"Lean into the chaos"

with Saasha Celestial-One, Co-Founder & COO of OLIO app

Show notes:

Like so many women with corporate careers, Saasha Celestial-One decided during mat leave that it just wasn’t worth the sacrifices it required. Instead, inspired by her mat leave experience, she created London’s first pay-as-you-go nursery.

Fiercely ambitious, Saasha and her friend and now co-founder Tessa, wanted to create a business that contributed meaningfully to the environment, and Olio was born: a mere 5 months after their initial ‘A-ha’ moment!

As a solo founder, I am fascinated by co-founder relationships, even more so when you’re working with your best friend. It was so interesting to hear Saasha’s perspective on her relationship with Tessa and the commitment it creates.

Olio raised £50 million in fundraising rounds, it’s in the top 10 in the UK in terms of capital raised by female founders. It’s easy to think it was a straightforward, effortless process, but Saasha makes a really clear distinction between how fundraising felt, and how it appeared. And, the darker side of ‘growth, growth, growth’.

They bootstrapped Olio, and we hear the details of how, the flyering, the knocking on doors, the magic of Facebook groups and how they created such a beautiful, engaged and supportive community: the lifeblood of the business.

It was also really refreshing to hear Saasha talk about her founder peer group, who are now in the young children phase of family and finally ‘get it’, and leaning into the chaos of parenthood – wearing it like a badge of honour.

Links:

Website
Instagram
LinkedIn

About Saasha Celestial-One

Saasha is the Co-Founder & COO of OLIO, a free app harnessing the power of mobile technology and the sharing economy to provide a revolutionary solution to the problem of waste.

OLIO is growing quickly, empowered by 100k+ volunteers. Since 2016,7m OLIOers have successfully shared over 130m portions of food and 10m household items with each other in 62 countries.

Before OLIO, Saasha founded London’s first pay-as-you-go high street childcare provider, and prior to that she spent 13yrs at Morgan Stanley, McKinsey and American Express.

Not only was Saasha was named one of the UK’s “Coolest Female Founders” by Business Insider but she also has an MBA from Stanford, is a mum to 11-year-old Nolan, and is the proud daughter of hippy entrepreneurs.

Saasha Celestial-One’s Links:

Website
LinkedIn (Saasha)
LinkedIn (OLIO)
Instagram (Saasha)
Instagram (OLIO)

Transcript:

Intro

Hello. I’m Caroline Marshall, and welcome to Bump to Business Owner the podcast speaking to mums in business. You. I’ll be in conversation with some of the most inspiring women and mothers in enterprise about their journey, how they created their successful businesses alongside raising their children and what that looks like in work and family life.

Caroline (00:28):
Hello and welcome to today’s episode of Bump to Business owner. I’m your host, Caroline Marshall, and today is my great pleasure to welcome Saasha Celestial One. Sasha is the co-founder and CEO of Olio, a free app harnessing the power of mobile technology and the sharing economy to provide a revolutionary solution to the problem of waste. Olio is growing quickly, empowered by a hundred k plus volunteers. Since 2016, 7 million Olioers have successfully shared over 130 million portions of food and 10 million household items with each other in 62 countries. Before Olio, Saasha founded London’s first pay as you go high street childcare provider, and prior to that she spent 13 years at Morgan Stanley, McKinsey and American Express. Not only was Saasha named one of the UK’s coolest female founders by Business Insider, but she also has an MBA from Stanford, is a mom to 11-year-old Nolan and is a proud daughter of hippie entrepreneurs. Welcome Saasha. Thank you so much. Wow, what a bio you have there.

Saasha (01:29):
Thanks for having me. Yeah, I tried to cram it all into 120 words.

Caroline (01:33):
Well, no, that’s perfect. I mean, there’s so much more we could probably say about you and your achievements, so that’s why I’m so excited to have this chat today. I love kind of starting these off with hearing about women and moms who are out there making change. You have such an interesting career path that led to that. You are kind of in the opposite of the industry you are in now. So tell us a bit about why you ended up in that career and was it motherhood that kind of took you out or would you have always come out of it?

Saasha (02:01):
It was, I mean, maybe just indulge me and I’ll have to take a step backwards because in many ways for me, Olio was coming full circle to the values and interests with which I was raised, but then I had to go away to come back, if that makes any sense. So I grew up in Iowa in the middle of nowhere America, and my parents were and are hardcore hippies, but it is very much farming land. It’s Trump country, and we were sort of the odd ones out and they were also entrepreneurs. They started a wholesale natural foods cooperative and for the first half of my childhood it didn’t make any money at all. And I really identified as being poor quite frankly, and it was my job to help my mom as the oldest of six children make ends meet. And she had so many different side hustles.

(02:53):
They all included sort of scavenging and basically collecting things that other people had thrown away and finding a way to upcycle them, resell them. One example I tell often just because it’s very illustrative is that on Fridays we used to go to the plant nursery and I’d climb into the dumpster and I’d take out all the broken plants and then we would bring them home and my mom was just a genius with plants and we would re-pot them and nurse them back to health. And we had a year round plant sale on our front porch, for example. And as a kid, I just found this all very embarrassing and I looked at people with normal jobs and thought that there must be an easier way. And really my rebellion was to study really hard, do really well in school, go off to university and just pursue a very safe risk averse, financially secure career path, which is what led me to investment banking and management consulting and going to business school.

(03:47):
And I was really looking for that financial and professional security that I saw my mom struggling with as I was growing up and I wanted to secure that for myself. But then when I was on maternity leave with my son who’s now 11, I had been in a job at American Express. I was managing 11 northern European markets. I was travelling every week. I really enjoyed it at the time, but whilst I was on maternity leave, I received a promotion. There had been a reorganisation and the promotion would’ve involved even more travel. And I was in a relationship with my son’s father now my ex-husband, and he wasn’t very supportive and I just could not get my head around how I was going to be gone two or three nights a week and manage childcare. And I ended up deciding that it was more important for me to spend time with my son and to do something different.

(04:37):
And I got inspired to quit and start my creche, which was the business I opened before Olio because whilst I was going through this sort of crisis of identity, I was spending a lot of time at the local gym where they had a creche and you could have up to two free hours of childcare a day as long as you stayed on the premises. So I do a 20 minute workout and then I’d hang out and read, have a coffee, and I noticed that there were a lot of other people doing the same thing. And I got the idea to open a creche that provided flexible short-term nursery quality care, but outside of the gym, so pay as you go, high quality care, but no commitment. So great for people who need ad hoc support, people who work shifts, just generally anyone who needed flexible childcare.

(05:24):
And so I took the creche manager from that creche with me and we went around the corner and we opened up exactly what I just described and it was pretty much full almost instantly within six months we were breaking even. And at that point I realised that whilst I had solved my own childcare problem and I still got to spend all this quality time with my child, I was much more ambitious than that and I wanted to do something bigger and I’d always been, due to my upbringing, really passionate about the environment. My parents did manage to instil something in me and my best friend and co-founder Tessa, who I had at business school back 20 years ago now, she was at a similar crossroads in her life and we really put our heads together and actively started looking for a problem that we could solve to help the environment, leveraging our collective skills and responsibilities.

(06:09):
And that’s how we came up with Olio back in 2015. So that’s a very long-winded way of saying yes. In some ways motherhood did inspire me to take the leap from the cushy corporate world, which also put loads of demands on me from a time perspective. And I just wasn’t willing to make those sacrifices. I sort of wanted to have it all. I would just add that the way I got my head around being able to make that jump is I realised that if I basically cut all discretionary spending from my budget pretty much down to bare minimum, that’s how I would be able to make my savings last a good 18, 24 months and give me the freedom and space to figure out what I wanted to do. And that was back in 2013. And I haven’t bought, for example, new clothes since then with the exception of underwear, socks, bras and sportswear. That was a choice that was born out of necessity but actually gets me lots of kudos in the eco world. I don’t buy anything brand new.

Caroline (07:04):
Wow, there’s so much touch on there. I have to say, I had a massive smile. That gym I know with the two hour creche, I basically joined with my second child when I needed to do bits of work on my business to have a business to come back to after him. So I was like, yep, hard relate on using that at that gym creche. There’s a lot of us business owners there if we can afford it, not the cheapest. So thank you so much for sharing all of that, and that is great to hear about because actually that was one of my first thoughts considering you said you went into the corporate world for money safety, you wanted the opposite of your upbringing. And then going into the business world is also again the opposite of that and doing it when you’re a mother and what you were brought up with, well, you can now reflect on it and you are very proud of that childhood. Obviously you went through your rebellion stage where you felt differently. So how did it look? What did it feel like for you cutting back so much to be able to afford to not go back to work?

