Sport, sustainability and steering through hypergrowth with Mette Lykke, CEO of Too Good To Go

Sustainable Tech

In the latest episode of the Scale Lab Podcast, we spoke to a leader at the forefront of the sustainable revolution. Mette Lykke, co-founder of Endomondo and now CEO at Too Good To Go, shares her incredible story, delving into her transition from building a wildly successful sporting technology business to spearheading the fight against food waste.

Can you compare finding product market fit at Endomondo and Too Good To Go?

“Those experiences were very different. When we first started Edomondo in 2007, we had this vision that we wanted to make fitness fun, we wanted to bring technology and the social dimension into individual sports.

The requirement for using Endomondo was that you had GPS on your phone. In 2007, very few users had GPS, and to make matters even worse, the app store hadn’t been invented yet

The product market fit was an issue because the technology just wasn’t ready. So it took us three years to get to the first one million users, those were some tough days.

It’s interesting when you study some of the biggest marketplaces, they almost all start out unscalable, they start out with things you 100% can’t keep doing. At Endomondo, we’d go out to every running race we could find, we would set up shop, borrow my husband’s car, set up with a little table and computer, and have someone carrying a phone around showing it live on the screen.

It wasn’t much fun, but we had to get users in one by one in the beginning.

With Too Good To Go it was a different experience. At that time, apps were a big part of our lives, so distribution was easy. It only took a year to get to the first million users. Because it’s a marketplace we also had a supply side we had to build up, but the stores actually liked the value proposition from day one, so that was relatively smooth compared to Endomondo.

The stores understand there is this strong mission, for a lot of them this also becomes part of their CSR. Then there’s the marketing aspect, we also send new users to their stores and we have research showing that a significant portion will become full-paying users later on.

Then there’s the money aspect, you suddenly have money from the food that you would otherwise throw away. For some stores it’s all about the mission and for others it’s more about the finance.”

Can you describe your key demographic/customer?

“The way we thought about it initially was that we had three main personas. The first one is the one everyone expects, that’s the student or the young career person, who is quite flexible but on a budget and who wants a smart solution.

We have young families, where people have recently taken on new responsibilities, and then we have slightly older people, mostly women, who have a passion for food.”

How do you choose the right people for a company like Too Good To Go?

“It’s really key for us that we figure out how to combine the passion for the cause with the right competencies. Of course, as you grow the company those competencies and requirements change.

I think the recent big roles we’ve filled were Chief Product Officer and COO. I really looked for someone who came from marketplaces for the CPO, someone who has seen world-class products, and for the COO, someone who really understands marketplaces and how to scale.

When it comes to the senior level, I don’t think it’s an issue that the impact takes over, what makes us able to attract great people at the senior level is that a lot of them have long and great careers, but in areas where they miss the purpose, which is what they find here.

I think there’s a bit more risk at entry-level jobs, there’s a risk you get safe people who love the mission and love the company, but they don’t necessarily want to do sales, which is an issue when you take on a sales job.”

How has your leadership evolved and how do these hires fit into that?

“Your role as a CEO is constantly changing, so every six months or so I revisit ‘what do I need to do now to be the best CEO for this company?’ Almost always the answer is some variation of delegating more, and of course, as the company grows you need different capabilities in those seats.

At least annually, I will ask everyone on my team what I can do better. I want three things, and then sometimes I’ll talk with a coach. I’ve been working with a coach for a couple of years and that works well. I’ll also talk to other CEOs and read, it’s a bit of a mix.”

How did you manage the crisis of the pandemic, and how has that affected your leadership style?

“The first big lesson was to lead with your values. ‘We care’ is one of our values, so when we went to the investors it was with the message of ‘we want to do everything we can to not let anyone go, and we need funding to achieve that’. We also really believe in the company and believe that in a few months, we’ll need these people.

We continue to be very bullish about what we’re doing. The climate will continue to be an issue and we have a real solution here. So everyone really believed in the concept, it was more about how we can win time and what we can have all of these people do in a meaningful way.

We actually launched something we call ‘We Care’, we allowed our partners to sell food at regular prices on the app. Normally it’s discount and surplus food, but because a lot of them didn’t have any digital partners, they didn’t have any sales channels. We approached them and said you can just put it on our platform, and that will hopefully help you generate some cash flow.

We also worked with supermarkets to create this concept around essential bags, a lot of people were concerned about going to the supermarket and by having these bags, you could just go to the delivery point at the front, get your bag and leave.”

Can you take us through your internationalisation process?

“For a marketplace like ours, it makes a tonne of sense to start out in one country and really figure out ‘what is the playbook? How do we launch this? How do we operate and optimise?’

That wasn’t really the approach we took. When I joined as an investor about nine months after the app launched, we were already in eight or ten countries, which is very, very fast for any marketplace. The only way that was possible was because most countries were operated by local entrepreneurs.

It had its charm, but the problem was, because we didn’t have a playbook, and we didn’t know exactly what to do, we were making the same mistakes in ten countries. So when I joined, it was a little bit like, we have to slow down now to speed up later. We shut down four of those countries, and then with six left, we said there are only three we can afford to invest in. The other three we kind of bet on them staying where they were until we had the money.”

Can you explain how your two different AB strategies for Netherlands and Belgium merged into one?

“The story was that after we reduced to six countries, I said now we do a full year without any country launches. When we were ready to launch countries again, we launched the Netherlands and Belgium almost simultaneously, but in two different ways.

In one country [Belgium] we went in hard on sales, and in the Netherlands, we took a different approach where it was more ‘we want to build the right organisation from the beginning, we want sales, marketing and customer service, everything there from the start’.

Belgium, the sales country, skyrocketed and the Netherlands was super slow. But when you gave it a bit more time, the sales we had in Belgium were not as sustainable, we started having churn on the supply side, and it didn’t really stick. Whereas the flywheel worked a lot better in the Netherlands, it was slower, but once we got something in it was steady and moving forward.

So we created a playbook that had the best of both worlds, we have the full team in place now for when we go in, but we really double down on sales.”

When you communicate to the company or to the world, what do you communicate as success?

“We always communicate meals saved, that is our core metric. That’s how we can see our impact, but it also happens to be directly proportional to our top-line revenue. We are increasingly starting to talk about revenue within the company, and that’s part of this journey towards becoming a more long-term sustainable company financially.

I think what is maybe special here, is that in addition to all the impact we have on our marketplace, we also do a lot of other things on top that come with zero revenue, but that really have an impact.

For example, in date labelling, there is a thing where confusion around ‘use by’ versus ‘best by’ is driving 10% of food waste in Europe. We took on to see if we could help solve that, we created this coalition with Unilever and Carlsberg, some of the world’s biggest food producers, and had them change the labelling on their actual products. We’ve done this coalition in 13 countries now and it’s had a fairly significant impact when we survey users on how they understand these things.”

Knowing what you do now, if you were going to start a new business, what space would you get into?

“Fashion I think. It’s insane how much waste is in fashion, it’s insane how we consume new clothes just because there’s this social agreement that it’s nice to have new clothes all the time. I think that the whole sector is completely broken, so is the food sector, but this one is for bad reasons.”

If you could give any advice to other entrepreneurs, what would it be?

“I think everyone who has an entrepreneur inside, those skills and the grit, should really think about how we can build better companies. How can we really optimise for what the world needs more of? How can we leave a better place behind?”

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