Tessa Clarke, co-founder and CEO of OLIO

In our regular series, industry big wigs take us back to their first jobs


Hi, Tessa! Who are you and what do you do?

I’m Tessa Clarke, co-founder and CEO of OLIO. OLIO is an app that helps tackle the enormous problem of waste in our homes by connecting people with their neighbours to giveaway their spare food and other household items. We’re coming up to six million users, and you can now lend and borrow everyday items via OLIO too.

What was your #MyFirstMcJob?

Working on our family farm in north Yorkshire. I had a misspent — or well spent — childhood calving cows, mucking out pigs and driving tractors, with my brothers Roger and Owen.

When did you start?

My parents had no qualms whatsoever with child labour! So as soon as we could carry buckets, we were considered useful enough to be put to work.

What did you have to do?

Animals need feeding twice a day without fail. So feeding the calves and pigs, mucking out stables, cutting the silage and driving tractors late into the night.

How much did you get paid?

Here’s the terrible thing … I didn’t get paid at all! When you’re part of a family business, it’s just considered part of life, so we all had to pitch in. I knew I didn’t want to be a farmer, or a farmer’s wife, so when I graduated from university I moved as far away from the farm as possible.

What skills did you learn that you still use today?

Working on a farm didn’t feel like a ‘proper’ job. But I’ve since realised it taught me so many skills that are invaluable for business and life. Everything that can go wrong on a farm does go wrong — you can’t control the animals or the weather, and machinery has a terrible habit of breaking down exactly when you need it — so I learnt problem solving under immense pressure. As a result I’m an incredibly lateral thinker and always stay calm in the face of a crisis. The other thing you gain from working on a farm is resilience, and that has also been critical.

Are you still in contact with your old colleagues?

I still talk to both my brothers. My middle brother, Roger, is in the process of taking over the farm , and I went on holiday with Owen a few weeks ago.

What was the funniest thing that happened?

As the oldest child, I was always left in charge. One day Roger realised he was bigger and stronger than me and no longer prepared to let me boss him around. So he picked me up and threw me in the muck heap. That was the day I learned that ‘command and control’ does not work! Another vivid memory is when my mum and dad had to go off the farm and said: “Watch that cow, she’s calving.” So my brothers and I had to help this cow give birth, which was terrifying. The other abiding memory is being told by my Mum to “Come tell me when these two pigs start having sex.” The joys of childhood on a farm!


You grow up around life and death on a farm, so things like that are in no way shocking. You also learn about same-sex relationships. You can tell a female cow is on heat when another female cow jumps on top and starts humping her!

Why is alumni so important?

I’m fortunate to be part of a couple of alumni networks — Stanford Business School, where I did my MBA, and Boston Consulting Group, where I had my first job after working on the farm. Alumni networks come into their own when people have started to do very different and interesting things. As a first time entrepreneur e I’m always looking for opportunities to connect with other entrepreneurs and potential investors. Alumni networks are a great place to start.

What would happen if you went back and worked on the farm today?

I’d be fine feeding the animals. But if I tried to drive a tractor, I’d cause carnage. Climbing into a modern tractor is like getting into the cockpit of a Boeing 747.

What advice would you give your previous self?

I would reassure myself that everything that made me feel different as a child would actually become my superpower. So I’d say: “Don’t be afraid to be different.”




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