Saasha (08:02):
It felt like freedom, honestly, when I really looked at what was causing me anxiety, I’m a relatively risk averse person, and what was sort of stressing me out, a lot of it was financial obligations. And I realised that a lot of my financial obligations were choices or contracts that I’d made with myself, right? I will get a manicure pedicure every four weeks. I will get my highlight’s done. I had a list of things that I thought were non-negotiables, and actually that was an arbitrary decision that I had made. I was spending, I’ve never spent beyond my means, but I was earning a decent salary and I was spending most of it except for what I saved, whereas I realised I just didn’t need to do that. And that was a hugely freeing moment for me. I felt like I could, I don’t know, I can remember now how exciting it felt to be at the beginning of what I knew would be, could be a two year career break to really explore, experiment, do something different. It was hugely exciting. I love that. I’m still excited thinking about it, and I encourage anyone who’s got those leanings but doesn’t feel like they can, you don’t need to go into debt. You don’t need to take out a high interest rate credit card loan. You can for most people, not everyone, you could probably get access to capital in your own life if you just take a look at what you’re spending your discretionary income on.

Caroline (09:26):
That’s such great wisdom to share. I reflect back when I thought in my first pregnancy, wellness was getting a massage and I’d spend money on things I couldn’t afford. And then I realised those massages, yeah, it’s a nice luxury, don’t get me wrong. I still enjoy a massage.

Saasha (09:41):
I got one every single week for years. Friday, four o’clock checked out, I used to get a massage. I love massages.

Caroline (09:50):
That’s your thing. But it’s also kind of realising that that wasn’t necessarily actually making me feel better and also making costs areas stressful and realising what does actually make me feel better. And it’s not always things that cost money.

Saasha (10:04):
That’s true. Going for a walk or I just love, I’ve really, maybe now that I’m a bit older and I’m in my mid forties, but meeting a friend to going for an hour walk with a cup of coffee in my thermos, I’ve realised is hugely enjoyable as opposed to going for a glass of wine at the end of the day. Not that I still don’t enjoy that, but you can make swaps and save money and still feel good.

Caroline (10:29):
Do less of that and more of those kind of things. That’s such good advice. So how did it look when you got on this idea of the creche? You said you took the guy from the creche to help you with it, which is genius.

Saasha (10:42):
So he knew all the local moms and everyone adored him and trusted him, but he was also just an ambitious and creative guy, so I persuaded him. He had some equity in the business, but the main thing is that he had all the, he just basically was considered a safe pair of hands. So it was really easy then to convince the local parents to try out our business.

Caroline (11:08):
Amazing. So when I think about it, and I think the state of childcare in this country and what I keep getting told, and even from people at my child’s nursery is it’s actually really expensive to run a nursery. So was it a profitable business long run?

Saasha (11:22):
It was profitable. Yeah. So I actually brought two friends with me, one whose family is in construction and real estate, and she understood how to fit out the premises and deal with all that side of it, commercial real estate, which I didn’t understand. And the other one who’s a social worker, I met her at pregnancy yoga and she really understood all the regulatory requirements with regard to working with Ofsted and earlier education and all of that kind of stuff, which was not just as an American was very foreign to me, but also as someone who came at it from a business perspective. And I was the CEO and I looked after basically business and staffing and all of that, certainly no one’s going to get rich in childcare. I did have visions of opening multiple premises across different high streets in different villages across London.

(12:10):
I do think there’s a huge demand for short-term flexible, relatively affordable care, but it is challenging. You’ve got a lot of fixed costs and it’s an asset utilisation model, but then you need to be operating within all different kinds of crazy ratios. And by crazy, I mean I know they’re designed to keep children safe and well looked after, but it’s very complicated. And everything from who can go to the bathroom at what time and how many staff are left with how many different aged children. And it is actually quite a difficult thing to, it’s very, very, very regulated and for a reason, but because people who have lots of income can just afford to pay for a nanny and people who don’t have a lot of income generally won’t pay for additional childcare. It is just a tricky one. So we had to do all kinds of supplementary things like we did birthday parties, birthday parties can be very lucrative.

