Remote Working, Diversity and Sustainability: A Q&A with Tessa Clarke Co-Founder & CEO of OLIO

5 January 2021

Tessa Clarke is the Co-Founder & CEO of OLIO, the world’s only neighbour-to-neighbour food sharing app, with over 2.5 million users worldwide.

But when we decided to dig a bit deeper into Tessa's story, we found that opening line was just a tiny part of her journey with OLIO. We covered what it's like to launch a start-up business while looking after a young family, what a 'remote-first' business really looks like, how to create a truly inclusive culture, and of course the big sustainability issue which is set to dominate the conversation for years to come.

We sat down with Tessa, virtually speaking of course, to discuss her incredible story with OLIO. It's packed with many great moments so we highly recommend brewing a nice cup of tea before you begin!

Your story with OLIO is inspiring. How did you juggle the responsibilities of growing a start-up business with a young family? What advice would you give to aspiring female leaders who want to venture down the same path?

My single biggest ‘hack’ to make it all work, is working from home – something millions of others are now discovering too thanks to COVID. Both Saasha and I were Mums with very young kids when we founded OLIO 6 years ago, and neither of us had the time or inclination to commute to an expensive office. So we built OLIO to be remote-first from the ground up . Whilst on the surface it may seem crazy to start a business when you have a new born baby and a toddler, I suspect that there’s never an ideal time to start a business! And if it’s something you really want to do, then you will surely find a way to make it happen.

I consider starting OLIO when my kids were so young as an incredible gift, because working from home enabled me to be present in their lives in a way in that simply wouldn’t have been possible if I’d been working for a corporate. Becoming an entrepreneur was a major win for family life, not a sacrifice as it is so often portrayed.

OLIO is a 'remote first' business, with 30 employees from 6 countries working remotely. What advice can you give to business owners and team leaders who recognise their teams have a desire to spend more time working remotely, but are struggling to adjust to this ‘new normal’?

I think the most important thing to recognise is that through wanting to work remotely, what many employees are craving is autonomy and flexibility in their working lives. Therefore it’s really important not to try and recreate a “9 to 5” company culture, whilst allowing people to work remotely. Instead you need to really lean into the upsides of remote working - which allows people to work when best suits them - and in order to do this you need to re-think how communications work in your company.

The number of meetings needs to be reduced, with fewer people attending each meeting – which is arguably a good thing anyway – and investment needs to be made into asynchronous communication channels and tools. I would also strongly recommend talking to your team as you make this transition, gathering their feedback for improvements, so that way you take everyone on the journey together.

You mentioned in one of your blogs on  Medium  that “A big reason why there’s been so little climate action, is because the impact of the climate crisis is felt most by people of colour, and people living in poverty”. Do you think the pandemic has shifted consumer attitudes towards sustainability so we can mitigate the impact felt by those worse off in society?

When the pandemic first hit, it derailed the sustainability movement for a couple of months, and quite understandably so. Thankfully however, as so many of us have experienced the “great pause”, and as we consider how we “build back better”, the sustainability movement has been accelerated dramatically, which is a small silver lining to Covid-19 cloud. I also believe that the intersectionality of the climate crisis and social inequality has been highlighted through Covid-19, as we’ve had our eyes opened to just how much poverty there is in our societies, and are recognising that the current system is broken.

I’m therefore hopeful that going forward, discussions around fixing the climate crisis will pay equal attention to fixing inequality, and so a far better future lies ahead – if we can just find the collective will power to make it happen.

In the same blog you address the diversity in your team and how you could perhaps do better. How have you created a culture which doesn’t just embrace the diversity within it, but strives to become more open and inclusive?

Diversity is extremely important to us at OLIO – after all, if we want a product that appeals to 1 billion people, then we need a team that’s reflective of 1 billion people. Creating a culture that actively strives to embrace diversity has come about as a result of two things – leadership from the top, by Saasha and I; and through recruiting a team who reflect our company values, the #1 of which is “inclusive”.

If there was one message you would like to leave your audience with, what would it be?

Not enough attention is being paid to the enormous power of individual action. As a result it can be very easy to become pretty depressed about the state of the world, and in particular the climate crisis. However, with over 60% of all greenhouse gas emissions being directly related to household consumption , it’s extremely clear that our individual actions DO count. After all, it was billions of small actions that got us into this mess in the first place; so surely billions of small actions can help get us out if it.

And finally, the journey at OLIO doesn’t seem to be slowing down. What are your priorities as we head into 2021?

OLIO grew 5x in 2020, and we anticipate that 2021 will be an equally big year for us. We’ll be focusing on scaling our Food Waste Heroes Programme, which enables businesses such as Tesco to have zero food waste stores; we’ll be growing the MADE section in the app, which connects neighbours to sell homemade food and handmade crafts to one another; and we’ll be introducing some exciting new features for OLIO subscribers. All building up to going to market to raise our Series B in early 2022.

Thank you Tessa, we wish you the best of luck in your journey with OLIO!

For further information or to book Tessa Clarke, call us on +44 (0)20 7607 7070 or email

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