Brightland’s Aishwarya Iyer: How she describes her olive oil like wine & markets like a beauty brand
Updated: Sep 13
Joining me on today’s episode is Aishwarya Iyer, the founder behind the most instagrammable olive oil company you’ll ever come across, Brightland.
Brightland was founded when Aish was going through an elimination diet to figure out what was causing her stomach issues, and she discovered a frightening fact that 80% of the olive oil we consume is actually rotten.
I know, so gross. She decided it was time to take this insight and create her own olive oil and boy oh boy are we glad she did.
In this ep we’re covering the fresh approach she took when creating the brand; wanting it to be described like wine and marketing it like a beauty brand. How partnerships have been a critical element to the brands success, and the lessons she learned along the way as a female entrepreneur.
Please note, this transcript has been copy pasted without the lovely touch of a human editor. Please expect some typos!
00:03:19 Yes, absolutely. I am the founder and Ceo of Brightland is a modern pantry essentials brand That launched in the summer of 2018. Were based here in Sunny Los Angeles and were essentially a California-based brand and what we're really focused on doing is partnering with small farmers who practice regenerative agriculture, really shining a spotlight on the beautiful products that they're making and creating and adding a layer of you know, storytelling and thoughtful design and um also championing art and yeah artists. So that's basically the gist about the brand, you and the nutshell and I love how you're taking all of those elements of olive oil and putting a fresh spin on it with your positioning in your design and the language and the way that you're like showing up online.
00:04:22 Well thank you so much. I mean it came from a very personal story like when people asked like why the hell olive oil for me, I lived in New York City for many years and never cooked was always eating outside was always you know enjoying the 600-plus restaurants across the city And um by 600 plus, I mean my spreadsheet had 600 plus, but you know, there are thousands and thousands, but eventually, you know, I came from a family of passionate home cooks and eventually I got to a place where I wanted to start cooking more and did so but I kept getting stomachaches every time that I cooked and I thought it was bread, I thought it was cheese and you know, a nutritionist friend of mine was like maybe it's cooking while you were using and that was the only thing I hadn't eliminated. So I did a little bit of research and I found out that globally olive oil is like the number one sort of fraudulent ingredient that exists in the sense that it's being cut with other oils.
00:05:26 It says it's, you know, extra virgin olive oil, but it actually has been blended with popular canola oil. You don't have any transparency into when it was actually made. These companies just kind of slap a best by date and then it's not being packaged correctly. So the whole industry is just like sort of very Elsa scandalous. And so I said, okay, this is crazy. I want to, you know, do something about this or you know, I wasn't sure what that could look like. And that set me off on the journey of like more discovery research learning And then eventually talking to a meeting incredible small farms here in California and being compelled to say, Okay, what can we do to shine a spotlight on their work? Because you know, larger farms get a lot of like subsidies here in the United States. But small farms are truly, you know, doing it as a labor of love. And if we don't support them in 5 to 10 years, they won't exist.
00:06:27 Mm Gosh, that's so gross. What an interesting insight that we're all eating potentially rotten olive oil that is really foul is. Yeah. And the crazy thing is it caught like, you know, it's proven to cause digestion issues if you're consuming something that's rotten rancid because of the micro toxins and all of that. And so for me I, that was the turning point and when I talked to customers now fast forward today, there's so many people who tell me, you know, I actually read your story and I switched to bright land and I've seen an improvement in my digestion or like I don't get those awkward stomachaches anymore. So I'm so thrilled about that because that to me is such a marker of what we're doing as being really different. Yeah, I mean I'm someone that in the last few years I have like started to really have severe stomach issues like bloating and just really crazy stomach pains and I'm a pretty healthy eater. So it's always a shock.
00:07:28 Like my husband and I are always like what on earth could I be eating, like it's just so crazy how often I have issues. So it's totally sparked something for me to, and I've read that you were in tech before you went into olive oil. So my imagining is that you will have had a lot of lessons learned there that you brought across into starting your business. Can you tell us about life before bright land and what you're up to? Yes, absolutely. I went to new york university um graduated, I studied at the gallatin school with an N. Y. U. The gallatin school of individualized study where you craft your own concentration so that in and of itself is considered extremely entrepreneurial. I didn't grow up being like I'm going to be an entrepreneur nor did I glamorize it at all. And I didn't think of myself as having like an entrepreneurial bent but you know the fact that that's the school that I gravitated to the most I think when I look back that says something but when I graduated I uh my first job out of school without Loreal Lancome within the kind of luxury products division doing marketing.
