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INNOVATORS VS COVID 19

Tessa Clarke, the co-founder and CEO of OLIO explains how her company is fighting the negative impacts of climate change through reducing food waste

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Tessa Clarke OLIO

First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID19 times?

Tessa Clarke: All things considered, we’re doing OK! Thankfully OLIO was a remote first business from day 1, and so we had a bit of a head start on working from home. Home schooling however was a whole new challenge!

What is OLIO?

Tessa Clarke: OLIO is a free app that connects users with their neighbours to give away spare food, and other household items. To date 2 million people have joined OLIO and together they’ve shared over 6 million portions of food, with half of all food listings requested in under 1 hour! The environmental impact of this is equivalent to taking over 17 million car miles off the road, we’ve also saved nearly a billion litres of water. 

Tell us about you, your career, how you founded or joined OLIO

Tessa Clarke: Both my co-founder Saasha and I had fairly classic corporate careers. However that all changed just over 5 years ago. I was moving country and found myself on moving day with some good food that we hadn’t managed to eat, but that I couldn’t bring myself to throw away. And so I set off on a bit of a wild goose chase to try and find someone to give it to, and I failed miserably. Through the whole process it seemed to me crazy that I should have to throw this food away when there were surely plenty of people within hundreds of metres of me who would love it, the problem was they just didn’t know about it. And so the idea of OLIO, a mobile app that connects neighbours to share food came about!

How does OLIO innovate?

Tessa Clarke: When you’re an early stage start-up, innovation is in your lifeblood. Every single day we have problems we’re trying to solve and unknowns we’re trying to know, therefore innovation is the only way to move forward. What’s critical is having a learning mindset, and understanding that ‘failure’ is part and parcel of the process. 

How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business and how are you coping?

Tessa Clarke: When COVID initially hit it wasn’t at all clear that a neighbour-to-neighbour food sharing app could continue to exist! However we quickly pivoted our model to a “no-contact pickup” and after an initial dip in the first week of lockdown, we’ve since seen an absolute explosion in neighbour-to-neighbour sharing. As a result we’ve seen more growth in the past 5 weeks than we have in the previous 5 years, in terms of the number of listings coming onto the app. 

Did you have to make difficult choices and what are the lessons learned?

Tessa Clarke: Very early on we realised that we were in for a long ride, and so we re-ran our budget to give us maximum runway. This meant we needed to cut some costs, which wasn’t easy at the time, but will be worth it overall. 

How do you deal with stress and anxiety?

Tessa Clarke: I’m a massive believer in the importance of well-being. This is especially important for start-up founders given the journey is a marathon – or whole series of marathons – rather than a sprint. Some of the things that help me is ensuring I get a good night’s sleep. I have a sleep tracker and so know I need to be in bed between 9-10pm for optimal performance the next day.

This is much earlier than I used to go to bed, but given how powerful sleep is, I try stick to it as much as I can, as I’ve realised that staying up to work late is in fact a false economy. I also run most days – this not only gets me outside and fit and healthy, but I’m also an obsessive podcast listener and so never fail to come back from a run without having had at least 1 or more breakthrough thoughts – I call these my “run-spiration”! 

How do you project yourself and OLIO in the future ?

Tessa Clarke: Our vision for the future is an unashamedly bold one – we want 1 billion+ OLIOers within the next 10 years. That’s because we simply cannot continue to throw away 1/3 of all the food we produce, whilst at the same time be puzzling over how to feed a world of 10 billion people and keep global heating within 1.5 degrees. Whilst we’ve made a great start with 2 million users and 6 million portions of food saved, we clearly have a long way to go!   

Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?

Tessa Clarke: Because we’re an app, most people assume our competition must be another app, but it’s not – it’s the rubbish bin! As a result we need to work really hard on our user experience to ensure that it’s a much more fun, social and feel-good experience than the bin. We therefore do a lot of work around building our community and reflecting the latest behavioural psychology learnings in our product. 

Your final thoughts

Tessa Clarke: It was billions of small actions that got humanity into the climate crisis in the first place – so by the same logic, we believe billions of small actions can help get us out of it! Most people don’t know this, but if it were to be a country, food waste would be the 3rd largest source of greenhouse gas emissions after the USA & China, and according to Project Drawdown, if we want to keep to a 2 degree warmed world then reducing food waste is the single most important thing we can do – coming above electric cars, solar power and plant based diets! With half of all food waste taking place in the home in countries such as the UK, this is something we can all get on board with and start making a difference today. 

Your website

Website – HERE

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