“I wanted to learn something new.”
That is the common thread in Nicole Shariat Farb’s life. In fact, those six words could also be called a professional motto. Before becoming the founder of DIY marketplace Darby Smart, Farb made a habit of ceaselessly learning new skills, laying the groundwork for her present day success.
And in many ways, she has her strict mother to thank for it.
“When we were younger, my mom only let us watch one hour of TV a week. I had to split it with my little sister, so I got a half hour of 90210 and the other half was cartoons,” said Farb. “In lieu of TV, we had this incredible crafting room. My mom encouraged us to be creative and I’ve always carried that with me.”
That environment fostered her love of crafting, learning, and all things DIY—from jewelry making to anything involving a hot-glue gun—but it took Farb a couple more decades to come out of the closet, so to speak.
Initially, Farb’s curiosity and love of learning took her down the path of a budding journalist while at Loyola University in Chicago. However, after graduation, she got the itch to become a high school teacher. “I loved teaching, but after my 2-year program as a teacher, I wanted to become a student again and learn something new,” recalled Farb, now 31.
Craving that classroom experience, Farb headed to business school in the Windy City and was introduced to the world of finance. “A huge part of our class wanted to go into investment banking—I had no clue what that was and thought ‘here’s my something new,'” she said. “I summered at Goldman Sachs and worked like crazy but learned a ton.”
Despite the long hours, she stuck with Goldman Sachs after graduation, accepting a full-time job and eventually becoming the investment bank’s Head of Emerging Private Companies, but inside, the DIY itch was still there.
“The initial idea [for Darby Smart] came from my own creative experiences and craft fails. I just felt that feeling proud of being creative should not be so difficult,” she said. “The more I thought about it, the more I realized that this was a huge opportunity and one that millions were passionate about. I wanted to help people unlock their creativity at every level.”
In 2013, she made the leap to create one of the fastest growing marketplaces for creativity, where you can launch, discover, and buy DIY projects and pre-tested craft supplies. Along with her co-founder Karl Mendes, Farb has grown the Darby Smart community to more than 7 million views This August, Darby Smart partnered with the craft retail giant Michael’s to bring trend-driven supplies and tools to the site.
“I think people want to participate at unprecedented levels,” said Farb of why Millennials especially have flocked to the site. “They want to be photographers, they want to be journalists. They want to live an inspired life; and we’re helping them do that.”
Thanks to rapid growth and exciting new partnerships, Farb doesn’t miss the heart-pounding days of the stock market. “Oh, being an entrepreneur has as many highs and lows,” she said.
Case in point: Her fear of failure.
“I’m in a constant state of fear and joy,” said Farb. “We couldn’t wait to get the site [online]. Then we hit the switch and you realize, ‘I’m standing on the first stair of a giant staircase. I have a lot of steps to climb.’ When I get scared while standing on this staircase, I fight the fear of failure by reminding myself that I’m not building Darby Smart alone. We have an incredibly talented team and all of us are doing our absolute best to make the Darby Smart dream become a reality.”
Looking ahead, Farb wants to inspire “tens of millions globally to live creatively.” And she’s not being lofty—or cocky. “We’re well on track to hit our goals. This past month, 7 million people saw one of the creative ideas shared by our community.”
Thinking through her goals going forward, she notes that achieving balance, however, is not on the list. “I’m never balanced—this is my no‐fail tactic,” she said candidly. Instead of striving for the ever-elusive balance that entrepreneurs are always talking about, Farb is dedicated to simply being “100 percent present.”
“I used to be the type that would go on vacation and take my Blackberry. I was trying to manage work/life balance by doing both simultaneously,” recalled Farb. “In reality, I was failing at the two. I wasn’t truly being productive in work but I also wasn’t spending quality time with the ones I love. Now, if I’m working, I’m working. If I’m doing life, I’m 100 percent focused on that.”
Photos: Courtesy of Nicole Shariat Farb