Olivia has built a powerful B2B e-commerce business that connects wholesalers and retailers in categories like fashion and home furnishings.
Sramana Mitra: Let’s start at the very beginning of your journey. Where are you from? Where were you born, raised, and in what kind of background?
Olivia Skuza: I was born in Adelaide, Australia. It’s a little town that has only about a million people. My parents were Polish immigrants who moved to Australia in their early 20’s. They moved to Australia with absolutely nothing. My father worked any job that he could get including places like Pizza Hut to try and support the family while my mother took care of me and my sister. They divorced at a very young age.
My mother, sister, and I lived in a government-funded housing in Australia until I moved out late in my teens. Financially, it was a very difficult upbringing with my mom trying to support us all and me understanding the importance of hard work and really having that work ethics ingrained in me.
To give you context, even when I was at high school, I had to work multiple jobs to fund the things I needed. I had that ingrained in me from a very young age. That’s one of the reasons for the success that we have within our company. I moved to Melbourne at the age of 18. That was 1999. I found my love early at 17. He’s my co-founder in life and business. I moved to do my university degree.
I did a business and marketing degree at RMIT in Melbourne. Being in Australia, education is almost free. I was fortunate enough to be brought up in that opportunity. Otherwise, it would have been more difficult for me. I started my career at a reputable advertising agency. That was while I was finishing my marketing degree. It was this experience that made me realize that I was not fit for the typical corporate political environment.
I had a year of an actual real job in an advertising agency and then quickly decided that that wasn’t for me. It was, in fact, very frustrating. I knew I had to go out on my own. I went out on my own at the age of 21 and started my own business. That was a PR and marketing agency working with fashion brands and retailers.
I just started cold-calling and building out a quick profile pitching myself out to businesses. I quickly grew a great list of clients across that time. That was bootstrapped. To fast track the story a little bit, my husband and I joined forces in Australia to fast forward the growth of the business. It was growing. We collaborated. We grew the business in Australia. I actually sold that in early 2008.
Sramana Mitra: The PR agency?
Olivia Skuza: Correct. What was interesting about that is we collaborated with two other founders at that time. They were essentially the ones that were going to fund the growth of the business. That was a great lesson to learn. What I realized was, not all money was created equal.
Because they were a much different generation and risk-averse, they wanted to grow slowly. We were hungry for growth and global expansion and they weren’t of that mindset. We decided that that was going to stifle us. We moved to LA in 2008 to start a similar business – a digital and fashion agency. I had funds from that sale where I was able to position in Los Angeles.
That business was called State of Tomorrow. It was an e-commerce solution company focusing on strategy for premium brands and retailers. It’s actually where we came up with the idea for NuORDER.