Founded in 2013 by Kat Vorotova and David Foult, Try The World is a unique gourmet subscription box service. As delivered to your doorstep each month, every box from Try The World contains hard-to-find gourmet products that have been hand-selected by local experts and celebrity chefs. In short, Try The World aims to capture the essence of the greatest countries in the world through food.
Downtown had the pleasure of conducting Q&A with Kat and David after experiencing the company’s excellent India and Greece-themed boxes. More on Kat, David and their growing company — it acquired Hamptons Lane earlier this month — can be found at www.trytheworld.com.
How did you two first meet? How did you know it was best to go into business together?
Kat Vorotova: David and I met through a startup incubator at Columbia University. I recognized a big problem with the lack of affordable quality food in the U.S. while working at Weight Watchers and running a food blog. I was shocked by how different the selection at middle-class supermarkets looked in the U.S. versus other countries; in the U.S., they were stocked with mass market products filled with long lists of synthetic substances, preservatives, colorants, added sugars, and ingredients one can’t pronounce. While the cleaner, healthier selection at Whole Foods was just too expensive for an average consumer.
David Foult: I came to the U.S. from France to study economics at Columbia, after recognizing the seemingly-unnecessary difficulties of moving products and brands across the world. While helping artisans in Vietnam expand their business with his micro-finance fund and then with a startup in Europe offering short-term retail solutions to foreign brands, David saw the pains that foreign producers had when trying to export their goods to larger economies like the U.S. and Europe.
KV: We decided to solve both problems and create an online marketplace connecting U.S. consumers with great foreign producers. By cutting out the middlemen, Try The World today brings unique quality foods from around the world to consumers at 10 to 50 percent off retail with subscriptions based on customer preferences and an online shop…We discovered early on that we had a complementary skill set and personalities, so it was a natural partnership from the very beginning.
DF: When Kat and I started discussing and brainstorming, we realized that we were thinking in a very creative and efficient way together. That partnership has proven successful as we’re leveraging our backgrounds and expertise to grow our venture.
David, did attending SIPA inspire the business? Or even inspire your interest in other cultures?
DF: SIPA’s crowd is very international. I was meeting someone from a new country every day, learning about his/her culture, there were flags everywhere: that kind of environment, together with our shared passion for food and travel, made Columbia the natural place to start Try The World.
Kat, what inspired you to move to New York?
KV: I moved to New York with my family when I was 13 years old. I was overwhelmed by and fell in love with the non-stop activity of the city, with the diversity of its arts and food offerings, with its people. Although I have traveled, lived, and worked in several places since then, I felt back then and still do that New York is one of the best places in the world to meet talented, ambitious, open minded, curious, kind and hard-working people. It really feels like an incredibly messy and beautiful epicenter of a tornado that produces creative combinations of thoughts, values, emotions, and ultimately innovation across all fields.
How do you two usually find out about new products? I notice that a lot of your offerings are exclusives.
DF: About 50 percent of our products are introduced to the United States market for the first time via Try The World. We like to say that Try The World is like a “chamber of commerce on steroids” for small to medium-sized authentic brands around the world which wish to enter and expand their business in the U.S. They have to pass our guidelines — they must be authentic, delicious, and have high-quality of ingredients and production, sustainable impact, great packaging and story.
Is the plan to do every country in the world? Will you do any of them twice or multiple times?
KV: Our vision is indeed to eventually be able to carry products from all over the world, although the selection will also be a reflection of consumer demand and feasibility of import. As far as our Countries subscription, we do sometimes repeat countries based on consumer demand but we try to find new products, or have a new focus, to always have our customers discover something new!
Which was the first country you featured?
KV: Our first box was the Valentine’s Day Paris Box for February 2013, which we made because we both have a special place in our hearts for Paris.
How far in advance do you plan your boxes?
DF: For our Countries subscription, we start planning the schedule about eight months in advance, but we start the sourcing process about six months before we release a box. This provides enough time for our team members to fly to the country in question to partner with relevant government and trade institutions, to meet hundreds of artisans, to partner with a curating chef, to receive samples and have a tasting panel with consumers. Then we narrow the selection down to 10 to 12 artisans from the country, help consult the selected brands on necessary labeling, paperwork, and sometimes design and even product mix/flavors. We also allocate about one month for the our vendors to produce the volumes we need, and one to one and a half months for shipping.
Do you have a favorite item in your Greece box?
KV: I’m a fan of the Vasilissa sesame seed bar, known as pasteli in Greece. Made with just two ingredients — sesame and honey — this super-healthy snack is my go-to during a mid-afternoon slump. It’s the original energy bar, the recipe can be traced back to ancient Greece!
Aside from your company, are there any other monthly subscriptions that you take part in?
KV: I love Runkeeper and Spotify. They literally keep me going!
DF: I’m a big fan of Nature Box, great service, which gave us the idea to launch a “similar but different” offer. Just like Kat I’m a daily Spotify user — I’m always impressed by the relevance of their music recommendations.
When not busy with your company, how do you like to spend your free time?
KV: This may not be very surprising, but I love to travel and I love to eat! I also recently picked up drawing and painting.
DF: I enjoy having brunch or dinner with good friends, working out and discovering new songs and new movies.
Do you have a favorite restaurant in New York?
KV: That’s a tough one, but I have to say when my fiancé took me for a surprise birthday dinner at Jean-Georges last year, I couldn’t have asked for a better dining experience. Beginning with the whimsical presentation of the famous egg caviar in a white duck footed egg holder, to the delicate flavor of their diver scallops with caramelized cauliflower, and perfectly-done duck, and concluding with a never-ending cheese and dessert tasting. The execution was flawless on more than 12 small courses that we sampled. And they brought out a few nice extra things on the house!
DF: Although I enjoy making food at home, New York has a fantastic restaurant scene. I’m a big fan of Cafe Gitane, and I also enjoy trying out the traditional small Chinese restaurants on Mott Street, or the more casual Italian restaurant Gennaro on the Upper West Side.
Do you have tickets to any upcoming events or concerts in New York?
KV: No, but I recently saw The Humans, a Broadway play about an American family meeting up for Thanksgiving dinner in a New York apartment of the youngest daughter. It managed to capture the struggles, the hope, and the mundane that resonate with so many of us.
DF: No, but I’m open to recommendations. (laughs)
Finally, any last words for the kids?
KV: Today we are bombarded by so much information from all of our devices that our brains no longer have time to rest and really process it. Take regular breaks from your devices — take the time to listen to yourself, your body, and the people around you. By listening, you’ll understand. From understanding comes compassion and love, for self, for others. But it can’t come unless you pause and listen. I’ve implemented a small rule: no devices during dinner; unless it’s to snap a photo before diving in!
DF: Learn, meet new people, keep discovering new tastes, new songs, new cities, new perfumes and flavors, read…And as Kat said, technology needs to be a tool we use not the other way around — Steve Jobs’ kids weren’t allowed to use iPad most of the time…