The Woman Behind the Olive Oil Company That Everyone’s Talking About
How a year’s worth of stomach pains turned into a category-disrupting product.
The Helm: Can you explain your company in a sentence?
Aishwarya Iyer: Brightland is a new, modern kitchen essentials brand and the two hero products we launched with are handcrafted, California made, extra virgin olive oils.
The Helm: You spent 10 years working in venture capital and startups before you founded Brightland in 2018. What was the most valuable thing you learned from those experiences that you were able to incorporate into launching your own business?
Aishwarya Iyer: The most valuable thing is being comfortable with discomfort and being comfortable with the unknown. Those fall part and parcel. It’s key to get comfortable with that and not rely on knowing exactly where things are going to be a week from now, a month from now, or a year from now — even if you have a well devised plan. You have to put yourself in that mental space because that’s exactly where you’re going to be 24/7 when you start your own business.
The Helm: You’ve managed to make olive oil sexy, which is really no small task. How did people in your professional sphere react when you told them about the idea?
Aishwarya Iyer: People are looking for companies that have soul, authenticity, and charm. The majority of the olive oil that Americans consume is rancid, rotten or adulterated. Olive oil has a very scandalous history — the Mafia’s involved, and there are a lot of layers to it. Ultimately, it’s food and it’s emotional. Food is a very deep part of our lives so I think people are really excited that there’s a brand that is creating emotion and intention in a space that doesn’t have any.
Aishwarya Iyer's Wishlist
The Helm: You were inspired to start the business after you started having health issues and stomach pains. You had left New York and moved to L.A. in 2015, and you and your husband were starting to cook more. You noticed that you were often feeling nauseated. You eliminated things like cheese and bread and discovered that the real issue was olive oil.
Aishwarya Iyer: I identified that olive oil was causing my health issues in 2015, and in 2016, I was going through the motions of questioning my credibility to start something like this. I’m not a food expert or a celebrity chef, I don’t have a food nutrition background. Why would anyone want to listen to me on this? Then I discovered that my ancestors had been salt farmers in India, and that was a pivotal moment because I realized the deep connection my ancestors had to the land, sun and food, and I also really felt that I needed to know where I came from before knowing where I was going. I made that connection and was simultaneously doing a lot of deep inner work and it led me to say, “You know what? I have to do this.” I also saw Jeff Bezos at a conference, and he said that part of his reasoning for starting Amazon was that he didn’t want to look back when he was 80 and regret not doing it. He said he really just wanted to know that he tried.
The Helm: Were cooking and food of interest to you prior to starting the company? Would 15-year-old Aishwarya be surprised at what you’re doing right now?
Aishwarya Iyer: Cooking and food are a big part of my life. My parents are big home cooks. We ate at a restaurant probably once a month growing up. Talking about food and fresh ingredients and recipes was a huge part of my formative years. I think 15-year-old me would be shocked at my starting a company because I didn’t think as big or as bold as this when I was younger. I didn’t know that careers like this could exist or that I had it in me to build something from nothing. I figured I’d become an eye doctor or maybe a lawyer. If I could tell that 15-year-old something, I’d say that the world is much bigger than you think it is. I am living a much bigger life than I ever thought was even possible.
"People are looking for companies that have soul, authenticity, and charm."
The Helm: Is being in L.A. a differentiator for you? How has the scene there been a competitive advantage?
Aishwarya Iyer: L.A. is the epicenter of wellness. People are building really incredible consumer businesses here, and I think that the speed at which people move is fast but I don’t think it’s the same speed as New York, so it allows you to pause and reflect a bit more, which I like too. There are so many great brands out here whose founders want to support other founders. I love companies like Morrow Soft Goods, CEREMONY, Hedley & Bennett, tokyobike – all with incredible womxn founders at the helm.
The Helm: What’s the biggest misconception people have about what you do or about your industry?
Aishwarya Iyer: People think that entrepreneurship is very fun and glamorous, and I think that’s 5 percent of it. Most of it is spent running around and trying to solve some sort of problem or the other, and people don’t see that it’s all one big mess that you’re trying to wade through and pull gems from. People only see the gems – especially because of Instagram.
The Helm: If you were starting the business today, what would you do differently?
Aishwarya Iyer: I would have launched with a deeper focus on content. I would have focused on it earlier and in a more meaningful way.
The Helm: What is a bad habit that you’ve had to break on the entrepreneurial journey?
Aishwarya Iyer: Putting things off that I don’t want to do.
The Helm: What did it take for you to make that switch?
Aishwarya Iyer: Understanding that those are fundamental pieces of the business and doing them earlier in the day is actually the best thing you can do because you’re pushing them aside or completing the task and moving on with your day.
"I figured I’d become an eye doctor or maybe a lawyer. If I could tell that 15-year-old something, I’d say that the world is much bigger than you think it is."
The Helm: What’s your process for working on yourself while building the business?
Aishwarya Iyer: Listening to something or reading something that’s fiction based or fantastical or magical in some way. Books that have nothing to do with business spur more creativity in me. It’s just too noisy to think about entrepreneurship all the time. I also try to exercise every morning.
The Helm: You’ve been vocal about the work you do to manage your inner critic. What practices have you found to be the most helpful in quieting that voice?
Aishwarya Iyer: One is doing self affirmation out loud — looking at yourself in the mirror and saying I am these things, instead of saying I am not these things. Second is a lot of stillness. So don’t scroll through Instagram for hours and hours looking at other people. Maybe pick up a book instead, and put your phone away.
The Helm: What productivity tool would you be lost without?
Aishwarya Iyer: The email scheduling and reminder tool Boomerang.
The Helm: What is your favorite female founded product, service or company?
Aishwarya Iyer: I have three right now. True Botanicals: they have a cleanser that smells like jasmine flowers and it just immediately calms me down. My friend Shannon has a company called Esker Beauty. They just came out with a jade body roller, and I’ve been giving myself head massages with it. And there’s a company called vitruvi, which is essential oils and diffusers. I love everything they’re doing.
The Helm: What’s next for you and the company?
We are in conversations with some exciting national retail partners that we’re going to launch with later in the year so we have a lot coming up.
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