00:08:32 So I was there for a bit and then made a pivot into tech and worked at a couple of fin to finance technology companies and consumer technology companies mainly on the public affairs um sort of corporate communications, government affairs side of things and you know the learnings that I took away are you know you cannot be a good you know real story that comes from the heart, you can never really be that that was from my day to day work and then bigger picture looking at the founders of the Ceos that I worked with or worked for. You know I learned about how to be nimble and thinking how to be okay with things going out of your control and being out of your control, how to be comfortable with the uncomfortable and how to you know go to sleep at night knowing that you didn't cross everything off of your to do list. I think that there are some people that, you know, kind of go through life in school being like I'm going to check everything off and that's how I'm going to go to bed but doing something like building a company or you know, taking a big leap in that way.
00:09:43 There are just going to be an endless number of things. And I think what happens is people get even paralyzed once they realized the number of things and how endless it all seems that there then like, ok, I can't even start or do it. And so being, having that comfort to just say, okay, you know, I did what I could and I also focused on what needed to be focused on today and tomorrow is a new day I think is so important for anybody who's listening and you know, is on the journey to start a company. Mm so many great lessons in there and obviously such a great experience to be able to work with founders and get an idea of what building a business actually looks like. You know, like that nitty gritty hustle that comes with it. At what point did you have the moment where you're like, yeah, okay, now is the time I'm going to quit my job. I'm going to go all in on building my own business. Yeah. So I moved out to Los Angeles um, to work in a consumer technology company and was working there, you know, very comfortable, you know, honestly, and in the sense that the role was challenging and not too challenging, I had a lot of autonomy, just all of the things that you could kind of want a need, but I still had this like inkling of, you know, I want to do something else.
00:11:04 And so, you know, this concept of Brighton was in the back of my mind, but I I had a lot of self doubt, and so the first thing that I did actually was partnered up with a friend and did some consulting in the arena that I had, you know, 10 years of expertise in, and so we consulted with about a dozen technology companies around the country for about a year plus and had a great time doing that, but that was the first kind of, you know, dipping my toe in the entrepreneurship water without, you know, going and starting a CPG company without, you know, really having much experience in food or CPG, and I thought that was so, so good for me because I learned how to, you know what, like, work with lawyers, right, you know, um incorporate the business, do like business taxes, like figure out our payroll and all those like, foundational elements, the unsexy stuff that really matters. So then with Bright Leyland, there was such a steep learning curve in that it's now a tangible products and their supply chain and there's so many different things and with the, with the consulting business we didn't market because we just had connections and sort of, you know, did word of mouth, but with this there's of course so much marketing and so there is such a steep hurdle there.
00:12:21 But having that foundation of, hey, I knew how to at least think about accounting or think about, you know, our legal, like I think that was really helpful. So that was the progression for me. Mm That's so interesting because yeah, I think those kind of key things that are the non sexy, you know, accounting tax, how to actually get started. That's the kind of stuff that no one really teaches you like you've got to do a lot of googling or you have to have like really just been in a position where you're having to figure it out. Um, and if you do get it wrong, it can be so detrimental to the success of the brand later on. Especially I want to talk about the time when you met with the olive oil growers around California, you've kind of figured out, you know who you are going to work with what the product kind of was exactly in the beginning and that launch phase of you bringing that brand into reality, especially when it comes to the branding, your, your brand is so stunning and you know, the design and the language is just so critical I think to your brand about and and who it is.
00:13:30 So I want to talk about all of those elements coming together for the launch, definitely. I worked out of my apartment during that time and I still remember just kind of like sitting there at the table and I had all these bottles, samples and everything. So it was such a creative fun time, I will say. So anyone also listening going through that phase just soak it all up and take a lot of pictures and sort of like enjoy that process. But yeah, I mean the very first thing that I, I focused on after having the pivotal conversations with the growers, figuring out who I wanted to partner with and all of that nitty gritty when it comes to the branch side. I actually like wanted to create a personality for the branch. So I worked on a brand personality deck basically and thought through really like, you know, if the brand were a person, what would they read, what would they be listening to? What kind of, you know, words would they use and what kind of words would they not use? I think that's really important to. I think people lean in the like this is what we would do, this is what we would do.
