Mentor Moments

How This Founder Uses Obstacles as Inspiration: 'I'm Making Lemonade'

Savitude founder and serial entrepreneur Camilla Olson talks about what it's like to be an older female entrepreneur, and how she leans on her mentor for support and to hear 'I'm not crazy.'
How This Founder Uses Obstacles as Inspiration: 'I'm Making Lemonade'
Image credit: Savitude
Entrepreneur Staff
Deputy Editor
6 min read

In the Women Entrepreneur series Mentor Moments, female founders sit down to chat with their own mentors (and us!) about how and why the relationship developed, and the lasting impact it’s had on their careers.

Camilla Olson isn’t a first-time entrepreneur. With two successful exits under her belt, she has the kind of track record any founder would be proud of. But as she’s worked on her most current project, Savitude -- a startup that uses visual recognition and machine learning to match retailers’ clothing to shoppers’ body types -- she’s encountered fresh obstacles when it comes to growing her business and fundraising, something she suspects is because she’s not just a female founder, but an older female founder. But she pushes through those pain points and uses fresh hurdles as problem-solving inspiration. And she’s got some help, too: through the Techstars Accelerator program, Olson met Trish Adams, who most recently served as the EVP of merchandising for Target before retiring after a 34-year career with the company. Here, the two talk about mentorship, the value of networks and changes in the business world -- for better or worse.

Women Entrepreneur: How did you two first meet?

Trish Adams: I’m retired now, but I met Camilla through Techstars, when I was still working at Target. I wanted to get involved in their mentorship program, and I have extensive background in apparel, so when I heard Camilla’s business idea I was super excited. She’s solving a lot of really critical questions for both consumers and retailers.

Related: How the Founder of Modsy and Her Mentor Are Building a 'Power Squad' to Help Women in Business

Camilla Olson: Techstars does what they call “Mentor Madness” -- over a three-week period each team meets 150 mentors and spend 20 minutes with each one. It’s crazy. Out of that you select five to 10 you’d like to work with. When I met Trish, she stood out like a lightbulb. Instantly, I knew I wanted her to be my mentor. I heard she was retiring literally that week, and I was like, No, stop! At our first meeting I think I offered her a job. She nearly slapped me! [laughs] But she agreed to do this even though she was retiring.

WE: What drew you to Trish so immediately?

CO: If you’ll let me step into the confessional for a moment, I really, at first, wanted her because of her background. She has this amazing track record, she knows everyone, she’s done everything. Who knows where that could lead us? It was super attractive. But now, it’s a year later, and we’ve literally never ever talked about that. Our relationships has been so genuine. When we get together -- Trish, we’ve talked about this once -- it’s all about the context. She knows exactly what I’m talking about, and she can tell me that I’m not crazy. She knows what I’m going through, she asks the right questions. Frankly, she keeps me sane.

Related: How the Founder of This Luxury Sleepwear Startup Looks to Her Founder Husband For Mentorship

WE: Trish, had you served as a mentor before?

TA: I guess most of that was done in the context of trying to help people at Target, whether they were direct employees of mine or other people within the organization that needed some stirring. Later in my career I became more involved in women’s organizations, and that’s when my relationships broadened. But Camilla is my first true entrepreneur, founder mentee -- I’ve never been involved with this previously.

WE: How have you seen women’s experiences in business shift over your career?

TA: I worked at Target for 34 years -- the world has changed a lot since 1983. But even then, I think one of the large reasons that the tenure of a Target employee is quite long is because of the culture. In the 80s and 90s when it wasn’t popular to be supportive of women, Target still had an amazing track record and continues to have one today. Not that climbing the ladder wasn’t hard work, but you’re given chances, and it’s up to you to run with it.

WE: Camilla, you’re a serial entrepreneur. As a female founder, what have your experiences been like?

CO:  It’s hard to answer that one because I’m an older female founder, and I’ve done this a lot. Trish and I talk about observed changes and the way things are. Just before this call we were doing that -- it’s like, yep, that’s still going on.

WE: Has that landscape changed for you?  

CO: Honestly, it was a whole lot easier 20 years ago. I could raise money literally on a sentence, it was no problem. Now, it’s a whole lot harder, and I believe it’s because of my age -- I’ve had two successful exits. But that doesn’t count for women when you’re older.

Related: How the Co-Founder of Cuyana Customized Her Own Career Path

WE: How do you overcome that?

CO: Right now I’m sitting here with my CTO, and I’m suggesting we put him forward in front of investors and see if that helps. You have to think about the company. It’s not about me, it’s about getting Savitude funded. You have to think more creatively and get out of who you are and say, Okay, I was successful before, and I’ll be successful again. How do I use my assets and get them going? So you get creative, and it develops your mind further. It’s the part I enjoy --it’s like, oh, I’m making lemonade.

WE: How important is building your own network to create the kind of support and community you need?

CO: It’s huge. And you can’t trust everybody based on gender. It's not a hard line. There are a lot of males who are extremely helpful to us. And what really irritates me is, there are a lot of women who are really not nice and not supportive and not there if you’re not young like them -- and Trish gets all of that. It’s so great to have someone like her who, again, understands the context. But, it’s not all bleak. [laughs] Things are going well.

TA: We want more mentoring, not less.

CO: That’s what it’s all about.

More From Women Entrepreneur


Stop Being So Modest! Why Women in Business Need to Get Comfortable with Bragging

For female entrepreneurs, bragging can be a struggle. Here's how to get past that roadblock -- in a comfortable way.

Startup Knickey Is Improving the Business of Women's Underwear

Want to disrupt an aging industry? Start with changing how you define your supply chain.
Women in Tech

How Tech Conferences Are (Finally) Injecting Gender Balance Into Their Speaker Line-ups

At tech conferences, women speakers are becoming the new normal. Now, that's refreshing, right?
My First Moves

How Getting Laid Off Empowered This Entrepreneur to Start Her Own Award-Winning Marketing Agency

Katie Witkin co-founded AGW Group after working in traditional marketing roles -- and identifying opportunities that were being overlooked.

More from Entrepreneur

David provides constructive insight to help businesses focus on their company growth, build brand awareness and know when and how to raise money.
Book Your Session

For a limited time only, get this bundle of Entrepreneur PressĀ® titles for less than $30 (60% OFF) on our bookstore when you use "LEAP" at checkout.
Buy Now

Are paying too much for business insurance? Do you have critical gaps in your coverage? Trust Entrepreneur to help you find out.
Get Your Quote Now

Latest on Entrepreneur

My Queue

There are no Videos in your queue.

Click on the Add to next to any video to save to your queue.

There are no Articles in your queue.

Click on the Add to next to any article to save to your queue.

There are no Podcasts in your queue.

Click on the Add to next to any podcast episode to save to your queue.

You're not following any authors.

Click the Follow button on any author page to keep up with the latest content from your favorite authors.