When starting/growing a business at 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 woman, I didn’t know what I was doing.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Laureen Asseo. Laureen is Founder and co-CEO of Fresh n’ Lean and has been passionate about it 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. Laureen prides herself on the company culture that has developed through the years, she believes that Fresh n’ Lean is a family and promotes a close knit workplace. Her drive to make Fresh n’ Lean a successful business comes from the sentiment that she is responsible for making sure each employee has a positive place to work and can not only support themselves but their families. When asked what she loves about Fresh n’ Lean, she said, “As a country we are in a major ‘food revolution’ and I’m excited we get to be a part of it.” She loves to travel and experience other cultures through food. Being French, cooking from her parents. She has a huge love for all animals and owns horses and a dog named Leo, who comes to work with her every day.
Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
In 2009/2010 I was going to school for Apparel Manufacturing and Business Management when our family got some pretty serious news regarding my father’s health. He was extremely overweight 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. He took his diet back to basics and the “European” way of eating which focused on whole grains and vegetables all homemade from scratch and no processed ingredients. With this change in diet 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 colleagues 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 the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
Building our new kitchen facility was an interesting process for me. From the design process, to going through construction and lastly final approvals. I had to deal with architects, engineers, contractors and city officials to make sure the project got done.
When the new kitchen facility was finished, I had three days to move our entire operation from one location to the other. The toughest part was that we could not get the final sign off until everything was in place. With that being said, I had to rethink our weekly production and completely shut down to reopen without any hiccups in the production schedule. It was very important that we open the new kitchen while still giving our customers a great experience.
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?
A lot of “mistakes” were made when we were trying to figure out packaging and how to efficiently ship the meals nationwide. At first, we tried using packaging peanuts as a buffer in an insulated liner — this was a mess for more than one reason. For one, it was very labor intensive — additionally, when the consumer received it they had to deal with a foam “peanut” mess. Now we use insulated foam panels that are effective, clean, and concise. This along with a lot of other things just reminds me that we are always learning and looking for the next best thing. It is a lesson that we do not know everything and that as we grow and evolve so will our processes.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
A few things:
1. As a ready-to-eat meal service we do not cut corners. A lot of other companies will advertise that they are “healthy or clean” but when you look at the ingredient profile of meals the reality is they are not.
2. We never compromise the integrity and quality of our ingredients. Everything is made from scratch.
3. As a company — I think what sets us apart is that we are very family orientated. I want to know everyone’s name and get to know them. It is supper important to me that everyone feels respected and valued. I am the first to say we would not be where we are now without our dedicated employees.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
Yes! We just launched a new partnership with Chef Hak’s to bring ready-to-eat meals to grocery stores. You will be able to find Chef Crafted Meals Powdered By Fresh N Lean on the West Coast in Whole Foods Markets, Costco, Gelson’s, and others. Also, we are launching really exciting new products to our direct-to-consumer customers nationwide — a major launch of Keto Meal Plans and more to come!
What advice would you give to other female leaders to help their team to thrive?
Appreciate and love your team. Showing respect goes a long away and treat everyone equally. We spend a lot of time at work so try to make it as enjoyable as possible.
What advice would you give to other female leaders about the best way to manage a large team?
Listen and be thoughtful in your decisions. In managing so many people you will always have some kind of conflict to deal with. Do not make any decisions without thinking it through. If an employee makes a mistake or steps out of line it is so easy to immediately say, “You’re fired.” But removing that person could potentially domino effect and cause more issues. Before you pull the plug think about each moving part and how it will affect it. I am not saying “do not fire people” I am saying be thoughtful about each move you make. When you have a large group of people depending on you for a pay check you need to make sure one quick thoughtless decision does not jeopardize more.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
My dad. He is not only the reason we are here today but beyond that he has guided me and has been a mentor every step of the way. He is such a brilliant, smart man and through every adversity has helped me see the light. I would absolutely not be where I am today without him — he has taught me to be thoughtful and take my time. To not rush to anything but of course to follow my gut in times where a quick decision needs to be made. Always take a step back and analyze and most importantly to accept people for who they are.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
The mission since day one has been to get healthy ready-to-eat meals in front of as many people as possible and in a sense “redefine fast-food”. Society now has this idea that the norm of fast food is McDonalds or Carl’s Jr. however, in its true sense what we deliver is “fast food” except we offer real food that is healthy and still tastes great. Our meals are fresh and can be eaten cold or heated up and enjoyed within 3 minutes or less.
What are your “5 Leadership Lessons I Learned From My Experience” and why. (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 worked +16hr days.
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. When starting/growing a business at 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 woman, 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!
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 say what we are already working on. I take the idea of “redefining fast food” very seriously. I think education is key from a very young age and I believe we are in a food revolution that I am very happy to be a part of.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Never Give Up! As cheesy as that quote may be it is the foundation of what built this company. We took incredible risk in times where it would be a make or break for the company but the idea of failure not being an option and never giving up on the dream is what kept pushing us forward.
Thank you for joining us!