Soul & Science
Soul & Science

Season 1, Episode · 4 months ago

S1 Episode 10: Founder of Hint Water Kara Goldin | Undaunted


Water with a hint of flavor but not of sugar was the simple but genius concept behind Hint Water. Founder Kara Goldin joins the pod today to tell us about a 17-year entrepreneur’s journey that has had her staring down category captains at retail, telling DTC brand stories and making the correlation between larger bottle openings and sales. Her acumen has brought accolades from Fortune–she’s both a Most Powerful Entrepreneur and Most Innovative Woman in Food and Drink–and a Huffington Post Disruptor in Business. Kara took a career hiatus from big tech to raise her children. During her three children’s toddler years, she noticed how apple juice jacked them up, but there were no flavorful, healthy alternatives in her grocery store. Hence, Hint Water was born in her garage and a classic business success story ensued.

In this episode you’ll learn:

  • Once you find your mission, act decisively
  • How to keep scaling mini mountains
  • Why you need to embrace competition to grow
  • Leaders have their outside, clear brand voice and their inside brand debates
  • How complex it is to create and simplify  

Brought to you by Mekanism

I always wondered if marketing lives in the heart or in the head. Should you trust your instinct or your integers? Often the answers both, but should you lead with one more than the other? So bring your heart and your head and join us in the conversation. Welcome to the PODCAST. Today I am joined by Kara Golden, the founder of Hint, best known for its award winning hint water, the leading unsweetened flavored water. She's been named one of in styles badass fifty fast companies, most creative people in business, Fortune's most powerful women entrepreneurs fortunes, most innovative women in food and drink and Ey entrepreneur of the year from northern California. Quite a quite a list of accolades. The hving a post listed her as one of six disruptors and business, alongside Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg. She's an active speaker and writer and host the podcasts the care golden show, where she interviews founders, entrepreneurs and other disruptors across various industries. Her first book, undaunted, was published by Harper leadership in October two thousand and twenty and is now a Wall Street Journal and Amazon Best Seller. All right, she lives in the bay area and we connected because I also had a book that launched and was before, right before yours, and yours was outstanding. I loved the book and we are excited to talk about the book and many other things on the podcast today, and you can follow Kre on all social channels at Kara Golden. Thanks for joining us. We're excited to chat with you. I'm super excited to be here and your book was terrific. Oh, thank you. All right, let's dive right in. We love an origin story and you build this company from your kitchen and your garage. Can you give us the origin story of the start of hint? Yeah, so basically I was I was a tech executive. I was at America Online and was building out their direct to consumer business and had been there for seven years when I decided I wanted to take a break and I had young kids. I had two young kids and a third one on the way and I was living in San Francisco. I was noticing that the United Airlines pilots all knew my name when I got on the flight. That's how often I was traveling and I thought I just really want to spend this time in San Francisco with my husband and with my young kids and and maybe I'll I'll look for a job. I don't know how long I'm going to take off, but I ended up taking off a couple of years and during that time I really found that my focus was on trying to get my kids healthy and keep them healthy and telling him don't have so much sugar. I was questioning that whether or not we should put apple juice says and, you know, give them apple juice, because they were bouncing off the walls every time they had their sippy cup filled with apple juice. And so it was at that moment that I looked down at my diet soda, Diet Coke in particular, that I saw all these ingredients that I didn't understand and I felt like I was a hypocrite, and so I decided to stop drinking Diet Soda and Basically Start Drinking Water and I went cold Turkey for two and a half weeks. I was shocked when I lost twenty four pounds and two and a half weeks just by giving up the Diet Coke. And that was, you know, the moment when I started to get really intrigued and really curious and interested and I did everything from call Cocacola and talked to the customer...

