My guest today is Kara Goldin, the CEO and Founder of Hint Inc.- one of the most successful beverage businesses of our time. Kara has received numerous accolades including being named one of InStyle’s Badass 50, Fast Company’s Most Powerful Women Entrepreneurs, and EY Entrepreneur of the Year for Norther California.
Kara is also the author of Undaunted - Overcoming Doubts and Doubters - a Wall Street Journal and Amazon best-selling business book. In it, Kara shares real stories about her fears and doubts, the challenges she encountered, and what she did to overcome them to become successful - both in business and in her personal life.
I invited Kara to be a guest on my show to talk about the meteoric rise of the Hint brand. I wanted to learn how she overcame an endless series of “no” and “you can’t” to becoming an iconic brand and the #1 flavoured water company in the U.S. And finally, I was curious to hear about Hint’s branding, and what they do differently to stand out in the crowded beverage space.
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Hi, I'm Joelly, your Branding Badass, and welcome to season two of Branding Matters. My guest today is Kara Goldin, the CEO and founder of Hint Inc, one of the most successful beverage businesses of our time. Kara has received numerous accolades including being named one of InStyle's Badass 50, Fast Company's Most Powerful Woman Entrepreneurs and Ey Entrepreneur of the Year for Northern California. Kara is also the author of Undaunted - Overcoming doubts and doubters, a Wall Street Journal and Amazon Best selling business book. In it, Kara shares real stories about her fears and doubts, the challenges she encountered and what she did to overcome them to become so successful, both in business and in her personal life. I invited Kara to be a guest on my show today to talk about the meteoric rise of the Hint brand. I wanted to learn how she overcame an endless series of "No", and "you can't do it" to become an iconic brand and the number one flavored water company in the USA. And finally, I was really curious to hear about Hint's branding, and what they do differently to stand out in the crowded beverage space. Kara, welcome to Branding Matters.Kara Goldin:
Thank you very excited to be here.Joelly Goodson :
Oh, I'm so glad it worked out. I know, we had a couple of hiccups to get together. But I'm happy that we were able to make it happen. So lots to cover today. So I want to get right into it. So first of all, I just want to say congratulations on your incredible success, both with Hint and with your new book Undaunted and I can't wait to dig into both. But before we get into all those, can you share a bit about your background? Where are you from where you grew up?Kara Goldin:
Sure. Well, thank you so much for the nice intro there. I grew up in Arizona, and for most of my life, and was actually thinking that I was going to be a journalist. I graduated from school with journalism major and a minor in finance with my majors, I decided to move to New York City, because why not? Right, I had never been there. That's where magazines, in my opinion, especially back then were done. So I ended up getting my first job Time Magazine stayed in media for a while was recruited out of Time magazine to the television side to the cable side into a little late stage startup called CNN, you know, as 40% of households had CNN at the time, they were barely outside of the US just 40% in the US work there for a few years watch Ted Turner put his stake in the ground saying everybody needs. It needs CNN around the world. And that's the way that the world is going to be there were some days that we weren't sure whether or not it was actually going to take off or not. Or if Ted was, you know, a little crazy. So and I guess that that's kind of the way that visionary CEOs, visionary founders are in many ways. I ended up meeting my husband in New York, my fiancee at the time, asked me to move to San Francisco with him. He was moving out to San Francisco had just graduated from law school and wanted to do technology law. So everything in the this is 1994. Everybody is talking about the internet, and in his case, internet law, and what were some of the new issues that were cropping up around that. So we moved out to Silicon Valley. And I didn't know a soul one day, I remember looking down at my diet soda label, Diet Coke in particular, and seeing how many ingredients were in my diet coke. I've been drinking diet coke since I was 14 years old, never thinking that it was bad for me. It had the word diet on the label as it as part of its branding. And I thought, you know, maybe I should actually take a break from this product and shift over to plain water. I certainly wouldn't give this product to my children based on my rules that I was following with what I would put into their body. And two and a half weeks later, after giving up my diet coke. That's when lots of amazing things happen to my health that frankly, I'd given up on and never associated them with my diet soda. But I had lost over 24 pounds in two and a half weeks. My acne that I'd been struggling with for years had cleared up and it's so much more energy felt so much better. That's when I really thought you know, there's this world out there that is