Nov. 29, 2021

128. The Best Olive Oil You’ve Never Had

128. The Best Olive Oil You’ve Never Had

In Episode 128, Quinn unpacks the most delicious olive oil in the world, how it came to be, and what it means to start a food business in the age of climate change.

Our guest is: Aishwarya Iyer, dreamer, doer, and eternal optimist. Ash is the founder and CEO of Brightland, the new gold standard in pantry essentials. They are proponents and advocates for authenticity and transparency in the food industry, starting with olive oil.

There are something like six bajillion bottles of olive oil at your local supermarket, and that’s just the extra virgin stuff. And yet, despite the options (organic, cold-pressed, etc) you’d be hard-pressed (sorry) to find pure, quality oils – ones that aren’t blended, rancid, or worse. 

Thankfully, you don’t have to cross the Atlantic (and the Mediterranean) in order to find the good stuff. It’s available right here in California.

Ash has been hard at work extending olive branches (you’re welcome) to local family farms, getting them to buy into the mission and the message. Brightland is also branching out into sweet and sour territory with truly addictive honey and vinegar offerings.

Making a difference often means shopping responsibly. It’s wonderful having one more option when it comes to it.

Today’s episode is brought to you by Avocado Green Brands, where sustainability comes first. They craft their GOTS certified organic mattresses, pillows, and bedding with natural materials sourced from their organic farms in India, in their own clean-energy powered facility in Los Angeles, where their team shares a singular purpose: To raise the bar for what it means to be a sustainable business. 

Avocado is Climate Neutral Certified for net zero emissions and donates one percent of all revenue to environmental nonprofits through its membership with 1% For the Planet. 

Find out what it means to sleep organic at AvocadoMattress.com.

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Transcript

Episode #128

 

Quinn:
Welcome to Important, Not Important. My name is Quinn Emmett and this is science for people who give a shit. There's a lot going on out there. Man, our world is changing and being changed every single day. Friends, you can take part in that change. I talk to the smartest, most impactful people on the planet to provide you with the inspiration and tools you need to feel better and to fight for a better future for everyone. Our guests are CEOs and scientists, doctors, nurses, journalists, farmers, policy makers, educators, astronauts, even a reverend.

Quinn:
If you want to be inspired, to find out how to make radical change, hit the subscribe button right now and you'll get even more conversations, stories, and tools right when they come out. You can also go backwards. You can scroll through the feed or go to podcast.importantnotimportant.com, the link's right there in your show notes, where you can find 120 plus evergreen episodes covering everything from clean energy to cancer and artificial intelligence to regenerative agriculture. You can sort by category, you can see our starter pack, whatever you need.

Quinn:
In this week's conversation, we're going to unpack the most delicious olive oil I've ever tasted, how it came to be, the women behind it, and what it means to start and run a company like this in the age of climate change. My guest is Aishwarya Iyer, and I cannot wait for you to meet her. A reminder, you can send questions, feedback, or guest recommendations to me on Twitter @importantnotimp, or you can email me at questions@importantnotimportant.com

Quinn:
Climate crisis keeping you up at night? Welcome. Better sleep awaits with an organic certified avocado green mattress. The world's first climate neutral certified mattress for net zero emissions. Avocado knows we can all do our part to address climate change. In their new podcast series, A Little Green, shows how we can each challenge the status quo and become climate leaders in our own communities. Because protecting our planet is going to take all of us. Find A Little Green wherever you listen to your podcast and get more rest at avocadomattress.com. My guest today is Aishwarya Iyer. I'm so excited to have you here. Mostly so I can have more for free delicious foods. Aishwarya, welcome.

Aishwarya Iyer:
Thank you. I'm so jazzed to be here.

Quinn:
We will see. Aishwarya, if you don't mind, tell the people real quick who you are and what it is that you do.

Aishwarya Iyer:
My name is Aishwarya Iyer. I go by Ash. I live in Los Angeles, sunny LA, and I am the founder and CEO of Brightland. Brightland is a pantry essentials brand, most well-known for our extra virgin olive oils and fruit-forward vinegars made right here in California. I'm also a dog mom, I have two wonderful dogs. And I've been married for about six years.

Quinn:
That is awesome. Now I'm entirely distracted. Let's talk about your dogs for a second here. What are their names? What are they? How old are they? What are their personalities? Go.

Aishwarya Iyer:
Crosby and Madison are the two dogs named after are two special streets in New York City. Crosby is a terrier mix. We think he's some sort of yorkie schnauzer mix. And Madison is some sort of cockapoo mix. They both are rescues. We got Crosby five, six years ago, and Madison almost two years ago. Madison is like a mop, just really looks like one. All she cares about is food and being near us. And Crosby has enough personality to take over a stadium. He is a little dog, that's 11 or 12 pounds with the personality of, I don't know, Bill Clinton.

Quinn:
How do they get along? Wait, how old are they?

Aishwarya Iyer:
Madison is 11 and Crosby ... These are guesses by the way, because of the rescue situation.

Quinn:
Oh, sure. I've got one of those, too.

Aishwarya Iyer:
11-ish. Crosby, excuse me, is seven, eight-ish. And they get along well. I think they like each other. I wouldn't say that they adore each other.

Quinn:
That's fair. That's fair. How long have they been together?

Aishwarya Iyer:
They've been together for two years now.

Quinn:
Okay. All right. So we're getting there.

Aishwarya Iyer:
And you said you have dogs?

Quinn:
I do. I've got a long history of them. In fact, it's helpful for the people out there, and we'll get into this. In a funny setup, works with my brothers in some way. And you should know that my brother was named after a friend's family dog. So stuff that in your pocket.

Aishwarya Iyer:
I definitely am.

