Today with Tessa Clarke, we discussed the journey to build a globally relevant green first, digital first business as a female founder. We talk also about the rules Tessa and her co-founder are breaking, and also advise on sustainable and practical things you can do for the planet without giving anything up.
“Honestly, one of the easiest ways to massively reduce your carbon and your waste footprint is to stop throwing away food. Now to most people, it’s really hard to get your head around how environmentally damaging food waste is, because food seems natural, organic, and it comes from the ground and returns to the ground, sort of how bad can that be. But the reality is, it is absolutely devastating. So if it were to be a country, food waste would be the third largest source of greenhouse gas emissions after the USA and China. And that’s because a landmass larger than China is used every single year to grow food that has never been eaten.”
Tessa Clarke is co-founder and CEO of Olio. A free app tackling the problem of waste by connecting neighbours with each other, and volunteers with local businesses so that surplus food and other household items can be given away, not thrown away. Olio, it has grown to 6 million users in just over five years, and its impact has been widely recognised, most notably by the United Nations who highlighted OLIO as a beacon for the world and by Viva tech who awarded Olio the next European unicorn. Prior to Olio,Tessa had a 15 year corporate career as a digital managing director in the media retail and financial services sector. And she met her co-founder Sasha whilst they were studying for the MBAs at Stanford University. Tess is passionate about the sharing economy as a solution for a sustainable world and about profit with purpose as the next business paradigm.
To connect with Tessa and Olio, check out the links below:
Linkedin for Tessa: Tessa (Cook) Clarke | LinkedIn
LinkedIn for Olio: OLIO • Share More, Waste Less: Overview | LinkedIn
Tessa it’s so great to have you on the podcast.
Tessa Clarke 2:30
Thank you. Great to be with you.
Katherine Ann Byam 2:31
So who is Tessa Clarke? Really?
Tessa Clarke 2:34
Wow, what a great question. Well, I am dialling in today from Wiltshire in the UK where I live with my two young children who are seven and nine and my husband. And then we have two dogs with little and large. We have an enormous Great Dane and a tiny Poochie, which is poodle cross Chihuahua and a cat. And I’m the co-founder and CEO of Olio. Obviously, we’ve discussed, but also, I guess of interest, and really informing kind of who I am today. I was born and raised on my parents farm up in North Yorkshire, in the northeast of the UK. And that upbringing, which was one characterised by an awful lot of hard work on the family farm has really informed who I am today. And it’s also given me my passion for the environment and sustainability and my pathological hatred for food waste, and indeed, waste of any variety.
Katherine Ann Byam 3:29
Olio has become a trending brand name in the sustainability space. What prompted you to begin that journey?
Tessa Clarke 3:36
Well, as I’ve touched on, I was brought up on a farm. And as a result of that, I learned firsthand just how much hard work goes into producing the food that we all eat every day. And so as a result of that, I spent much of my life going to crazy lengths to avoid throwing away food. Now, I didn’t think anything in particular about that, to be honest, until I had a seemingly inconsequential moment in my life seven years ago, where my hatred of food waste was taken to new extremes.
So I was living and working in Switzerland with my family. And we’re moving back to the UK and on moving day removal men told me I had to throw away all of our uneaten food. Now, obviously, I was not prepared to do this so much that irritation I stopped packing and instead bundled up my newborn and toddler at the time, and set out into the streets clutching this food, hoping to find someone to give it to and to cut a long story short, I failed miserably. The lady was normally always in this one spot, for some reason wasn’t there that day. And so I very despondently turned around and went back to my apartment, but I wasn’t to be defeated. So when the removal men weren’t looking, I smuggled the non perishable food into the bottom of my packing boxes, and that was the moment when I just thought, This is crazy the lengths I’m going to avoid throwing away perfectly good food. I’ve been working digital for a decade at that point in time I’m using an app for everything. I couldn’t believe it wasn’t a simple app where I could just advertise my food. And whoever wanted it could pop around and pick it up.
Katherine Ann Byam 5:02
It’s interesting, because I think we’ve kind of lost this idea of neighbourhoods and sharing. It’s something that’s seemingly disappeared, we lost trust. We’re not doing that openness anymore. And I guess the app is a great way to bridge that divide. What has your experience been?
