How Emily Wright co-founded dōTERRA
The Founder Series is a column by and about Utah founders and how they got to where they are today. Click here to read past articles in the series.
When I was eight years old, my family moved to the rural town of Moroni, Utah. I loved growing up in a small town because it allowed me to connect with nature. In the summer, I’d run through the fields barefoot, climb trees and spend hot afternoons floating the river. I was raised believing I could do anything I put my mind to.
I excelled academically, and when I graduated high school, I was ready to take on the world—but life was about to teach me a valuable lesson. Soon after graduation, I married a man who promised me everything. However, that marriage would change my life’s entire trajectory.
In order to provide for my family, I gave up my college scholarship and worked instead as a certified nursing assistant. Our financial survival fell on my shoulders. Money was tight, and we often didn’t have enough to make ends meet. Once, the bank came to repossess my car. Luckily, after promising I would make up the payment the following month, they allowed me to keep it.
The adversity didn’t end there, unfortunately. I had just ruptured two discs in my back due to a work-related injury when I learned I was pregnant with my first child. Sadly, that pregnancy resulted in a stillbirth. The depression that set in from the ruptured discs and losing my child was severe. I was completely defeated. I had no confidence and I didn’t know who I was, but I am so grateful for that trial in my life because it forced me to consider who I wanted to become and pointed me on the path that led me to where I am today.
After losing my baby, I got a job working for the court system as a justice court clerk. I worked for a judge named Peggy Memmott. She was such an inspiration to me! She would handle all the attorneys with grace and confidence and showed, through her example, that women can do anything they set their minds to.
From there, I worked for a manufacturing facility that supplied big oil rigs. That’s when I realized I love working with people. I quickly became the person everyone wanted to work with. The experience finally gave me the confidence to leave my abusive marriage. I left with $26 in my pocket and two beautiful, healthy children, ages four and one.
We moved to Payson and I began my life as a single mom. It was there that a neighbor approached me and offered me a job at his new essential oils company. I was not interested. I loved my job. The pay wasn’t great, but I worked in management and was paying the bills. However, my neighbor was persistent. I finally gave him my resume and hoped the conversation would end there, but I got a call the next day.
They brought me in for several interviews. I was 24 years old and a single mom with no idea what essential oils were, but they still offered me two positions: a management role that offered the leadership I craved or an executive assistant role that would pay me more. I accepted the assistant position, which ended up being the best decision I could have made. In that role, I got to learn every aspect of the business.
A year after I started working for the company, the CEO told me he had an amazing guy he wanted me to meet. After being in an abusive relationship, my walls were up and my trust was gone. Thankfully, I finally worked up the courage to accept a date. Six weeks later, my husband and I were engaged. Six months after that, we were married. A year later, he was able to adopt our children. We added two more children to complete our family, and life got really sweet for me. It has continued that way for the last 23 years.
After six years at the essential oils company, I had half the company reporting to me and two personal assistants of my own—but my title was still executive assistant. It was under these circumstances that I met David Stirling. He had been brought on, first as CIO and then as CEO, to help stabilize and revitalize the company. He asked me to join him on the executive board to stabilize and grow the company. That was the first time anyone really believed in me and saw me for someone greater than what I saw in myself.
Together, David and I, along with trusted colleagues like Dr. David Hill, were able to triple the size of the company and get it into a very healthy, thriving state. Unfortunately, some time later, we all separated from the company for various reasons. At this point, my husband and I had gotten ourselves out of debt. I loved staying at home with our four children, but I kept having the thought that there was more I was supposed to do.
The scariest call I’ve ever made was to David. I asked him about the possibility of scouting our own pure essential oils and starting our own company. David got excited, and we agreed to meet. I called Dr. Hill next and asked him the same questions. He laughed and said he was just getting ready to call and ask me the very same things. The three of us got together for lunch and talked for five and a half hours.
Without a doubt, we knew starting a new essential oils business was what we were destined to do. I would go out and source pure oils. David would put together the business plan with Greg Cook, another partner with the same dream. Dr. Hill would work collaboratively with universities and hospitals to validate the efficacy of the oils (being science-based was very important to us). Later, three more partners would join us—Rob Young, Mark Wolfert and Corey Lindley. It truly was a dream team, and I still pinch myself that I get to work alongside such extraordinary people.
"I had people who believed in me and encouraged me to chase a dream I am passionate about, and today my mission is to help people see their own potential and rise to it."
As we started forming dōTERRA, we met with a potential investor in New York City. They offered us a large sum of money but wanted 51 percent equity in the company. We all knew that the freedom we wanted with this company would not be possible with an outside investor who owned a majority share, so we chose to fund the company ourselves. We liquidated everything, pulling all the equity from our homes and 401(k)s.
We rented a little office space in Orem and worked off small plastic tables. One day, David said, “We need to go to the bank today and completely withdraw our equity line and put it into our savings accounts.” I pushed back, telling him all the reasons that it was a bad idea. His response was, “Run, don’t walk.” Because of my respect and trust for David, I immediately got in my car and went to the bank. Two days later, we experienced the market crash of 2008. If we had not moved our equity lines into our savings accounts when we did, we would have lost the funding we needed to start dōTERRA. There were many miracles like that along the way. I think that happens when you go all in and your purpose is bigger than your fear.
We thought it would be easy to find pure oils. I had worked in the essential oils industry for 10 years and met with many brokers who said they had pure oils, but we discovered many weren’t pure at all. They had been adulterated and extended, becoming something that was not representative of what nature produces.
I gathered over 100 essential oil samples and not one of them was pure. I started to wonder if pure essential oils were even out there. It took five months to find just five pure oils—lavender, peppermint, frankincense, lemon and tea tree—but that was enough to start a company. We took those oils and talked to anybody who would listen. We sat in people’s living rooms and shared with them how to take charge of their family’s health in a natural manner and poured our hearts out about what these essential oils were all about. Many people laughed and told us we were crazy to start a business during the Great Recession of 2008, but we were unwavering in our purpose.
Now, I look back 15 years and am blown away at what we were able to start. To me, it’s a testament to the power of pure essential oils and the heart of dōTERRA. Early on, we sat down as an ownership team and asked ourselves what kind of soul we wanted dōTERRA to have, and that was to be known for giving back. To help facilitate this, we created a nonprofit early on called the dōTERRA Healing Hands Foundation. The foundation took what little was left in our savings, but we were passionate about its mission. We poured the rest of our finances into the organization to help people that weren’t in a position to help themselves. Today, the dōTERRA Healing Hands Foundation, along with other dōTERRA resources, has contributed more than $114 million to empower people worldwide to be healthy, safe and self-reliant.
The dōTERRA Healing Hands Foundation has supported our sourcing communities around the world. In our pursuit of purity, we now go directly to where the plants that produce essential oils grow and work directly with the farmers, harvesters and sorters on the ground. Today, we’re sourcing essential oils from 47 countries, two-thirds of which are considered developing countries. As we build personal relationships with our sourcing partners, we’re able to learn what their needs are—from access to clean water to medical clinics—and support those needs through the foundation.
Our wellness advocates (distributors) and customers around the world have joined us to support these projects. We give them the opportunity to look for and meet the needs of their own communities through our dōTERRA Healing Hands Match program, which contributes funding to their service projects. It has been incredible to see their impact amplified as we work together to make the world a better place!
I had people who believed in me and encouraged me to chase a dream I am passionate about, and today my mission is to help people see their own potential and rise to it. When I worked in corporate America, I had such a big glass ceiling over my head because of my gender. I want every person, no matter where they are starting, to climb as high as they can dream. That’s what I love about dōTERRA’s business model—it empowers people to soar.