Quinn:
We've had some wonderful dogs over a lifetime. And then when I met my wife, she had a dog Buddy who we loved very much. Was a schnauzer poodle, a schnoodle. Very complicated woman, loved her so much. She died at 14-and-a-half, which is about all you can ask for, a couple years ago. And now we've got Teddy who is basically my other coworker here. He's our rescue, similar cockapoo. I mean, who can even know what this dog is? Rescued out of a cardboard box surrounded by his dead brothers and sisters when he was a baby. And still wakes up every day like it's the greatest day in the world. I mean, I am firmly convinced that he thinks he's a human.

Aishwarya Iyer:
They are. They think they are. My dogs will sit on the sofa with us almost humanlike. If we let them, I think they would sit at the dinner table with us.

Quinn:
I don't think you could tell him that he's a dog. He's not interested in that lifestyle, whatsoever. It's pretty entertaining, but he's the best. Dogs are the greatest things ever.

Aishwarya Iyer:
They are. They really are.

Quinn:
Wonderful. Awesome. Should we go with Aishwarya or should I roll with Ash? It's totally up to you.

Aishwarya Iyer:
Ash is great.

Quinn:
Okay. It's up to you. This is great. This is great. Ash, thank you for sharing your story about your dogs. We will come back to them for sure. We do like to usually kick this off with one specific question to set the tone. Instead of enlightening us with your entire life story, I like to ask, Ash, why are you vital to the survival of the species? And I encourage you to be bold because you are here for a reason.

Aishwarya Iyer:
I am vital to the survival of the species because I'm a dreamer, I'm also a doer, and I'm an eternal optimist. And these are three things that we really, really need. I think on the dreaming side, we need people who are dreaming big and dreaming about what could be. And on the doing side, I think dreaming is not enough and executing is incredibly important. And I think one perfect example of that is, not to plug my company, but with Brightland ...

Quinn:
I mean, that's why we're here today.

Aishwarya Iyer:
With Brightland, I started the company with $30,000 of my savings. I didn't have access to the usual friends and family network. Since then, we have raised in capital, but we've done so much with so little. And I think that the element of dreaming and doing, coming together can be a really unstoppable combination in terms of putting something good out in the world. You might be asking, "Okay, what is that good out in the world that we're putting out?" It's really exceptional, fresh, high quality extra virgin olive oil and vinegar in an industry that's rampant with questionable quality pantry essentials that are littering our shelves.

Aishwarya Iyer:
And ultimately, that means that it's better for you, has more health benefits and tastes better and changes how you think about your food and your cooking. Then the final piece of it in terms of the optimism, I mean, I think that it's really tough right now to think about your own world or just broader society in a positive way. I always, always try as much as possible to look to the sunny side of situations. And I think we really need people who ... We have to think that way.

Quinn:
All of that is welcome to find it all in one package is wonderful and essential and necessary. I don't want to say deeply lacking out there because I do feel there's a lot of folks that are trying to embrace those things to put them out there. It's just, like you said, it's hard sometimes these days to do that. And it might increasingly be that way just because of some of the stakes we've put in the ground, but there's always room for it and it's what's going to help us push through this just tremendous transformation.

Aishwarya Iyer:
Exactly.

Quinn:
Thank you for sharing all that. I always try to think about why I specifically wanted to have this conversation. Not just have it but put it out there. Because 10 times the number offline that we eventually will sit down and record. And I've been so lucky to meet and dig into and explore topics and people and all these different things. But besides your incredible food, which we're going to get to, we are undergoing this tremendous transformation. I choose to use that word a lot because while we have enormous ... Paint the landscape. We have made huge progress in the Stephen Pinker perspective over the past, at least 50 years, improving the outcomes for the majority of humans in the world. On so many flavors, it's so easy to notice that.

Quinn:
There's been trade offs. We have enormous systemic issues. Many of which are the same we've had for the past 300 years or 400 years and many are new or they're coming to light. But always with problems come opportunities. That's why I use that word transformation because we're doing all of it. And part of that is folks are just more concerned and they're more thoughtful than ever about the food they buy and where it comes from. And if it's something that's grown out of the ground, which it should be, how it's grown and where it's grown, how it's handled, what it does or doesn't do to their bodies, which for a lot of things is always up for debate. Or even their kids' bodies or their parents' bodies.

Quinn:
And of course, again, caveating all of that with the note that at least in America, the accessibility and the availability and the affordability of the so-called cleanest and healthiest foods are nowhere near universal by any stretch. And to go even further, nor are the incentives to grow the healthiest foods. If we were doing this right, we'd be growing 90% legumes. But there is a new wave of far cleaner, more innovative and at the same time, often simpler options. In everything, from sodas, some of these colas that are just chockfull of probiotics, to chips and olive oils and vinegars and honey. Oh my God, your honey.

Quinn:
On the one hand, there's no better time to start a specialty food company. There's funding for it now, there's demand for it. There are even marketplaces like Thrive that directly support these types of things. Again, it's complicated. Starting a specialty food company during what is basically the beginning of a climate crisis and in California, it has a high degree of difficulty. But I have been inhaling your products for a couple years now. I have heard so much about you. And I want to understand this whole thing. And I know there's so many people in our community who are doing things like you are doing or try to or want to be a designer at a company like yours or on the manufacturing side or growing side. So I want to dig into this thing from soup to nuts. So Ash, let's start with why olive oil? There's six million different bottles and that's just at Whole Foods or wherever. Your website says no fillers or artificial preservatives. What's usually in olive oil?

Aishwarya Iyer:
It's an interesting question. So I think it goes back to the genesis of why I decided to start Brightland. And that was because I was cooking more and just stopped eating outside all the time. Was still living in New York City. Started experimenting in my kitchen and kept noticing that I kept getting stomachaches every time I cooked, both my partner and I. We cut out bread, we cut out cheese and spices. Eventually, a nutritionist friend said, "It might be the cooking oil you're using. You should figure that out." And we said, "Maybe it is. It could be the cause of our stomachaches."