Tessa Clarke 5:21
Yeah it is. You’re right, you’re absolutely correct. So what we’ve discovered is that there are lots of reasons why people have too much food at home. But that doesn’t explain why it becomes waste. The reason why it becomes waste is because we no longer have anyone to give our food to no longer connected to our local community. And whilst we are in many ways, more connected than we’ve ever been before, we’re actually lonelier than we’ve ever been before. And so the real magic of OLIO is not so much the app, it’s the doorstep connection, that the app facilitates, it’s bringing two people together in real life who live in the same community to exchange something of value to make sure that something has a second life. And people tell us the whole time that they since to joining OLIO, they feel really empowered, they feel connected, they feel safer, because they know who their neighbours are for the first time. And we ran some research at the end of last year and over 40% of our community said that they feel less lonely since joining olio. And also over 40% of our community say that they’ve made friends via radio. So that’s sort of doorstep connection connection really is the magic bit.
Katherine Ann Byam 6:31
That’s an incredible impact that you’re having beyond the objective. Yeah, how are you feeling about that?
Tessa Clarke 6:37
Yeah, it’s amazing. And it’s certainly something that Sassha and I hadn’t necessarily anticipated, when we first founded Olio, we approached the problem of food waste, really through the lens of it just being a chronic sort of market inefficiency, and being environmentally devastating. And to us, it’s very logical that an app could sort of solve the problem that we hadn’t, at all really appreciated just how powerful the impact would be on a, on a human level and on a community level.
Katherine Ann Byam 7:05
What are the top three challenges you face as a female founder? And what causes are you now championing because of those challenges?
Tessa Clarke 7:13
So I would say that I haven’t faced any challenges as a female founder. And in fact, being a female founder has been nothing other than positive, with one exception. So I’ve only got one challenge. And that has been fundraising. So if you take sort of both the UK and Europe, unfortunately, the data is equally hideous for both. But basically just 1% of all venture capital funding goes to female founded businesses. 89% goes to male founded businesses, and 10% goes to mixed teams. And they are just incredibly daunting and dispiriting and infuriating statistics to have to kind of go out and fight against. And we’ve done, we have done that we have successfully raised five rounds of financing, and we have raised over $50 million. But it has been so difficult and so painful. And I am so angry about this, because when I look at what we’re trying to do it OLIO, but also when I look at sort of the impact space more broadly, and I see the founders who are trying to solve the really, really hard problems facing humanity today. They are, without exception, just an incredibly diverse group of people. And so by sort of short funding, female founders and diverse founders of all types we are we’re so short funding humanity. And I think that is really, really worrying.
Katherine Ann Byam 8:40
Absolutely agree. I’ve read the statistics. And it’s something that I found interesting in sort of digging into this topic is that I don’t know how much of this has created a barrier to female founders even coming forward, which is even exacerbating the problem. I don’t know if your research has touched on any of that.
Tessa Clarke 8:58
well, I can only I can only talk talk to my own personal experience. And my personal experience is that there is no shortage of awesome female founders out there. And I’m speaking to them every single week, I always make sure to carve out an hour or two, to speak to other female and diverse founders. And I’m overwhelmed by how many they are and how high calibre they are. But the challenge really does exist in that kind of zero to one, it is kind of really unlocking that first funding is most difficult. I did see some data fairly recently, we showed that once female founders got funding, then actually their probability of onward funding was actually pretty good. So it really is that very, very formative stage of the business when actually really investors are investing in you as a person. And that’s where we’re, we’re sort of struggling to get enough capital to female founders.
Katherine Ann Byam 9:49
It’s really interesting. So corporate Tessa versus entrepreneurial. Tessa, what’s changed in your leadership when you compare and contrast both versions of yourself?
Tessa Clarke 10:00
Well, I’m a good sort of decade, older now than I was then. And I would say, probably the biggest change just has been in my own confidence. And once you have more confidence, I think that things have gives you permission to be a lot more authentic as a leader, and also as part of that a lot more vulnerable. And I have realised just how underrated but also how powerful authenticity and vulnerability are as a leader. And certainly, you’re kind of in the early days of my career, I used to think that I had to present this sort of perfect front, and I had to have the answer for everything, and I had to be completely in control. And I’ve realised that when you kind of open up and share the challenges that you’re facing very openly with the teams that you’re trying to lead, they respond really, really well to that. So that’s probably the biggest change. I think the other change in me is I’ve just got less prepared to sort of fall in line behind the status quo. I just sort of feel life is too short. And I’m just getting bolder and bolder about calling out the inequities and the injustices that I see. So, yeah, in a way that I never would have done in the early days of my career.