00:14:34 But then thinking about, okay, what are the things you wouldn't do? What are the partnerships that are tempting, but maybe you'd say no to, So maybe thinking about all of that and getting that in like some place that's um, that you can save and refer to that was really critical and then that then informed, okay, from a visual like design, architecture standpoint. Like what do we truly want? I partnered with an amazing women lead agency, like a branding agency design firm that's based here in the States and they were they knew since they had this foundation that I built, they knew how to then jump from that and really like some of the brand to life visually. And I had a very clear direction of like, I knew I wanted, you know, white bottles. I picked up the vessel. I knew that I wanted certain colors that match like California produce.
00:15:36 So there were things that I knew and then they were able to I think really add their expertise to it. Mm And I read something really interesting um in an article about you talking about building the brand that you wanted to describe it the way that people describe wine and market the brand. Like in a way that beauty brands market. Can you talk a little bit about that? Yes. I think this is my time at Loreal. And afterwards just seeing how beauty brands could take the same serum or the same, you know, don't know, blush, but really make it so compelling that you're like, this is this is something that's game changing. And they do such a beautiful job of that. Whether it's their photography, whether it's the copy, whether it's the descriptors, the packaging and so when I looked at food, I went to a couple of food trade shows and some of the food that I tried was just so outstanding And the food products and the, you know, the makers behind them.
00:16:38 But I felt like there was something missing in all of those elements. And so I said, you know, I think I really want to apply that to the brand that I built um, on the wine side. Yeah, I mean all well and vinegars and you know, like a lot of these sort of pantry essentials and foundational essentials have. So, but zooming into olive oil for a second. They have so many nuances, So many tasting notes and terroir matters. And there are hundreds of types of olives. Like nobody even knows that. And that, that's how, you know, you blend different olives together based in certain regions based in certain like, you know, climates and you'll have different tastes. So to me that sounds like wine. That sounds, you know, equally as intriguing and nuanced and complex. And so I wanted to, you know, honor that a bit. It's really cool. I didn't know that about olive oil. And I guess that's a huge part of what you're able to do is educate the consumer on that side of olive oil, which is obviously super interesting.
00:17:41 I want to jump into marketing and when you did launch the brand and finding those first customers and your early true fans of the brand. Yes, we uh did strapped the company to start. So I didn't have a fancy marketing budget. I actually had like basically zero budget and so I had to be, I knew I had to be scrappy. And um one thing that I did was I emailed 40 to 50 friends and you know, former colleagues and I asked them if they could share on their instagram and I like really spoon fed it to them. I gave them the imagery, even the proposed copy. And so all of nearly all of those people posted the day we launched and that helped drive a lot of sales more than I thought it would. So that was one part and then the other part was, you know, my background was in corporate communications, you know, of course it wasn't Fintech like working with finance companies, but I still understood the storytelling piece in the narrative piece. And so I invested in pr and so the day we launched, we were featured by the New york Times style magazine.
00:18:48 And so that was in like immediately put us on a map and put us on the map and also led to our initial kind of customer base, some of whom built subscribers and return customers. And it's so amazing to see that they've From day one, they've been a part of our journey. Oh yeah, totally. And how has it evolved now into what you're doing in marketing at the moment? You know, I think it's evolved in that we are willing and excited to test and iterate more. I think times have also evolved, you know, I think if we have launched the brand we launched in june of 2018, I think if we had launched in 2015 or 16 even we could have really leaned on organic instagram a lot more. Like I see brands friends who have brands who launched at that time and instagram was less noisy and so they really relied on Organic social and paid social, you know, all of those channels and I think for us, you know in 2020 it's a lot noisier, it's just a lot more And so we're constantly testing, you know, different ways that we can, I think tell our story and share our story.
00:20:05 But one thing that hasn't changed is that visual like attention that we give. So we really value and sort of take the time to do like really interesting photo shoots and like that creative process is really important to our brand and I think like trickles into our marketing. Mm I love the the artist partnership capsule that you have at the moment and it felt like you guys really lean into partnerships through your instagram and working with other female founded brands to bring to life interesting concepts and ideas. Do you want to share a little bit about those? Yes, absolutely. So from the beginning I always wanted Bright learned to be a bit of a canvas. And so for me it was like, okay, well how do we showcase that and what you know, what does that mean? Right. And so when we launched, we launched with two hero skews to Hero products to all of oils that have different flavor notes but are ultimately, they don't have, you know, a flavor as in like lemon or basil or anything kind of added.