Aishwarya Iyer:
So I started Googling bad olive oil or rancid olive oil because we were using olive oil at the time and was really surprised to read about ... There's just a lot of pieces that have come out in recent years about how there may be a major quality issues in the olive oils that we're consuming. There may be adulteration, which means that olive oil is being blended with palm oil, canola oil. There may be rancid and rotten product on the market. Just reading about that was really shocking honestly and that spurred the interest in, "Okay, well then what does good mean?"

Quinn:
Sure. So now, what does good mean to you? I guess, let's start with your earliest phase of taking this on. What was your threshold, your lowest common denominator for being, to steal a phrase from the industry, better for you?

Aishwarya Iyer:
I mean, look, I had no idea what good olive oil meant. I thought it meant it's coming from Italy and then you hold onto it and save it for as long as possible because it's special, it's very expensive.

Quinn:
Like wine.

Aishwarya Iyer:
Like wine. Exactly. I had no idea that there were olive varietals like wine. I had no idea if you take a step back that olive oil is like wine in so many beautiful ways and has those nuances of terroir and varietals and harvest state and all of those things. But it's the opposite of wine in that it absolutely has a shelf life and you need to consume it as fast as possible in order for you to taste it in its freshest state. That was news to me. I think that starting with freshness and then moving into what does it mean to blend two types of olives together. There are hundreds of types of olive varietals that can be blended into olive oil, which I had no idea about that either. I thought that was fascinating when I learned.

Aishwarya Iyer:
And what happens is when you blend different varietals of olives together, the oil tastes different and can be used in different ways when you're cooking. All of those things together, I think, for me, were my baseline education of freshness, harvest date, understanding that there's a shelf life, understanding the multi-layered varietal side of things. And then thinking about regionality. I think the final piece that really affected how we thought about Brightland was you don't have to find great olive oil across the Atlantic. It's also right here in the states in California. So that was the other discovery for me.

Quinn:
It's also compelling, isn't it? You start pulling on these strings and discover that there's so much more to it than you could ever have imagined as the layperson who just scans the bottles, finds a nice label and tries to pick up something that it seems like it will at least be delicious and useful for your cooking, but I guess, at most, but at least not make you sick. And that is your initial threshold. It's like, "I need something that's not going to make me not feel well and then hopefully it is actually a benefit." And it's interesting. Again, it's not so simple, just like if someone's like, "Well, agriculture and climate change." And you're like, "Buddy, that's 4,000 different things. We can talk all day about that."

Quinn:
I'm curious if you could take a further step back for folks. Because you used the term that I think is helpful, but I wonder if it needs some contextualization in 2021 as we're going forward, which is this phrase pantry essentials. What else fits in there to you? That's going to be something different to so many different people depending on their cultures and where they're from or where they live and availability and of course, for their affordability. But for someone who is at home, and we've all been at home for the past year and cooking more than usual, what are the pantry essentials besides olive oil in your mind?

Aishwarya Iyer:
That's such a good question. I mean, it's so unique to each person and their background and how they cook and how they think about food. I certainly don't want to speak for anyone else. I'm going to speak just for myself.

Quinn:
Go for it.

Aishwarya Iyer:
And it would be extra virgin olive oil. For me, it would be, sesame oil because I do make a lot of Indian food with sesame oil or sometimes coconut oil. It would be avocado oil. So maybe just the oils that you use, vinegars that you might use, the salts and peppers, the honey, agave, date syrup, the sweetener side. Then spices, I think, could be considered pantry essentials. You can keep going after that. Chili crisp could be a pantry essential if you want it to be. I think the phrase pantry essentials can be really far and wide reaching.

Aishwarya Iyer:
But in the context of Brightland, for us, we think about it in the lens of, "Hey, is this something that you're picking up and grabbing on a pretty regular basis? Is this something that potentially lives on your countertop and isn't stored away in your refrigerator or in a cabinet?" That has allowed us to think about, "Okay, starting with extra virgin olive oils, what are other categories that fit under this umbrella of pantry essentials?"

Quinn:
Well, it's interesting because you're totally right, it is so different for everyone. And I loved your description. Thank you for sharing those. Date syrup changed my life. I lived in the middle east for a little while and I remember using that for the first time and just being like, "Oh my God."

Aishwarya Iyer:
So good.

Quinn:
It's interesting because this is such a lateral leap, but I think about when before Google bought them, when the company Nest came around and the first thing they reinvented was the thermostat, and it's just decidedly unsexy category. But it's in every house and they're terrible, but you guess you didn't really realize they were terrible because your context was there really wasn't anything better. So you just had this imprecise slider back and forth and the temperature was just gauged, if you thought about it, from wherever this thermostat was in a dark hallway in your house. And that's what your house was set at. And they were like, "But that's not good enough." And it could be so much smarter because it's 2021 and we know more and it can do more and how revolutionary that was.

Quinn:
Then the next thing they did, which had some complications because it becomes more complicated with smoke alarms. Which again, everyone need them, but they don't have to be just dumb and they go off in the middle of the night accidentally. I think about that as we identify what are in these staple pantry essentials for most people. But then region by region and culture by culture and again, affordability-wise, looking at them and going like, "Well, wait, just because there are six million bottles of olive oil on Whole Foods ..." I'm sure some of these companies are doing the best they can but a lot of them are lowest common denominator. And they haven't informed you that for instance, olive oil has a shelf life. That it's not wine. I mean, how many people know that? I didn't really know that until your stuff came out and that's crazy. I've been cooking my whole life.

Aishwarya Iyer:
Right. That's exactly it. I think there's just so much we don't really even know or realize. And for me, that aha moment was also seeing a lot of my friends and people around me really invest in the food that they were eating. Whether it was going to the farmer's market and buying kale at a premium than you would maybe at Trader Joe's. Or thinking about clean beauty, too, I think was another moment and element for me to say, "Hey, we're talking about what's going on our body. We're talking about what's going in our bodies from a food standpoint and farmer's market standpoint. But again, these sort of essentials are being used every single day." If you go and buy really high quality kale at the farmer's market, and then you're dousing it with rotten avocado or olive oil, what's the point?