really tricking people smart people into believing that they're doing better with words like diet, or vitamin or low fat. And the reality is, is, it might not be the case. And if I could actually figure this out, maybe I could help other people to figure this out, too. I didn't know how to move that forward. But I had been really bored with the taste of plain water and I slicing it fruit in my kitchen and throwing it in a picture. I was amazed at how many people had never really thought about doing that, sort of concerned about the circle that I was that I was living in, definitely, because it seems so obvious to be. And one day when I went to the grocery store, I was looking for this product and a bottle format or a can, I think I would have taken out as well. But I was shocked at how many sweeteners were in things that called themselves water. And that's when I really started seeing this whole healthy perception versus healthy reality situation. And I had this idea in my kitchen, why couldn't I bottle it? How hard could it be? Maybe I'll just get a product on the shelf and see what happens. And that's how it was born.Joelly Goodson :
Well, that's quite the story. I love it. And the way you've all brought it all nicely together, I want to back up a little bit. I want to get people to get to know a little bit about who care is. So when you say you grew up in Phoenix, were you an only child? What did your parents do? Can you give a little bit more about your background in that respect? Yeah, so I want to go on a bit of a journey here. So stick with me.Kara Goldin:
No, I got it. So I was the last five kids. And I mentioned this, you know, it's interesting, my parents had me when they were 40 years old, which way back when I was old, I had the oldest parents on the block. I turned 40, by the way, two weeks after my second was born, but back then it was really considered old. It was really considered. Yeah. And I think it's really relevant to point out that we, we almost had two different families, and are two different sets of kids. So I have a brother and sister who are 14 and 15 years older than me, I met, we had the three of us that were kind of clumped all together. But for me, having brothers, a brother and a sister that were significantly older than me and doing things like, you know, driving and and being in high school, having after school jobs, things like that, I sort of got this lesson that maybe many of my other friends weren't experiencing. And so I was definitely sort of learning from them. And then also, I think, having older parents, especially back then, and especially being the last five, I think my parents were they retired, right? Yeah, definitely. I had brothers, that were pretty wild. And I think my parents were constantly saying, you know, just definitely, just be safe, be calm, you know, don't do anything that's going to get you in trouble. I mean, that's I remember that a lot as a as a young kid, but my dad had been working in a large company, I call him a frustrated entrepreneur. Because, you know, I remember thinking that he had so many ideas, and he was constantly drumming up ideas. He worked at a company called the armour food company, initially, where he incubated he was a product manager and incubated this idea, which ultimately became a brand that you would recognize today called Healthy Choice. You know, it's interesting, because I think back on it now, the other thing that he was really kind of on the forefront of was storytelling. There were very few brands that actually would tell their stories. And he was really into kind of tell me, the stories of like the shrimp fishermen, and all of the things that they did to go out and find the best shrimp, and he would put those on the boxes, and it was actually armour food company was unsold to ConAgra. And when it got to ConAgra, they left the stories on the box for a short period of time. And then they were concerned that the stories made it seem small. So there was this thinking in branding, and particularly in the 70s, where you didn't tell stories you never sort of spoke about yourself as a founder. You know, it was definitely my dad was constantly fighting this battle internally. He just it seems so obvious to him that more of the stories should be out there, because that's what brings engagement from the consumer. But again, we didn't call it that. So that was my dad's side of story. My mom work my mom actually was an art history major, and you know, very rare should be in her 90s today, but very rare for women, especially in the Midwest, she grew up in Minneapolis and Edina to go to a university, and super middle class family to I mean, that just really didn't happen. But she went and had an art history major, and she loved art knew a ton about art. I don't know who I learned more from, I think it was definitely a combination of the two of them.Joelly Goodson :
Where do you get your drive or your determination or your confidence? Because I love the story. And I want you to share. I know you just touched on it briefly. But I love the story about how you went to New York and got your job. Can you share a little bit about that story? Because I think that's a really inspiring story for anyone who might be listening.Kara Goldin:
Yeah. So you know, where I got the confidence other than, you know, as I mentioned, before, being able to kind of be as independent as I was, I have two working parents, I brothers and sisters that were out, you know, making money and doing what I viewed adults would do. So I wanted to be like them, I wanted to grow up, when I ended up graduating from school and moving to air moving to from Arizona to New York, that's when I really just thought if I don't try, none of this is going to work out. And what's the worst that can happen, I get a, you know, trip to New York and I get to see it. And maybe I'll be really sad, I don't get a job. And I come back and you know, and then I'll look around in Arizona, but I thought if I don't try, then nothing's going to happen. So I had sent a letter to the then managing editor of Fortune magazine, I really wanted to work for Fortune Magazine, because fortune, I had a subscription. And I really viewed fortune as kind of making things people or people who didn't really understand finance to understand. So I wrote to the managing editor, Marshall lobe, and I said, I would really like to work for you. And here's why. And he wrote me this very nice note, or at least I thought he wrote me this very nice note back saying, if you're ever in the New York area, let me know. So instead of actually asking Him do really mean that I thought, I'm just going to buy a plane ticket, I'm just going to go there's an HR office, I'll just show up the HR office, I mean, what the heck. And so that's what I did, I got to New York and, and stayed overnight with a friend of my sisters and ended up walking into the time in life building where fortune was a part of that building, and went up in the elevator. This is before security at the end, at the beginning at the entrance or on any of the floors, and I walked into the HR office, and I remember the woman, the receptionist. So clearly, I said hi, I'm here to see Marshall. Because isn't that what you're supposed to do when you want an interview? And she said, Do you have an appointment? And I said, No, but I have this letter. And I showed her the letter that I had. And I said he's, you know, said if I'm ever in the New York area that I should definitely let him know. And I'm here. And she didn't know what to do with me. She was all confused, a little frazzled. And, and so she called her head of HR and the head of HR came out. And she said, Let me understand this. How did you get here? And I told her, I bought my plane tickets. And I think she took pity on me at this point and said, Yeah, I don't think that he really meant it that way. And we really don't hire people without experience at Fortune Magazine. And you should go get some experience. And then, you know, come back and talk to us. And I said, Well, is there any other role and building that maybe I could interview for? I'm not leaving until tomorrow. So it would be great. And she said, Talk, let me think about this for a second. I went out the waiting room. And she came out and she said, you know there's an executive assistant role at Time Magazine. Would you be interested in interviewing for that? And I thought to building maybe eventually I'll get to meet Marshall Loeb. And I said, Sure. So I went and interviewed with Brooke Murray. And I think part of the reason why Brooke took a chance on me was my story. She just couldn't believe it. She thought it was hysterical. And something I share with new or potential graduates today is that it definitely is about the experience, but it's also about people getting a connection with you and liking you. And she wanted me to be able to do a job. But she also saw the hutzpah right and go and figure it out. And and so I was given a job offer and I thought I'm moving to New York City. I mean, this is so exciting. It's a great brand, my dad always by the way, talk to me about brands. You can't go wrong with going with the brand. And so I packed up my bags, and I come back to Arizona that packed up my bags and went back out. And, you know, it's interesting, I learned a lot at time it was, it was a great place to be able to kind of have my first role primarily because I really did learn a lot, not only about, you know, skills, direct to consumer today, I think very much is about subscriptions. And and, you know, lifetime value, all of the things that in the magazine industry or in the credit card industry, they've been focusing on that concept for years. So I was clearly I was working in the circulation side of time. And that's exactly what we were learning about.Joelly Goodson :
So it's interesting, you know, you talked about branding, and I want to get into that branding is all about standing out and differentiating yourself, right? And I think that's what got you to draw. Because when everyone else is sending in resumes, and they're all the same, and they're like loosely paper, here comes this, were you redhead back then too?Kara Goldin:
Oh, yeah.Joelly Goodson :
So this beautiful redhead with I'm sure balls of energy coming in and saying, I have a letter, you know, you you just blew them away, and I have no doubt you stood out. And they were like, Okay, we want this girl. That's what branding is all about too, is like why do audiences choose you first talking about branding? Let's talk about the Hint brand. What is it about the hint brand that sets you apart? And that makes you stand out from all your competition?Kara Goldin:
Well, I think starting hands, you know, as I mentioned earlier, it was this aha moment that I had around the industry as a whole and how I really felt that there were all kinds of products that had been fooling me that really weren't as healthy as maybe I had believed that they were. And so when I decided to actually go and try and start Kent, the spec for the product was an unsweetened flavored water. I didn't want any preservatives in the product either, especially back then it was it was really hard for people to get their arms around it. I didn't realize too that this category that I was creating. So we weren't just developing a brand and a company, but actually an entirely new category in the beverage industry. So was there no other flavored waters at the time, what year did hit launch in 2005. So there were carbonated waters that had some flavor in it. And part of the reason for that is because they're a lot harder to make. So no one was doing an unsweetened flavored still water, primarily because if you wanted to do that, then you would need to put preservatives in the product too. And so when you use carbonation, you can kind of play with not using preservatives in the product. But when you have a still product you really up until hint, you couldn't kind of hide behind it. So the initial brand, what I realized was really, really about obviously a great tasting product. But we didn't have it figured out how to get people to really understand that it was an unsweetened flavored water. I remember early that original versions of hint, we would say no sweeteners in it. And the first thing that people would say to us is what's it sweetened with? And we're like, don't you read the bottle on the bottle, no sweetened. And one day we put this word unsweetened on the bottle. And I think technically, that is not a word, we would have people writing into us saying to us, do you know that unsweetened is actually not a word, but they understand what we were talking about. And we thought, I don't know. I mean, if people can use the word diet on bottles, I mean, can't we use the word unsweetened on bottles, and we thought it was funny if nothing else, it was making us laugh along the way, because it was the one way that people would start to realize more about what we were trying to do and what our mission and what our purpose was. And so I would say that from a branding standpoint, we never wanted to skimp on that mission or brand it was really trying to get across what we were doing and what was the purpose why should people actually want to pick up a bottle I you know, said this then and I say it now it's the product had to taste great, right? Gone are the days where you can develop a product that doesn't taste great and people will buy it. Maybe they'll try it. And this is an important thing in the food and beverage industry. Just because you get trial for a product maybe you've got great packaging. Maybe you used to have a very big name and the food or beverage industry, or maybe you're a celebrity, and we've come out with a product, people will try things. And maybe they'll even pay for it if they know that somebody is attached to that, but the key thing is figuring out the second time, and the third time when people will actually purchase it. And I think what's really, really challenging when you're selling products into a retail store, is that you don't get the data, right. So it's their data. They're wholesaling your product. So, you know, they're buying cases of hint at Whole Foods to put it on the shelf. And that sale is between Whole Foods and the consumer. We don't, as a brand, get that information back on whether or not this consumer is buying it. A second or third again. And again. Again, it's interesting, because I think, going back to the hit production, when we finally I got it on the shelf, several foods. And I mean, I had no idea what I was doing, I mean, really had had figured out how to get a product on the shelf. And that was kind of it, I maybe had a six week shelf life, and then got a little nervous that the product wasn't going to be able to hold up. And I mean, we were just producing in San Francisco, we were and distributing in San Francisco, so we weren't shipping it. But I thought, gosh, if it gets into heat across the US or you know, this product is not going to make it and so we really had to figure out how do we get a longer shelf life on the product before we actually get a little further along the way. But again, so many lessons learned and so many things that definitely I've had quite a journey not only brand, but also building an entirely new category of drinks. And finally, I mean, another thing that we're really known for is our direct to consumer business. And that was solving the problem for us around really understanding who your consumer is more. Or that when you're just a brand going into retail stores, you don't get that data that you really want from or on the consumer, you're not getting that data from the retailer. And so it was when we went into Amazon back in 2012, that I really started thinking about the fact that they've got a lot of data on this consumer