This month, we got to chat with Aishwarya Iyer, founder and CEO of Brightland, a company known for its beautifully bottled olive oils, vinegars, and other pantry essentials. Launched in 2018, Brightland turned the olive oil category on its head by eschewing its trademark green for bold, bright colors and putting quality, trust, and traceability at the forefront of their company.
They've graced the kitchens of celebrities like Oprah, Florence Pugh, and Gwyneth Paltrow, and we had the chance to catch up with Aishwarya about what her founder journey's been like.
Listen to the episode or check out some highlights below:
Anyone who has been on Instagram or online in the past four years has probably come across Brightland but on the off chance that they haven't, can you tell me a little bit about the company that you founded?
Aishwarya: Yes, we make delicious, happy, wholesome olive oil. That's what we're most well known for. We source directly from small family farms in California. We also make really wonderful fruit forward vinegars and delectable honey. we've been around for about four years, like you said, and, we're in hundreds of stores around the country, maybe thousands at this point.
What are some of the things that set Brightland apart from what you find on a grocery store shelf?
Aishwarya: Lots of articles have come out about how tons of olive oil found in grocery shelves, and just generally, has been blended with canola oil or palm oil. There's a lot of miseducation and adulteration in the industry, apparently. We're really proud of our direct relationships with farmers.
We're working with mom and pop, usually husband-and-wife teams or father-son of situations, multi-generational families, who have been in olive oil in California, and we source directly from them. So we're really proud of the integrity of the craft behind the olive oil.
Olive oil is such a beautiful category because it's kind of like wine. There are varietals. The taste of the olive oil will depend on the varietal of the olive, similar to the varietal of the grape for wine. time matters, harvest practices matter, terroir matters. So there's just a lot of really beautiful intricacies and nuances that exist.
Since founding Brightland, you've also discovered this connection to food through your own ancestry. You have ancestors in India who are salt farmers. Prior to going on this journey with Brightland, what was your relationship with food growing up?
Aishwarya: Oh yeah, it was everything in my household. Everything revolved around meals, everything revolved around conversations around food. We are very judgmental about what other people are serving or cooking. Everything was very food-centric from, how you communicate, how you care, how you talk about things. So yeah, it's very natural that I ended up in this.
I think that it's made me dig deeper with my own food memories, thinking about early memories with my parents; my dad making us pizza when I was young, my mom, you know, my grandparents making amazing Indian food, so I think it's just made me reflect more, which has been really special. There's a lot of nostalgia.
In the beginning of Brightland, you were personally boxing and shipping all the products. Now that you're four years into the business, how has your relationship to the business and the work itself changed? Do you find your work-life balance getting more frenetic? Healthier? Trending that way, hopefully?
Aishwarya: I don't really know what balance means for anybody. I've always made sure to get eight hours plus of sleep. I have most of my weekends. Evenings I don't really work. I think that I set my own boundaries for myself of what I want. I mean, things have changed a ton, right? I'm no longer shipping to say the least and we ship thousands and thousands of boxes. So, it's definitely evolved. I have a wonderful team. I'm very grateful for that. I think the challenges have changed, but that's okay. We've all changed over time too.
I think it just depends on what kind of life someone wants. Some people, are super thrilled to be working super late at night. That's where their best ideas come out. Some people want to work on the weekends cuz that's what gives them purpose. And different people have seasons. I had a time in my life, in my career, where I went in at 7:00, left at 8:00 or 9:00 PM, went out for dinner after that. That was my life and I loved it.
I just don't think it's a one-size-fits-all. It's really what you wanna do with your life. So, I would recommend for anyone listening to be introspective about that first, rather than try to take somebody else's playbook, because what's right for someone else may not be right for you.
Do you think that getting to this point with the business has allowed you to maybe pump the brakes or breathe a little easier now? Or do you find that having that balance between work and life, whatever balance means to one person, enables you to continue working at this level?
Aishwarya: I have no idea. And I don't think it's gotten easier. I think that it's gotten harder, if anything. All of it's gotten harder. So there's no such thing as it being easy ever. And I talk to people who have 500 employees and they're still saying how hard it is. Those founders tell me how hard it is, still.
I was just talking to a founder who took his company public last year. And you would think, oh, you know, he's taken the company public. He is still in it and in the grind.
So what are the sort of things that you spend your time thinking about now versus towards the beginning of Brightland? What are the kind of goals that you set for yourself?
Aishwarya: I spend a lot of time thinking about scale I spend, which it's a lot of the fundamental things haven't changed. It's just the scale of them has changed. You know, I try to like live in gratitude with it because it's a good, these are all good things and I think that's the other thing I think we forget too soon and too much that everything is temporary.
It's all passing us by anyway, so you might as well embrace whatever is happening in the moment, especially these types of manufactured realities that we've created.
You just launched a new product which was the pizza oil, how does the sort of ideation process for a new product begin? How long is that runway from idea to it coming out and releasing on Brightland's website?
Aishwarya: It sort of depends but it starts with is the customer asking for it. In some cases they are. It could be, our team has a strong opinion or a point of view on a particular category or topic.
For the pizza oil, for example, one of my earliest memories was seeing my dad make pizza. My husband and I love eating pizza. As a team, we love pizza. The brand is happy so why not build some fun into it too by adding something into the mix that makes everybody really joyful.
And that's pizza.
One of the things with the release of the product, I've seen you guys have been doing events, on both coasts, Brightland Pizza parties. there is sort of this element of. Community. And, and maybe this goes back to, your communications background and telling the story of it.
Have you been able to rely on sort of the, the past skillset you had in that, in this phase of your career?
Aishwarya: Yeah, probably the biggest thing from comms PR that I've taken away is in comms, you have to be comfortable with discomfort 'cos you may not know what a story's gonna end up looking like. You do your very best. It's a job where you're out of control a lot. Things are not in your control, whereas in not a lot of other jobs like engineering and, you know, whatever, you're like typing away or you're coding and you can control the things around you to a certain extent.
In comms, you just don't have as much control and that is what it's like to build a company. So I think it's actually a really incredible skill to be able to have peace and not be flustered that things are outside of your control one and two. You're gonna be uncomfortable a lot.
One of the things I wanted to touch on is more of a personal project which is your podcast, Recent Eats. Can you tell me a little bit about the show itself and why you felt so compelled to start it?
Aishwarya: The number one question that my parents asked and still ask is, what did you eat? And so I realized that I have this fascination with what other people are eating. I ask my team all the time what they ate for breakfast or lunch that day. So I thought, why not ask interesting people what they've been eating lately and let's see what people are eating. and I've been having a blast with it. It's totally a personal project. It's not affiliated with Brightland on an official basis at all. And I'm having a lot of fun
My last question for you, do you have a favorite way of introducing Brightland olive oil to people or enjoying it with someone?
Aishwarya: Yes, I love introducing it to people through ice cream actually. So I love giving people like vanilla ice, vanilla bean ice cream, drizzle, a little bit of the Brightland, olive oil on top, some sea salt, and it's really game changing
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