Quinn:
What's the point? Absolutely. Hey, it's Quinn, I'll make this quick. Sifting through the news is a slog. Finding the signal in the noise, it's damn near impossible. And if you do, what can you even do about it? I'll tell you what you can do. Literally every week, I'll tell you the most impactful thing you can do. In just 10 minutes a week, you can get smarter, feel better, and make radical change for yourself, your family, your investments, your company, and for the world. Join tens of thousands of other leaders and subscribe to our free weekly newsletter at newsletter.importantnotimportant.com. Get the most vital science news, exclusive analysis, and action steps for free. That's newsletter.importantnotimportant.com or just click the link right in your show notes. Back to the show.

Quinn:
It's so interesting you mentioned the beauty thing because that's a huge thing. And was outside my circle of competence, certainly, mostly from just negligence. But we had a really great conversation with Gregg Renfrew who started and runs Beauty Counter. It's really interesting. I mean, she just set the tone when she was like, "Hey, do you know that the beauty industry hasn't been regulated since 1938?" And you're just like, "What? How is that possible?" And then we dug in and really explored that. You're putting this on your skin, which is incredibly absorbent.

Quinn:
First of all, there's the element of the workers who are working on this and what they're going through, but also just the questionable chemicals that have just become the default for going into all these things so that your skin does shine or sparkle. Guess what? There's tradeoffs for everything. Just because something can sit on your shelf for a long time doesn't mean it should. I really appreciate that thinking along those lines of we have to question our expectations because of this baseline that we have become accustomed to even if we can afford what seems to be the fanciest bottle on the shelf. I want to talk a little about ... Because you work with some family farms, is that correct? For the oils and the vinegars and maybe even the honeys?

Aishwarya Iyer:
That's right. Yes.

Quinn:
Tell me about that. And then I have some questions.

Aishwarya Iyer:
I mean, on the olive oil side, when I decided that I wanted to do this, I took courses at the UC Davis Olive Center. And then I started visiting farms up and down California whether it was the Central Valley, Central Coast. Some people didn't even want to talk to me, many people. Then ended up meeting a husband and wife team that lives in the kind of Central Coast near San Louis, Obispo, that area. And we started talking about, "Hey, this is what I'm dreaming for this brand and this business." And they were so excited and really, I think, genuinely wanted to be a part of this. So they've been one of our primary partners since the very beginning and they're so, I think, galvanized to continue to grow with us. Everything is grown organically. The olives on their groves are hand-harvested. I visit them pretty often and we'll have lunch and just spend time together and I'll walk through the groves and it's really, really special.

Quinn:
I love that. I mean, I don't think anyone who's listening to this would be surprised to learn that family farms and small farms have had such a difficult time in the US over the past decades. But really recently, it's not easy whether you're trying to sell milk in the Northeast or you're someone in California or Florida or Georgia. And that is, again, I do want to remain optimistic, but California has changed whether it's water or it's the heat or it's the air quality or it's what's happening with the land becoming more parched and the heat the workers are dealing with or just the affordability of where they're living and insuring these, for instance, all these wineries in the Santa Barbara area that can't get insured anymore because of the fire exposure. How does that work into the plans and the mindsets of these family farms you're working with and with you as well?

Aishwarya Iyer:
Yeah, absolutely. I mean, well look, I think with olive trees, they're actually one of the most drought-resistant trees in the world and they require very little water. I mean, compared to almonds or avocados which are ... On that front, I think we've chosen something and we're in a fortunate position that way. From the size of the farm, it's such a good question. Large scale agriculture gets all of the subsidies, and these small farmers that are making ... I'm going to talk specifically about olive oil, who are making amazing olive oil are really, some of them are really struggling because the price per gallon that they need to charge based on labor and based on the honest practices that they have and the organic practices that they have, it ends up not being savory for someone like a mass market grocery store that wants to do private label and sell the bottle for $10 a bottle. The math doesn't work.

Aishwarya Iyer:
It has been actually a very interesting conversation with a lot of these farmers and these folks who say it's been really nice to have a brand like Brightland talk so much about quality and freshness and walk the walk in terms of who we partner with. Because ultimately, we're helping support these small farms. And hopefully, we can inspire maybe a new generation of farmers who want to continue doing this. Because there's actual appetite on the consumer side, too. Because of people like you, Quinn, who can taste the difference and are an avid supporter, and you've been cooking with Brightland for so long, you know the difference now. And I think that is the big shift.

Quinn:
I mean, I specifically will make a meal so that I can coat it in your olive oil at the end. I'm just like, "The end goal is X. So what do I have to do to get there?" I'm a full evangelist at this point. But again, I do acknowledge it's complicated. And you're right, olives seem perfect for this new, whether we want to call an extended drought or desertification that California is beginning to go through. Because if you look at where olive oil has traditionally come from and you look at the Middle East and Australia, not a lot of rain. These places are inherently parched as they are.

Quinn:
So it seems like it's well built as opposed to, like you said, and I was reading something the other day about, boy, we're just still growing a lot of almonds out there. And you feel for those workers and those farm owners, but holy shit, it's totally untenable. It's incredible what they require. It's truly gnarly, but again, this transition is not going to be completely comfortable for so many folks. Talk to me a little bit about your newest endeavor as far as working with farms, which is your honey, which my children just drink, by the way. It's such a problem.

Aishwarya Iyer:
That's a good problem. Well, we decided earlier this year to embark into honey. It's been on our roadmap for a very long time. And the reasoning behind it was we were reading up on how olive oil is named as the number one most fraudulent food in the world by a number of sources. And then saw that honey was number three. So we said, "Wait, what is going on here?" Dove a little bit deeper on that side. But most importantly, one of my colleagues and I started talking to beekeeping families and beekeeping farms, and we tasted over 40 types of honey, by the way, which was a very hilarious and sweet endeavor, and ultimately chose two honeys. One is a California orange blossom from a fourth generation mother-son duo beekeeping family here in California.

