Downtown Q&A: Aashi Vel and Stephanie Lawrence

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Downtown Q&A: Aashi Vel and Stephanie Lawrence

AASHI VEL AND STEPHANIE LAWRENCE Co-founders of Traveling Spoon, a company that provides travelers with private, authentic food experiences—from homemade meals to cooking classes—in people’s homes around the world.

1. Name three women who inspire you, and tell us why.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg. For persevering through personal struggles in her own and her husband’s life, and for her dedication to the law and to ending gender discrimination.

Alice Waters. For creating an entire cuisine based on a philosophy of fresh, organic food that honors its makers. She pioneered California cuisine as we know it by focusing on the source.

Our moms. Both of our moms taught us that we could grow a family and a business successfully. And they are some of the best cooks we know.

2. What has been the secret to your success?

Hard work and trusting our gut. 

3. If you were going to pass on one piece of advice to a young woman, what would it be?

Share your ideas and ask for help. Define what success is for you; it is a personal definition and does not look the same for everyone. Be passionate about what you do. 

4. In the fight for equality, what area do you think needs the most attention?

An overlooked area in the fight for women’s equality is unconscious bias. From how we read resumes to how we interview to how we provide bonuses, we are often shaped by biases that have been created by our environments and of which we are unaware. I remember reading for the first time a Stanford study about how gender influenced the job application process. Individuals were asked to evaluate resumes (identical except for the name) for a job position; researchers found that the “Jennifer” resume was not only marked as less competent, but also was offered 13% less money than the “John” resume. We have an obligation as a society to reflect, educate ourselves, and actively work against these unconscious biases.

5. What are you most proud of in your career?

Getting started and staying committed to our mission and our company Traveling Spoon during the rough times. It takes a lot to take the first step in any big change. Creating a company was a big leap of faith that both Aashi and I are very proud of. Perhaps even more, it takes a lot to keep running a business. For all of the wonderful successes we have had, there are sleepless nights, a pressure to continue growing, and the stress of not knowing whether your company will survive its next financing round. We are truly proud that we are still going, and through the hardest times remain dedicated to our mission.

6. Where do you get your confidence?

We get our confidence hearing from our hosts and our travelers, time and time again—how meaningful their Traveling Spoon experiences are. To receive a review that says that we were the best part of a traveler’s 3-week vacation to Asia, from our host that they were able to send their children to school because of the income they received from Traveling Spoon or from a customer that they want to work for us because they believe so deeply in our mission—that gives us confidence every day to keep building.

7. What makes a woman beautiful?

Generosity. Joy for life. Love of family, and friends. Empathy and understanding.

8. What gives you joy?

SL: Perfectly ripe crémeux des cîteaux. Making my children laugh. Finding the perfect present for a friend.

AV: Eating fruit I picked from a tree. Sharing a meal with friends and family. Gardening.