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Laureen Asseo of Fresh n’ Lean: “Don’t take things personally”

Don’t take things personally. As a business leader who’s young and female, I’ve faced a number of challenges. There’s a perception or stigma around female leaders. Some people have issues with women as bosses and think they can tell you that they know better than you or tear you down. I’ve learned not to take […]

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Don’t take things personally. As a business leader who’s young and female, I’ve faced a number of challenges. There’s a perception or stigma around female leaders. Some people have issues with women as bosses and think they can tell you that they know better than you or tear you down. I’ve learned not to take things so personally, or not take them to heart, and realize that some of the issues I’ve faced are due to people’s personal prejudices, and not anything I’m doing wrong.


As a part of our series about business leaders who are shaking things up in their industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Laureen Asseo.

Laureen Asseo is the founder and co-CEO of Fresh n’ Lean, the country’s largest pre-prepped organic delivery service. A native of southern California, she attended the Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising (FIDM) in Los Angeles and founded Fresh n’ Lean in 2010 as an 18-year-old college student. Ten years later, Fresh n’ Lean has more than 350 employees and 40 million dollars in annual revenue. The company’s meal offerings include vegan, protein-plus, paleo, and keto. Laureen is proud to lead a food revolution — to help people eat healthy and make the most of their busy days, even when they don’t have time to cook.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?

I studied Apparel Manufacturing and Business Management in college, which taught me about sustainability and supply chains. When I was 18, my father endured a health crisis. He was eating lots of processed fast food and his health spiraled … it was scary. He was able to regain his health by adjusting his lifestyle and switching to an organic diet full of nutrient-rich meals. I saw his progress and wanted to give everybody the same opportunity he had, and Fresh n’ Lean was born — a chance for people to receive pre-prepped organic meals at their doorsteps. At the onset, I was running the company out of my apartment. We had a five-person team and I was working up to 20 hours a day, performing every duty imaginable, including writing the food labels and hand-delivering meals. It wasn’t always easy, especially since we didn’t take on any outside capital. But a decade later, Fresh n’ Lean is reaching new heights and now operates out of a 55,000-square-foot commercial kitchen facility.

Can you tell our readers what it is about the work you’re doing that’s disruptive?

In Fresh n’ Lean’s early years, our entire business model — shipping prepared meals to customers’ doorsteps — was disruptive. We used to have to explain our business model, and there was a general distrust with direct-to-consumer shipping and ordering products off of your cell phone.

People have since become much more comfortable buying goods and services online. As the years have passed, that disruptive model has now become the norm, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, and companies leading the charge on direct-to-consumer shipping such as Amazon have become industry leaders.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

We used honey in a dressing and people complained, saying that honey wasn’t vegan — and they were right, it isn’t vegan since it’s derived from bees. A separate time, there’s a small black lentil called a beluga lentil, and I wrote on the label “sesame salad with beluga lentils,” and someone thought we were serving beluga whale. We obviously weren’t using beluga in the recipe! But those situations taught me an important lesson, to be extra careful in labeling items and to do additional research on ingredients to ensure that everything we add to our meals is straightforward and follows dietary specifications.

We all need a little help along the journey. Who have been some of your mentors? Can you share a story about how they made an impact?

My dad has been a lifelong mentor for me, providing his wisdom in business and life. He’s someone I turn to in any situation. He’s been so helpful in navigating the business world, and on top of that, he’s a major reason for the company coming into existence! He’s had such a huge impact for me.

In today’s parlance, being disruptive is usually a positive adjective. But is disrupting always good? When do we say the converse, that a system or structure has ‘withstood the test of time’? Can you articulate to our readers when disrupting an industry is positive, and when disrupting an industry is ‘not so positive’? Can you share some examples of what you mean?

Disruption means change, and change isn’t always easy. It’s important to recognize when change is happening and why — a lot of companies try to delay disruption and stick to what has always worked instead of leaning into change, and they often struggle as a result. Disruption helps to create new norms, such as direct-to-consumer shipping, streaming services like Netflix and Hulu, online classified ads, and social networking and dating apps. Disruption of the movie rental business resulted in lost jobs and shuttered businesses, which is always difficult, but it’s also led to new opportunities within those spaces — watching a movie at home has never been easier. With a few clicks, you can watch the latest movie on your TV, computer or phone. A generation ago, you had to drive to the rental store, make sure the movie was in stock, wait in line, pay, drive home, and then hope the DVD or VHS you rented would play properly on your device. And return it on time to ensure you don’t incur penalties.