Aishwarya Iyer:
And then the other is a Kauai wildflower honey that is from a third generation beekeeping family that has roots here in California. But this particular honey comes from an all-female, all-women beekeeping team out of Kauai in Hawaii. When I tried that Kauai honey, I mean, I had never tried anything like that before. I could taste the coffee notes and the eucalyptus and the wild hibiscus. And I didn't even know what I was tasting. I said, "This tastes like coffee." And my colleague said, "Yeah, that's because the bees are pollinating in coffee grounds with wildflowers like hibiscus, with eucalyptus." And so whatever the bees are pollinating with and on, the honey ends up tasting like that.

Quinn:
It really is. It's like the matrix red pill, blue pill. You have it and you go, "Wait, this is honey?" This is what it's supposed to be and it's incredible.

Aishwarya Iyer:
Thank you. I mean, with the California orange blossom, it tastes like citrus and oranges. And tastes like, I think it tastes a little bit like Jasmine flowers. It has so much, again, that nuance and that beauty, it shouldn't just taste one dimensional. It should taste through three dimensional, if not four dimensional. The feedback we've gotten has been amazing and it's also so much fun to see what people make with it. Some of our customers were talking about how they're making hot chicken cutlets with the honey, like hot honey chicken cutlets, and people are, of course, using them with dressings and marinades. Then a bunch of people including me were baking with the honeys, which has been a blast.

Quinn:
My kids just make me buy ... I mean, they're relentless. They make me buy the tubes of biscuits and then they just dump the honey on them. I mean, they're just ... It's so good. It makes their [crosstalk 00:32:22]

Aishwarya Iyer:
That actually sounds so delicious for next week for Thanksgiving.

Quinn:
That's a great idea. That's a great idea.

Aishwarya Iyer:
So good.

Quinn:
That's fascinating. Tell me about how the vinegars fit in. Then we'll have covered your product offering so far.

Aishwarya Iyer:
On the vinegar side, the vinegars came to be because people kept saying, "Are you going to come out with vinegars? Do you have any vinegars you'd recommend?" So we tasted, I think, 15 to 20 different vinegars. We talked to folks in California, outside of California, actually. And originally, we thought, "Let's introduce a red wine vinegar and see how that goes." Ultimately, we ended up meeting this couple that's also in the Central Coast, they're in a town called Templeton in California. This couple that makes these fruit-forward vinegars. So vinegars are double fermented. They get the grapes, they're Chardonnay or Zinfandel grapes. They get the grapes from wineries that aren't using those grapes. So there's an up cycling element to it.

Aishwarya Iyer:
The grapes are double fermented, and then they are blended with either California citrus, like oranges or Navel and Valencia oranges or the other variety that we have is a blackberry balsamic vinegar. It's a California balsamic. The blackberries are triple crown blackberries that are picked on the vinegar farm itself. I think once we tried the two of those, we said, "Whoa. Okay, this is really delicious and special. Let's introduce this and see how it does." It's been a wonderful staple.

Aishwarya Iyer:
We also did a partnership earlier this year with this amazing, really interesting strawberry brand called Oishii. You should definitely geek out on it. They're doing some really interesting things in the vertical farming side of farming. And they're building this like, it's this strawberry that grows year round. So we took some of those strawberries and made a strawberry vinegar with those special berries. They call them the Omakase Berries. People went nuts. Fun fact, we sold out in three days.

Quinn:
I know, Ash, because I missed it and I'm still furious about it.

Aishwarya Iyer:
Well, good news. We're bringing it back in January. So keep your eyes peeled.

Quinn:
Awesome. Well, thank you for filling in the picture for folks. They are truly delicious. And I love hearing about, again, the soup to nuts, steal the misused phrase, from farm to table, truly how you guys are building not only delicious products, but your portfolio of how you're approaching foods and why you are. I want to go back because I was doing a little research, which always feels semi-stocky.

Quinn:
Let me put it this way, I've got this friend who we had on the show, her name's Bina Venkataraman and she is the author for book, speaking of you would love, called The Optimist's Telescope. She's also the opinions editor at the Boston Globe. And she has this quote, which has basically redefined this show the past year-and-a-half, two years in my work, which is how she endeavors to be a better ancestor. I know, it's messed up. Careful, it'll really stick with you because it's really specific, but also pretty deep. Your own ancestors were salt farmers in India. Is that correct?

Aishwarya Iyer:
Yes.

Quinn:
I wonder how that inspires you and the work you put into it and what practical lessons you've taken from it. But also acknowledging, we did a conversation a year and a half ago, two years, who can know, but it was called The Monsoon is 11 Days Late. And it's about how the climate for agriculture is changing so much in India. I know a lot of the desert salt farmers there are facing great uncertainties with their product and their yields and the livability there. I wonder if you can just talk a little bit about what that means to you and what you take away from it every day.

Aishwarya Iyer:
Oh, gosh. Yeah, I mean, I didn't know that for the longest time. I had these stomach issues, found out it could have been the cooking oil. Went down that rabbit hole. And then I just sat with it because I thought, "Why me? I'm not a restaurateur. I'm not a chef. What is my connection?" I come from a family of super passionate home cooks. So cooking and food has been such an integral part of my life and how my parents express love, how we maintain community and culture in terms of being Indian Americans here in this country.

Aishwarya Iyer:
But I wasn't sure how it would tie into from a business or professional side. I just couldn't see it. I was in India in 2017 and my grandpa said our ancestors in the 1800s used to harvest salt from the sea in South India, in Tamil Nadu. We also were peanut farmers. He was just naming things. I was so blown away and really felt something inside just clicked into place a little bit of you can find a sense of where you're going based on where you come from. So it was a little bit of that that clicked into place for me, and it means a lot.

