Kara Goldin of Hint: “Resilience is the ability to push forward no matter the circumstance”

Resilience is the ability to push forward no matter the circumstance. Sometimes it’s about recovering from a setback, but much of the time, it’s just about putting in your best effort and always striving to do more, try more, learn more, and achieve. As I had the pleasure of interviewing Kara Goldin. Kara Goldin is the […]

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Resilience is the ability to push forward no matter the circumstance. Sometimes it’s about recovering from a setback, but much of the time, it’s just about putting in your best effort and always striving to do more, try more, learn more, and achieve.

As I had the pleasure of interviewing Kara Goldin. Kara Goldin is the Founder and CEO of Hint, Inc., best known for its award-winning Hint® water, the leading unsweetened flavored water.

She has received numerous accolades, including being named EY Entrepreneur of the Year 2017 Northern California, one of InStyle’s 2019 Badass 50, Fast Company’s Most Creative People in Business, WWD Beauty Inc.’s Feel Good Force and Fortune’s Most Powerful Women Entrepreneurs. The Huffington Post listed her as one of six disruptors in business, alongside Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg.

Previously, Kara was VP of Shopping and Ecommerce at America Online where she helped lead the growth of its shopping and ecommerce business to over a 1 billion dollars in revenue.

She is an active speaker and writer and, in 2017, she launched The Kara Goldin Show, a podcast where she interviews founders, entrepreneurs and disruptors across various industries. Kara’s first book, Undaunted: Overcoming Doubts and Doubters, published by Harper Leadership, was released October 2020 and is now a WSJ and Amazon Best Seller. Kara lives in the Bay Area with her family.

Our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your backstory?

I grew up in Scottsdale, Arizona, the youngest of 5 kids. I started my career in media at Time and CNN. And then I went to a start-up that got absorbed into AOL as they were scaling up their shopping channel. The same year that we reached one billion dollars in sales, AOL merged with Time Warner, and I decided to leave and start the next phase of my career. That’s the backdrop. Four years later, I launched Hint, and the rest is history. You can read the whole story in my book “Undaunted: Overcoming Doubts and Doubters.”

Can you share with us the most interesting story from your career? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?

I’m not sure I have a “most interesting” story. My book is a succession of interesting stories and valuable lessons taken from my life and career. But I think every day at Hint is an interesting story. I wake up curious. I approach the day like a puzzle. There are all sorts of questions to figure out, big and small challenges to negotiate. And most days I feel like I’m learning something new. That’s what you want the story of your career to be. Learn. Gain some new perspective or new piece of knowledge each day. The lessons and the take-aways should be a daily occurrence.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

I think we stand out because we help our consumers make a choice which often feels elusive or confusing: to get (or remain) healthy. Hint makes it easy to choose truly healthy products. We hear from customers again and again that Hint helps them drink more water, control their Type 2 diabetes, or get through chemo treatments by masking the metallic taste of their medicines. They love our product, and they talk about their love for it. They share their own stories about how Hint has helped them. I never imagined we’d be receiving literal fan mail or calls to our 800 number just to tell us their stories. Or how about this Hint Christmas Tree that a fan posted to TikTok? Before Hint, the beverage store shelves were filled with products that created a healthy perception versus a healthy reality. In fact, they still are. But now consumers have a better choice — and those looking for a water that tastes great without the sweeteners and preservatives can opt for a product they can truly love.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

My family — and especially my husband Theo, Hint’s COO. When I came up with the idea for Hint, I was excited because I knew that a product like Hint could help a lot of people get healthy. I myself had gotten healthier as a result of drinking fruit-infused water. But when I shared with Theo that I was taking 50,000 dollars out of our bank account to start the company, he didn’t think it was the greatest idea. I was a tech executive and had no experience in the industry. He did see how excited I was to solve this big issue, though — creating a product that could help people enjoy water. So, he decided to come along with me on the first trial run of our product at a bottling plant in Chicago. Soon after he joined me as COO. His support, enthusiasm, persistence, and curiosity have enabled me and Hint to get to where we are today.

Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main focus of this interview. We would like to explore and flesh out the trait of resilience. How would you define resilience? What do you believe are the characteristics or traits of resilient people?

I’ll start with part 2. Resilient people are curious. They might get knocked down, but they get right back up and ask, “why?” and “how?” They learn from mistakes by constantly asking questions and digging for better answers. And let’s add “passionate” as a characteristic of resilient people too. Because their curiosity is fueled by a passion for the work they do and the life they lead. That combination of curiosity and passion makes you relentless. And that’s a quality that is very hard to subdue.

When you think of resilience, which person comes to mind? Can you explain why you chose that person?

That’s an easy one. Ruth Bader Ginsburg. I met her a few years ago, and we had a brief conversation. The charm, strength, and resilience that emanated from her was nothing short of inspirational. Her power, despite that tiny frame, was palpable — and a bit intimidating. (She sternly called me to task for having a copy of her book before it was released publicly; she was joking, but for a second she had me quaking in my boots.)

Her incredible legacy of breaking barriers throughout her life are a testament to a life lived with purpose. The beauty of RBG’s story is that she never balked from a challenge. She faced skeptics all her life, and she knocked them down one by one — with competence, with humor, and with grace.

Has there ever been a time that someone told you something was impossible, but you did it anyway? Can you share the story with us?

Yeah — pretty much my whole life! I tell a story early in my book where my dad refused to buy me a pair of green pants that I wanted, and I proceeded to bargain with him. “Kara,” my Dad said, “you always think that ‘no’ means ‘maybe’ and ‘maybe’ means ‘yes’!”

