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Empowering Women: Agathe Assouline-Lichten

I’m so excited to be featuring Agathe on the blog today. Agathe is the Founder and CEO of Red Velvet, which is kind of like Blue Apron – but for DESSERTS! I don’t know about you, but there are always those times where I’m heading to a dinner party or birthday and wanting to break out my pink KitchenAid and bake something super impressive, but, even though I love to bake, I don’t have the time to scour Pinterest for recipes or go grocery shopping. Well, Red Velvet is now the answer to this problem! They deliver the perfect amount of ingredients right to your door (in the cutest packaging you’ve ever seen, designed by Agathe’s sister/business partner, Arielle) with easy step-by-step instructions! Yes….genius! You don’t always find a creative entrepreneur who is both a savvy businesswoman and a kind, down-to-earth, warm person. Agathe is that rare mix and I can’t wait for you to read our interview (below). Do you ever receive advice from someone and think, “I wish I was recording this?” Well, lucky for me with Agathe’s interview – I was. I learned so much from her words of wisdom and her advice to her younger self was exactly what I needed to hear (to the T). I know that you’ll learn just as much as I did and I am certain that you will feel inspired to chase after what you truly want to do after reading!
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So tell me a little bit about Red Velvet: 

Red Velvet is a gourmet bake-at-home dessert delivery service, and we provide all the pre-measured ingredients and detailed recipe card so that anyone can bake a dessert at home in the comfort of their own kitchen. Essentially, we’re kind of like the Blue Apron of desserts, but we don’t require a subscription. We’re trying to make baking a easier and more fun experience.

How did the idea come about to create Red Velvet come about? 

Arielle and I were talking a little over a year ago, and at the time, we were both Blue Apron subscribers. One night, as we were discussing what we had made that week, we asked each other “Why don’t they have dessert?” This little light bulb went off as we thought, “Wow, this is an amazing idea!” I think that growing up in a family of entrepreneurs (both my mother and father are entrepreneurs, as well as my sister), I was always a hopeful entrepreneur. I knew that I wanted to do something on my own, but I wasn’t quite sure what it was. Having grown up in the food business, pursued an MBA in Hospitality, and having a great love for food, cooking, baking, and entertaining…it was kind of just like “I think this is a really good idea and I think it’s worth going after.”

How do you come up with all of these amazing dessert recipes?

The idea for most of the recipes come from a traditional recipe, but there’s always a special “Red Velvet” twist. I test out as many recipes as I can until the end result is unique. The pumpkin cake that we created for Thanksgiving is a pumpkin base, but it has these spiced and caramelized pepitas over cream cheese frosting, making it different than a traditional pumpkin pie. We have a lot of classic desserts on the menu, but we try to incorporate specialty ingredients that are hard-to-find. The concept behind the brand is to help bakers create impressive desserts that they can serve to a group of people. Part of the experience behind Red Velvet is really about empowering people and showing them that they can do this for their friends and family, and have a lot of fun. Because, at the end of the day, that’s what baking is all about: bringing together people that you care about — and with Red Velvet, this shows them what you’re capable of.

Favorite Red Velvet dessert?  

Favorite Red Velvet dessert at the moment is probably the pumpkin cake, because I’m pumpkin obsessed with everything! I’ve made molten chocolate cakes forever and I always make them for dinner parties and people are always so impressed! It’s actually one of the easiest desserts you can make. The hardest part is timing it. If you look at it and you know the exact time that it has to come out of the oven, you’re golden, but in terms of actually making it, it’s not a complicated dessert. You melt a few ingredients, you stir, and that’s it. I’d say that that’s my signature.

What has been the biggest challenge that you’ve faced in starting your own business? 

The biggest challenge yet has been getting people to believe in the company as much as I do. I think that at the end of the day, you care about your company more than anyone else does. I’m lucky that my sister is so involved and I’m lucky that I have very supportive family. I worked in Luxury Marketing for 10 years and I always worked for brands that commanded a lot of attention, where I didn’t always have to convince people why they needed to work with us because the brand spoke for itself. Nobody knows what Red Velvet is. The education process is a long one, and you constantly have to tell people and get them excited about the brand. It’s tough because you’re starting from nothing. So, that’s definitely a challenge, but an exciting one.

What’s one piece of advice that you would give to other women who are starting their own business?