Quinn:
I love that. It's amazing how you can feel this intuition that doesn't seem to have any grounding until it's filled in for you later.

Aishwarya Iyer:
Exactly. You can't really explain it, but it's so powerful to know where you come from, and that can end up informing the decisions you make in terms of where you want to go.

Quinn:
Absolutely. I mean, I'm one of those ancestry.com nerds. I love digging that stuff up for, at least, for my own kids. Because it's easy to lose those stories quickly. Like if your grandfather had never told you that stuff, you might not know those things. But it also matters, too. I have endeavored to really try to build a show that is very inclusive because there are so many lived experiences, and then ancestral lived experiences even beyond my home guests that are just very different from mine. I try to use that to build something that is more informative and holistic, but also more impactful for folks because that's just where we are. We need that more than ever.

Quinn:
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Quinn:
Tell me about why you eventually brought on ... This is such a pivot. Why you eventually brought on investors? Because didn't you bootstrapped this little company from the beginning?

Aishwarya Iyer:
I did. I bootstrapped it for over a year, and we got to a place where I was saying no more than yes because we just couldn't do certain things that we wanted to do. And I wanted to be in a place where I could say yes more to opportunities. That was, I think, a huge part of it. And I think the other part of it was I wanted to surround myself with champions and people who just would champion me and the business. I think that was the second piece of it. Really, really seeking that support because as a solo founder, it's a lonely journey.

Quinn:
Yes, it is. How big is your team now?

Aishwarya Iyer:
Our team is seven full-time, all women.

Quinn:
Wait, hold on. You're only seven people?

Aishwarya Iyer:
We're seven people full-time. I do want to caveat though. We have wonderful agencies and part-time and interns. We have wonderful people who support us. But yeah, full-time, it's seven of us.

Quinn:
That's crazy pants. Wow. That's very impressive. I mean, kudos to all this, like you said, all the other support. But wow, that's impressive. How tenable is that as you grow?

Aishwarya Iyer:
It's something I'm thinking about constantly. I think we'll hit a point where ... I think our ambitions are really, really big and I want to make sure that our team and how we structure and build the business can meet that moment. So it's something that I'm constantly thinking about.

Quinn:
So I do want to focus on the business here for a little bit, because again, people love the life story stuff and all of that and the inspiration, but the nitty gritty I think is what helps people understand like, "Hey, I could do this, too." So it helps to explore it a little bit. I do want to get to that idea of how are you going to scale all purposes of the business. And also the category you're in, which is these just better for you foods that come out of the ground, essentially, pantry essentials. But one of the things I think is most interesting to your business is how much you have focused on design. But that's not just a superficial thing. Is it? It actually comes down to literally how the bottle is made and why.

Aishwarya Iyer:
Yes. I think it's a couple things. I think people think that, "It's a pretty bottle." And the oil or whatever's inside is just regular. And I think, we really look at the design as, A, it's a form of storytelling and, B, there's a functional element to it. And that the reason why our olive oil bottles are not white is because it protects the oil from light, which is one of olive oil's biggest enemies. If you ever see an olive bottle in a clear bottle, excuse me, run away. You do not want to buy that. So that was the impetus, making sure that our bottles were completely opaque was very, very important to us.

Aishwarya Iyer:
I always say that our bottles are really like Trojan horses, because people will buy them for a friend or buy them for themselves and say, "This is gorgeous. It's going to sit in my kitchen and I can't wait." And then they try what's inside and they're blown away by the quality. And that's what ends up converting them to saying, "Oh my God, this has to be a part of my life going forward." But the bottles serve as this nice Trojan horse.

Quinn:
Absolutely. And in a world of Instagram and shit, I imagine that's just that is, like you said, top of the funnel, just getting people in the door. I mean, someday we'll go back to social functions. But I imagine in the old days, you'd show up with a couple bottles of wine of which I know jack shit about. But you show up with a couple beautiful olive oil bottles and at least makes people go, "Whoa. What is that? I've never seen that before." And then they pour the lemon one all over some pasta and their mind is blown.

Aishwarya Iyer:
Yes. Exactly.

Quinn:
But at the same time, these other mass producers don't put their oils in shitty metal or glass or plastic bottles because they think it's the best call overall for taste and longevity. What does such a functional but beautiful bottle do to, for instance, your margins? Is that also sustainable? Is that something you guys have thought about and thought it's worth the cost?

Aishwarya Iyer:
I mean, at the end of the day, our biggest cost is paying the farmers well. That is it. So yes, of course the white bottle adds to it, but it's marginal compared to the cost to the farmers. And we are not going to compromise on making sure that our farmers are paid well, that they feel like they can continue to create this gorgeous, amazing product. And it's just not in anyone's best interest to squeeze them out of their livelihood. So I think from a big picture standpoint, I think it's really that education and understanding that if something is a product of agriculture and it's made here in the United States and you're supporting a small farm, a family-run farm that doesn't have massive subsidies and is doing things organically, you are going to be paying more for it.

Quinn:
Sure. I mean, at the same time, it is only almost your obligation as someone who is trying to both support and promote those farmers to protect the product until it gets to the consumer, right?

Aishwarya Iyer:
Yes. Exactly.

Quinn:
I mean, it would be so destructive to go like, "All right, we'll just shove it in a glass bottle and put it on a shelf." And it's like, "Well, then nobody actually gets the benefit of that thing."

Aishwarya Iyer:
That's exactly it.

Quinn:
I imagine we're going to grow beyond seven amazing women and that support staff at some point, but also product-wise, how do you working with family farms scale both Brightland itself, but also scale it to make it something that is eventually available in more grocery stores, in more places so that more people have access to this quality?

Aishwarya Iyer:
It's such a good question. I mean, for us, we've been having a lot of conversations with other farms that we love and respect. We're building a collective of farms that we will continue to work with. And on the team side, I think that's where we're really, really thoughtful about growth and hiring. We want to do it sustainably. We want to be, I think, really careful about who we bring on and at what point in time. I'm really proud to say that we have a 0% attrition. No one has left the company. I'm not really interested in building something that is going from zero to 700 in the course of a year. I just don't think that is how nature intends for these products to grow, nor should really an organization grow in that way. And if it does, you're definitely giving up certain things around the culture.

