When it comes to the tech industry, the words “DIY” and “Craft” aren’t thrown around very often. In fact, until Pinterest came along they were hardly mentioned at all. Nicole Farb is bent on changing that with Darby Smart, a San Francisco startup that sells popular Pinterest-inspired craft kits, ranging from $24 to $44.
To get off the ground, the company has raised a $1 million seed round, with Warby Parker co-founder Dave Gilboa as one of several investors. SF Station visited the Darby Smart office to chat with Nicole about life as a female startup founder in San Francisco, why women love crafting and what we should look forward to from Darby Smart in the near future.
Can you give us a little background story on how Darby Smart came about?
It started when I was trying to craft for my wedding. Pinterest had come about; you end up finding all these awesome ideas and then you drive to Michaels to try to recreate them. It was a failure, at least for me. I tried to make 300 thank you cards and I still have them to this day—all this paper sitting at my house basically gone to waste.
It all really comes down to supplies. If you buy the wrong stuff, your project is destined to fail. When I learned that, I realized that you can deliver people project success if you just give them the right tools to start with. I started talking to top “Pinners” who were sharing all these cool projects with everyone. I asked them how they were making money and they just weren’t. Etsy isn’t for everyone—you can’t be a manufacturer and a creator and build a big business. A lot of [these pinners] have 4-5 million followers and no revenue, so I thought, ‘Ok, let’s connect them to people like me’. And we do that in the form of a kit.
Why headquarter in SF? How does the city affect your company culture?
I think it has really forward thinking people in the consumer Internet industry that constantly challenge you to think differently about the web and how you are going to create different user experiences. People are really advanced here when it comes to technology. If I had to choose a downside, it would be that we are all competing for the same resources and that makes it really hard. Finding office space was a challenge, and engineers. Since we’re all in the same industry, we all need the same things.
How did you come up with the name Darby Smart?
It’s a made up person. I think brands represent people, like Coco Chanel is a person to me. I wanted it to be a person, but I also didn’t believe that the person is me because there’s a little bit of Darby Smart in everyone. It’s a made-up trendy, fun girl. I tested a bunch of names and wanted something a little preppy, whimsical, and funky and just kept coming back to Darby. “Smart” [represents] a smart dresser and trends. To me, people who are into DIY fashion are style visionaries.
A recent article stated that 56 percent of American women are crafting at least once a year. What is it about crafting do you think women love? What do you love about it yourself?
I love that it’s an expression of yourself and you’re proud of it. As for woman loving to craft, I think women just need a project. When I’m at home or watching TV, I just want to work on something. Fundamentally, women want a project.
What was the ‘Aha moment’ when thinking about pursuing the idea and leaving your job at Goldman?
The moment when I was like, ‘Yes, I’m going to do this’ was when I actually went to the Renegade Craft Fair in December. I was thinking about it since October. The entire time I was thinking about the consumer/purchaser aspect but not really from the creator/designer perspective. I talked to different artisans, and the consistent message was that they weren’t making any money. The supplies were really expensive, and they were putting in a lot of time. I thought, well, they could be making money. They didn’t have to manufacture this for people, it could be a kit and I would love it just as much. That’s when I thought that this could really change the industry, and not just for consumers but for the entire ecosystem. One of our designers just called in to ask for an advance because her daughter is starting school in the fall, and of course we said ‘Yes!’ I think it’s really cool that we’re able to do that for her.
Do you have any advice for entrepreneurs or people who would like to become one?
I think you have to be really passionate about the problem you’re solving because being an entrepreneur involves a lot of high and lows. A job means security/stability and entrepreneurship doesn’t. Be committed to your vision because people give a lot of perspective—you have investors telling you should be doing this, consumers writing in feedback, press, competitors. There needs be a sense of risk aversion. If you have passion and commitment than use those things to cover your fear of risk. Jumping from Goldman was really hard but because I was obsessed with this idea, it was an obvious choice for me.
Where do you see Darby Smart in five years or 10 years? Will it strictly be an online business?
What is really cool about DIY is that its experiential and you can experience that on the web. But also physically, so in select cities there’s room for experiential environments like a crafting store where you can make kits with other people. In the future, I don’t think we will necessarily stick to just the web.
What’s your favorite kit out right now?
I really love the tote bags because you can make them a million different ways, and also the studded purse. For example, the designer of the studded purse was inspired by a Valentino purse that goes for roughly $1,900. Ours is just as cute and is $29.
$29? We’ll take it.
For a video re-cap of the Critter Ring Dish kit sent to SF Station, click here.
Shaina covers all things SF. Follow her @shainatsan