...service line, like why did this happen to me? I'd been drinking diet coke since I was in high school and you know, I definitely gained weight over the course of all my pregnancies and it's sort of written it off as as you get older, you gain weight and you know, and hormones and all the stuff. And so it was. It was at this moment when I thought, okay, there's just one problem. Of course I'm not going back to drinking diet soda, but water for me so darned boring, and so I started slicing up fruit and putting it in the water and then, you know, I'd buy these lots of fruit and I put them in pitchers and what I found was it would only last for a couple days and I felt there has to be this product on the shelf somewhere, and I was living in San Francisco. I looked in every store I could find and no drinks, and in the drink that I was really trying to find was an unsweetened flavored water. And so everything had sweeteners in it. And one day I went back to my whole foods in San Francisco where I was shopping and asked the guy and the Beverage Ale. I said, hey, how do I get a product on the shelf? And he said what do you mean, like, you want to be a part of our local suppliers program and I'm sure, and he said, oh well, here's who you email and and I said so, what's the deal with the local suppliers program and they said, well, try and put ten percent of the products that are on the shelf from local companies. And I'm thinking, I make my product in my kitchen. That's like local. I mean that's that's good. And so I, you know, figured out that after, you know, six months. I really had to get it on the shelf because I found out I was pregnant shortly after the business plan was written with my fourth and so I wanted to have some kind and maternity leaves. So I was like I got to get it on the shelf. So I had a goal that I was going to meet and I was off to the races. My product was supposed to show up like, I think, three weeks prior to me having a planed c section and it didn't it didn't show up. It showed up the day before I was having a plan c section and so the morning I woke up on May twenty seven, two thousand and five, I didn't have to be at the hospital to two o'clock and I said to my husband, let's get a whole foods and see if we get the product on the shell. So when I went to whole foods and my husband came with me and had ten cases on a Dolly and wheel them in and that's when the guy I who had told me about the local program I said Hi, do you remember me? And he said, oh my gosh, you are super pregnant, and I said I am super pregnant and he said are you? Are you going to have a baby in the store right now? I'm like, I hope not. I mean I'm having planned C sections afternoon, and he probably felt a little sorry for me thought, you know, here's this person who's having a baby and that she's coming in like doing her job, still selling the cases, and so he put them on the shelf and yeah, so it was. That was the story. And then the next day he called me in the hospital and said, well, I just want to tell you the cases are gone, and I said who took them? Because again, like, I just want to get the product on the shelf. I hadn't thought about somebody buying the product that quickly. And so, you know, then we had to replenish the product. So that's when my husband went and did that while I was relaxing a little bit. But yeah, that was the story of Hint, the loading days. I love that story because there's so much family behind it. You know, your kids really motivating you to make the product, and then your fourth kid motivating you to make sure the...

...product was placed, and then your husband helping all along the way to make sure, you know, support you and however he could. So that's a family story of Hint. I love that. So, switching gears, your husband is Theo. He also started at the beginning with you and worked alongside you. I mean you guys must have been around the clock talking about hint. What was what was that like? I always wonder what it would be like to work with a spouse. What was that like? One of the stories that we have where Theo played, I mean there's multiple stories, but feel played a major role. is about a year into launching hint, I couldn't figure out how to get this product to where we needed it to be from a shelf life perspective and we almost shut the company down. I mean I was like, you know, we I didn't want preservatives in the product and and so I reached out to every person who would talk to me and beverages and food to try and figure out how we could create a product that didn't have preservatives in it. And, you know, most of the bottlers that we talked to said it just can't. I'd say why? And I think intach I was always used to, you know, asking questions right and there was no road map and all the things that I had done before hint. I felt like, you know, we were paving new ground, but now I walked into an industry that thought they had it all figured out. Yet I was coming up with things that nobody had figured out and the short answer for all of these things was no, and that just never was really acceptable to me. So I think like that's when he put his thinking cap on and really started to, you know, play with with actual production. And you know, ultimately what we ended up doing it hint is creating the first product that was using real fruit that didn't have preservatives in it. I mean for the industry and prior. I was just telling a new entrepreneur the story the other day. I mean prior to hint. No one was doing that in the water category. There were people who were doing it in the juice category, but nobody was doing it in the water category and juice lines and water lines are sort of different in a production facility. Your quarter of a billion dollar business. Now. was there a turning point? You know, you talked about the preservatives. Is maybe an inflection point of can we go on because of you know, we have to have shelf life and we've got to place these orders and you know we need to produce, mass produce it. was there a turning point when you realize this thing was going to catch and it was going to go? And do you remember when that was? There were so many sort of kind of mini, mini mountains right that were that we knew that they were coming. And you know, it's interesting. We grew over the last seventeen years, but we every year we grew. We never had a down year from the previous year, but we knew that we needed to wait for the consumer to catch up to where I was that there was a lot of education and there were things along the way that I talked about in my book, for example, where I used to think that the minute you know Coca Cola comes along and and launch as a knockoff product, we're dead right, we're like. I mean I had it. I had potential investor saying to me that that's why they weren't going to invest in what I was doing, because they're like, it's a good idea, it's a great product, but the minute that, you know, the big guys catch onto this, they have distribution, they know how to do this product, they have a lot more money, they could market it like you're dead. And so I believed that and I didn't really fully, you know,...

