Mette Lykke on food waste and building a big startup on a big idea

Food has been an ever-present touchpoint in the world of startups, and I don’t mean the free catered lunches, or expansive canteens that you get in bigger places, to keep startup workers sustained but also focused on building, without leaving the building.

There are hundreds, maybe even thousands, of enterprises spun out of the idea of making it easier and faster (but maybe not cheaper) for you to get the food you want to eat or cook; and there are also hundreds of business ideas hatched out of the idea of using tech to create new kinds of foods ways to eat it, ways to prepare it.

Too Good To Go is a different kind of bird. It’s a food startup that’s actually about trying to find a landing place for food that no one seemingly wanted in the first instance, and the lower toll it takes on your conscience is matched by prices that put less pressure on your wallet.

Mette Lykke, the CEO of the startup, sat down with us at Disrupt this year to talk about the company’s mission, the state of play today, and also about the wider opportunities of building startups around big ideas and social good.

Her track record gives her a great perspective. Before taking the helm at Too Good To Go, she was one of the co-founders of Endomondo, the fitness tracking app, which was eventually acquired by Under Armour, part of a bigger move from the fitness apparel company to fill out a bigger strategy around quantified self, and what you do once you put on your fitness gear.

Exercise, staying healthy, saving money, and eating better are all things that have been on a lot of people’s minds of late. We’re living through a global health pandemic that’s impacted us in a lot of different ways, but for many of us, one of the good things that has come out of it has been a set of  salient takeaways about staying in shape, how best to use the time that we have, eating better and generally looking after ourselves and our planet in a more conscientious way.

One-third of food produced today is either lost or wasted, Mette tells us, providing a ripe opportunity to create a way to tap into some of that waste to reduce its financial and environmental impact, and that is what Too Good To Go has set out to do.

Its business is set up as a two-sided marketplace where food “providers” (eg restaurants and producers) contribute surplus food items that “buyers” (eg, consumers) can then browse, purchase and then pick up at cut-down prices — a service that’s now live in 10 countries, she said.

Yet as you might expect, TGTG has definitely seen a major impact from the pandemic, when the basic business model took a huge hit as people were ordered to stay at home, and many restaurants and others simply shut down because staying open to service just a few customers who were venturing out for take-out food simply didn’t make sense. The company saw a 62% drop in revenue as a result.

Over time, though, it started to come up with ways of working with the suppliers, even providing a way for some of them to connect with customers in cases where they had no other means to do so.

That has included working with more suppliers, whose customers (often restaurants) were disappearing; and providing temporary takeaway services for restaurants that didn’t have these in place already, to help get food to people. It also worked “pro bono”, foregoing its commission, for customers just to help keep them afloat and working with TGTG.

It’s not completely back to business as usual now — it is probably still too early to tell how many enterprises will come out of Covid-19 intact, and in the meantime they may get a lot more nervous about the idea of cannibalising their businesses with cut-price goods.

Still, there is hope. Too Good To Go is finding that there is still definitely an appetite (no pun intended) for buying food at lower prices that serves a good purpose: fighting food waste at a time when many are more concerned about how their basic consumer choices can make a difference for the better, or worse.

While fighting food waste and staying in shape (and getting fighting fit) do not seem to have a huge amount in common — besides, of course, pivoting on the role of eating as something that impacts both — there is actually an interesting thread that connects them: they are both focused on activities that consumers can do to improve and feel better about themselves.

There was a time when these kinds of premises might not have held much sway with financiers as solid business ideas: idealism (if it was ever there to begin with) quickly gives way to the bottom line a lot of the time.  But Mette’s success, as a female entrepreneur in Europe no less, is a sign of how things are evolving.

“There are a lot of things starting to happen,” she said both of social goodstartups and their prospects with VCs, an interesting insight also considering that she herself is an occasional investor as well. “I’d love to see more social good businesses getting to scale [even if] we’re still probably in the early days.”

Listen below to hear more of her insights.

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