In the hot seat with Jessica Li, a guru in building an autonomous startup culture 

Welcome to Antler Norway’s “Hot Seat” series where we feature exciting founders from our portfolio to share their inspiring entrepreneurial journeys through quickfire questions.

“We’re spending our time making the planet greener and people's lives easier - that’s a really powerful ‘why’ for me.”

Jessica Li, CEO and Co-Founder, Savvie

In this feature, we interview Jessica Li, co-founder and CEO of Savvie, a startup whose vision is to end the dominance of global chains by giving local food businesses the tools that will make them thrive. Savvie is an app that leverages data and machine learning models to help businesses make the right decisions - to improve their operations and increase profitability while reducing food waste at its source. 

Read on to learn more about what keeps Jessica motivated and inspired as a founder, and how she and her co-founder, Puteri Myrasandri, have built the startup culture of their dreams. Check out her tips on building an autonomous startup culture, and how to push through rejections, all while building a successful company.

What prompted you to start Savvie?

I had a turning point when I was working on a project with the EAT foundation during my time at Deloitte, where I was faced with the challenges of food systems and food waste first-hand, and really began to understand how urgent the problem is. When I realized that annual emissions related to food waste are greater than the carbon footprint of India, I knew more had to be done in this space. Getting accepted into Antler was the perfect opportunity to explore this further. There I also met my co-founder Puteri who’s also a big foodie and passionate about sustainability, and from there, everything just fell into place.

What have you learned about yourself since becoming an entrepreneur?

I’ve realized I’m way more of a perfectionist than I thought I was. I actually thought I was a pretty chill person when I was working in the corporate world. When you work in a corporate environment, there are structures, people, and processes to keep you organized, and few surprises, which keep you in check. In startups, things are extremely chaotic and everything should have been done yesterday. This has helped me learn to let go more, and accept that good is good enough. I’ve also learned that I’m more resilient than I thought I was. As a founder, you’re constantly faced with challenges, rejections, constant “no’s” from investors, and the unavoidable product meltdowns just to keep you on your toes. One time our app crashed, and within an hour my phone was blowing up with calls from panicking customers. But I’ve always come out of these situations having dealt with them better than I expected. 

What has helped you get through the challenging moments?

The biggest thing for me is feeling inspired by the challenge we’re trying to solve and knowing that you’re helping your customers throughout their day. It really makes all the difference when your customers tell you that they don’t know how to live without your product. All those rejections from investors quickly become less meaningful then. Also, having such an awesome co-founder by my side has been crucial - we really lift each other up and when one is feeling down, the other one steps in. 

Is there an achievement or contribution that you are most proud of? Why?

Without wanting to sound like a total cliché I would say it’s the team and culture we’ve built at Savvie - we really have the best team working with us. They’re such an open, collaborative, and supportive bunch who fully believe in our mission. I think people really love coming to the (virtual) office every day, and that means everything to me. 

How did you build such a great team?

It helps that Puteri and I have worked in corporate before. Before hiring our first interns, we sat down and discussed what we wanted, and didn’t want, our culture to look like. We knew we wanted to give our colleagues a lot of ownership and freedom, letting them explore possibilities without us looking over their shoulder. I really think that’s the secret to success as it makes people feel engaged and motivated in what they’re doing. It’s amazing for interns to see their own work in the app! 

What or who inspires you?

So many things! I think what inspires me daily is that we’re contributing to a very important goal and helping small businesses not being pushed out by big corporations. Meeting with and getting feedback from our customers is also hugely inspiring. We’re spending our time making the planet greener and people's lives easier - that’s a really powerful ‘why’ for me. There are also a lot of people who inspire me, such as Melinda Gates. The fact that she has her own foundation where she gets to work with the smartest people in the world to solve big societal problems and make the world a better place is so cool. 

What’s your best habit?

I actually have a lot of habits - I’m always trying to optimize my life. Perhaps the best one is getting up at 5 am every morning, working out, then coming back to meditate, and grabbing a coffee to clear my mind before starting work. I’m also trying to focus as much on the present as possible, which becomes so crucial when you’re on the startup rollercoaster. 

This was written by Tania Smith Naess, Communications Associate at Antler. 

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