I grew up on my parents’ dairy farm in North Yorkshire, England. It was an amazing childhood in so many ways, but one that had a constant theme running throughout it – the need to work. Feeding cows, mucking out, moving stock; it was relentless and ran late into the evening, every day of the year. As a result of this, I learned pretty much as soon as I could walk just how much hard work goes into producing the food that we all eat. And so I grew up with the firm belief that food is meant to be eaten, not thrown away.
The ‘lightbulb’ moment came on 17th December 2014 – I remember it well. I was packing up our apartment in Switzerland, getting ready to move back to the UK. Despite our best efforts to eat everything we had, we were still left with 6 sweet potatoes, a whole white cabbage and some pots of yoghurt that were surplus to requirements. The removal men told me that everything had to be thrown away, but I just couldn’t bring myself to do this. And so – much to their frustration as we still had a lot to pack up – I got my new-born baby and toddler dressed and set off armed with this food to find someone to give it to. Unfortunately, the lady who I had hoped to give it to wasn’t in her usual spot outside the supermarket. And so I got quite upset. I thought about knocking on my neighbours’ doors to see if they wanted it, but the problem was I didn’t know if they would be in; and even if they were in, I didn’t really know them and it might be a bit awkward if they didn’t want what I was offering. And so, feeling thoroughly defeated I thought to myself – “This is absolutely crazy…. this food is delicious. Why isn’t there an app where I can share it with someone nearby who wants it?” And so the idea for OLIO was born…
I told some friends & family about my idea of a food sharing app, and they all
thought I was crazy. But in February 2015 when I told Saasha, her eyes immediately lit up and we just knew that we had to work together to bring this app to life!
I’m the daughter of Iowa hippy entrepreneurs (hence the origin of my last name, Celestial-One – which my parents made up!) and I grew up in a large, relatively poor family. I spent much of my childhood accompanying my Mom on various missions to rescue things that others had discarded – wooden fixtures from foreclosed houses, plants from the greenhouse dumpster, aluminium soda cans (worth 5¢ each) casually tossed aside at the beach, etc.
In salvaging and reselling these items I not only earned my pocket money, but I literally learned that one man’s trash is another man’s treasure. As a kid I launched over a dozen scrappy micro-businesses, and I always dreamed of starting my own business one day, specifically in the area of food, which is a passion of mine.
Tessa and I met in 2002 and have been close friends ever since. When she told me about her idea for a food sharing app I instantly knew it was genius, and that I wanted to be a part of the journey bringing it to life. Within an hour we had settled on a name and made our plan! No one ever said we don’t dream big or move quickly ☺
We incorporated the company on the 9th of February 2015 and decided we had that year to prove it and make it happen, and if not we would have to go back and get proper jobs. The first thing we did was desk research in order to understand how big the problem of food waste was and what we discovered truly shocked and terrified us.
“A third of the food we produce globally is thrown away, and in the UK households are responsible for over half of all food waste. The average family throws away £700 worth of food each year. That adds up to £12.5 billion… £12.5 billion that is going straight to landfill!”
But just because it’s a big problem on paper doesn’t mean to say that people care about it. So, we conducted some market research using SurveyMonkey and through this we found that 1 in 3 people are “physically pained” throwing away good food. That’s a lot of people, who almost every day, are having to throw away food because there’s no alternative… there’s been no innovation since the rubbish bin! How crazy is that?!
But just because it’s a big problem and just because people hate throwing away food, that doesn’t mean to say they’ll take the next step, which is to share food. We were understandably reluctant to invest our life savings building an app that people wouldn’t use, and so we needed a quick and low cost way to test our food sharing idea. What we settled on was a slightly bizarre ‘proof of concept’ involving Whatsapp! We invited 12 people who took part in our market research survey, and who said they were physically pained throwing way good food, and we put them all in a closed WhatsApp group. They all lived close to each other and we asked them for 2 weeks to add any surplus food they had into the group and we’d see if food sharing started. We waited with bated breath for what seemed like an eternity and then eventually someone added an item – half a bag of shallots! How very Crouch End ☺. We leapt with joy, and watched on in excitement as many more items of food were shared during those two weeks. Once the trial was over we met face to face with everybody who took part and asked for feedback. The conclusions were unanimous…… “it’s amazing”, “ you have to build it” and, perhaps most importantly…….. “it just needs to be a bit better than a Whatsapp group”!
And so, with the support of our first investor, Simpleweb, a development agency, we built the MVP (minimal viable product) version of the app. And working like crazy, exactly 5 months after we’d incorporated the company (we were Mums on a mission with no time to spare!), we launched the app in the App Store on 9th July 2015, quickly followed by Google Play 3 weeks later. The very first version of the app was extremely basic, and could only be used in 5 postcodes in North London. But that didn’t matter, we were live and ready to bring food sharing to the world!