Today we speak with Kostas Vlassis, interim CTO at Winnow’s HQ in London. Kostas has spent 20 years building agile tech teams. During that time, he helped create scalable high-transaction platforms; rearchitected monolithically, legacy applications to microservices and refactored solutions from different programming languages to deliver B2B and B2C products. At Winnow, Kostas leads our internal technology team that is behind the development of our tech tools to reduce commercial food waste; Winnow Waste Monitor and Winnow Vision (our new AI-enabled solution).
- How did you end up at Winnow?
I joined Winnow over a year ago and have been proud to be a part of many new innovations during this time. Most recently we launched our new AI-enabled product, Winnow Vision, to revolutionise food management in commercial kitchens. Winnow Vision ‘learns’ to recognise different foods being thrown in the bin and calculates the financial and environmental cost of this discarded food to commercial kitchens. For businesses and chefs, the technology allows them to adjust their food purchasing decisions and reduce their spending. To date, we have helped commercial kitchens save more than $33 million in annualised food costs which equates to preventing over 23 million meals going in the bin.
- What’s the best part of your job?
Being part of an amazing team is what I like the most about my job. All members of the team are incredibly talented and they never shy away from any challenge. When the concept of using AI in the kitchen was discussed 2 years ago there were many who laughed at the idea. Many people didn’t trust our ability to achieve human-level food recognition results in the harsh isolated environment of a commercial kitchen and not in a data centre somewhere in the cloud.
But the team was able to deliver the “impossible”. We have been testing Winnow Vision in the field with our two pioneering partners - IKEA and Emaar Hospitality Group - since late 2017. At IKEA, we’re already live in every store across the UK. We believe that Winnow Vision is a game-changer for the hospitality industry and the fight against food waste on a global scale.
- What attracted you to start working for starting up, instead of large corporations?
I’m passionate about supporting fast-growing start-ups and building high-performance teams. I love working in this fast-passed environment. In startups, decisions are made quickly, prototypes are constantly created and destroyed, and the evolution of products happens in weeks rather than months or years.
- What are the fundamental differences between working as a senior IT decision maker for a start-up compared to an enterprise organisation?
Compared to an enterprise organisation where the pressure is always to make the ‘best’ decision that will be based on detailed business cases. When working for a start-up you have a lot of ‘moving parts’ and a lot of unknowns. On the other hand, you often have a great deal of autonomy and empowerment, which is very positive. As a result, the decision-making mindset is about moving to implementation quickly, but being prepared to review processes, rethink and move forward again.
- How is the process of updating and improving the Winnow systems?
What is amazing here at Winnow is that everyone shares the same passion. Today, we are proud to be saving $33 million a year by reducing food waste. With the launch of Winnow Vision, our new goal is to save $1 billion per year by 2025. To achieve this inspirational goal we’re constantly engaging with our partners and clients to understand their needs and how our products can be improved.
This is done by gathering insights during site visits and discussions with the teams using Winnow. Every client feedback is communicated back at our HQ and reviewed by the Product and Technology teams. We always ensure we prioritise the tasks that will deliver a greater impact and remove and pain-points as quickly as possible.