“Why did you decide to name your business Luckythirteen Design?”
This is a question I get asked very often, and the decision was both immediate AND a decade in the making. Here’s the version that I can never fit into a thirty-second conversation.
When I was freshly graduated from college with my BA in graphic design, I started my first full-time designer job at a little Cedar Falls, Iowa creative/marketing shop. But, like so many in my field I had a side hustle— friends and family would ask me to design a logo, a business card, maybe an invitation here and there. I remember thinking, “Hey, this is sort of like a business!” So I got super-excited and wanted to call my sort-of business something. And without a lot of thought, I called it Luckythirteen Design.
Yep, my business name came together in less than five minutes when I was 21 years old. Likely inspired by domestic beer, cheese curds and watching college basketball at our local regular hangout bar.
(BUT THAT’S NOT THE END OF THE STORY — I promise it gets better.)
And the side-hustle was fun! In those days, I would crank out projects here and there in the hours after my full-time job. I did work I was proud of. I got to work with clients one-on-one. I even bought a domain name and had a portfolio website. I remember hardly charging for my work (to my fellow creatives: do NOT do this), but it was my creative outlet— something for myself. And that was enough.
Fast forward to 2014. By that time I had climbed the corporate ladder so-to-speak— in those ten years, I had moved from entry designer at that little creative shop onto an art director position at a Des Moines ad agency. Then onto a new job as a creative director responsible for a team of creatives. I was now part of management, where many people aspire to be, and what I thought I always wanted too. But I wasn’t happy. Office drama, long hours and overcommitting had made me a stressed-out mess. I was a new-mom to a one-year-old and was struggling to find balance in my worklife and family life. My husband comforted me as I cried myself to sleep at night. I knew this was no way for me to continue living, and no way for me to be a good wife and mom. Something needed to change.
So I explored job postings in my industry. Nothing seemed like a good fit, but I interviewed for a couple nonetheless. One of them gave me a job offer. An old employer wanted to hire me back. But my gut just said neither felt right. I remember praying for some sort of sign of what to do next.
Then I had this crazy thought. I remembered my side hustle, Luckythirteen Design (which at this point had been pretty much forgotten for years in the craziness of my life.) What if I made THAT — working for myself — my job?
And whoa, that thought was exciting — my right-brain was full of ideas of what this could be! But then the left-brain in me took over. Is this realistic? What about getting clients (and you know, MONEY!) to support myself and my family financially? Can I make this my job when I don’t really know much about starting a business?
It’s the craziest thing, but with all of these misgivings I had a gut feeling I could make it work. And I had support. Friends and family encouraged me. I met with an old friend who had taken the freelance designer plunge and she believed in me. My husband was honestly skeptical at first, but was ultimately my most amazing support system and he remains so today. And so I quit my creative director job to begin my own design business, full-time.
I believe fate is a real thing. Right around this time, things started to fall into place. An acquaintance needed a brand identity for her photography business. I was asked to help out with the marketing of a community development project, a beautiful local former church to be turned into a community space. Two former employers sought me out for extra design help. I actually HAD clients.
And I realized that a decade of being in the industry— working in that little creative shop, being all-hands-on-deck as an art director at an ad agency, and managing a creative team gave me a great all-around experience. I had the skills. I was fluid in a variety of project types. I understood production needs and priorities. I learned I loved working directly with clients. I had made connections and had good relationships with colleagues and vendors. Turns out I DID know something about having my own business!
One thing I DID NOT know about starting a business was the paperwork— but honestly, that’s the easy part. I worked with our family lawyer to get incorporated, and made it official in April of 2014.
The biggest decision there was deciding a business name. Should I keep the name that some (okay, very few) recognized as Luckythirteen Design— or start over with a new name?
When I started to think about it, the word LUCK definitely rang true of my story. Being at the right place at the right time. Meeting people and having a variety of experiences, though at the time they seemed insignificant. I got where I was in my career by taking chances, trusting my gut and making my own luck.
And I realized that Luckythirteen Design is — no joke — my THIRTEENth job. And I’m not talking my thirteenth job in my field — I’m talking ALL THE JOBS. Even the less glamorous ones, of which there were many! This includes everything starting from my very first job — helping on my family’s dairy farm. I was a dishwasher in my local small-town restaurant. A summer nanny. A small-scale construction worker. In college, I made sub sandwiches and also managed the dead hours at the front desk in my dorm. When my hours were temporarily cut at my full-time designer job, I paid the bills as a weeknight waitress at Olive Garden. None of these were exactly glamorous or in my field, but these adventures built me — they built my character, taught me to work hard and how to work with many different personalities. They also built the supportive network of people that surround me to this day.
And so it felt right, and the name Luckythirteen Design stuck. So whatever was in those cheese curds in 2004 must have been pretty inspiring. 🙂
When setting up my own brand’s redesign, I wanted to work my story subtly in somehow. For my submark, I handdrew this greenery with leaves (twelve of them to represent my past.) The thirteenth is the blossom. Like any flower, it needs the leaves to help it grow, just like I needed my past experiences to build my own tiny design business — my thirteenth job.