LITTLE STAR: Tessa Cook, OLIO

Written by Lisa Stanley Mann on 27th June 2016

Tessa Cook is co-founder and CEO of OLIO, the amazing new food sharing app. OLIO connects neighbours with each other and with local independent shops so that surplus food can be shared, not thrown away. This includes food nearing its sell-by date from shops, cafes and markets, spare vegetables from the allotment, cakes from an amateur baker or groceries from household fridges when people go away or move home. Like a free eBay for food, users take a picture of their food items to give away, add them to OLIO, and wait for those who would like those items to come and collect them. More than one third of all food produced in the UK goes to waste, worth more than £12bn – a huge unlocked asset.

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The idea for OLIO came about when Tessa moved back to England from overseas. On moving day she found herself with some perfectly good food that she couldn’t bring herself to throw away. So she went out onto the streets to find someone to give this food to, but failed miserably. In that moment she thought, there has to be a better way – why not a mobile app? And so the idea of OLIO was born.

 

We talk to Tessa about how she is good with money – and why she thinks making sustainable financial choices can be a profitable as well as philosophical decision.

How would you rate your own personal finances for goodness, on a scale of 1 to 10? Why?

I would love to say 8 or 9, but unfortunately the reality is probably closer to 5 or 6. I’ve always been pretty good at managing my finances, and so have saved into a pension since I first started working, have made sure I have critical illness cover, and although I’ve had credit card debt and personal loans, I’ve always managed to pay them down.

However, where I’ve not managed to be as good as I would like is in applying sufficient scrutiny to the behaviours and practices of the service providers I use. When the choice has been presented to me e.g. for some of my pension plans, I’ve chosen green investment funds, but I wouldn’t say that I’ve actively gone out of my way to seek an ethical provider. This is something I would like to change! And also, given that I’ve recently Co-Founded a startup, OLIO, many of my historic good practices have unfortunately had to go by the wayside, as I just can’t afford to be saving right now

What bit of your finances would you most like to change for the better?

Ensure that sustainability and ethical investing underpins all the institutions I use. I also really want the ability to more easily donate to charity when I feel like it. At the moment I have monthly direct debits set up for Water Aid, Save the Children and Plan, but they’re for relatively small amounts.

I think it’s this desire that has partly inspired us to plan to add ‘donations’ to our food sharing app OLIO, so that when you add surplus food to the app, you can request a donation to charity for it. This means that when you add food, not only do you prevent it from being thrown away, but you can also ensure that the proceeds go to a good cause – a double win .

Finally, I also have it on my to do list to start saving for my two young children’s education, as university seems to be getting more and more expensive, and I’d love to be able to help them out if/when the time comes.

Which provider are you most impressed by? Why?

I recently used Transferwise to move some money from the country where I was previously living, back to the UK. And I have to say, the app was extremely simple to use, and the exchange rates were significantly better than if I’d used my bank! I was really pleased with the experience.

Which provider would you like to see hoisted by their own petard? Why?

I think many of the traditional banking institutions have been lazy, greedy incumbents that have failed to innovate. It would be unfair to single out any one!

Do you think you have lost out financially by making sustainable choices?

When I have made sustainable choices e.g. in my pension, I haven’t really tracked to see how my pension would have performed otherwise, because I believe in making your decisions and then sticking to them.

When I’ve chosen green energy I’ve been aware that it’s more expensive (and I can’t wait for the day when ‘green’ products are in such demand that they also benefit from economies of scale), but I think it’s more of a philosophical decision than anything else.

What personal finance headline would you most like to read in the next year, and why?

I’m writing this less than 48 hours after the Brexit vote, so it feels impossible to predict what the next year might hold right now! But I very much hope that the economy doesn’t tip into recession again, because that’s a personal finance headline I most definitely don’t want to read.