Caroline (13:02):
I can imagine.

Saasha (13:03):
Yeah, way too many Saturdays doing birthday parties myself, and I’m trying to remember, it was a while ago, it was open for five years. We had a five year commercial lease and we ended up not renewing the lease for a variety of reasons. But really the main thing about the creche for me is that, I mean, the creche was literally three minutes walk from my house. So I was in and out of there the whole time. I wasn’t there on a daily basis, but what I really benefited from was peace of mind. My son was there all the time and I spent that time, it was only a year and a half after I started the creche that I started Olio. And without having that access to that free childcare, I don’t know how I would’ve ever have found the bandwidth and the stamina to do what Olio needed me to do in the first year of launch. So it was a means to an end.

Caroline (13:49):
I love that. And also what you’re telling about all these people you bring in with the skill sets that you found various places, kind of like your community. I wonder, did you ever think being the eldest of six, it kind of helped you with leadership as well?

Saasha (14:05):
Definitely, yeah. I’m the one you plop in the middle of an island and there’s a spreadsheet within an hour.

Caroline (14:12):
What all of you are doing.

Saasha (14:15):
Colour coded task list, Gantt chart. Yeah, no, I mean I know I always said it’s also because a Virgo, I mean I’m not sure how much anyone believes, but I’m a Virgo and I’m the oldest of six kids and I’ve got those stereotypical traits.
Caroline (14:28):
Yeah, I love that when you can look at your start and be like, yep, that’s absolutely me. And so you started earlier why you still had the creche as well, so that helped you.

Saasha (14:39):
Yeah.

Caroline (14:39):
You used the creche childcare for your business, so you basically built your own childcare system as well.

Saasha (14:45):
Yes, and for my co-founder, she used it the whole time as well.

Caroline (14:49):
Oh wow.
Saasha (14:49):
So we leveraged the free childcare and then would spend that time together working on Olio.

Caroline (14:58):
And how did it feel going into business with your best friend? I’m always a bit terrified. I’m a solo founder at the moment. I’m not saying I always will be, but I’m a bit terrified about having someone I’d have as a co-founder, let alone if it was my best friend.

Saasha (15:10):
She’s my best friend now. She was top five back then.

Caroline (15:15):
She got promoted.

Saasha (15:16):
She got promoted. Yeah, I mean, I’m a bit old for best friends, but yeah, working with someone, I often call her my work wife now, to be honest. I don’t think there’s any other way I could do it. I need to have that genuine level of love, respect, and accountability for someone for me to really want to go the extra mile, deliver above and just really impress the other person with my commitment and execution. And so I find it very helpful when I have a lot of care and love for the person that I’m in a partnership with. I don’t know what the love languages are, but like acts of service or whatever.

Caroline (15:57):
Gifts, acts of gifts or something like that is another one.

Saasha (16:00):
Yeah, exactly. So I’d feel a lot less attached to a stranger or someone I was sort of matched with at some type of accelerator. Whereas I think the mutual accountability we have to not screw up our friendship because we’re part of a larger group of friends who’ve known each other for 20 some years, and I think it actually helped provide some really strong positive reinforcing elements to making sure that the foundations of not just our friendship were preserved at all costs, but then that as we approach business, that respect is always there. Maybe the stakes are even are higher and you can get, I’ve seen so many and I do think co-founder relationships can really make or break a founding team. And I’ve seen lots of fellow founders really struggle or fall out with their co-founders and it can be really destructive to the culture, to the team. Investors can lose confidence. So I personally think, and our investors have told us that it’s one of our unique selling points is the strength of our relationship. And part of that has to do with the fact that we were friends before and therefore we really, really, really treat each, we make sure that we’re fully aligned.

Caroline (17:12):
I love that. Yeah, because seen a lot recently on something that’s growing, which I’m sure you’ve seen it’s co-founder therapy. I wonder there’s such a point with that. I mean clearly you guys don’t need it, but I can imagine if that’s something you don’t have instilled in there, that coming from a place of respect is just so valuable. And so you and Tessa got the idea, was it the idea it was always going to be a tech platform or how was the idea from that and how did you go from idea to, right, we’re doing this,

Saasha (17:43):
I’ll skip to sort of how we decided on Olio, but February 9th, 2015, we had the aha moment that this is what we wanted to bring to life. Because we had dismissed food waste as a way, we completely underestimated how big of a problem food waste was because Tessa grew up on a dairy farm. She worked on the farm all throughout her childhood. She similarly sort of skipped tone and went away to pursue a different career. But she also at a young age, she learned that nothing of value should go to waste just like I did. And when we realised that $1.2 trillion or about 35 to 40% of the world’s, that’s per year, food that’s grown is never eaten, we were totally mind blown because it’s just such a level of inefficiency and waste that we had no idea existed. I mean obviously you see plate waste, especially at restaurants, but we totally didn’t understand the food waste landscape.

