Always be humble — it is one thing to believe in yourself and know what you are capable of but never lose sight of who you are and where you came from. Life and business show no mercy and will kick you in the butt!
As a part of my series about “How the most influential people built empires from nothing”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Laureen Asseo, Founder and co-CEO of the Meal prep delivery service, Fresh n’ Lean. Laureen has been passionate about Fresh n’ Lean since the start of it all at the age of 18. The two factors that drive her are family and Fresh n’ Lean’s main goal of delivering good nutrition to as many people as possible to help them succeed with their healthy goals, weight loss, or make their life easier. She has a huge love for all animals and owns horses and a dog named Leo, who comes to work with her every day.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what events have drawn you to this specific career path
In 2009/2010 I was going to school for Apparel Manufacturing and Business Management when we got some serious news regarding my father’s health. He was extremely overweight and due to that was suffering from very high cholesterol among other things. Having moved to the US from Europe, the weight gain was caused by years of over indulgence into America’s fast/processed food world. We went back to basics and the “European” way of eating which focused on whole grains and vegetables all homemade from scratch and no processed ingredients — animal protein was also cut from his diet. Making the change to his diet paired with exercise made a huge difference — he was able to lose 85 pounds and really turn his life around. With all this happening it grabbed the attention from his friends and fellow workout partners who were blown away with his results. The high interest in the “food plan” is what catapulted this into a business idea.
Can you share your story of Grit and Success? First can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey?
I started out of my one-bedroom apartment in Redondo Beach, CA- cooking on the weekends or when I did not have school. I would buy Tupperware containers and hand write all the labels, pack them up into large brown paper bags and deliver them to family and friends locally. A few short months into it I realized my one-bedroom apartment was not going to work so we rented a commercial kitchen a day a week to get things going. There was a lot of trial and error that went into things. In 2010 there were not as many direct to consumer meal delivery companies like there are today. After moving to that commercial kitchen within 6 months we were occupying it 5 days a week. I faced a lot of hard times with packaging and finding the best way to ship product. Also growing the business without financial backing — getting the ball rolling was super tough. There were countless 20+ hour days and nights spent sleeping on a couch in my office or sleeping at a motel across the street that was dog friendly. I had a small team at first of people who really believed in what we were doing who also put in a lot of work in getting us through some hurdles.
Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?
There was never a doubt in my mind that the company would not be successful. I put my heart and soul into the company so even in the tough dark times failing was never an option. I have worked pretty much every job within the company — chef, customer service, marketing, sales, shipping/fulfillment, dishwasher, vegetable prep, purchasing, delivery driver you name it I’ve done it.
So how did Grit lead to your eventual success? How did Grit turn things around?
I am a huge believer in the power of believing in yourself and never giving up. That is what we did. Though it all we always found a way and kept pushing, took unbelievable risks putting everything on the line and were able to bring people on board that believed in the vision. After a while, things started turning around and we just kept pushing ourselves to be better and do better.
So, how are things going today? 🙂
Things are great! We are currently in our biggest facility to date, 55,000 square/feet — and are building our very own state of the art manufacturing kitchen (this is something I have dreamed of since day one). We now employ over 100 people and continue to grow. We have been able to ship out millions of meals across the country and really bring a positive change to people’s daily lives.
Based on your experience, can you share 5 pieces of advice about how one can develop Grit? (Please share a story or example for each)
1. Never ever give up and know what you are capable of — In 2014 I was diagnosed with Lupus, this was right in the middle of the most difficult growth period. I was very sick experiencing a variety of symptoms, but I could not let it hold me back. This was when I realized how strong we are as human beings. I still got up every day at 4:00am and made my way to the office sometimes driving with cruise control because of severe pain.
2. You are never too good for anything — I take this very seriously. I am a firm believer that in order to be a good leader you have to know exactly what you are asking of your employees. Having gone through it and been in the “trenches” I feel confident when directing different departments to get the job done. Having a true understanding of what you are asking people to do is huge.
3. Something will always go wrong but it’s okay! Finding the solution and growing from it is key — A huge lesson I have learned is if something can go wrong 99.9% of the time it will and that is okay. I joke that I consider myself a glorified problem solver at this point. There is no such thing as a problem only a solution.
4. In starting/growing a business as a young age there are a lot of people waiting to see you fail — as a young woman in the business world I have been confronted with many difficulties. Mostly coming from men who have no respect or automatically dismiss you because you are a woman. At the very beginning I use to lie about my age in meetings because it was always a topic of conversation. I would walk into rooms of men that would ask a question but would not address me directly — always to a male counterpart that was with me. It became fun for me to redirect the conversation and the initial idea that because I was a young female I didn’t know what I was doing.
5. Always be humble — it is one thing to believe in yourself and know what you are capable of but never lose sight of who you are and where you came from. Life and business show no mercy and will kick you in the butt!
None of us can achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped you when things were tough? Can you share a story about that?
My parents, I would not be here if it were not for them in many ways. My dad has always been my ultimate hero in all things and if in 40 years I can look within myself and feel like I am even a tenth of what he is I will feel proud.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
The mission since day one was to be able to bring people across the America with great nutrition and a great price and I feel like we have and continue to do that. We are in a “food revolution” and I feel proud that we can be a part of that.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
We are working on a lot of exciting things! We opened our first retail “on the go” store in Santa Monica and plan to open more. Our main mission is getting the meals in front of as many people as possible. We have big growth plans in 2019 that will do just that so stay tuned 🙂
What advice would you give to other executives or founders to help their employees to thrive?
Listen to them and cultivate real relationships. At the end of the day we are all human and we should all respect each other no matter what position we are in. I make it a point to know everyone’s name and get to know people as much as I can. People who feel respected and feel like a part of something want to work hard for you. We would not be here today without our team.
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 really want to see everyone respect each other. We live in a country where we are lucky enough to have freedoms that many other countries do not. I mean, I am a woman that can live my life exactly how I want to — own a business, drive my car, dictate my own future. We also live in a country where we are surrounded by different cultures, religions, beliefs, sexualities… etc. We don’t all have to believe in the exact same thing, but we have to at least respect each other as humans. I hope that one day people will realize that we are stronger together. If I can bring people together with food, I will take it!
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“The genius thing that we did was that we didn’t give up.” — Jay-Z
Through all of the trials, tribulations, and hard times, building the company from the one bedroom apartment to having 100+ employees there were so many times that giving up was an option but we never considered it. Instead we kept pushing and never let failure be an option — I think that is a major reason why we are where we are today and we will continue to put that energy towards growth.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational.