Olivia Villalta has had a knack for business for a while now. She studied International Management at the University of Ottawa and graduated with a Bachelor of Commerce from the Telfer School of Management in 2015. During that time, she did multiple co-op terms, including a finance term and a few with the Alcatel-Lucent Enterprise division in their Global Integrated Marketing Team in Ottawa, and Paris, France.
She used the skills she acquired during her studies and at the beginning of her career to launch Gift Better Co. in collaboration with her Co-Founder Vanessa Griffiths. Together Olivia and Vanessa created a company that creates customized gift boxes for corporate companies, making corporate gifting more meaningful. When getting the chance to interview Olivia, she gave us some insight into her past, present, and ongoing entrepreneurial journey.
Tell us about yourself, your professional background, and your business.
After graduating, I got recruited to be an Account Manager for an on-site high-volume staffing program in the light industrial industry. A year later, I got promoted to Operations Manager of Eastern and Central Canada for a global staffing firm. By the age of 24, I was directly managing a team of 20 across the country, in addition to a portfolio of +$20M. I was responsible for program success and strategy, business development, and top stakeholder relationship management. This passion inspired Gift Better Co., which solves problems for the customers that I know best: top stakeholders of Canada’s leading organizations. My B2B business development experience and my ability to work under pressure while achieving rapid business growth and operational excellence have been crucial to keeping Gift Better Co. running smoothly while growing sustainably.
What does entrepreneurship mean to you?
Entrepreneurship, to me, means being able to focus on vision and execution at the same time. As entrepreneurs, my Co-Founder and I spent a year before starting our business brainstorming ideas and problems that we saw to understand how the creation of a business could solve those problems. Entrepreneurship means executing a vision to validate the need in the market, fighting the fires that come up daily along the way, and making quick pivots to grow the business in the right direction. It’s easy to come up with a business idea in theory — the proof is in the execution.
How are you entrepreneurial?
I never grew up with entrepreneurs around me — it wasn’t a job I considered doing. When I look back now, I see all the opportunities I asked for and took on in jobs when I was younger that developed the skills I needed to eventually run my own business. When I was 16, I worked for a national chain of medical spas as a receptionist and took on the role of launching a makeup line across the country. I met with the manufacturer to test products, work on packaging, create inventory management systems, etc. Later on, when working in the staffing industry as an Operations Manager, I was given the opportunity to work with financial statements, budgeting, sales, managing a team, and basically everything else that comes with needing to be an entrepreneur. I’m grateful to the managers that gave me opportunities to learn, maybe before I was ready for the job, to lead me to start Gift Better Co. with a better understanding of mistakes, lessons, and best practices.
How does an entrepreneurial mindset contribute to your life?
The entrepreneurial mindset contributes to my life in positive and challenging ways! I am always looking to solve a problem (in my personal life I’ve realized that there are some problems I’m not able to solve for other people). In every job I had, I was looking to create new processes and find better ways to do things. Years leading up to when I started a business, nothing ignited a passion in me like the idea of starting a business. I knew there was a sense of fulfillment that I wouldn’t get from my roles until I became an entrepreneur. I’m so grateful that I took the leap and am where I am today.