Follow the impact > Olio, the proof that small actions can lead to big change. ✨

February 23, 2023

Follow the impact > Olio, the proof that small actions can lead to big change. ✨

Rubio’s ‘Follow the Impact’ interview series, delves into the passions, motivations, and vision of the exceptional founders we have the privilege of partnering with. We want to inspire you with their amazing impact and growth ambitions, and also share some insights and learnings on the challenges they have to overcome to scale their businesses and create systemic impact. 

In this first interview, Tessa Clarke, co-founder and CEO of Olio shares their story. From the light bulb moment when Olio was born to all the plans for the future. 

Olio in a nutshell

For those who don’t know Olio, a brief introduction: Olio connects neighbours with each other and with local businesses so surplus food can be shared, not thrown away. Olio also provides a service to businesses whereby their 80,000 volunteers collect unsold food – from supermarkets, cafes, corporate canteens and more – and redistribute it to the local community via the Olio app. To date 7 million people have joined Olio, and collectively they’ve shared 86 million portions of food and 8 million household items.

Tessa, please take us back to the moment when Olio was born.

I’m a farmer’s daughter, and so have always hated throwing away good food. This is because I know from first-hand experience just how much hard work goes into producing it! As a result, the inspiration for Olio came when I was moving to the country and found myself on a 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 where neighbours and local shops & cafes can share surplus food, came about.

Once I’d had the original idea, I then started to research the problem of food waste with my co-founder Saasha Celestial-One, and what we discovered shocked and horrified us. It’s no exaggeration to say that food waste is one of the largest problems facing mankind today, given that one-third of all the food produced each year gets thrown away, meanwhile 800 million people go to bed hungry each night, and the impact of food waste is environmentally devastating – if it were to be a country it would be the third largest source of greenhouse gas emissions after the USA and China.

Can you describe your ‘point-of-no-return’? What barriers did you have to overcome? 

From the day we agreed to found Olio, Saasha and I have been 100% clear that failure is not an option – we simply must fulfil the full potential of Olio in order to solve the climate crisis. And in doing so we believe we’ll build one of the most transformational companies of our generation.

However, we’ve faced innumerable challenges on our journey so far. One of our biggest challenges has been how to grow the user base with a very limited marketing budget. We’ve overcome this thanks to our ambassador programme which has harnessed the passion of 50,000+ Olio-ers to help spread the word about Olio in their local communities, providing us with a high-quality, low-cost route to market. 

Another challenge has been encouraging new Olio-ers to take a ‘leap of faith’ and add a listing – it’s hard to believe, but over half of all food added to the app is requested in under 25 minutes, and half of all non-food items are requested in under 2 hours! So, we ask absolutely everybody to just give it a try, and once they’ve experienced how fun and easy it is to share food with a neighbour they’re converted, as demonstrated by our Net Promoter Score of 72 ☺

The results achieved so far can be called impressive, but knowing Olio, I can’t imagine you will be satisfied with this. What is your main goal?

We’ve set ourselves an enormous goal – we want 1 billion people sharing via Olio by 2030, so that the world’s most precious resources are used, rather than wasted. This will require us to build a brand-new model of consumption – one where local and second hand become the default. 

That’s indeed an enormous goal, what are the biggest challenges you expect to encounter while crossing the rubicon?

Historically access to capital has been our single biggest challenge – as a female founded, tech 4 good, remote first business, early revenue business, fundraising has always been extremely tough! However, we’ve persisted and have now raised over $50 million so far from an incredible selection of investors, including Rubio.

Impact is in the eye of the beholder; everyone has different perspectives on what it is. How would Olio describe impact?

Impact is in Olio’s DNA, and so from inception we’ve dedicated time to defining and measuring our impact properly. We’re incredibly proud of the fact that to date the sharing that’s taken place on our platform has avoided over 100,000 tonnes of CO2 emissions, which has had an environmental impact equivalent to taking 350 million car miles off the road. We’ve also saved 14 billion litres of water as food production is incredibly water intensive. In addition to our environmental impact, we have a very strong social impact too – we’ve facilitated over 20 million neighbour to neighbour transactions, and over 40% of our community say they’ve made friends via Olio, 66% say that sharing has improved their mental health and 75% say that sharing has improved their financial well-being.

Looking ahead: what are the plans for this year?

We’re in the process of rolling out a rebrand because the next step is to ‘cross the chasm’ from the early adopters to the early mainstream; and in order to do so we need to evolve from being ‘the food waste app’ to ‘the local sharing app’. Not only is this new positioning more appealing to a mass audience, it’s also a better description of what Olio has become. 

In addition to this we’re developing some exciting new product features, both for our community users, and our business partners. And we’re also starting to internationalise, with strong communities in markets such as Singapore and Latin America. 

Tips & Fun facts from Tessa 

  • What is your favorite book, podcast, website or person that helped you on your journey?

Favorite books – The Mom Test; The Lean Startup; The Culting of Brands. Favorite podcasts are HERE.

  • Which animal do you resemble most & why 🙂

A Jack Russell terrier (dog). We’re small, tenacious, have infectious enthusiasm, and will always find a way around an obstacle – whether it’s over, under, around or through. 

  • What is your favorite venture on an impact mission that needs more attention?

Too many to mention – SafetyNet, Globe Chain, Aeropowder, Allplants are just a few