Her addiction to Diet Coke led to disruption, innovation, the birth of a company, the creation of a category and the start of a social mission.
Kara Goldin is the founder and CEO of hint Inc. Located on Union Street in the heart of San Francisco, hint (yes, the “h” is not capitalized) produces flavored waters made without the use of any sweeteners or artificial ingredients. Goldin has been named one of Fortune’s most promising female entrepreneurs, and the Huffington Post and Sprint Business named her as one of six “disruptors.” To add some perspective, Steve Jobs, and Mark Zuckerberg were two others named on that list.
She is a speaker, writer and tireless advocate for healthy eating. She believes that consumers must have the needed and honest information to make informed choices about how they nourish their bodies. She is taking on big beverage companies and building a brand that has a rabid following.
I was excited to have the chance to sit down and talk with her about what ignited her passion and what she’s learned along her journey which started over a decade ago.
How did you become an entrepreneur?
“Starting hint was really about solving a problem that no one else was working on. My journey was a little different in that I was really looking at something that was right in front of me, which was my Diet Coke addiction. I realized that I was never going to be as healthy as I wanted if I continued to wake up every morning and drink a can.”
She said, “Later I realized that 'oh, I can start a company around this,' and really not just any old company. But, a company that’s disrupting, creating change, has a social mission and all that stuff.”
She finished her answer by admitting that, “Frankly, I didn’t start by thinking ‘I’m an entrepreneur and this is what I need to be doing now.'“
Before we moved on to the next question, she shared something that, although slightly off-topic, was so insightful and valuable that I felt I would be remiss to not share it with you. She started telling me about the importance of understanding the difference between a product and a company.
When she advises entrepreneurs, she tells them, “You need to figure out if it’s a product or if it has the legs to be a company. Not everything that is developed has the ability to scale. If you can’t stop and think 'How am I going to create a multi-million-dollar company?’ you don’t necessarily have a company, you have a product.”
What keeps you up at night?
Kara seems confident that the business is on the right path. "We’ve done a great job of really having a multilevel distribution strategy. In addition to specialty grocery, conventional grocery, and mass grocery, we have a significant foodservice business as well as a significant direct-to-consumer online business.”
What I learned as we delved deeper is what really keeps her up at night is her passion -- the war she feels hint is waging against sugar and her calling to improve the health of consumers.
“How do we get the consumers to really understand the truth about what’s going into their bodies and what’s inside these products? Many food and beverage companies still do not believe it’s their responsibility to help educate consumers on health and what these different labels mean. I think it should be the responsibility of these companies to really help to educate consumers on how to live the healthiest life that they can.”
As an aside, I felt compelled after this interview to get in an extra workout!
Do members of your team share your passion?
“We believe that we are really doing something to change health for the better, change America for the better."
She went on to explain that everyone in the organization has their own story.
“We have a lot of people who are working in our organization who’ve had various health issues. They found hint because hint was helping them drink more water. “
How do you slow down and make time for yourself?
It did not take long for me to recognize that Goldin is somebody who operates at full throttle. Yet, her constant and frenetic pace seemed counter to her healthy lifestyle message, so I asked.
“I typically get up at 5:30 in the morning and hike my dogs. I live in a beautiful place in Marin County. I have my headlamp on. I hear coyotes howling.”
What was really cool was how she integrates exercise at work. Having offices in San Francisco affords one ample access to hills. She told me that she conducts most of her conference calls while walking up and down the hills of the city. On an average day, her fitness tracker app on her phone logs over 10 miles.
She did admit that she goes pretty hard for a couple of weeks and then needs to disconnect. “I try to reset on the weekends. I think that’s really important, not just for me, but for my employees.”
What burdens have come with this role?
“Leading a social mission is not always black and white. The big challenge is that it takes time and tenacity. Sometimes it takes more time than I thought it would, to get people to jump on board. Good things will happen, they have happened. But, leading that is sometimes frustrating.”
How do you deal with doubt?
Kara shared with me that the antidote to doubt is "knowing your stuff and believing that what you’re doing is impacting people. “
She finds comfort in the feedback that comes from having a direct line to consumers through their online business. “Listening to consumers about how they’re impacted by hint is really a great injection to any doubt that I would have had.”
As the interview ended, I asked one final question. What do you want people to know about you? She said, “That my overall goal was never to launch a beverage company, but rather to help consumers get healthy.”
Her passion to do just that was palpable throughout our conversation.
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Elliot Begoun is the Principal of The Intertwine Group, a practice focused on accelerating the growth of emerging food and beverage brands. He helps clients gain distribution and win share of stomach. His articles appear in publications such as the Huffington Post, SmartBrief, and Food Dive