Quinn:
But that is sometimes the expectation when you bring on investors though. So you were able to communicate that pretty well, you feel like?

Aishwarya Iyer:
I think so. I think the days of a physical product company growing like that, I think people have seen and learned some lessons in the past couple years. So I honestly think that, at least, our investors are very, very much on the same page as us. We always talk about ambitious, aggressive yet really thoughtful growth.

Quinn:
I mean, I remember, when my brother and my other brother, when they pitched, I don't remember which region of Whole Foods it was. They're pitching at the time and it might still be the same. There's 11 different regions or whatever it might be. And this is pre-Amazon and everything. Now, nine years ago, something like that. And overnight, Whole Foods is like, "Great. We're going to put it in every store. We need a million chia bars." And they were like, "This isn't software." "Oh my God, we have to make a million chia bars. Oh my God. How are we going to pay to make a million ..." The overnight thing was damn near impossible. So it's nice that there's some more consideration for that thing now.

Aishwarya Iyer:
Definitely. Definitely. It's long overdue and needed to happen.

Quinn:
What is your biggest obstacle right now? What's on your shit list as you're going into next week and next quarter and next year?

Aishwarya Iyer:
I think that the biggest obstacle right now is really blocking out the noise. I think it's never been noisier on social media. People are shouting to be heard. Brands are shouting to be heard. And it seems like every other day, someone is doing something eerily similar to you, whether it ranges from a marketing campaign, all the way to coming out with a product that's super similar to yours. I think that for me, my biggest hurdle is always staying true to us, staying relentlessly focused, and cutting out the noise. I think that that doesn't just apply to a business owner, I think it applies to everybody. I think everyone is extremely oversaturated with the noise that social brings, whether it's Twitter ...

Aishwarya Iyer:
Whatever you're on, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, it's all so noisy. It brings out a lot of the worst tendencies in all of us in terms of being vain and humble bragging, and performative behaviors. And I think that it's tiring for people to absorb on a day-to-day basis, to keep absorbing that kind of energy. I'm very focused on spending less time on my phone on those activities and making sure that we do things that are true to us. For example, we actually opened a shop in NoLita in New York City and Soho on Elizabeth Street. We did that as an antidote to all of the digital mayhem. We said, "Let's do something totally analog. Let's test this out." It's a micro retail concept. It's a couple hundred square feet, but it's this jewel box of a beautiful shop. That's our way of just planting a different flag in the ground.

Quinn:
I love that. And it's got to be a balance for you though, because you guys are crazy popular on Instagram and the like. Again, I imagine you do have to still serve that crowd.

Aishwarya Iyer:
Yes. But how do we do it in a way that serves ourselves and our brand? One example is we don't post every single day. We have a set number of days that we post and we don't go over that. Even if the algorithm would reward us more, we'd have more following, we'd have maybe more of everything if we were to post every day. I refuse to put my team through that.

Quinn:
Well, I love that. I mean, I feel like if there's anything that folks who have been privileged enough to do so over the past year-and-a-half, couple years now have realized, and to a smaller, but to a meaningful extent, tried to commit to is just some rationality to how we conduct our days and our weeks, both for ourselves and our businesses and our families, because it's just ... I mean, especially in this country, it's too much. It's just too much. We cannot do this part if you'd like, but I also think it would be fun. On the note of those pantry essentials, what are three to five or two or whatever other brands or products that you love and swear by that are barking up the same tree as far as what they're committed to?

Aishwarya Iyer:
I love Brooklyn Delhi. It's Indian-owned. They do a lot of sauces and achaars and chutneys, they have a curry ketchup. I mean, their stuff is phenomenal. They are definitely at the top of my list right now. Who else do I really love? I love Burlap and Barrel. They have single origin, incredible spices. And we actually collaborated with them this holiday to come out with a Brightland spice blend. It's really fantastic. They visit every country that they source the spices from, and they're one of the only direct trade spice companies out there. So our spice blend has cobanero chili and Turkish [inaudible 00:53:04] black pepper. It has just really, really, we have some really special ingredients that come together and I love them a lot.

Quinn:
Awesome. Rock and roll. Well, if you have more, you can always send them to me as well and we'll do that. All right, we're getting close to time here. I'm so thankful for you sharing this and your whole story with us. I got a few last questions we ask everybody, and then we'll get you out of here. I know you've got something you want to share with everybody so that they can inhale olive oil the way I do. Ash, when was the first time in your life when you realized that you or you and whatever squad you roll with, had the power of change or the power to do something meaningful? What was that first inclination? It could be during your school days, it could be professionally.

Aishwarya Iyer:
I always say I am living a much bigger life than I ever thought I would. I was not one of those people that said, "I'm going to be a Supreme Court justice one day," and then ended up working as a legal council somewhere. I'm actually the opposite in that I had such little dreams for myself. I didn't really know what I wanted to be and would ask people what should I be and try to take what their vision of me was and apply it to my myself. I'm definitely living a much bigger life than I ever dreamed I could. And I think I really stepped into myself at the beginning of this Brightland journey, to be totally honest.

Quinn:
I love that. That's awesome. Ash, who is someone in your life that has positively impacted your work in the past six months?

Aishwarya Iyer:
Oh my gosh. I can't say one person. I'm going to say my whole team, the other six women on my team. They are so amazing, they are phenomenal from a execution standpoint, from how they dream up things. Their creativity, I think their pursuit of New York City excellence with California spirit, which is one of Brightland's core values, I see them do that and manifest that every day. So definitely my team.

Quinn:
I love that. Would you say if nothing else applied, that that would be your leading indicator for hiring another woman like this, is the ... What was it? New York City excellence with California spirit?

