CRUSH IT LIKE: Tessa Cook from OLIO

Monday 21st November

By YFood

We’re an interactive platform passionate about driving innovation in the Food Industry using technology by connecting and supporting the most brilliant minds in the food industry.

CRUSH IT LIKE puts Food Tech heroes in the spotlight. We want to understand their cause and what drives them. Running a startup is extremely demanding but these folks are totally crushing it, like the bosses they are! We hope you'll be as inspired into action by these incredible individuals as we are.

OLIO is a free app that connects neighbours with each other and with local shops & cafes so surplus food can be shared, not thrown away. Users snap a photo of their food and upload it to the app; neighbours then receive alerts, and can request whatever they like. TESSA COOK details the demanding deadlines she imposed on herself to make OLIO a success, whilst juggling her family, moving to another country and a hyperactive puppy!


Food waste is one of the largest problems facing mankind today, and needs to be solved in our lifetime given that we have another 2.3bn people joining the planet by 2050! It’s truly shocking that over a third of all the food produced globally is thrown away – with UK households alone binning over £12bn of edible food p.a., at a cost of £700 to the average family.

Our proprietary research, backed by a YouGov poll showed that 1/3 of people are ‘physically pained’ throwing away good food, and yet they find themselves with no better solution than the bin. OLIO seeks to address these problems by combining cutting-edge mobile technology with the power of the sharing economy and an engaged local community, to unlock the value of this food that would otherwise have been wasted.

The biggest challenge was bootstrapping for the first nine months – we had no funding, an idea and all our bills to pay. Throw in the fact that I was juggling moving country and house, had a toddler and a newborn baby, a hyperactive puppy and was working flat out to get OLIO off the ground. My co-founder Saasha and I gave ourselves a year to make OLIO a success, so the clock was ticking was from day one! We overcame this by being incredibly focused on delivering a minimum viable product (MVP) version of everything we did as quickly as possible, so we could get data and feedback. And then of course, working hard to secure funding!

OLIO wouldn’t be where we are today (over 80,000 downloads and 150,000 items of food shared in just under a year) were it not for the incredible passion, enthusiasm and support from the 5,000 people who have reached out to offer to volunteer to help spread the word about OLIO to their local community. This grassroots marketing has really powered our growth, and now our volunteers are starting to pair up with their local bakeries/shops/cafes to collect unsold food at the end of the day and share it via the app. We love our volunteers!

What unites everyone who works for OLIO – either full-time or in a voluntary capacity – is their passion for our mission to reduce food waste. As a team, our values are to be resourceful (we hate waste of any variety), to be optimistic (we believe that widespread behaviour change can and will happen), to be flexible (there’s rarely only one path to an end-point), and to get s**t done. Everybody takes full accountability for their own domain, so everyone on the team is a self-starter with oodles of initiative.

There’s so much that we want to do to develop the product still – we need to add user ratings, significantly increase the amount of community generated content on the app, and also introduce gamification and reward, to name but a few. Our next major milestone as a business is to become revenue-generating. We will do this by taking a small platform commission on any transaction that has a price or donation. We’re also seeing if there’s a way for us to open up OLIO for anyone in the world to use. We’re currently available in 38 countries, and have seen organic food sharing happen in over a dozen of those already, but there are many other countries that could benefit from a mobile food sharing platform, so we would love to make that happen too!

Tessa on

Her entrepreneurial heroes

We look to Airbnb because their founding story and how they got started really resonates with us. In terms of benchmarking, we look at other marketplace businesses and are always trying to understand how our KPIs compare to theirs. We admire entrepreneurs that have great products and are trying to do something different and impactful in the world e.g. Bitty (flour made from crickets), Thinx (knickers that are an alternative to disposable sanitary products), Farm Drop (marketplace connecting farmers directly to consumers) and Bump Mark (packaging that tells you when the food inside has actually gone off)

What a full-functioning day looks like

I start the day depending on what time my kids wake me! Sometime between 6am and 7.30am. I then check emails and read blogs from the Mattermark and SoDA. I also really enjoy listening to podcasts – This Week in Startups, Mixergy, Traction & A16Z.  I aim to be at my desk by 9am, but some mornings I do everything back to front and work before getting ready – one of the joys of flexible working!

I rely on several apps: Trello (for my to do list), Twitter & Facebook (for OLIO’s social media accounts), Scannable (a great app for easily scanning and sending documents), Trainline (for my weekly commute to London), Google maps (as a startup founder I’ve discovered that you have to go visit people, rather than them coming to you!) and HelpScout (for our customer support desk).

Things to consider before diving into Food Tech

Make sure it’s a real problem you’re trying to solve (this ensures the market is there and big enough); be clear on why it’s your problem to solve; and focus on delighting the first 100 customers (this ensures that you’re obsessed with the user and building a product that will delight – both of which are essential to get to ‘product/market fit’). Finally, surround yourself with a great team and have fun!

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