Focus on problem, say founders

Making it big in the tech world is difficult – but making it big with tech for good brings extra challenges. But a focus on addressing the problem at hand will help on the road to success, two London tech for good entrepreneurs advised last week. Leah Kuntz reports.

food wasteThere are millions of bright ideas out there, and everyone wants an opportunity to be heard and to prosper, but how? During a London Tech Week panel discussion, the founders of London-based for-good startups OLIO and PlusGuidance shared some of the lessons and advice from what they’ve learned so far.

OLIO’s free app allows people to connect and share food with neighbours, rather than letting it go to waste. Chief executive Saasha Celestial-One explained her venture’s growth plans.

She said investment so far had helped OLIO in its effort to take food sharing worldwide, raising $2.2m, including from Accel Partner and founders of well-known startups like ASOS and Easynet.

Celestial-One and her co-founder Tessa Cook brought corporate experience to the project from places like McKinsey and Morgan Stanley. This experience had helped the pair to keep their focus on the problem and creating a tech product that met the problem.

“At OLIO, we’re not fixated on the product nearly as much as we are the problem,” Celestial-One said.

Nathaniel Smithies, chief executive of online counselling service PlusGuidance, agreed that it was important to focus on a set problem long before designing a product. That would increase the changes of success, he said.

“Keep pushing your point. It’s what’s underneath your products that will sell them,” Smithies said.

PlusGuidance, an anonymous online counselling and therapy service created by Smithies, provides users access to fully qualified professional therapists. Users, from within the comfort of their home, can make video or voice calls, as well as organise in-person sessions.

Celestial-One added that part of OLIO’s approach involved using free digital resources to help it grow rather than creating entirely new digital IP. Survey Monkey and WhatsApp helped the company to quantify demand and people’s attitude to food waste.

After receiving over 300 responses, with 35% of people feeling “physically pained” about throwing away edible food, they solidified this data response with a YouGov poll. OLIO then went ahead with their product, using the free evidence as support.

“In the beginning, we needed to find out if others felt the same about food waste as we did,” Celestial-One said.

OLIO has also used its large group of volunteers, or OLIO Ambassadors, numbering 8,000+, to help spread the word about food sharing. Recommendations from satisfied customers, alongside a strong social media presence, helped grow audience reach.

“It’s been a truly incredible journey, from our pilot in a small corner of north London to global availability in less than 18 months,” Celestial-One said. “Our passionate volunteers and forward thinking users have made the journey an overwhelmingly positive one, and we’re united in our vision of a world with millions of hyper local food sharing networks, where nothing is wasted, everyone is fed, and we don’t destroy the planet in the process.”

Celestial-One also touched on revenue – another key challenge for for-good businesses. She said OLIO was working on adding a premium option to its app to increase revenue. a nominal fee being charged to a very small amount of users.