When I first started out, I read a lot about other women entrepreneurs, and Melissa from Baked by Melissa said that she learned the very hard way that you should never speak when you’re emotional, when you’re upset, or when you’ve gotten harsh criticism or feedback. When you’re faced with a really difficult challenge, the best thing to do is not to speak in that specific moment in time. That instead, you should really think twice about things, sleep on a big issue or impasse, and respond the next day. I think that’s probably been one of the best pieces of advice. When you are alone and you are with your own thoughts the best thing to do is take a step back, reflect, and then jump back in.

What’s been the most surprising thing that you’ve learned throughout the whole process? 

I’d say that particular to the food industry, people are really nice. I think that the community of bloggers and instagrammers…people who don’t know you and people who have no real vested interest in you, have been very kind. Like you for example, there are these incredibly encouraging helpful people that make you feel like this is worth doing and that means a lot. The responsiveness has been, honestly, shocking.

Tell me a little bit about what you are wearing today: 

I’m just wearing this cozy navy blue top, my favorite jeans from Zara, and then just booties. It’s funny because ever since I started Red Velvet, I’ve used a new wardrobe in my closet. I had a job in corporate luxury marketing where I got really dressed up everyday for years! Being in business school, I had to wear a suit everyday. Now, I walk around in sneakers, jeans, and a t-shirt or sweater. Now it’s more just about being comfortable and being on the “go.”

I’m also wearing my “Carrie” necklace today. I grew up watching Sex and the City and I think every girl wanted to be just like Carrie.  I’ve been wearing this necklace for years (almost a decade)! I actually used to wear it every single day. A few years ago I stopped wearing it, and people would ask, “Where’s your ‘Carrie’ necklace?” Also, my name is really difficult to pronounce for most people and it’s obviously not spelled the way it’s pronounced, so it’s helpful in that sense. Just read the name tag. {haha}

If you could only wear one outfit for the rest of your life, what would it be? 

As much as I loved getting dressed up for work before, I love these Nike High Tops that I have now. I wear them everyday because they’re so comfortable…I don’t even tighten the laces. And I’d probably say jeans and a cozy t-shirt or sweater. 

What women have inspired you?

Julia Child is a major inspiration. She was a feminist and she broke so many barriers. She went to Culinary School in France in the 50’s with no other women during a time when women could not be Chefs. Women couldn’t even work in a restaurant kitchen. And, Sheryl Sandberg, the author of Lean In, is a constant source of inspiration. I love her message to young women – she’s a role model and she’s setting the right tone for women in the 21st century.

What’s one thing that most people don’t know about you?

I secretly want to be a hip-hop dancer. Have you ever seen that show “Made” on MTV? I always ask people what they would want to be made into and my answer for the past decade or more has always been “hip-hop dancer.”

What are three things that you absolutely positively cannot live without?

I think my family, my friends, and then I would probably say my passport. Just because I think that travelling the world is something that’s made me into the sort of person that could come up with a recipe that incorporates themes from different cultures. I’ve been able to do a lot of travelling in my life, for work and pleasure. I went to grad school in Switzerland which allowed me to experience another culture and I think that’s probably just made me a lot of who I am today. So, I’d say a passport is mandatory.

Favorite indulgence? 

Candy. Pure Sugar. Anything sweet and sour at the same time.

What makes you smile the most? 

People being kind to one another. In a city like New York, people aren’t necessarily that nice to one another all the time, and it makes me so happy when people make more of an effort to be kind to each other.

What’s one piece of advice that you wish you knew 5 years ago? 

I would say that everything’s always gonna be ok. 5 years ago, I was 28 and I think that you fall under a lot of societal pressure and I think that your priorities change in your late 20s. Settling down becomes your #1 priority. What Sheryl Sandberg says in her book, Lean In, is that women make choices before they even apply. For example, women start making choices even when they’re not about to get married, get engaged, or have a kid, that starts eliminating them from a certain workforce. She says that one of the biggest mistakes that women make is that they remove themselves from a situation that they are not quite in yet. I think that when I was 27/28 I felt a lot of pressure to settle down and  focus on my personal life when really I should have really just focused on my professional life and gone after the things I wanted to do. I so badly wanted to be an entrepreneur, and I think that everything happens at the right time and I wasn’t quite ready for it then, but I think that I spent a lot of time and energy focusing on that and not what would make me happy. I think that if you’re happy, then the rest comes. Everyone has their own path and I think you should continue to focus on the things that make you happy.

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