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By Isobel Van Dyke
“The UK’s food waste problem is a moral and environmental tragedy”, says Saasha Celestial-One, Co-founder and COO of food-sharing app, OLIO. The app aims to provide a solution to the global household waste issue by encouraging people to share among themselves. In the UK, 70% of food waste comes directly from our homes, with a third of all food going to waste.
“This has been OLIO’s fifth raise to date - having now raised four times the amount that they have spent in their six years since launch”
In 2015, Saasha and Co-founder Tessa Clarke, set out to tackle this issue through launching OLIO. By October 2017, the company had raised $2.2 million in funding, and within six years, users had shared over 35 million portions of food in 59 different countries.
Back in June 2021, The Stack featured OLIO in a special project, Deal Flow, where we photographed 11 founders of sustainable companies. Each of the businesses featured were fundraising at the time and most participants had to dip in and out of the photoshoot to take calls with investors throughout the day - including Saasha. Two months later, it was announced that OLIO had secured $43 million in investment, led by VNV Global and joined by DX Ventures, the VC arm of food delivery business Delivery Hero.
“We invested because of the thoughtful and committed founders with a relentless ability to execute to a very high standard. Proof that it is possible to marry profit and purpose” - Octopus Ventures
This has been OLIO’s fifth raise to date - having now raised four times the amount that they have spent in their six years since launch. For some businesses, the Covid-19 pandemic had a devastating impact, but for OLIO, the success of the app may be partially due to multiple global lockdowns. “Lockdown allowed for people to reconnect with their community. People had the time and the motivation to declutter their homes which really helped us to grow”, said Saasha.
Studies show that between November 2019 and April 2020, food wastage dropped by 43%. Throughout lockdown, people were limiting how often they shopped, what they were shopping, and generally using up what they had rather than throwing it away. Through OLIO, they were also sharing what they didn’t want - with the help of the app’s 60,000-plus volunteers.
“Getting people to volunteer to share food for the first time was one of the biggest challenges. We compare it to the couch to 5K analogy - you can’t just get up and run a 5K if you haven’t been exercising, it’s a really big ask, and so is asking someone to share food with a stranger. We try to lower the barriers by first working with businesses. People collect leftover food from businesses that was on the shelves with a price tag an hour ago, and this makes them think about their own food surplus and how they can give back by sharing forward”, said Saasha, when asked about OLIO’s biggest challenges. The positive results of this strategy have been proven, as people who collect food are three times more likely to donate it.
“Investors told OLIO that they wanted them to raise a year earlier than they had been planning”
On top of this, OLIO also has a non-food section where people can donate clothes, books and household items - “this is more of a 2K than a 5K”, says Saasha, with people using these donations as a gateway to donating leftover food.
With the app’s lockdown success, numbers grew so significantly that they also expanded their visions. “Because of our growth, we also grew our goals: to get to 1 billion people using OLIO by the end of the decade”, says Saasha. In fact, OLIO didn’t even plan on raising again until mid-2022, but investors told them that they wanted them to raise a year earlier than they had been planning. “We got preempted by investors who told us they wanted us to raise now. It’s a wonderful way to raise because it gave us bandwidth - we weren’t about to run out of money”.
One of OLIO’s investors, Zoe Chambers at Octopus Ventures told us: “We invested because of the thoughtful and committed founders with a relentless ability to execute to a very high standard. Proof that it is possible to marry profit and purpose”.
“The apps of this world that are super slick have hundreds of thousands of engineers and we’ve got less than 10”
With $43 million now secured, what does the company plan to spend it on? “Firstly the product, and by that I mean the app. We are quintupling the number of developers and product designers, the people who actually make the app. The apps of this world that are super slick have hundreds or thousands of engineers and we’ve got less than 10”. On top of this, OLIO is expanding globally - they’ve recently hired a Director of International Expansion, and are looking to build up communities around the world, in places they’ve already noticed organic activity.
I asked Saasha what advice she would give to anyone currently raising investment, or about to be: “we have a motto at OLIO which is ‘ABF’ - Always Be Fundraising. You have to treat fundraising like a fulltime job, you’re fundraising even when you’re not fundraising. You have to always be having conversations and building relationships.”
Photograph by Kiran Gidda
How OLIO App raised $43 million in investment
By Isobel Van Dyke
In the space of six months, Josephine Philips’ business has gone from a one woman band to an investment-backed startup with a full time team. Here, she talks challenges, achievements and collaborating with GANNI