(18:48):
But when we realised how big it was, we also realised that meant that there’s opportunity, right? Inefficiency in a market is opportunity for entrepreneurs to come out, solve that inefficiency, capture part of the value for themselves. And that’s one of the reasons actually we’ve really, it’s one of the core reasons why we’ve been successful in fundraising is because the problem that we’re tackling is so big that no one has to argue about the total tam because self-evident. But long story short is that we decided to launch this in February and we knew that to build a neighbour to neighbour platform where people were giving away food that in order to get the best outcome we’d have to launch in the summer when there are allotments and farmer’s markets and people are happy to go walk 15 minutes to their neighbor’s house as opposed to the middle of January like it is now where it’s sort of grey and miserable and people don’t want to in theory go out and about it

Caroline (19:43):
Makes such sense. I probably wouldn’t have thought of.

Saasha (19:47):
And so it was actually five months to the day when we launched, that was July 9th. And during that time we had to find a tech provider. We had to do a proof of concept, but most importantly is we needed to get the initial users signed up to the app and that was just old fashioned standing on the street corner talking to people for the most part. Actually it was a bit of a combination. So Olio is an app that connects anyone who’s got surplus food or household items. They can give those away easily and safely to a neighbour nearby by listing it on the app. They come around, they pick it up and we’ve evolved a lot since that. But that was the original core premise or use case. And that meant that we needed to have a density of people who have the app.

(20:35):
So that supply, which is surplus food, most of the time it’s perishable and demand or within efficient distance of each other to facilitate a transaction which is a successful share. So we sort of cordoned off about five postcodes in North London, sort of around where I live and where Tessa was living at the time. And we just saturated that area with every sort of thing you could imagine on no budget. So we would go to the local greengrocers or any shop at the end of the day, we’d say, what food are you throwing out today? And they give us lots of food. And then we would go straight out, set up a little table in front of the tube or the bus stop or wherever we put the food there because it’s still edible, it just only has a few more hours left on it.

(21:17):
And we hand it out to people and stop passerbys and take their names and everything. And then on top of that, we hand delivered 10,000 letters through people’s letter boxes, which took a long time and sending them to a website where they could pre-register. I currently belong to 700 Facebook groups now all of those are all around the world or all around the uk, but at the time I probably joined 50 or 60 in North London. And so just all of the kind of put up posters, whatever. So when we launched in July, we had I think 2,200 people who had given us their email address and said they wanted to be notified. And as part of that process we’d also identified 30 people who said, oh my God, this is the most amazing idea ever. How can I help? And they were our first ambassadors, our first volunteers, and when we sort of flipped the switch and sent an email to everyone and said, right, today’s the day you can download the app.

(22:12):
We had those volunteers on standby to basically be the invisible hand of the marketplace and help when they could see that someone was trying to give something away but it was going requested, they would of course anonymously say, oh, that looks great. I’ll come around and get your spare zucchini from your allotment or whatever and vice versa. We gave them all, I think 20 pounds a week for four weeks to basically buy stuff, to list things. And that’s how we got the flywheel spinning. And we also put up posters everywhere. I’m getting sidetracked here, I’m going down memory lane. But yes, did that answer your question? What was the question again?

