Oli Cook is the CEO and co-founder of Ekko, a climate-focused fintech startup that plants trees and prevents bottles from entering the ocean when customers use its debit card.
Ekko was co-founded in 2019 by Cook with Manish Vara, Simon Toller and Tom Greenwood. It raised £450,000 in pre-seed funding in 2021.
The startup says that every five transactions on its brightly coloured debit card lead to an “ocean-bound plastic bottle to be collected”, while every fifty transactions pay for a tree to be planted. Users can keep track of their tree and bottle count in the banking app, while viewing a breakdown of their spending carbon footprint.
Its “good vibes” card is powered by Mastercard and available on three tiers of subscription, available from £1.99 to £9.99 for UK residents.
In this week’s Founder in Five Q&A, Cook explains why founders shouldn’t think of their business “as their baby”, shares his top tip for avoiding burnout and explains why he thinks office co-sharing is a sector for disruption.
1. What funding advice would you give to a first-time founder?
Oli Cook: It’s important to keep a strong focus on commercial viability from day one, and to identify clear and quick-to-prove routes to profitability.
The earlier these routes can be evidenced, the stronger your business becomes, and this makes raising capital easier.
2. What’s a common mistake that you see founders make?
OC: Thinking of their business as their baby and becoming too emotionally attached with their original idea. As a founder CEO, your role is to grow the business, and this often requires a degree of movement and the ability to pivot.
Sometimes it’s best to take a step back, as this can allow you to make pragmatic decisions that are in the business’s interest. Unfortunately, that becomes a lot more difficult when you’re too stubborn to move on from your original hypothesis.
3. How do you prevent burnout?
OC: I make sure I give time to my family every day, and when I do, I focus on them and put the phone away. I was once given the advice to ensure that you’re always present with your family and not distracted.
Like many of us, I get this wrong a lot, but I keep trying.
4. Excluding your own, what’s a sector that’s ripe for disruption?
OC: Office co-sharing. With remote working, there must be a better way to collaborate as a community on sharing private office spaces with like-minded businesses.
5. Which role was the most important early hire you made?
OC: I don’t think there is a specific role. It’s more about knowing the areas where your current team is strong, identifying the areas where they are not, and then hiring accordingly.
Being self-aware and having a leadership team that’s open to having honest conversations around skills, and areas of weakness is fundamental to a successful company.
Founder in Five – a UKTN Q&A series with the entrepreneurs behind the UK’s innovative tech startups, scaleups and unicorns – is published every Friday.