Katherine Ann Byam 11:18
What would you say you’re still working on
Tessa Clarke 11:20
So many things. One thing that is is very sort of top of mind for me right now, and very much kind of leading on from the conversation we’ve had to date is around figuring out how I ensure that the hard work that Sassha, my co founder, and I have done around building a diverse team, which we have done at Olio, we’ve got a super, super diverse team. But how do we make sure that that really does sort of translate and map across to a truly inclusive company culture, because I think sort of a diverse team, and inclusive company culture aren’t totally synonymous. And there’s a lot of hard work that needs to be done around that. And in particular, kind of educating myself, I’m a sample of one out in the world. And I need to invest a lot of time learning about other people’s perspectives, in particular people who are from those more sort of diverse backgrounds. And I mean, every aspect of diversity, not just kind of the obvious ones of gender and ethnicity, for example. So that’s something that I’m doing a lot of work around. And it’s, it’s quite an intimidating area to do work in, right, because the only thing that’s guaranteed is you’re going to get something wrong and inadvertently upset someone. So it is a difficult area to tackle. But it’s one that I think I’ve just got to be brave and authentic, and give it a go.
Katherine Ann Byam 12:39
It’s interesting, because if you look back at corporate performance of the past, you see companies that would have made strategic changes in perhaps their management teams, in entire sections of their organisation to bring in sort of new energy, bring in younger staff. And part of that has been to sort of mould those new team members into this sort of expectation of what the company wanted. But today, what we’re seeing with with diversity and inclusion, what we’re seeing with even sustainability, and all of these things is that it has to come through even before that, like you can’t just recruit people off the market and get what you’re looking for, you actually have to go even further back in terms of the education systems that are sort of influencing the kind of thinking because the changes are so fundamental, they affect everything. How are you dealing with this?
Tessa Clarke 13:37
Well, I mean, the honest answer is we’re relatively speaking, still quite a small organisation. So we can’t we just don’t have the resources right now to kind of step back into the education system. Although I can absolutely see how has the larger employers, they kind of, they need to do that. So what we do is we’re just super focused in recruitment, and working hard to kind of find the right folks to join our organisation. So we’re definitely looking for kind of culture add rather than just culture fit. And we also work really hard around recruiting to our company values, because we think that kind of, if you get values aligned people, then who values align people who are mission obsessed, which are the two things we really look for, then everything else will, will sort of follow on from there. So our company values are inclusive, resourceful, caring, and ambitious. So there’s just four of them, but we find them to be really, really kind of powerful and effective and helpful in terms of assembling kind of the right group of key people and building a really strong company culture.
Katherine Ann Byam 14:43
What traditions would you say your green first digital first organisation is breaking in terms of leadership structures?
Tessa Clarke 14:50
So we’ve kind of touched on diversity, so obviously, we’re female co-founded business, which is sort of rare as hen’s teeth on Senior Leadership Team is sort of, you know, 50%, female and super diverse along a number of other dimensions as well, in terms of neurodiversity, well over 20% of our team identify as being neuro diverse. And then back to the gender one. And credibly proud of the fact that sort of at last count on Tuesday of last week at 53%, of our engineering team was female. So we’ve definitely kind of worked really hard around the diversity piece,
I think the second thing that we’ve done, it’s now become very commonplace. But when we started it, it wasn’t. So we’ve been a remote first company from day one. So kind of, you know, seven years ago, Sassha and I built the organisation from the grassroots up to be remote first, really born out of a very practical requirement. We didn’t live in the same place, we both had young kids, and we didn’t have the time or money to commute to an office that neither of us wants to be in. And we have found this organisational structure just being incredibly powerful one, because it’s opened up a massive talent pool for us, we’ve realised that there are so many people who do not want to live, for example, in the middle of London, and commute to a job. And so we’ve been able to attract brilliant talent to the company. And we are also able to kind of retain people really well, because we’ve give them complete flexibility over how they manage their working life. And so that’s another thing. I think, during the pandemic, a lot of businesses sort of transition to being remote, of course, they had to, but they tried to apply that sort of nine to five office mentality to remote working. And that’s not really how to do it. So we really lean into giving people autonomy and flexibility over their work. So we’ve definitely done a lot of stuff so differently around being remote first. And then I think the third thing that we’ve done very differently is OLIO has grown very much thanks to our community and our volunteers. So we have over 50,000 people who have reached out to offer to spread the word about Olio and to become early ambassadors in their local communities. And it’s thanks to them that we’ve had items successfully shared in 63 countries so far. And then we’ve got an equally important type of volunteer, we’ve got 46,000, food waste heroes, these are people who we recruit from our community, we train them online on our food safety management system. And then they can claim a collection slot at a local business. And what that means is that on their allotted time and day, they can pop out the house across the road, and pick up all the unsold food from that business. So for example, from a Tesco or Pret a Manger, they take that food food home, they add it to the app within minutes, the neighbours requesting it and minutes later, they’re popping around and picking it up. And we’re really unusual. There aren’t many examples of tech startups that are for profit that are also so rooted in the community as their growth engine.
