Becky Leu

The day Becky received word of her last living Grandmother's death, she pursued her childhood dream she now calls Leu.

Take us back to you as a kid.

I was a funny kid. I told jokes, sang all the time, danced around with no shame; I was a performer. I loved exploring the woods behind my house and talking to animals as if they were people. I still do that with my dog, actually. I was obsessed with Disney movies, so that’s probably where that came from.

Who did you want to be?

Ever since I can remember, I wanted to be well-rounded. To me, that meant as knowledgeable and nurturing as my mother, as genuinely kind as my aunt Mona, and as strong and confident as my older sister. All three are still my biggest character role models.

"I’d had this dream of running a design business since I was about 10 years old."

What was last Monday like for you?

I spent most of the day answering emails (common for Mondays) and organizing my week. Then I spent all night rendering a client’s living room, once my creative juices kicked in. I always do my best creative work at night, which can be a little tough on my sleep schedule. I went to bed at 5 am that Tuesday morning, but I woke up to praises from my client, making it all worth it.

Walk us through the days leading up to starting Leu Interior Design?

I’d had this dream of running a design business since I was about 10 years old. In my mind, I’d start the business when I was about 40. By then, I’d have everything figured out and already be an expert through and through. But these things never go as planned, right? At 22, I found myself constantly analyzing my industry and my full-time job and thinking about how I’d do things differently if I had the authority. I was talking to my boyfriend about all of this one night and he said “Why wait?” followed by a lot of really great reasons to do it NOW. I started formulating a plan right then and there. On the same day I told my boss I needed to leave the company to pursue my journey, my last grandmother died. It also happened to be my brother’s birthday. The crazy circumstances added up to a giant, neon, “life is short” sign staring me right in the face, assuring me that I was making the right decision. One week later, I launched my new business. It’s been the scariest, hardest, best decision of my life.

What keeps you busy?

Beyond my interior design business, I’m an active member of IIDA (International Interior Design Association) and serve on the local chapter committee. I also run a light-hearted networking and support group for female entrepreneurs in the Des Moines area called DSM Biz Ladies. We meet monthly to touch base and be there for each other through tough lessons and happy celebrations. We also share an online community where we have 24/7 access to each other to ask for advice, announce news, share contacts, etc. At home, I have a puppy.

"The biggest challenge in running any business solo has to be the management of all the hats."

How do you stay focused?

Working in my design studio usually helps me stay in the zone. Otherwise, it’s all about keeping my eye on the prize. For my line of work, the prize is the joy my client’s get when they see what I’ve created for them. That’s everything to me, and the reason I went in a residential direction with my business. When I think about how happy my clients will be “when they see this” it pushes me to do whatever necessary to complete the job.

What’s been the biggest challenge?

The biggest challenge in running any business solo has to be the management of all the hats. While I LOVE doing all of the marketing, social media, project management, invoicing, drafting, designing, space planning, sourcing, specifying and customer service, etc. myself, it becomes a bit overwhelming to make sure every box is checked during busy periods of the year. But when I pull it off, it’s incredibly rewarding.

How do you overcome it?

Little pep talks. I remind myself that I’m only human and I outsource the things I know aren’t my strengths. For example, I have an amazing accountant keeping my books in check. For the rest, I figure it out. I’ve done a lot of research into effective ways to handle my “hats” and the better I get at each one, the easier it gets to manage.

You get to redo something you’ve done. What would that be and why?

When I first started my business, I didn’t have enough of a plan. I thought that “If you build it, they will come”; that if I had a website and was accessible to the public, that customers would appear. That was not the case. I’d love a chance to redo my company’s early days so I could really hit the ground running from a marketing standpoint.

"I remind myself that I’m only human and I outsource the things I know aren’t my strengths."

Someone is starting their own thing. What would you say to them if they came to you for advice?

That it’s going to be okay. I have this conversation a lot, actually. Most people are terrified to start their own businesses or even side gigs, and they seek a lot of guidance and comfort from others before taking the leap. I tend to make myself incredibly available so I’ve been that source of comfort for several people and I always explain that if you want it badly enough, you’ll get it.

Why Des Moines?

It’s a perfectly sized city. I grew up in a small town in Northwest Iowa, and I always wanted to live in a city. Des Moines is just right so that it’s not overwhelming, but still cures my craving for a city. I travel to larger cities fairly often, and it’s always a comfort to come back to Des Moines. There’s just something about it that makes Des Moines home, and I know I’m not alone in experiencing that phenomenon. We have an awesome art scene, great restaurants, plenty of wholesome activities for the whole family, and so many dogs!

What’s one new thing that has caught your eye?

E-Design. It’s interior design services, but entirely online. The client answers a questionnaire about their needs and wishes for their space and sends the designer photos and measurements. After only a couple weeks of collaboration, the designer presents an online design package that includes the design for the space in pretty visuals, a floor plan, installation instructions, and shopping list. The client orders each item and implements the design themselves based on the custom room kit! It’s genius. My site has some more info on this, for anyone who wants to learn more.

"Des Moines is just right so that it’s not overwhelming, but still cures my craving for a city."

You can grant Des Moines one wish. What’s that wish?

To have all of the current construction finished with the snap of a finger!

For someone new to DSM where do you suggest they go?

That’s tough! The Iowa Taproom is great because you can custom build a flight and try a bunch of local brews in one outing. The food is fantastic, too.

The most underrated thing in DSM is ________. Why?

The peace. For a city, it’s a surprisingly quiet and peaceful place. I used to live in West Des Moines, with grass and trees out my window and it was the epitome of a peaceful suburb. Now I live in the heart of downtown with 12th-floor views of the Capitol Building and it’s still so incredibly peaceful. There’s plenty to do, but unless you choose to do those things, it’s a surprisingly quiet city.

What are you most proud of and why?

I’m most proud of my critical thinking skills, but I guess that can be more broadly put as “the person I’ve grown into” and I’m so excited to continue to grow and develop that individual even more!

"I always work towards a goal of happiness."

It’s been six months, what do you hope to have accomplished?

Oh, wow. So much. I guess the easiest to speak tangibly about is that I want to start a pillow line. I’ve been too busy this year to get the logistics worked out, acquire material, and set myself up to handle retail sales, but the first half of 2018 will be my time to do all of that and get some original Leu pillows out into the world!

One thing that matters most to you is what?

Happiness, as a collective abstract. I always work towards a goal of happiness. Whether it’s making enough money to support a happy and healthy lifestyle, making my clients happy with a wonderfully designed environment that they didn’t realize they could afford, making the earth happy by choosing sustainable and eco-friendly options throughout my life, it’s all about happiness. Be happy!

Photo credit: Cassandra Monroe

Derek Jensen