This Startup Aims to Reduce Food Waste Worldwide // Interview with OLIO Cofounders

Tessa Cook & Saasha Celestial-One are the founders of OLIO, a free app tackling the problem of food waste by connecting neighbours with each other, and with local shops & cafes so that surplus food can be shared, not thrown away.

Based in the UK and founded in 2015, OLIO proves that whilst food sharing with a neighbour via an app “may at first sound a little crazy,” the founders explain, “it does in fact work!” Today, 40% of food listings on OLIO are requested in less than 1 hour, and 86% within 24 hours.

Tessa and Saasha were kind enough to sit down with us to discuss the rewards and challenges  of launching a startup in the sustainable food space. Read on to learn more about the global food waste issue, what you can do to help, and to gain some great insight into social entrepreneurship!


UpEffect: What problem are you trying to solve?

Tessa and Saasha: Food waste, specifically food waste in the home & local community. Sadly, it’s no exaggeration to say that food waste is one of the largest problems facing humanity today. Globally, over a third of all the food we produce is thrown away, which is worth over $1 trillion, meanwhile 800m people go to bed hungry each night.

Food waste is also really bad for the environment – a land mass larger than China is used to grow food each year that is never eaten, and if food waste were to be a country it would be the third largest emitter of greenhouse gases, after China and the USA.

But what a lot of people don’t realise is that in the ‘developed’ world, over half of all food waste occurs in the home. And so in the UK, households bin over £13bn of edible food p.a., at a cost of £700 to the average family! And yet at the same time, we have 8m people living in food insecurity in this country, half of whom are living in severe food insecurity. The whole situation is absolute madness.

And as if all of this wasn’t bad enough, we have another 2.3 billion people joining the planet by 2050 and we currently have no idea how we’re going to feed them all. Here at OLIO we’d suggest that a great starting point would be to stop wasting the food we currently have!


What are your key activities towards solving this problem?

Building and marketing the free OLIO app that connects people to share their surplus food. We also run several volunteering programmes including our Ambassador programme, which involves local residents spreading the word about OLIO in their community using our flyers, letters, posters etc.

Also, our Food Waste Heroes Programme whereby we match volunteers with their local retailer to collect unsold food at the end of the day, take it home, add it to the app, and redistribute it to the local community. Over 14,000 people have reached out to join our Ambassador Programme and we now have 400 Food Waste Heroes supporting 100 business locations.

What were you up to before you started your company?

Tessa was on maternity leave with her 2nd child, but still working in the corporate world. Saasha had recently founded My Creche, North London’s only PAYG high street childcare solution.


Would you recommend starting a company with a co-founder?

Absolutely! It makes the business much, much stronger, and the journey a lot more fun. You can’t under-estimate the importance of moral support through the ups and downs of the entrepreneurial roller-coaster.


How did you onboard your first 5 customers?

Before we launched the first version of the app we signed up approximately 2,000 people via good old fashioned boots on the street – attending farmers’ markets, and giving away free food on the street to get sign ups.


Do you have any numbers on your impact? 

We currently have 300,000 users who have together shared over 400,000 portions of food. The CO2 emissions saved is the equivalent of taking a million car miles off the road – and we’ve only just started!


How did you find partners that believe in the same ethical standards as you?

We have always led from our mission, and we quickly found that there are lots of individuals and organisations who agree that food waste is an absolute travesty that needs to be fixed immediately.

What is your proudest moment?

Honestly too many to mention!


Tell us a bit about your future plans and projects.

Our vision is an unashamedly bold one – it’s a world where hundreds of millions of people use OLIO to share our most precious resource, food. Whilst we’ve made a great start, that we’re incredibly proud of, we’re aware that we are still at the very beginning of our journey.


The next major milestones are to deliver a desktop version of the app, thereby making OLIO accessible to everybody, and also to introduce content into the app in order to further build the community. We are also supporting our volunteers all over the world who are getting OLIO kickstarted in communities in Sweden, Finland, USA, Jersey and Russia amongst others.


What’s the best advice you ever took?

Do things that don’t scale. Focus on delighting your first 100 customers. Take the lean startup approach i.e. get to market quickly and then iterate and learn.


What advice do you have for entrepreneurs when facing adversity?

Remember that every successful entrepreneur before you has been there, and what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.


Who inspires you?

Our volunteers!!


What’s a book you always recommend and why?

The Lean Startup. Saved us tens of thousands of ££ in product build, and the philosophy has informed our whole approach to product and market development.


What are your top three tips for aspiring social entrepreneurs?

Do things that don’t scale; focus on delighting your first 100 customers; get to market quickly in order to learn.


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