Aishwarya Iyer:
Yeah. That's definitely one of them. And the other is someone who is thinking about we and not just me.

Quinn:
I love that. Ash, it's been a little crazy out there these days. What is your self-care? Runs, going in the woods, video games, ice cream, who can know?

Aishwarya Iyer:
Okay. So my self-care things are definitely putting the phone away in a cabinet for an extended period of time. It's reading cookbooks. Even if I've gone through the cookbooks before, they don't need to be new. I love to just sit there with some music and just flick through cookbooks. Even if it's a cookbook where I'm like, "I don't think I'm going to ever make any of this." But just the joy and sitting with a glass of wine, looking at cookbooks, I love Succession and Morning Show. So watching those two shows. Definitely yoga and my Peloton have been a part of self-care. And then my husband and my dogs are a huge part of it because we go on an hour-long walk in the morning, every single day.

Quinn:
That's awesome. Would you put them in that order? Husband and dogs?

Aishwarya Iyer:
Maybe dogs and husband.

Quinn:
Nobody has to know. Amazing. Thank you for sharing that. Look, it seems like such a silly question, but A, it's been gnarly for so long and B, again, there's so many people that are just hustling out there and we try to make it very clear that you got to stop and take care of yourself.

Aishwarya Iyer:
You have to.

Quinn:
I think people love learning from folks like yourself who are doing it, but are also taking care of themselves.

Aishwarya Iyer:
On that point, I just have to say, I'm very much anti-hustle porn behavior. I am not just sitting on my computer late into the evening. I really like try not to work much on the weekends because it's really, we have to remember that this is all a marathon. It's just not a sprint and we can't let ourselves burn out and we have to know what our individual capacity is, too.

Quinn:
Sure. My therapist is very frequently, I mean, he's probably just got it on re repeat at this point, telling me my load and my limit cannot be the same thing all of the time.

Aishwarya Iyer:
I like that.

Quinn:
It sticks with you. Last one. What is a book you've read this year that has either opened your mind to a topic you hadn't considered before or that has changed your thinking in some way?

Aishwarya Iyer:
There's this interior designer named Axel Vervoordt. His style is very, it's so neutrals and nudes. He really was one of the pioneers of the Wabi-Sabi mindset when thinking about interiors. Candidly, I've always rejected his aesthetic, but then I bought a book of his and spent time with it and found a lot of beauty in what he was saying and his philosophy behind interiors, and it made me think about it in a different way. Because I'm all about color and brightness. And for me, just coziness, that's my Wabi-Sabi, and to see him talk about his viewpoint totally different but I think equally really special.

Quinn:
That's cool. Not easy to change someone's mind on interior design.

Aishwarya Iyer:
No. I mean, I don't think I'll ever actually pursue his aesthetics.

Quinn:
Sure, but you appreciate it now for what it is.

Aishwarya Iyer:
I appreciate it.

Quinn:
That's awesome. Well, we'll dig that up and we've got a wonderful list on bookshop that we throw everybody's recommendations into. The guests love that. Okay. Last thing before we get out of here. You said you had some code for our people. Let's give them that so that they can do the thing.

Aishwarya Iyer:
Absolutely. We have a little holiday gift for all of the listeners. Use the code INI at brightland.co and you'll get 10% off of anything that you buy from now until the end of the year, so through the holidays.

Quinn:
Amazing.

Aishwarya Iyer:
I highly recommend going to our gift guide. We have minis. We have some really wonderful sets and bundles that you can shop for everyone on your list, teachers, parents, kids, spouses, loved ones, colleagues. I really loved being on this. Thank you so much.

Quinn:
Of course. Thank you. I have been so curious about you and the product and the company for so long. I really appreciate it. So the website is brightland.co. Is that correct?

Aishwarya Iyer:
Yes. Brightland.co.

Quinn:
Instagram, what is it? Is it just Brightland?

Aishwarya Iyer:
@wearebrightland.

Quinn:
Wearebrightland. Beautiful. Awesome. We're going to throw in the code, INI. And that's just at checkout. Is that correct?

Aishwarya Iyer:
Exactly.

Quinn:
Beautiful. Ash, thank you so much for all that you're doing in supporting these farmers who are having a tough time and turning into something incredible and to paying them fairly. Then protecting people against themselves by giving us a bottle that helps us keep the food fresh. I also realized at one point that I was keeping it next to the burners in the oven, and then I realized I'd been making that mistake my whole life. So I learned that from-

Aishwarya Iyer:
Oh, no.

Quinn:
I know, terrible. But you know what? You can't go back and you can't change time, Ash. All we can do is do better going forward. Thank you so much. Really appreciate it. Please keep it up. Thank you to your incredible team out there. It is amazing what you guys are doing. I can't wait for more people, too. It's crazy.

Aishwarya Iyer:
Thank you, Quinn. Thank you so much, Quinn. Loved every minute of this.

Quinn:
Thanks to our incredible guest today and thanks to all of you for tuning in. We hope this is so has made your commute or awesome workout or dishwashing or fucking dog walking late at night that much more pleasant. As a reminder, please subscribe to our free email newsletter at importantnotimportant.com. It is all the news, most vital to our survival as a species.

Brian:
And you can follow us all over the internet. You can find us on Twitter @importantnotimp. It's so weird. Also, on Facebook and Instagram @importantnotimportant. Pinterest and Tumblr, the same thing. So check us out, follow us, share us, like us, you know the deal. And please subscribe to our show wherever you listen to things like this. And if you're really fucking awesome, rate us on Apple Podcast. Keep the lights on. Thanks.

Quinn:
Please. And you can find the show notes from today right in your little podcast player

Brian:
and at our website, importantnotimportant.com.

Quinn:
Thanks to the very awesome Tim Blane for our jam and music. To all of you for listening. And finally, most importantly, to our moms for making us. Have a great day.

Brian:
Thanks, guys.