Olio CEO: Founders, don’t fall in love with an idea – obsess over solving a problem

Founder in 5 with Olio CEO Tessa Clarke Image credit: Olio / UKTN

Tessa Clarke is the CEO and co-founder of Olio, an app for sharing food and other goods that would otherwise be going to waste.

Launched in 2015, Olio has raised over $50m in financing from Cs, impact funds and angel investors. It has grown to a team of approximately 90 people, with seven million users across 63 countries.

It has secured partnerships with the likes of Tesco and Pret and has 85,000 trained volunteers who collect unsold food from local businesses and redistribute it to the community via the Olio app.

The London-headquartered company says more than 100 million portions of food and nine million household items have been shared on its platform. 

In this week’s Founder in Five Q&A, Clarke explains why founders should obsess over solving a problem and not the idea, shares advice for diverse founders raising when the “odds are deeply stacked” against them, and why she’s excited by agtech.

1. What’s a common mistake that you see founders make?

Tessa Clarke: There are several! Far too often I see founders fall in love with the ‘idea’ they’ve come up with, rather than obsessing about the problem they’ve identified, and finding the very best solution to it. Also, when pitching for funding too many founders tend to leap straight into describing their product or service, often in jargon-laden language that’s impossible to understand.

Instead it’s important to take the time to frame up the problem and then go on to describe your solution. And when describing your solution, pitch it as if you’re talking to a 10-year-old child – that way you can ensure that what you’re saying will be clearly understood by any audience. 

2. What funding advice would you give to a first-time founder?

TC: This advice is for founders from diverse groups. First, know that the odds are deeply stacked against you. This is important, because you can then come up with a game plan to try and counter that.

Sadly it’s assumed – either consciously or unconsciously – that you’re less competent, less commercial and less ambitious than ‘conventional’ founders. You should therefore ensure your pitch deck directly addresses each of these concerns. You will also be asked ‘prevention’ questions about your business i.e. what can go wrong, and according to Dana Kanze, you need to answer these questions with ‘promotion’ responses i.e. all about the upside, in order to close the deal.

And finally, stay strong; because it’s a long hard slog, but you will get there. 

3. What’s the best way to promote diversity in the workplace?

TC: Diverse teams are the best-performing teams, so it’s always surprising to me that more businesses haven’t made better progress on this front. In our experience, there are four things that have really built diversity in our team. First, it’s a top priority for our leadership team, not something we just pay lip service to.

Second, we’re a remote-first business which means we’ve been able to tap into all that incredible diverse talent throughout the UK that’s been overlooked for so long. Third, we’re prepared to take longer in the recruitment process to find diverse candidates; and finally we lean heavily on two of our company values which are ‘inclusive’ and ‘caring’ to help us recruit and retain diverse team members. 

4. In another life you’d be?

TC: I was recently honoured to win the Veuve Clicquot Bold Woman of the Year award. As a result of that, I learned about the incredible story of Madame Clicquot who was such a pioneer, battling against the odds and inventing techniques back in the 1800s that the champagne industry still uses to this day.

I have a soft spot for the sparkles, and being a farmer’s daughter I feel happiest when in the countryside, so I think it would be pretty cool to have been Madame Clicquot! 

5. Excluding your sector, which nascent technology holds the most promise?

TC: I’m really excited by all the technology in the agricultural sector. This is because the food system accounts for over 30% of global greenhouse gas emissions, and we also need to find a way to feed a population of 10 billion people by 2050, without destroying the planet and ourselves in the process.

Therefore we’re going to need to double down on ultra-high resolution imaging, precision spraying & planting, drones, AI, biotechnology, digitisation of the whole supply chain and more. 

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.