Movers & Shakers Q&A: Tessa Clarke, co-founder and CEO, Olio

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Tessa Clarke, CEO, Olio

1.What is the greatest opportunity for your business?

The greatest opportunity for OLIO is solving the problem of food waste in the home & local community, at scale, globally! There are two elements to how we do this: first, connecting neighbours to share their spare food when they go on holiday, work late, over-cater, receive unwanted gifts, go on a diet. And second, by connecting our volunteers (Food Waste Heroes) with their local retail stores so that they can collect and redistribute unsold food at the end of the day, via the app. We have significant first mover advantage as the world’s only neighbour-to-neighbour food sharing app, and so we need to continue to capitalise upon that and keep growing rapidly.  

2.What is the biggest challenge to your business?

Our biggest challenge is encouraging more people to add food to the app – as there’s no shortage of people who want to pick up free food. This is reflected in the fact that half of all listings added to the app are requested within 1 hour, and we’ve had 3 million portions of food shared so far! Sadly food waste is an enormous problem in the UK with households throwing away £15 billion of perfectly good food every year, and businesses also struggling with unsold food at the end of each day.

Tessa Clarke

3.With the benefit of hindsight what would you have done differently so far?

When you’re in the early stages of a business you spend all your time testing, iterating and learning and so experience thousands of ‘failures’ along the way. What I’ve realised is that this cycle of ‘failure’ is an essential part of the development process and so is something to be embraced rather than regretted.

4.What is the future of the physical store and the high street?

I believe that human beings are inherently social and that because we’ve evolved over millions of years in the physical world, we will continue to prioritise physical experiences. As a result, I don’t think stores – or the high street – are going anywhere anytime soon. However they will continue to evolve to provide more experience, community, entertainment and advice; whilst Amazon and others will continue with the basic ‘need fulfilment’ aspect of shopping.

5.What technology-related plans have you got for the next 12 months?

Our mobile apps are coded in React Native and at the moment we build for mobile first. Next year we’ll switch to building for the web app first as it’s a more efficient way of developing. We’ve also got a very full product roadmap, with the overarching theme being about evolving OLIO from a pure marketplace to more of a hyper-local community.

6.With the issue of digital wildfire how do you understand and control your growing digital landscape

With difficulty! We’re all breaking new ground here, and so I think the key thing is to be aware of the risks and learn as much from others as possible. It’s important to recognise that your brand exists in all these different channels, whether you like it or not, so the most important thing is to engage with the issue rather than try and ignore it. 

7. What other retail business do you admire?

The retailers I admire most are the ones who are putting sustainability at the very heart of their business – not just in terms of supply chain and operations, but also in terms of the business model they operate. Sadly these are few and far between. I believe that any retail business that doesn’t fully embrace the circular economy will eventually lose the licence to exist, and so we’re entering a very exciting time when there will be a whole new generation of winners and losers. Sustainability isn’t a trend; it’s a paradigm shift.  

8.If you hadn’t been a retailer what would you have liked to do?

I wouldn’t describe myself as a retailer, so much as someone who’s obsessed with the effective use and redistribution of the planet’s precious – and finite – resources. At the moment humanity is consuming as if there are 1.75 planets; and Earth Overshoot Day (the day in the year in which humanity has used all the resources the earth can replenish in a year) is 29th July. Clearly this is not sustainable! So I can’t think of anything I’d be rather doing right now than helping to figure out how humanity can live within the constraints of our only planet, before it’s too late.

9.What marks out of 10 do you give yourself so far for achievement?

Probably 6 out of 10. What we’ve achieved – with relatively little investment and no precedent for what we’re doing – is really incredible. However we’re a fraction of the way on our journey to 1 billion OLIOers within the next 10 years, so we have a long way to go!

10.Who would you place in the Top 25 Movers & Shakers in Retail?

Patagonia, IKEA and Unilever, who are leading the pack in terms of trying to address our climate, biodiversity and resource depletion crises.


This is one in an ongoing series of profiles with individuals that are featured in the annual ‘Retail Insider Movers & Shakers in Retail Top 100‘.