And that’s the story of Hint too. I started the company with exactly zero days’ experience in the beverage industry (you know, that industry that’s controlled by a few, very deep-pocketed and fiercely competitive companies). Oh, and I had three children under the age of 6, with my fourth on the way. So, who told me it would be impossible to succeed? Everyone. My husband Theo included!

I converted Theo pretty quickly, as he got inspired by the same abiding belief that I had in Hint. I saw the opportunity to stake out this clear and open white space in the category that everyone else was overlooking. Healthy and delicious refreshment. No one had thought to offer that up to consumers; instead Big Beverage created the illusion of health in products that used words like “diet,” “vitamin,” and “clean.” It required some patience, mainly because the idea had to percolate with consumers and take hold over time. But 15 years later, we’ve become the #1 independent beverage brand in the U.S. that doesn’t have a relationship with one of the big soda companies, and I have no shortage of people coming back to me, sheepishly admitting that they were wrong to doubt my vision. (And I have to admit — that always feels pretty good to hear.)

Did you have a time in your life where you had one of your greatest setbacks, but you bounced back from it stronger than ever? Can you share that story with us?

Our first major partnership was with Starbucks. We started out in several dozen stores and quickly expanded out to nearly 10,000 locations nationwide. We were a hit, beating out all the benchmarks that Starbucks had set for us. And that relationship was starting to account for a big chunk of our business. So you can imagine my surprise, a little more than a year into our deal, when I got the fateful call: we were being pulled from all Starbucks stores — in two weeks! The directive came from the top; they needed to make room for higher-margin prepared foods. The decision wasn’t personal. It was based on pure numbers.

That was a tough day, for sure, but in retrospect, even knowing how that partnership would take a sudden turn, I wouldn’t change a thing. Here’s why: the exposure that Hint got from Starbucks was invaluable. They introduced us to consumers in every city and town across the country, and they paved the way for us to become a nationwide brand. That’s why I’ve always maintained that in every setback or letdown, there is a kernel of success to build on.

In fact, an Amazon buyer called me up several days after the Starbucks deal was pulled, and told me he wanted to stock us in their online grocery stores. He loved Hint and — guess what — he got hooked after he bought his first bottle at his local Starbucks.

(P.S. We did manage to salvage some of that Starbucks deal, supplying Hint to their smaller kiosk locations and maintaining a close relationship with them over the years.)

Did you have any experiences growing up that have contributed to building your resiliency? Can you share a story?

I’m the youngest of five kids so that meant two things: I had to fight for everything I wanted in order to command the attention of my parents. And then the rest of the time, I was left to my own devices to fend for myself. Basically, if I wanted something, I had to go out and get it.

So imagine my family’s surprise when I came home at the age of 14 and announced my new job at the local toy store. I had been tagging along with my mother that afternoon while she shopped in Old Town Scottsdale, and on the toy store window I saw a “Help Wanted” sign. So I marched in there, applied, and I got the job! People ask me how I had the courage or the initiative to do it, but in my mind, I figured I would just ask. If Nancy, the store owner, said no, I’d be no worse off than I was when I walked in the door. That’s a lot of what resiliency is about: just trying.

I was initially hired at the store to help out with the paperwork, but I ended up spending most of my time working the cash register. I got to know our inventory really well and, since I had played with most of the toys and read a lot of the books, I could advise parents on what to buy their children. I asked a steady stream of questions. (“What kind of toys does your daughter like?” “What kind of books does your son read?” “How much do you want to spend?”) Nancy soon realized I understood what customers were looking for and had a good eye for toys, so she started taking me along on some of her buying trips to the big toy fairs.

Resilience is the ability to push forward no matter the circumstance. Sometimes it’s about recovering from a setback, but much of the time, it’s just about putting in your best effort and always striving to do more, try more, learn more, and achieve.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I’ve been really passionate and active on legislation around clean drinking water, as well as bringing more attention to all the underlying issues — which are vastly under-reported. When you just scratch the surface on clean water, you realize that this isn’t just an issue in places like Flint where there’s been calamitous and, frankly, heartless leadership from those in power. Millions of Americans today are drinking water with chemicals linked directly to health problems. One of the most common are PFAs (polyfluoroalkyl substances) which are found in the tap water of 16 million American homes across 33 states, as well as groundwater in at least 38 states. Once PFAs enter our bodies they remain stored there forever because we can’t break down or eliminate those chemicals. Some states are taking action and mandating that these chemicals are removed from our water (and not released into the water system to begin with), but we need a lot more action across all 50 states to solve this issue.

We are blessed that some very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them 🙂

Joe Biden. I remember watching him interviewed live on stage at a Politico event several years ago. His daughter was with him, and it was shortly after his son Beau had passed. I was sitting in the front row, hoping that he would announce he was running for President. He explained, though, that he couldn’t do it at that point — he didn’t think it was fair to the American people to ask for that job when he knew he couldn’t emotionally invest himself in it. I not only appreciated his honesty, but it made me recognize the authenticity of his leadership. We can’t always show up with the energy and enthusiasm to lead and solve everyone’s issues. Sometimes we have to know when to take a step back. And true leaders know how to recognize that moment.

I’ve often thought about that day and wondered how he feels now, considering all that has happened in the intervening years. One thing I’m quite sure of: in the time since that interview, he has built up the resolve and fire and pure will to address the many existential problems we face now. I’m excited to see what he and his administration accomplish as they hit the ground running.

One more request for our breakfast: let’s both bring our dogs and let them play together on the South Lawn while we chat.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

I’m @KaraGoldin on all platforms. Here are links:

+ Twitter

+ Facebook

+ Instagram

+ LinkedIn

+ Sign up for my monthly newsletter

+ Subscribe to “The Kara Goldin Show” podcast

Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational.

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