Caroline (22:47):
No, I love that because that’s showing the amount of work that goes in the people work to make an app work. It is just quite insane there. I think that’s quite incredible to show
Saasha (22:59):
The app is a glorified WhatsApp group with, I mean our proof of concept was just a WhatsApp group, right? In a WhatsApp you can send your contact, you can send your live location. We can’t even send live location. I don’t want to be dismissive to our engineering product talent on our team. It could not exist without them. But the app’s, the party, but a party is not the party without the guests and Olio doesn’t exist without the community of people who choose to meet face-to-face in real life currently 1.2 million times a month to exchange something that would’ve otherwise have gone to waste. And that’s the impact that we’re having, not just in preventing that stuff from going to waste. I’m not even going to get into what happens to food when it goes to landfill, but also just connecting people in real life, leveraging technology so people make friends, people support each other. It’s really about I-R-L as well. Strengthening communities

Caroline (23:57):
Need a relationship to start through it and then you can have that as a case study as well.
Saasha (24:02):
We have dozens, we’ve had marriages, proposals.
Caroline (24:07):
Like-minded people meeting through Olio. It’s great and I love that so much. And that’s a kind of really good point though because it’s always been first based on neighbour to neighbour, people sharing. Did you consider going down businesses sharing route or is there a lot of, I’m saying this because basically I used to be a host at a massive football stadium in the club areas. There was so much food and this club supported third world charities and third world countries and trying to feed them, but then there was all this food at the end of the day and they wouldn’t even give it to us because of red tape around it saying they can’t. So that food would’ve gone to landfill. Is that something you…

Saasha (24:47):
Yeah, so that’s a good segue. So I mean any business could use the app themselves to give things away if they wanted and would advertise the listings to local people. But about six years ago, five years ago, and we’re almost nine years now, we started this programme called the Food Waste Hero programme. So we’ve got two types of volunteers. We’ve got just about 60,000, I think 57,000 ambassadors and they’re all unpaid. But those ambassadors are out there spreading the word about Olio in their local community, handing out flyers, basically building up the demand side of the equation. And then food waste heroes, we’ve got over a hundred thousand of those. Those are helping get access to the supply side of the equation. And by supply I mean food that’s donated by business sports stadiums we collect from loads of sports stadiums and offices, hospitals, schools, I mean basically anywhere there’s edibles sur plus food, we can collect everything from hot food to sushi.

(25:44):
We’ve got assured advice from our primary authority, which basically means the legal sign off. Our processes are ensure the safe collection of all food types. Anyway, so the way it works is that business has surplus food and we match a food safety trained volunteer with a collection. A collection is a time, a location and a date. So Tuesday, Tesco Holloway Road eight o’clock and the volunteer goes, they show their badge, they take all the food that would’ve been thrown away, take it straight home, and then they add it on the app and they give it away to their neighbours. And so that process, which is a collection we do last month, I think 128,000, that was in November, more in December collections, which is about more than 3 million meals a month that are donated and then given away for free to the community. Now the volunteers are individuals who are giving food away from their house, they have to store it safely, et cetera, et cetera.

(26:43):
But when they’re giving it away, they’re giving it away in the capacity as a registered volunteer, not as an individual. So we can track and it is all traceable back to the business because they want to have that impact data and then they pay per collection. So that’s how we earn revenue. But coming back to your original question, it’s still a neighbour to neighbour like it’s an individual living in a community sharing with other individuals in the community, even though the source of the food, they’re the intermediary between the business that donated it and the individual that receives it and shares it with their family.

Caroline (27:13):
Thank you for explaining that. That was really helpful to understand how it works from the business level and not just the neighbour. Neighbour to neighbour. So I’m going to circle back also, I feel like we do need to talk about fundraising little, you bootstrapped for the first nine months and you said because there is such a market for Olio that it was investment hard to get or how did it feel, especially as two mothers going out there to get it, which can have its disadvantages in our world, sadly.
Saasha (27:41):
There’s how it felt and then there’s how it looks on the outside.

Caroline (27:45):
Oh I like this.

Saasha (27:47):
How it felt was we hate fundraising. It’s horrible. Absolutely horrible for everyone. Yes, there was a hundred rejections and two women trying to save the planet. Two moms on a mission, is not everyone’s cup of tea. I’ve got asked if we’re actually a charity or more than a million times all the time. People don’t understand what we were trying to do. I mean we had loads of male investors say things like, well, I’d have to check with my cleaner about our food waste. People just no one enjoys fundraising and we didn’t enjoy it either. That said we were really, really successful and I think we’re definitely in the top 10 in terms of all time capital raised by females in the uk. There’s an FT list that came out last year or the year before, I don’t remember what number we are, maybe nine or eight or something like that because raised a lot of money.

