#startupmom: Tara Swords

#startupmom Tara Swords

Hey mama, tell us about your company!

Olfactif is the original niche perfume discovery service. Perfume lovers are bored with mainstream scents that everybody else wears, so Olfactif gives them a way to sample the magical work of niche fragrance that they usually can’t find in person. We’re not just about perfume as a beauty product; we’re about perfume as an expression from an artist, as an olfactory story that unfolds over hours, and as a creation that can transport you intellectually and emotionally. 

How did you get your start?

I’ve always been obsessed with scents, but when my husband and I moved to Mozambique, it seemed silly to take any perfume with me. So when we eventually returned to the States and I once again had perfume at my disposal, I went a little overboard. Somehow I stumbled into the world of niche perfume online, and I was amazed to find this community of like-minded people who didn’t have to explain to each other why they found scent so moving. I decided to create a platform to bring other scent lovers into that world.

Olfactif, Discover the art of perfume

Now tell us about those girlies who made you a mama!

I have two daughters. Sasha is 5 and Misha is 1. Everyone who meets Sasha is struck by how delightful her personality is. She’s funny and exuberant and will talk a stranger’s ear off. She’ll belt out a ballad at top volume in public, but she’s also very introspective and thoughtful. She just loves life, and her reaction to the world inspires me to be aware of the day-to-day joys of being alive.

I heard from a lot of people that second kids are usually very different from first kids, but Misha’s personality is turning out to be quite similar to her sister’s. She is funny and cheerful and charming and outgoing. And my girls are in love with each other. I’m very lucky.

What kind of mom are you?

I’d like to think that I’m a supportive, warm, and respectful mom. I also aim to be a constantly improving mom. I think most people don’t anticipate how little they know when they become parents. We tend to assume that parenting entails mostly tactical knowledge, like how to get a kid to sleep through the night or how to raise children to be respectful. It turns out that parenting is a profound journey into the extremes of human nature. The learning and growing never stop, and I’m all in for that.

What's the best advice you've received from another mom?

My favorite is “Babies arrive on this earth as whole people,” and I guess the advice is implicit: From day one, view your baby as a whole human whose feelings deserve respect. That simple sentence changed the way I view children. There are no bad kids, just kids who are having a hard time with something. Kids who are having meltdowns or acting out need support, not disparagement or distraction. Seeing a kid have a meltdown over something like her shoes would have made the old me think, “Seriously? Shoes? Can you get over it?” But I’ve come to understand that all feelings are big feelings to young children, and those feelings are often about something other than it seems. Kids want to feel understood and acknowledged and validated just like grownups do. (It just so happens that they will get over it much faster once their feelings are acknowledged.)

I should add that while I enjoy reading parenting advice, I always feel insufferable when I share my own!

In the rare moment you have to yourself...

I devour fiction and nonfiction, short-form and long-form. I can’t wait until the end of the day when I can climb into bed and read.

I also love looking for new music. If I can spend an hour on Pitchfork searching out some new-to-me artists and find a handful of tracks to obsess over, I’m happy as a clam.

Tara Swords, mother, entrepreneur, #startupmom 

Where do you get your news?

The Atlantic, Wired, NPR, BBC Radio. I’m a big fan of Next Draft, which is a daily, curated newsletter of must-read stories. I’m still in mourning about Andrew Sullivan shutting down The Daily Dish, because that was my number one source for deep thinking on current events for many years. I keep hoping he’ll change his mind and come back, because there’s no other site like that site on the whole Internet.

What does a typical day look like for you?

The mornings start at around 6:45. For an hour, my husband and I tag-team helping the girls and getting ourselves ready. It’s mostly a lot of “15 minutes left! 10 minutes left! You guys have to leave in 3 minutes!” My husband and older daughter leave by 7:45, and then I play with my younger daughter until the sitter arrives at 8. After that, it’s off to the office. My days are often broken into pieces because I pick up my daughter from school in the afternoon, so I spend more time working after everyone is in bed at night.

What’s the hardest part about being a #startupmom?

Moms are often the “default parent”—in other words, they’re the ones who know when the milk is running out and when to schedule the next checkup and when to RSVP to the next kindergartner’s birthday party. There’s only so much mental real estate available, so filling that role at the same time as running and growing a business can be really, really hard. At the same time, I know how fortunate I am to have wonderful child care so that I can focus on my business every workday.

What do you love most about being a #startupmom?

I’ve always been a maker and very independent, so building my own business from scratch has been an absolute blast.

Did you take time off or scale back when you had your girls? 

The first time around, I did not scale back. At all. I had no idea what to expect, and so many people—who were probably too far removed from the newborn experience—told me that I’d get a ton of work done with a sleepy newborn in the house. I believed it—until I tried to make it my reality. I was exhausted physically and emotionally and so far from my normal self that it took me a couple of months before I felt like I could keep up with everything. Work made that so much harder—and that was before I started Olfactif! With the second baby, I had this business in full swing, and I had learned my lesson. I scaled way back and did only the necessary things for about a month. I trusted other people to do the jobs I asked them to. The world kept turning, and I kept my sanity. 

What inspires you?

I love having conversations about scent. Talking about scent enables me to connect with strangers on a deep and intensely personal level very quickly, because when we talk about scent, we all instantly go to our childhood scent memories and the smells that tug at our nostalgia, sadness, excitement, contentment, and hopes. It’s amazing how much people will share of themselves through a conversation about scent, and I love the way it brings everyone’s humanity to the fore. I’m a bit of an introvert, so those deep connections are very meaningful to me.

Who keeps you grounded?

My husband is everything. He has an insane schedule and I don’t know how his brain juggles all of the things it does, but somehow he is always thinking about this business and strategizing and making connections. Plus, he’s my favorite person and I can’t imagine a minute without him. 

What was a time you felt like you were doing this mom thing really well?

Tonight. The dishes weren’t done, the kitchen table was a mess, the laundry wasn’t folded—but I was lying on the floor as both of my girls laughed and crawled on top of me like monkeys in a tree.

What is your favorite chartable organization or cause?

I’m a big fan of Women for Women International. I believe that if we could elevate the status of women and girls around the world, we would quickly see many social ills diminish or disappear. I also love www.dollaraday.co. A simple, smart model.

Your family in three words:

Goofy, affectionate, curious.

Any parting advice on first time motherhood or entrepreneurship?

This goes for both: It likely will be much harder than you imagine. Learn to evaluate your self-doubt objectively and gently. Understand that each time someone makes it look easy, you’re seeing only a fraction of the full picture.

Find out what everyone is talking about and snag your 3, 6 or 12 month scent subscription for 15% off using code B4BLOVE

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*Headshot photo credit: Jennifer Avello

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