00:21:16 And we started immediately getting requests for more flavors. And so I thought through, okay, if we come out with, you know, during kind of that lemon season in California, if we come out with like a lemon infused olive oil, what if we partner with an amazing artist to create that label? And so that was the initial sort of thought process for it. And so we partnered with the artist Bt Graft who's based in Amsterdam to create the label for our lemon olive oil. And then the summer of 2019, we partnered with an artist based in Brooklyn named Marley culver to come out with a chili olive oil. It has jalapeno, red chili pepper, paprika, it's really, really smoky and delicious and then it also has chipotle and that's the smoke. And then um earlier this year we partnered with the fashion designer Peter som to come out with a basil olive oil and had a label with that and that was just such a dream and so full circle for me because we partnered with him when I was at Lancome and you know, at the time I was too nervous to even talk to them.
00:22:29 This was in like 2000 and eight and two now come full circle and, and have him be a part of, you know, a product launch and be so integral to it was a dream come true. Really? Yeah, I guess you've got to look at that and be like, wow, this is a big moment for reflection to see like how far how far we've come as a brand. That's so incredible. And I noticed on your instagram that you have something coming out in a few days, which will be this podcast will air after it comes out. So if you want to share a little bit about what's coming, Yes, this is the, so the first Must Ask Product has always been, you know, different flavors and just more kind of iterations on our products. And then the second has been the spout which we came out with this summer. So this beautiful sort of like brushed gold spot that you can use on your olive oil and vinegar bottles. And um, the third most requested product is like travel size or minis. And so we're coming out with the mini essentials featuring olive oils and vinegars and it's the perfect stocking stuffer and comes in like the cutest box and we're really, really excited about it.
00:23:42 Oh my gosh, that's so cool. I was reading through people's comments like what they thought it was going to be and I was like, I like, you know, it could be minis or it could be like rice vinegar for sushi or like, you know, there was just so many different things going around there. I thought it was so clever the way that you've been teasing it. I'm so excited for you. Congrats, thank you something I often talk about with female founders on the show is the challenges that they're facing at the moment, obviously we're in a bit of a weird year. Well a lot of a weird year and there are different hurdles for everyone. Is there anything you can share about what you've been going through that is a bit challenging during this time, I think it's truly mental health, you know, I think the business side where you know, we had supply chain issues. So one example is we had bottles coming from Wisconsin and we really needed them and the day they were going to ship the governor of Wisconsin shut down the state earlier in the pandemic time.
00:24:44 And so that warehouse completely closed and now we're considered an essential business because we're food. So technically that warehouse could have stayed open, but you know, we called them and we were ready to like, you know, send a carrier pigeon over, you know, get over there if we needed to. But they said we're just not going to open. Sorry about that. And so we have come up with solutions really quickly and they didn't open for, I believe over a month and it was, you know, those moments are so critical and really stressful. So there's all of that. But I think beyond that and like above all of that, it's truly like mental health and you know, relationship with social media, what does that mean? Making sure that we are creating space for our team to feel like they can, you know, usually without a pandemic, you know, your team takes them off for a memorial day or for summer holiday. But because no one's going really anywhere, you know, I see that the team isn't taking time off.
00:25:44 So it's like, okay, you know, we're now doing once a month mental health days where everyone just takes off. And so for me that's like trying to, you know, incorporate um, some level of, you know, break. And so um, it's things like that that kind of are on my mind constantly. Mm totally. That's a really nice solution to give back to your staff to, you know, take a forced mental health day and recharge and recoup. I really like that. What does the future look like? What does next year look like. I think for us next year is where you need to make a couple of key hires are still a really leading small team. So I'm excited to do that. I'm excited to continue coming out with products that our customers are asking for and that we're really excited to share. And then I think the third piece is I'm excited to like continue building this bright land world from a creative standpoint two and like do more storytelling.