...kind of understand the counter argument to that, which is, you know that competition actually can help you and probably will help you in the end. And when we got a phone call one day from one of our major retailers that we were in and they were removing us from the shelf and basically they told us that coke had launched a knockoff product to sonny essence water and that they were the sink called category captains. If you know what that is, it's basically owning a chunk of real estate in the beverageile. So they wanted to basically own this category and part of the agreement was that hint was out. And I'm like, how can you do that? I mean that's crazy, like, you know, we were here first, we were doing well and now these guys are coming along and take in our space. So I didn't have that much to say and, you know, hung up the phone and we were out of that major retailer and it was a bummer and I thought, I mean, I got to focus on these other retailers to try and make up for the loss all that stuff. And then a couple months later we it was about six months later, we got a phone call from that retailer and the retailer said, Hey, do you want to come back in and I said of course I do. I mean, so what happened? And they said, well, it was interesting. We thought that the sales were pretty good, but we but, you know, coke didn't that. They didn't want to continue because they basically saw that there were other products that they do that were, you know, doing more sales per square foot, and so they wanted to put some of their other products into that space, but we actually wanted to keep recognizing the category that you had created, which is unsweeten flavored water. And so we went back into the store, and not only went back in, but that's six months where we were out of the store. We coke had actually negotiated more space, and so we got more space. We doubled our space. Amazing and six months. That's the counter right to what I thought was going to happen. And you know, the thing that I tell people about competition is it's disruptive. You know, you get kicked out of a store that you're counting on being in. I mean all these things, you know their bummer, all this. The key thing is is that you have to have in enough options around you that you can go and, you know, Treajh and make up for that revenue. But you focus on what you can control and I couldn't control that conversation. Like they were going to do whatever they were going to do. What I could control was continuing to make a great product and having them see that I wasn't going out of business. And finally, I think it's you're going to have hiccups along the way. You're going to have challenge as along the way and your ability to be able to weather storms. I mean, that could have been a big hit for us if I didn't have any other options out there, if I didn't have enough money in the bank or whatever, but I think that those you know, it's not the end of the world. In fact, I think that it actually helped consumers to understand that we were better product we were. You know, I love that story of focus on what you can control, keep going on and the idea that competition can be good. I think is a great learning when we think about soul in science, we think about the heart and the head, we think about obviously,...

