We were lucky to catch up with Isa D’Aniello recently and have shared our conversation below.
Alright, Isa thanks for taking the time to share your stories and insights with us today. One deeply underappreciated facet of being an entrepreneur or creative is the kind of crazy stuff that happens from time to time. It could be anything from a disgruntled client attacking an employee or waking up to find out a celebrity gave you a shoutout on TikTok – the sudden, unexpected hits (both positive and negative) make the profession both exhilarating and exhausting. Can you share one of your craziest stories?
In 2016 I had just left a bad job and was striking out on my own as a freelancer for the first time. I wasn’t sure how to find clients, so I blasted my bio and a link to my website on a bunch of local Facebook groups, hoping something would pan out. I was contacted by the head of marketing at a tiiiiny medical tech startup called EverlyWell – they were “trying to redesign the consumer lab testing experience. Think 23andme but for more common tests.” I was hired as their contract designer to design the packaging and lab instruction sets for the first round of kits. EverlyWell quickly gained traction and CEO Julia Cheek went on Shark Tank in November 2017 to pitch the kits to investors. It was absolutely wild to see my design work displayed and critiqued on national TV – on a show I watched and loved. Shark Lori Greiner commented on the clear, concise design and extended EverlyWell a $1M investment. After lots of growth, many years, and a few packaging iterations (created by their in-house design team), EverlyWell is valued at $2.9B! I’m proud to have been a part of that early success and have enjoyed watching them grow and thrive as a business.
As always, we appreciate you sharing your insights and we’ve got a few more questions for you, but before we get to all of that can you take a minute to introduce yourself and give our readers some of your background and context?
Growing up, I always wanted to be an artist. My parents are creative – both jewelers who met in art school – and they always gave me a gentle warning that a career path as an artist isn’t an easy one. In hopes of having a more well rounded education, I studied Advertising with a focus in Art Direction and Business at The University of Texas at Austin. After a handful of internships and small jobs related to design and advertising, I got hired at BuzzFeed in New York after graduation. I was a designer for the sponsored content team for three years and got to create some awesome design work for really big brands. Unfortunately, New York wasn’t the place for me long term, so I moved back to Austin to figure out my next move. While being back home was the right personal move, I had serious trouble finding a job that was the right fit. To make sure I had my own back, I started my own freelance design business and started taking on small, medium, and big projects of my own. At the time I was taking on clients of any type, any project that came my way just to stay afloat. I did a lot of soul-searching during these years of job turmoil… I realized I loved design and not advertising, I crave structure and stability with work, I love collaborating, I enjoy being challenged by different projects, I need work to feel somewhat “fun”, and that I actually *do* know what I’m doing. This growth and confidence (as well as maintaining full-time job security) allowed me to start being more picky about the work I took on in my business. I was able to hone in on what I truly love doing – brand design, packaging, and illustration. During the pandemic I made the move to legitimize my company into an LLC, rebranded and reconfigured my offerings into “ISA MADE, LLC”. Since I work full time, currently as the lead designer of a wine company, my business has taken a backseat a bit, but I plug away at it when I can. Eventually my goal is to set the business up for success, position myself as an expert in branding, packaging, and illustration, and who knows- maybe one day I’ll work for myself full-time!
Can you share a story from your journey that illustrates your resilience?
I was working for Alamo Drafthouse (a national dine-in movie theater) when the pandemic hit in March 2020. Almost immediately, most of our 40 theaters were shuttered, a huge portion of the staff was laid off, and my team of eight or so was stripped down to the bones: me, our creative director, and creative project manager. It was a chaotic and stressful time for everyone, but working for a movie theater during this time was certainly a unique challenge. The remaining team had to quickly figure out how to pivot, engage with movie lovers, and find alternate forms of revenue. It was really an all-hands-on-deck situation, and as the sole designer, I was involved in it all. Unfortunately, I was also required to take a salary cut, which put me in a tricky financial situation. I was extremely grateful to still have a job, and worked hard to find some freelance projects to supplement that loss. There were definitely a lot of sleepless nights and tears shed, but all I could do was move forward and control what I could control.
How about pivoting – can you share the story of a time you’ve had to pivot?
In early 2021, I found myself deeply burnt out and unhappy. I felt that my chapter at Alamo Drafthouse, and my time in Austin was coming to a close, and I started to dream of what would be next. Since leaving New York, the west coast had been calling my name – but I wasn’t sure where I wanted to be. I let my lease expire that May and embarked on a journey to discover where I should go next. I had been job hunting – specifically for a lead/senior role, remote work, with a good salary. The job hunt was NOT going well, so I made the decision to take my company full-time. I lined up some part-time work and clients that would give me the freedom and flexibility I desired during this life change. At the 11th hour, I received a job offer from a wine company that fit every need I was looking for. I started this job in July, and hit the road with my dog in August. The goal was to head up to Portland and work my way down through California, staying with friends and short-term rentals. As fate would have it, I got to Portland and immediately felt at home. I continued on my travels, while making arrangements for a big move up to Portland at the end of the year. I’ve been in Portland now for 8 months and am absolutely thrilled to be here. Sometimes you just need a complete pivot of your life!