Photography by Robert Meares
Kara Goldin was on a personal quest. She left her job at AOL in 2001 to start a family. And she “wanted to make a difference in the world.”
The family part came first. Then Goldin “found herself overweight, low energy and suffering from adult acne.” The culprit, she decided was diet soda—so she quit cold turkey.
She also was worried about the sugar-laden beverages her kids were drinking. The solution to the beverage problems was water, but water is bland, and Goldin didn’t think it would be a long-term fix. So she started “cutting up fruit and throwing it into pitchers of water.”
When a friend noticed Goldin’s water with fresh cucumbers in it, she said, “Someone should bottle that.” That’s all the motivation the former tech exec needed. While pregnant with her 4th child, Goldin traveled halfway across the country to find a bottler who would make her calorie-free flavored water with no sweeteners or preservatives.
In 2005 she launched hint water—water with a “hint of fruit.” When I first met her in 2013, she admitted she was a little naïve. She had to battle the big guys (Coke and Pepsi) for shelf space, particularly in the big grocery chains. One of her first big breaks came when she landed a deal with Whole Foods. Today, her lines of hint waters (still, sparkling, kick and kids) is on the shelves of grocery stores nationwide.
In 2017 Goldin had some pre-cancerous cells on her nose. She didn’t like the sunscreens on the market and, once again, motivated by a personal quest—she created hint sunscreen.
What drives Goldin? I caught up with her a few weeks ago to find out.
Rieva Lesonsky: When I first interviewed you in 2013, you were well on your way to success. Since then Hint has experienced explosive growth.
Kara Goldin: We are [now] a thriving and expanding company with 200 employees. Today we’re the largest independent non-alcoholic beverage company in the country that doesn’t have a relationship with Coke, Pepsi or Keurig Dr Pepper.
Lesonsky: When you launched you didn’t “know anything about beverages.” What gave you the courage to keep going?
Goldin: I thought if Hint could make me drink more water and get healthier, then it would help others too. All along we had to educate the consumer. I figured out that “diet” wasn’t necessarily healthier. So we focused on having a great-tasting product with no sugar or sweeteners of any kind. If you have a great product, the consumer will tell you whether or not it’s good. We even created a new category called “unsweetened flavored water.”
Today, more than ever, people actively choose a healthy option if they don’t have to compromise on enjoyment, or, in this case, taste. Hint has always been ahead of the market and Hint’s mantra “Drink Water, Not Sugar” has caught on. We led the way and continue to innovate by offering more options to more people, reaching every generation, every demographic, every ethnicity, everybody.
Lesonsky: Now the company is branching beyond water, introducing kids water and sunscreen. Why these products?
Goldin: It’s always about solving a problem that’s personal. I had a bout with skin cancer, I couldn’t find a product that didn’t contain ingredients dermatologists told me to avoid including oxybenzone and parabens. So it always starts like that.
Lesonsky: Do you plan to introduce other products at a future date?
Goldin: Yes, deodorant is on the way very soon and we are always thinking about innovations to make it easier for people to be healthier. There is definitely more to come.
Lesonsky: Seems to me you take the ordinary and turn it into something extraordinary. How do you look at it?
Goldin: I try to remember what really matters, why we started Hint and what keeps us inspired—helping people lead healthier lives without compromising on enjoyment.
Lesonsky: Business history is full of examples of entrepreneurs with great ideas who were able to start and grow but weren’t capable of scaling their businesses. You’re an exception. How have you avoided the problems so many others experience?
Goldin: Passion trumps experience. Trust your gut. Develop a network of people who can help you figure stuff out.
Lesonsky: Back in 2013, you told me your philosophy was being “scrappy” is what it takes to be an entrepreneur. How would you describe your philosophy today?
Goldin: I’m still scrappy. I tell entrepreneurs all the time that I never said to myself, “I want to be an entrepreneur” or “I want to be a beverage entrepreneur.” I never take “no’s” as an answer, I solve problems and give people irresistible solutions.
Lesonsky: You wanted to “make a difference” in the world. You obviously have. What drives you to keep going?
Goldin: I just thought if I could actually get people to enjoy water again, instead of drinking all those other things that not only have sugar, but also diet sweeteners, then we could actually change health. I ultimately want to help make everyone healthy.
Lesonsky: What has been your greatest challenge and how did you solve it?
Goldin: My main challenge was mass producing our flavored water without adding perservatives or sweeteners. Everyone said it couldn’t be done. Frankly we had no idea, because the industry experts didn’t have any idea how to develop a product without using preservatives. But we researched how fruit juice is pasteurized to extend its shelf life and went on to devise a similar technique for our waters and the rest is history, as they say.
Lesonsky: Any advice for startup women entrepreneurs?
Goldin: Find a problem that needs to be solved and go do it. If you can solve the problem, like I’ve done with drinking water, you can help millions of people.
About Rieva Lesonsky
Rieva Lesonsky is CEO and Co-founder of GrowBiz Media, a custom content and media company focusing on small business and entrepreneurship, and the blog SmallBizDaily.com. A nationally known speaker and authority on entrepreneurship, Rieva has been covering America’s entrepreneurs for more than 30 years. Before co-founding GrowBiz Media, Lesonsky was the long-time Editorial Director of Entrepreneur Magazine. Lesonsky has appeared on hundreds of radio shows and numerous local and national television programs, including the Today Show, Good Morning America, CNN, The Martha Stewart Show and Oprah.
Lesonsky regularly writes about small business for numerous websites and for corporations targeting entrepreneurs. Many organizations have recognized Lesonsky for her tireless devotion to helping entrepreneurs. She served on the Small Business Administration’s National Advisory Council for six years, was honored by the SBA as a Small Business Media Advocate and a Woman in Business Advocate, and received the prestigious Lou Campanelli award from SCORE. She is a long-time member of the Business Journalists Hall of Fame.
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