00:26:53 Like we've really ramped up our editorial side and we're now we introduced a new series called Breaking bread and we're featuring people who we love and admire. So like it's basically people who I'm like in all of you know And so we featured first Maurice Harris who's this incredible floral designer. Like he's the floral designer for like Beyonce and Rihanna, He's based here in L. A. And so cool. And then we're about to come out with breaking bread series with Susan Alexandra who is an amazing accessories designer in new york who just like love her. Yeah. Like her love for color and and personality is just so incredible. So I'm really excited about that too. Mm That's such a nice partnership. I can totally see that and I love that you guys do the recipes and the cooking and the tables. Like I was looking through some of the chef recipes that you have and I was like, well I'm definitely gonna make that for dinner, that's amazing.
00:27:56 Um So it's all that kind of like, you know, food, like yummy soul stuff that you look at and you're like, wow, this is so cool and um it really shines through in your content, thank you, What advice do you have for women who have a big idea and want to start their own business? Um it depends on the stage for different stages, I would have different pieces of advice um if they're like, you know, I want to start something, but I don't know what it is in that stage, I would definitely say really dig deep and ask yourself why you want to start this and what kind of life you want and try to envision, Not just like the first two years, but maybe like four or five years, maybe 10 years down the line, that would be one piece of advice that I would give, I think I'm actually a big believer in vision boarding, like I created a vision board and you know, used magazines and cut things out and cut out words and you know, it's kind of crazy, like a lot of the vision board not to sound too, but like it kind of came to reality and I think just being fearless and even like putting it on paper in the first place was really helpful so um You know, like I think it's wonderful if somebody wants to do that and then I think the other thing is, you know, really, really understand your finances and understand how much is it going to cost to launch it?
00:29:23 How much is it going to cost to sustain it? Can you not take a salary for a while because you are working for 10 years and you save some money? Or are you in a place where you need to take a salary? What does that look like? Do you need to raise money? Like I think the money piece of it isn't talked about as much, you know, definitely recommend that people like really dive into that and also have an honest conversation with themselves on like the risk that they're willing to kind of put forth. Mm totally great advice. Great advice. We are up to the six quick questions part of the episode, Question number one is what's your y to break boundaries and create dialogue. Question number two is what's been the number one marketing moment that's made your business pop? Mm I don't know that business pop, but this moment was really just amazing. We were featured in the new york times food section and in like a big piece about the importance of freshness in olive oil and we were in print and I, you know, I since I lived in new york for so long.
00:30:37 Like I used to read the new york times, like every day cover to cover and just seeing myself in print was like yeah, it was so special. Did you frame it? Yeah, I love that. That's so cute. They must look at it every day and be like, that's my girl question number three is where do you hang out to get smarter? What are you reading listening to chatting with? I actually, it's funny. I actually opened a really good courier media email today about delegation and I thought that that was really strong and a couple of the other emails that have opened from them recently have been really action oriented and actually helpful to entrepreneurs. So that just pops into my mind. And then um I actually love reading like fiction. I love reading like fantasy. I love reading things that just have nothing to do with business because then you're reading about life and you're reading about different experiences and I think it then creates space for you to make better decisions totally.
00:31:48 I think it fuels your like imagination and let your mind wander to different areas. Absolutely. Which is always key. Question number four is how do you win the day? What are your AM and PM rituals that keep you feeling happy and motivated and productive and successful? Definitely a workout of some sort. Even if it's a 13 minute like high intensity interval, you know, super quick workout of some sort or even if I can't do that, I'm like literally blank for two minutes. Like just doing something with my body I think is really important. Um I've been doing a standing desk for a little bit and that has been really nice. It actually like gives me jolts of energy rather than sitting all day. Um and then in the evening. So since we live in L. A. were around 15, 20 minutes from the beach. So I love going to the beach and clearing my mind and walking with books. Oh my God, I'm so jealous.
00:32:49 I'm so jealous on the dog and the beach thing. I'm actually doing a standing desk right now. I'm giving it a trial and it's pretty good. It feels good to stand up. I was a bit nervous about it. It's quite good Question # five is if you only have $1,000 left in your business bank account, where would you spend it. Mm I think I'll just give it to my team. Thank them for all the hard work that they've done. Nice. I love that. I've heard that a few times. And last question question #6 is how do you deal with failure and it can be around personal experience or just your general mindset and approach just picking yourself up and moving on like it's okay to wallow in it for a second and it depends on the grades of failure. You know, if it's something totally outside of your control, then you really got to just brush it, brush it off, you know, and and keep rolling and um if you had something to do with it then maybe, you know, I like to take a step back and think about maybe what can I change?