Aishwarya Iyer is the founder and CEO of Brightland, the gorgeous extra virgin olive oil and vinegar company based in California that you’ve probably seen on Goop, New York Times, and Vogue, and which is featured in our Sit, Stay (In), Treat Yourselves box (available for 20 percent off + free shipping using code SENDLOVE until 11/27/2020). Before she became a dog mom, the Los Angeles-based food entrepreneur worked in tech and venture capital in New York City for 10 years. These days, you can find her catching the sun with her two rescue dogs, Crosby the terrier mix and Madison the Cavapoo, and sneaking them scraps of food whenever possible.
Did you grow up with dogs?
I did not. My mother had a bit of childhood trauma with a neighbor’s dog, so she always had a fear of dogs. But even from the age of four or five, I knew that when I became a grownup, I would get a dog. So, I went and did that.
Tell us about your journey to adopting Crosby and Madison. How did you know you were ready for a dog?
[My husband and I] had moved to Los Angeles from New York, and it’s an easier place to have a dog—just being able to have more space and take them on picnics and hikes. I also started following dogs on Instagram. I saw that there were so many dogs out there that really needed homes. My partner and I both decided that we should start looking for dogs. So, in the summer of 2015, we started reaching out to various rescue organizations.
It was pretty competitive! We kept reaching out, and they’d be like, “Sorry, we’ve had so much interest,” and that happened to us to us at least six or seven times! Then, we started going to in-person events in the fall. Around November or December, we went to a rescue event in Santa Monica, and there was this little scruffy dog that was sitting there just looking up at the sun by himself. He was so tiny and scruffy and so cute, and he had found a place in the sunshine that wasn’t shady, and my husband just loved it because he loves sunshine, too. We asked about him, and that was that.
What was the inspiration for Crosby’s name?
His name came from New York City. My husband and I fell in love in New York. He lived there for eight years. I lived there for 10 years, and we met in New York, found love in New York, and used to go to the Crosby Street Hotel for a cocktail. I used to go to the SoulCycle on Crosby Street. We love Saturdays, the coffee shop that’s on Crosby. We wanted a name that was an ode to New York, and Crosby was perfect. He looks like a Crosby, too. He looks like he should be wearing a bow tie and carrying a briefcase.
Absolutely. He looks like, as they say on TikTok, a distinguished gentleman. One thing I love about rescues is how they open up to you as they begin to trust you. Did you notice anything like that?
Oh, yes. That was huge. Crosby had actually come from a very abusive background, and it was very clear that he didn’t have the most loving past. He had so much fear and trauma, and it took him a very long time to feel comfortable with us—for him to feel comfortable with us picking him up and snuggling with him. These are some of the things that people take for granted. We saw huge changes over the course of six months and then a year. He’s now been with us for close to five years. It’s almost unrecognizable!
A lot of founders tell us that having a dog while they build their company has been one of the healthiest parts of their daily lives. Has Crosby been instrumental in helping you navigate the highs and lows of being an entrepreneur?
Yes! I went from working in an office to either co-working or working in social club spaces. Then, eventually, I was just working from my kitchen table every day. Crosby was the reason I would get up and go for a walk and come up with amazing ideas. All the ideas and dreams and things that swirled in my head and became reality—I can attest them to that time with Crosby.
Love that you come up with your best ideas on dog walks. Do you ever feed Brightland Extra Virgin Olive Oil to Crosby and Madison?
Oh, yes. I’ll lightly roast some carrots and sweet potatoes, and I’ll drizzle some Brightland on top. I’ll drizzle some Brightland on yogurt for them, as well. It’s good for their digestion! I recently did olive oil-roasted apples, and I gave them some.
That sounds so good! We’ll have to try that. Do they have an olive oil preference?
I give them Awake because it’s grassy and green, and it’s really good when you roast with it. I think they like the peppery taste—they get excited about it. They’re very nuanced.
How did Madison come into your life?
We’d had Crosby for three-and-a-half years, and I was still following all these rescues on Instagram and getting email updates from them. It just felt like there was more work we could do and more help we could provide in terms of rescuing a dog that was neglected. That was always in the back of my mind. And Crosby also loves dogs. He trusts dogs more than he trusts people. I wanted him to have a sibling so that he feels there is someone in his corner.
We also thought it would be sweet to rescue a dog around the holidays because that’s what we did with Crosby in 2015. For the 2019 holidays, we were looking at Petfinder. We saw this white puffy cloud of a dog, and we thought she looked so sweet—and she was 10 minutes away. We visited the very next day, and her personality is just so silly and funny. [The rescue organization] thought she was around four [years old], but after we adopted her, we learned she was actually a 10-year-old Cavapoo and had babies! She was used for breeding, but obviously she’s now fixed.
Did you name her after Madison Avenue [in New York]?
Yes, I lived on Madison Avenue. And well, where I was living was basically where my husband and I fell in love.
Love that Madison and Crosby are so tied to the love story of your family! It sound like New York is another one of your great loves, but Brightland feels like such a Californian company. Does this mean you might move back to New York with the dogs someday?
I always say that Brightland has California spirit and New York excellence. One of our core values is to have New York excellence, and our number-one customer base is New York! I think about maybe living in New York again all the time. Maybe one day.
You have such excellent taste—and so do Crosby and Madison! What do you feed them, beyond Brightland?
They eat Stella & Chewy’s with some rice and yogurt every day. It’s a semi-soft food, and we like that because Madison actually doesn’t have that many teeth left—she’s had so many pulled. I love that it’s good for their digestion and it keeps them full and gives them energy. You introduced me to Bocce’s Bakery treats and they’re obsessed with them. Sometimes, we feed them cheddar puffs.
What are some of your other favorite dog brands?
They use Wild One leashes. They actually have a really cute shampoo from Little Donkey Supply Co. It smells so good! It has a nice lather, but not so much that it seems weird and full of chemicals. And it makes their coats super shiny.
Tell us about a day in the life with the dogs.
The dogs really power our days. They wake us up in the morning. In the morning, Crosby knocks on our door, and we let him in. He says good morning and jumps into bed. We all snuggle and take them for a walk, and that’s the first thing we do in the morning. After a 20-minute walk, we’ll come back and I’ll usually do a workout. They’re anxiously staring at me the whole time, waiting for breakfast. Then, we feed them while I jump into the shower. We set up perches for them around the house so they can look out the window and be wherever we’re working. They’re the reason we get up and take breaks.
Have they been a source of comfort to you throughout the pandemic?
Yes, they’ve been such wonderful sources of comfort—and activity. We’ve been exploring other neighborhoods together, going on hikes and taking them to the beach. They really enjoy spending more time with us. It makes me sad thinking about how we used to leave them along for hours. How are we going to operate going forward?
I can relate to that. I’ve read so many articles about alleviating your dog’s separation anxiety after the pandemic is over, but I’m pretty sure I’m the one who can’t handle being alone. Do you consider yourself a dog mom?
Oh yes. I always say that there are things about Madison that are just like me—or that Crosby reminds me of my husband, whether it’s Crosby’s evening grumpiness or Madison being loud. I do stuff like that.
What’s your biggest indulgence for your dogs?
I use a jade roller on them—I give them a massage on their heads and backs.
I love that! I’ll try that out on my dog. What are your Thanksgiving plans?
Oh, we’re going to make a big feast. The dogs will be an integral part of watching us cook and picking up any scraps. We’re definitely going to make some sort of canned pumpkin dog treats because they just love pumpkin so much. I might sneak them a tiny bite of cheese because they love cheese more than anything else in the world.
Photography by Hannah Choi