(28:40):
We’ve raised over 50 million pounds, dollars, I don’t know, pounds I think. And so we have been successful. But of course going through it, it always felt like the stakes were really high and that it might fall apart and collapse anytime. Now what I would say is that the more money you raise, the easier it is to raise money. So there is this self-fulfilling prophecy that happens. So getting the last round, we didn’t even ask for it, it came to us. You know what I mean? We were approached at a time when we had more money in the bank than we needed. People wanted to be part of the Olio journey. And this was the time, this is 2021 when zero interest rate environment coming out of the pandemic cash everywhere, everyone’s investing in rapid delivery and just everything’s, no one cared about making money. It was just growth, growth, growth at all costs.

(29:33):
And we were really lucky that we were able to jump into jump ride that wave. We rode that wave. We raised a lot of money, we spent a lot of money, had to let go of a lot of the team. Last year we had to let go of 35 people, about a third of the team and now we’re back in a steady state that’s feels a lot more comfortable for both Tess and I because actually during that time it felt very wasteful and it felt like we sort of swept up in this rush. Now I feel bad, I can’t really complain about having raised so much money that it’s not a sympathetic problem. And so I don’t expect anyone to sympathise, especially if you’ve got audience members who have been struggling to raise, especially in this environment where I know for a fact it’s a lot harder and the criteria is a lot stricter. So I don’t think that we know we wouldn’t have been able to raise the amount of capital that we did in this current environment and people would be judging our business model with very sort of through a different lens. So it’s a nuanced answer.
Caroline (30:27):
It’s good to have that awareness but also celebrate what you did. And thank you for touching on 2023 and the lows because that’s something I’m increasingly hearing more from female or just founders in general is that they might have experienced a high during Covid or just after. And then it was like 2023 was a very strange year for a lot of businesses.

Saasha (30:46):
It was. And I think Elon Musk had a lot to do with it. He went into Twitter, laid off 80% of the workforce. Twitter didn’t break. All of a sudden everyone is looking at all the other big tech companies expecting them to do the same. Well, if Twitter can do it, you can do it. So it just had this massive cascading effect which was, oh, everyone look around, you can cut your expenses a lot and still maintain your output. And there was a real expectation that came through the market through our investors that it just became like you had to take a look at your runway, at your costs and do a rationalisation exercise. I’m not necessarily saying that was bad, it was just happened quite quickly and it felt non-negotiable.

Caroline (31:35):
That’s so interesting. I’ve not heard it from the perspective of Twitter or X and that filtering down. So that is a really interesting one.
Saasha (31:43):
I definitely think that shaped the perception of what extraneous expenses might be available for trimming in tech companies. For sure.

Caroline (31:55):
It kind of ish, roundabout leads on something. So many people have been talking about anti bro culture recently. And do you kind of feel that as a tech app there can be a lot of that around and you as two mothers, how do you handle that of like, wow, I’m sure you do work all the hours, but also sometimes you just have to prioritise something else. And have you ever felt different in your industry in that sense?

Saasha (32:22):
I think in the beginning there were times in my network of founder friends, a lot of them. I’m definitely one of the older ones. And for a long time my son’s 11 and for probably the first half of Olio I was in, God my early forties. And most of the other founders are sort of more in their early thirties and now they’ve all migrated to their late thirties that they’ve all got young kids. So it’s like this all of a sudden they all get it all of a sudden. But there was definitely a period of time where the vast majority, 80% of my peers were not experiencing the strains of parenthood. And of course most of them are men. So even of motherhood. But actually it’s been quite a shift I’ve noticed in the last couple of years, which has been super interesting. And I don’t know if this is reflective and because they’re all overachievers, there’s all these real efforts to split all the childcare and all of the associated household duties quite strictly like 50/50. So it’s been really interesting watching and I’m talking about dozens and dozens and dozens of founders that I know really closely from the retreats I go in and from the networks I’m in. Yeah. So I am not sure if that answers the question.

Caroline (33:48):
No, I love that because I run a virtual assistant agency, a very female industry, but for a while a lot of the agencies were male led. And I felt like when they were doing it, it’s cool when Jane down the road, if I’m being really honest and quite open, Jane down the road with two kids, just made up Jane, but you know who I mean is doing it, it’s not as cool. And it’s like, oh, bless you, you’re starting a business.

