The end of May saw this year’s Veuve Clicquot Bold Woman Award finalists come together for a glittering celebration of female entrepreneurship at the champagne house’s Solaire Culture exhibition in London’s Piccadilly Circus. Tessa Clarke, the co-founder and CEO of the game-changing food-sharing app Olio, was named the overall winner in honour of her extraordinary contribution to sustainability: since launching in 2015, the business has already saved more than 100 million portions of food from going to waste, while helping to build strong community ties through the recruitment of ‘Food Hero’ volunteers.
The awards, which date back to 1972 and pay tribute to the pioneering entrepreneurial spirit of the ‘grande dame’ of champagne herself, Madame Clicquot, are designed to showcase the successes of female business leaders and creators from all walks of life. Clarke was selected from an impressive shortlist that also included Me+Em’s Clare Hornby and GoHenry’s Louise Hill, while Karen Scofield Seal, whose company Oceanium is harnessing the myriad benefits of seaweed, was given the Bold Future Award for her purpose-led business.
Here, we revisit our 2020 interview with Clarke as she reflects on her business journey…
In a nutshell, my job involves… challenging the status quo, whether that means persuading people of the benefits of a food-sharing app, unlocking a slice of the paltry one per cent of all venture-capital investment that went to female-founded company in 2018, or building a remote-first business, I’m always doing things differently. It’s fun but exhausting.
When I was a child I wanted to be… I grew up on a farm, and so didn’t have many role models when I was younger. As a result, I had no idea what I wanted to be and it was only once I’d founded Olio that I finally figured it out!
I got into this industry through… a seemingly inconsequential moment four-and-a-half years ago that changed my life for ever. I was living in Switzerland and found myself on moving day with some good food that we hadn’t managed to eat, but that I couldn’t bring myself to throw away. I set off on a bit of a wild-goose chase to try to find someone to give it to, and I failed miserably. Throughout the 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 can share surplus food – came about. Everyone I told about it thought I was totally crazy, apart from my wonderful co-founder Saasha. Together, we decided to make it a reality.
I love what I do because… I wake up every day knowing that what I’m doing is making a real difference. That’s because globally one-third of all the food we produce – worth more than $1 trillion a year – gets thrown away. If food waste were to be a country, it would be the third-largest source of greenhouse gases, after the US and China. So what this means is that every item of food shared via Olio is not only helping to save the planet, but is also feeding someone and connecting two neighbours who often go on to become friends.
The best part of my day is… walking my kids to school each day, and being home when they come back, both huge advantages of working for myself. I also love taking some time out to go for a run, bike ride or boxing class – I find it clears my mind and makes me feel better.
The hardest part of my day is… pitching to investors. Sadly, it’s still an incredibly male-dominated industry with relatively little interest in female-founded businesses, or those that are solving community-oriented problems. So I have to put on my thick skin and get used to hearing lots of “nos” before a magical “yes”.
The aspect of my job that always surprises people is… firstly, that half of all food waste in the UK takes place in the home, compared with only two per cent at store level. That’s because in this country, the average family throws away a quarter of the weekly shop – worth £800 a year – which collectively adds up to £15 billion. Secondly, that half of all the food added to the Olio app is requested within less than an hour. I think a lot of people can’t imagine who would want their spare food, but we’ve had two-and-a-half million portions of food shared so far, so I encourage everyone to give it a go.
The three skills that help me succeed are… curiosity, because to be an entrepreneur you have to be constantly testing and learning; passion, because if you want change to happen, you have to convince others to join you; and determination, because being an entrepreneur isn’t for the faint-hearted – you need endless amounts of grit and resilience.
The biggest change in my industry at the moment is… the fact that the world is finally waking up to the climate crisis, and recognising that we can’t continue consuming as if we have 1.75 planets, when clearly we don’t.
The one thing I wish I’d known when I started out is… that there’s no such thing as a silver bullet. In the early days, I used to fantasise about Olio suddenly ‘taking off’, and thought that we just had to find the silver bullet to make it happen. I’ve since realised that there’s no such thing – we just need to keep going with an awful lot of lead bullets, and we’ll get there eventually!
Anyone wanting to do my job should begin by… finding a problem in the world that really bothers you, and then figuring out ways to fix it. For too long, I didn’t become an entrepreneur because I “didn’t have an idea”. I now realise I was going about it all wrong – I needed to look for a problem first.
In 10 years’ time, I’d like to be… still running Olio with Saasha. By then, we want to have over a billion customers, all connected and sharing the world’s most precious resources, rather than throwing them away.
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