...the soul the brand. You had a purpose from the beginning, which is super clear, because a lot of brands make a product, then they invent a reason for being or they have to do it through marketing in order to sell and create it a connection with the audience. You clearly had a purpose right from the start and then you had this you know. Then you have to figure out, all right, we're selling in store, we're going to create this big D Toc Business, we're going to sell on Amazon, then we're going to be in every store. How, as a founder, how do you think about cut instinct versus analytical decisionmaking when you're plotting your path? Do you how do you weigh those two things together? One way that we used analytics is actually to go into these buyers and say that you know this, this brand, they might be your category captain, but they're getting too much space, that when you look at sort of the you know, sales per square foot that a hint product is doing versus some of these other brands that are getting a lot more space, maybe a buyer hasn't sort of questioned it before, and we've taken that analytics to be able to do that. But but I think that when you're starting a company from a mission and it has a story, you and I were talking about this before. I think that it's the way that you allow consumers. It's the way you grow a brand because you allow consumers to really understand what you're talking about. And when you're launching a product and you don't actually have a story, you don't actually have a mission, maybe it can be done, it's going to be a lot more expensive and you're put advertising in all these things, but you're basically a commodity against another product. Right. How much do you think? Because I agree the missions clear, the names obvious and excellent. There's a lot you can do with the name. It's memorable, it's simple and you have really simple packaging. Do you think that the brand identity in the name and the packaging helped the velocity of sales? Yeah, well, I think it goes back to simplicity in packaging and they're definitely as a feel. You know this bottle actually that I'm holding in you're holding, I mean we actually we have to trademarks on that bottle. We actually created the design and and the bottle and there's a feel to it that is important. There's actually when we created there's some that have sort of knocked this off, but the closure at the top, the opening and and the the amount of space in the opening to there's you know you're going to drink more water when it's a larger opening. So there's a lot of thought that goes into it. But I think it goes back to my common about Steve Jobs. I mean I had no idea how that machine worked and it didn't matter. Right. The consumer shouldn't have to figure out things like you know does this product have preservatives in it or not? Or, you know, why is there a liner in this bottle or not a liner in this bottle? Those are all things that, you know, you think about internally and they're they're important in order to have a great product out there that people are going to love. But I definitely think, you know, the label les and and things like that are I want to create a product that made me happy but was also really interesting and simple, and I think that that is that's it's hard. It's hard to be simple right and I think that, you know, one thing I share with entrepreneurs over and over again is you have to you almost have to have two different language is going on inside of your company when you're trying to get stuff done. You have to sort of have your outer facing messaging where... know, it's drink water, not sugar, it's, you know, unsweeten flavored water, it's fruit and water. Yeah, you have to have that going and those are and that's really important. But then inside the company, you know, to create a really simple product is actually really hard, and I know you guys do a lot. You know it's the same with campaign. Yeah, the power of editing is the strongest of all, because the totally you can't throw too many messages at the audience. You have to keep it simple and clean. They have to have a clear takeaway and naming is really important. Naming and name recognition really matters. This has been fantastic talking about hint. I want to talk about Kara golden a little bit. Do you have a role model in your in your personal or your professional life, that you know you always think about? You know, it's interesting. I think I learned a lot from my dad. Just my dad had founded a brand inside of a large company, of the brands called healthy choice. It's still alive and well today, and he was at Armor Food Company and then at Conagra and, you know, sorry, I learned a lot of, frankly, the frustrations of of launching a brand inside of a large company. And you know, it's still a brand that is amazing today. But so I learned a lot from him, obviously. But the other person that I think I never gave enough credit to while she was alive was my mom. I mean she had decided when I was in kindergarten that she was an art history major and she had decided that she was going to go into fashion. And Imagine, like I'm the last to five kids, my mom comes home one day and says to my dad, I'm going back to work and I'm going to go into fashion. She's like forty five years old, and my dad's like, okay, doing what you love every single day, as I say to my four Gen's ears, is like it's a gift. The trick is to actually find that thing that you want to wake up and do every day that satisfies your curiosity, versus actually just going to do something that you know you've been doing for a long time and it's the only thing you know how to do. It's like, you know you have to find the courage to kind of actually figure out what you like and then also find what you like. Hats off to your mom and dad. Do you have a last question? Do you have a favorite you know obviously the word undaunted, both and how you've built hint and through your career and and a lot of what we learned in the book. But do you have a favorite quote or mantra that you live by or that guide you? I have a lot of them, but I would say, you know, don't worry, don't worry about the end so much that I think instead worry about the process, right, like getting through, because I think that that's the that's the key thing, is that sometimes I think we worry so much, like something is so hard and so massive, starting a company, right. I think if I sat there and focused on starting a company or taking on the soda companies or big sugar or whatever, I probably wouldn't have started, like if I would have known what I know. And sometimes I think instead you just kind of get through the smaller things and then all of a sudden you're like wow, like got through a lot here and and now I'm off to the races. And so that would probably be the biggest Mont. Just go and try. It's that first step that you have to take, but people are always thinking about the end of the journey and not that process. I well, I think this has been amazing. I've I just wrote down a lot of what I learned from you, but I think I love this sort of notion of... success, both in building the business with your family, but also lessons from your from your mom and Dad. Simplify is a very important one. Focus on what you can control, and competition could be a good thing and then for people to find that that thing that they want to be doing and then go do it and focus on process, not the end result, and that is amazing and obviously it's done you and served you really well, undaunted and found it an incredibly great product, incredibly successful company that challenged an entire industry. So thanks for being on. Thank you, appreciate it. Thanks so much for listening to soul in science and we'll see you next week. So in sciences, a mechanism podcast produced by the amazing Frank Risco, Ryan Tillotson, Tyler Nielsen, Ema Swanson and Sophe Maround, with the music by Kyle Mary. I'm your host, Jason Harris.

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