Change is inevitable. It’s important to be positioned to adapt when change occurs, if not as a disruptive force driving the industry forward, then as an early adapter embracing change instead of being behind the wave and trying to resist it. Companies that have “withstood the test of time” have adapted to numerous changes, from the way people consume their products to economic and industry fluctuations. They’ve endured depressions and pandemics and wars. They became really good at something, they diversified their offerings, and they continued to drive and foster innovation. When disruption happens, you have to be ready to shift.

Can you share 3 of the best words of advice you’ve gotten along your journey? Please give a story or example for each.

Don’t take things personally. As a business leader who’s young and female, I’ve faced a number of challenges. There’s a perception or stigma around female leaders. Some people have issues with women as bosses and think they can tell you that they know better than you or tear you down. I’ve learned not to take things so personally, or not take them to heart, and realize that some of the issues I’ve faced are due to people’s personal prejudices, and not anything I’m doing wrong.

Don’t be so hard on yourself. I have really high expectations for myself and what I think I can accomplish, and it’s easy to beat yourself up if you fall short of those expectations. Ultimately, mistakes present opportunities for reflection and growth. No one is perfect! All you can do is our best.

Take a step back and smell the roses. It’s so easy to have tunnel vision and get absorbed in day-to-day tasks, but it’s important to realize how far you’ve come and how big an impact you’ve had.

Lead generation is one of the most important aspects of any business. Can you share some of the strategies you use to generate good, qualified leads?

Generating strong leads can be expensive! Especially for a bootstrapped company like ours. My brother Thomas — we’re co-CEOs of Fresh n’ Lean — has done a great job guiding the company’s marketing efforts and thinking strategically in how we position ourselves. We’ve utilized creative channels with low customer acquisition costs, such as SEO and organic search, and we A/B test everything to make sure we’re taking smart, calculated risks. It’s crucial to maintain good rankings on search engines, Google in particular, and blog posts have helped on that front. We’ve also used social media ads and discount offers to generate leads. Lead conversion takes a lot of effort, but it’s been a major driver of Fresh n’ Lean’s growth.

We are sure you aren’t done. How are you going to shake things up next?

My long-term goal has been to make Fresh n’ Lean a household name, and 13 million meals later, that goal is becoming a reality. We’ve continued to expand our retail offerings and want to open more brick-and-mortar stores. Fresh n’ Lean is also making strong inroads in professional sports — we recently became the official prepared meal partner of the National Hockey League’s Anaheim Ducks, and we’ve also teamed with athletes like tennis star Sloane Stephens.

Do you have a book, podcast, or talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking? Can you share a story with us? Can you explain why it was so resonant with you?

I listen to a lot of TED Talks. It’s been intriguing to learn more about the psychology behind people’s minds, which is a fascinating area of focus when working with people and helping them uncover their strengths. Some employees might not be talented in specific areas — and that’s OK! They may be great at other things. It’s crucial to utilize people for their talents instead of trying to force them to conform to job titles and descriptions and failing to capitalize on their abilities.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

My favorite saying is “never give up,” It’s guided me through the ups and downs of running the company, and as I’ve dealt with different health issues like lupus. You’re going to have difficult days — everyone does from time to time — but it’s important to keep moving forward and to put the tough times in context. I’ve found that I’ve learned the most about myself from enduring difficult situations and overcoming adversity. Every day is an opportunity, and all you can do is give it your best shot.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I’d like to help redefine fast food — and redefine the way society looks at food. So many of us grew up with the Food Guide Pyramid, which was released in the early 1990s, at a time when we didn’t have the type of research and insight we have now about food as medicine fueling your body. Food is at the foundation of our health and wellbeing, and it’s so crucial for us to consider what food means, and take the time to understand what we’re putting into our bodies.

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