Katherine Ann Byam 17:56
Yeah, I think this is so powerful. I want to switch now to sort of growing this greater impact and social change you are championing and being mission focused on when I put that in the context of the employees here at Amazon. Can you give some advice on how they can start getting involved and engaged in this space and your recommendations for how to do that within? If you’ve been they didn’t want to start their own startups?
Tessa Clarke 18:24
Yeah, for sure. So the first thing I’d recommend to anybody is to read a couple of books and watch a couple of documentaries, like get some fire in your belly, because once you learn the truth, you will not fail to want to get involved with this as a matter of urgency. A favourite book of mine in this space is a book by Naomi Klein. And it’s called This changes everything, capitalism versus the climate. There’s another great book called The Great disruption by Paul Gilding. And there’s no shortage of fabulous documentaries. So yeah, definitely kind of read up, watch up, get the fire in your belly.
A second thing I would encourage people to do. Now this might sound very biassed. But honestly, one of the easiest ways to massively reduce your carbon in your waste footprint is to stop throwing away food. Now to most people, it’s really hard to get your head around how environmentally damaging food waste is because food seems natural, organic, and it comes from the ground and returns to the ground, sort of how bad can that be. But the reality is, it is absolutely devastating. So if it were to be a country, food waste will be the third largest source of greenhouse gas emissions after the USA and China. And that’s because a landmass larger than China is used every single year to grow food that has never been eaten. And when most people hear about the food waste problem, they instinctively think, well, it must be the supermarkets that must be sort of that’s where the problem is. And that couldn’t be further from the truth. So using UK data, but this is very similar in many other countries. Half of all food waste takes place in the home. And just 2% of all food waste takes place at a retail store level. And the reason for that is because there’s 28 million households throwing away 20% of the weekly shop, collectively as up to 14 billion pounds of the perfectly good food being thrown away every single year. So our plea really is to everybody to give your food away, rather than throwing it away. And actually, this data was sort of missed, sadly, kind of due to COVID. But there’s an incredibly powerful piece of work called Project drawdown, which stack ranks the top 100 solutions to the climate crisis. And for a maximum two degree warmed world. In position number one, the single most powerful thing that humanity can do to avert the worst effects of climate crisis is to stop wasting food. And that comes above electric cars, above solar power, and above a plant based diet. And it really is one of the easiest things like we can all get involved, we can all make a difference in our homes starting sort of today.
The second area I would point people to is just to kind of their consumption overall. So there’s a concept that when I discovered it absolutely blew my brains, it’s called Earth Overshoot Day. So that is the day in the year in which humanity has used all the resources that the Earth can replenish in a year. So it was first measured in 1969. Back then Earth Overshoot Day was the 31st December. So what that means is humanity used in a year, what the earth could replenish in a year, back then we were living in equilibrium with the planet. If you fast forward to last year, Earth Overshoot Day was the 29th of July. And so what that means is that every single thing that every single one of a seven and a half billion people consumed after the 29th of July last year was net net depleted to the planet. So really, really encourage people to make very careful, very wise consumption decisions. And then the third thing I would say is, and one of the highest of impact things you can do is to move your money. So there’s an incredible campaign being run by the filmmaker, Richard Curtis, and it’s called move your money, I think. And it’s basically about kind of moving your pension funds, and your bank savings and stuff like that, out of investments that are supporting the fossil fuel industry into green areas. And I think their data shows that that sort of 21 times more powerful than the next most powerful thing you can do as an individual to play a part in solving the climate crisis. And then the final message I’d have is really easy to assume that solving the climate crisis in your home, one feels kind of very intimidating and daunting and out of reach. And perhaps it feels like it might be all about sacrifice. But it absolutely isn’t sort of myself, my family, we’ve been on this journey now to try and lead a more sustainable life for about four or five years. And we’ve honestly found that we are healthier, we are wealthier and we are happier, as a result of changing how we’re how we’re living and how we’re consuming.
Katherine Ann Byam 23:09
Really incredibly powerful statistics and advice. Thank you so much for that contribution. I just want to ask you one last question, which is how can people get in touch with you and connect with with Olio
Tessa Clarke 23:19
so really simple. They can download audio from the App Store or Google Play O l i o. Or you can search for us online and find us on our website. And we’re on social media. Our handle on Instagram, for example is @OLIO.app. Perfect.
Katherine Ann Byam 23:36
Thank you so much for joining us today.
Tessa Clarke 23:38
My pleasure. Thank you for having me.
Katherine Ann Byam 24:11
This episode was brought to you today by the courageous Career Club. Have you picked up your own copy of; ‘Do What Matters: The Purpose Driven Career Transition Guidebook’? To find out how you can get your copy as well as resources that go alongside it, visit my website, www Katherine Ann byam.com or engage with me on the socials. I’m looking forward to hearing from you