(34:10):
But that gives me some positive hope. Maybe that might change, hopefully that would be nice. Or maybe that’s my own insecurities as well, which I can work on another time. But I feel I’m not alone in feeling this when I speak to other female founders in my industry.

Saasha (34:24):
Of course. Of course. Yeah, no, absolutely. I mean there’s definitely a lot of psychology and some of it’s externally driven because that’s just the reality and it’s not always, very rarely is it gender parity and an experience, but then also I think there is some of it that’s driven, can be driven internally when our imposters on our shoulder. And also because we were all culturally we’ve been socialised as young women and girls ourselves growing up in a society with expectations about what being a good mother means or does it mean and what that actually, especially I often feel if you’re going to be a good mother and you’re going to be the woman that has it all and the girl boss and do it all, it’s just not enough hours in the day.

Caroline (35:15):
No.

Saasha (35:16):
You’re not going to be any fun to hang around with either.

Caroline (35:19):
That’s definitely true. You’re not going to be fun if you’re doing all those things. I can relate to that.

Saasha (35:25):
I just say you lean into the chaos and wear it like a badge of honour. I think the best thing you can do your kids can see is you role modelling resilience and having fun and not being super stressed by everything as well.

Caroline (35:43):
Yeah, and that’s so great because we’ve got to wrap up soon and that actually really leads into what has been your favourite part of being a founder so far and starting Olio?

Saasha (35:52):
Oh goodness. I mean it’s definitely 100% the impact on the individual’s lives. Olio is amazing because there’s tens of thousands, actually millions of people who have benefited from the free food and household items and relationships and all of that good stuff that the sense of mental health or purpose from volunteering that’s come through Olio. And when I really want to pick me up, I just go in the app, I go to the forum, which is a sort of newsfeed, and one of the categories you can filter for is called Olio Love. And every day there’s dozens of people saying, if it weren’t for Olio, I was depressed, I hadn’t left my house, my mother passed away. I was in a real funk. And then I decided to become a volunteer and I found purpose again. Or I’ve been made homeless and I’ve been sleeping in a car with my children and I just want to thank Anne from Nelson Road who helped me get access to this and to this and gave us enough food. And basically seeing the community come together and how the app is facilitating human goodness just makes me feel really like it makes everything worthwhile. And so just like anything, you can look at big stats or charts or wish that we were having bigger ramp impact, but it’s the individual human stories that I find hugely motivational and inspiring. And I know that’s the same way for the whole team as well.

Caroline (37:18):
Well that’s given me goosebumps. It’s like that connection, you’re bringing other human beings, which I think we can all agree it’s definitely needed more in this world. So I mean that’s just amazing. You’re doing it in a way with Olio, so thank you.

Saasha (37:31):
You’re welcome. And I hope everyone gets a chance to experience the Olio magic themselves by giving something away on the app.

Caroline (37:38):
Yes, please. And so where can people find you? Where can they download the app and make sure they are there and even sign up as a volunteer? How does that work?

Saasha (37:47):
It’s super easy. I mean obviously on the website, which is just Olio app.com, Olio get involved as there as a section. But I mean I would just download the app either in the app store or Google Play. It’s pretty self-explanatory and we will certainly take you on a journey whereby you feel inspired to have a declutter, give something away, make someone’s day, and potentially volunteer as well.

Caroline (38:10):
Wonderful. Well thank you so much Saasha, and thank you for all you guys are doing. I can’t wait to hear more about your growth and the stories that come from it and more Olio marriages, hopefully. I love that. That was great.

Saasha (38:20):
Thank you for having me on your podcast.

Caroline (38:22):
Thank you so much.

Outro:

Thank you so much for listening to Bump to Business Owner. I hope you enjoyed the conversation. Please do rate, review, follow or subscribe wherever you’re listening. It really helps us to connect with more mums and business owners. You can DM me at Bump to Business Owner on Instagram and I’ll be back next week.

Preview:

If you enjoyed listening to this episode, please tune in next week where we have Mimi Nicklin. Mimi Nicklin is the bestselling author, CEO, empathy advocate and podcaster. Not only will you hear her story of how the mother of one who was a solo mom moved across the world to Dubai to lead an organisation which she’d been mis-sold a job role on. But also we can learn about the empathy deficit. If you’ve not heard of it, go Google it now. But also how even you as a tired mom, exhausted with no space for other people, I’ve been there myself, can improve your empathy.

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