngest Director brought both challenges and growth to Khai Pham. In his perspective, the most demanding aspect of this journey was the increasing gap between decision-making and its outcomes. During the earlier stages of one’s career, tasks are straightforward; you receive assignments like crafting financial models, and when you perform well, immediate feedback follows. That immediate validation is comforting for junior professionals.
However, as one advances into more senior roles, the time gap between decision and result widens significantly. Senior leaders must make weighty choices, such as shaping the market strategy for a new product. Yet, the effects of these decisions might remain concealed for months, even years. This adjustment, bridging the gap between choices and their eventual outcomes, is a formidable mental challenge that confronts most individuals, Khai included. This evolution in leadership style and responsibility marked Khai’s journey as he navigated the complexities of decision-making at Candid.
KHAI’S PERSONAL STRUGGLES THAT LED TO THE BUSINESS OPPORTUNITY
Khai Pham’s personal battle with lactose intolerance ignited the creation of Milky, a transformative lactase supplement.
Khai shared that aside from being lactose intolerant, he also coped with ADHD, which often led him to forget bringing a Lactaid, making casual outings for ice cream, boba, or pizza very hard. Though the idea of a more portable version of Lactaid had crossed his mind, Khai initially didn’t see it as a true business opportunity.
When Khai moved to New York and found his favorite boba shop, Machi Machi, in Koreatown, he kept running the same problem of forgetting his Lactaid. He also noted that the pharmacy in Koreatown always seemed to run out of Lactaids. “Lactaids fly off the shelves at their location,” one of the pharmacy’s employees said. Intrigued by this, Khai went to visit various drug stores across lower Manhattan, asking their employees about Lactaid sales.
Khai shared that the farther he ventured from Koreatown and Chinatown, the less frequently stores experienced Lactaid stock shortages. This was the moment that Khai recognized his idea of a super-thin lactase supplement as a viable business opportunity, setting in motion the Milky journey.
THE EXPONENTIAL POWER OF NETWORKS
Khai Pham’s collaboration with Dr. Michael Seidman marked a turning point for Milky, their second joint venture. Many wonder how a board-certified surgeon like Dr. Seidman came to co-found a company with Khai. The answer is simple: asking for help.
“I used to play it close to the chest when I was starting a company because I didn’t want to be embarrassed if it didn’t work out. What I slowly began to realize is that people can’t help you if they don’t know you need help,” Khai shared.
With this profound realization, Khai began sharing his desire to start a dietary supplement business with his coworkers and his search for a scientific co-founder. One day, a coworker mentioned a friend whose father, Dr. Seidman, had both a medical background and a penchant for formulating ideas. And the rest was history.
How Khai and Dr. Seidman met illustrates the exponential power of networks, but only if you open up and tell people that you need their help.
KHAI’S INSIGHTS IN NAVIGATING ENTREPRENEURSHIP
When asked what advice he would offer to his younger entrepreneurial self, Khai Pham emphasizes that failure doesn’t equate to poor decision-making. He notes that while they are connected, making the right choice with the information at hand doesn’t guarantee success.
Khai’s experience has taught him that if a decision carries even a 10% chance of yielding a 1000x return, it’s worth taking that calculated risk. Even if it doesn’t pan out, it doesn’t make the decision wrong. He candidly shares that in his earlier career, he often focused on the immediate results of his actions, sticking to high-probability decisions, and missing out on better, higher-expected-value opportunities. For Khai, the key metric for decision-making is expected value, not just the probability of success, a lesson he holds close as he navigates the entrepreneurial landscape.
MILKY’S VISION TO REVOLUTIONIZE DIETARY ACCESSIBILITY
When contemplating the future of Milky, Khai envisions creating an entire ecosystem of dietary accessibility.
While Milky’s initial focus centers on lactose intolerance, Khai recognizes that many individuals face a variety of dietary restrictions, including issues like acid reflux. The prevailing frustration lies in the disconnect between scientific solutions and user experience. Drawing a parallel to Lactaid, Khai points out the impracticality of carrying around large plastic bottles of products like TUMS.
The Milky team aspires to create a world where your entire medicine cabinet can be conveniently carried in your pocket, offering a seamless solution to dietary challenges, thus transforming the lives of those managing lactose intolerance and other dietary issues.
CONNECT WITH KHAI / MILKY
Linkedin: Khai Pham