that is purchasing hands. And they were sharing with us that the consumer who was buying pins on Amazon was also buying things like diabetes monitors and different healthy items, healthier items like Kind bars or things that were really speaking to this kind of consumer that that had a healthy Halo. And either trying to get healthy or staying healthy or health was definitely kind of a way to describe this consumer. And when the Amazon buyer told me that I was not going to be able to get the data that I thought I could get from Amazon, because I really viewed him in my mind is different than maybe a Whole Foods That was a physical store. That's what I thought the only way I'm really going to get this data is to just open up our own store. And that's how the Hint brand started.Joelly Goodson :
That's such an inspiring story. That's a great segue into your new book. So it's called Undaunted - Overcoming doubts and doubters. What inspired you to write your book?Kara Goldin:
So, I felt like there were so many lessons and hurdles and walls that I had gone over gone around. And kind of also had heard a lot of things that just weren't the case. Like, for example, people telling me that if I didn't have the experience in the beverage industry, I couldn't produce a product or start a company in the beverage industry coming from a different industry or things like you know, direct to consumer, it'll never work. If you sell heavy cases and keep you know, online, no one's gonna buy them first of all, and you won't be able to figure out the economics to make it work. So just being able to kind of share the stories of what I learned along the way I thought could be really helpful to people. I was out doing a lot of public speaking prior to writing my book. And I felt like when I was sitting on a stage asked answering questions from the audience that it would a lot of the questions that would come up were just, frankly, experiences that I had had and they were really easy for me to kind of share my journey and sort of what was different than maybe what I thought going in. I remember just one example that has come up a couple of times I remember hearing from people that if we got into Target, or Walmart, that you better be ready that you're going to if you ever get kicked out of those big retailers, for whatever reason, you'll never get back in. And I remember getting a phone call from target buyer early on. And they said, We're so sorry, we've been doing really well with you. But this large beverage company has decided that they want to come in and do an unsweetened flavored water. I remember thinking that I just bought my coffee, right? Like that was just, you know, we were done. We were getting kicked out of a major retailer, and also a huge company, but lots of money was coming in to basically undo what we had done. You couldn't both be there. Like it had to be one or the other. They wanted at the request of the retailer, they wanted us to be moved out. And this happens this and again, it was you know, it was not a good day, right. In the timeline. It was it was a sad day. And I remember thinking, Okay, well, we've got to focus on we've got to make our numbers, we've got to focus on these other pieces of business, it's really a bummer. But we've got to figure out how do we keep going? After a couple of months, the buyer called us back and she said, Are you interested in coming back into Target? And I thought, of course were interested in coming back into Target. And they said, Well, we have really good news for you. Not only do we feel like the category is growing, but that large soda company has decided that they're going to discontinue their brand that was competitive with yours. And I was like, wait, what I mean this, I had to get my arms around this whole thing. And fortunately, we aren't going to put in a different category into that space, because we really viewed this as an up and coming category. And so we've you're not only coming back in, but we're gonna give you more space. How that happened. I mean, it was it was crazy. And we had to hustle and get ready to come back in.Joelly Goodson :
What's the lesson there?Kara Goldin:
Well, I mean, there's multiple. Never have your eggs all in one basket.Joelly Goodson :
That's a great lesson!Kara Goldin:
You get a big opportunity with a big brand. And hopefully everything goes great. But don't put all of your attention on that one retailer. Because if they decide that they change strategy, or you know, something else happens, it's beyond your control, you want to be able to go and operate the business still and not be out of business. Right. So that's one of the lessons. I think also that if you're the only one in your category, as we were being the only one and having competition come in is not such a bad thing. Did I want to be booted out of the store? Of course not. But I think that more than anything, categories will get recognized when there's different players in there. And you focus on what you can control, which is your product, right? So making sure that your product is well done making sure that you maintain your relationship, your composure with the buyer not getting angry, right, making sure that you're able to don't burn any bridges. Thank God you didn't write right. And then you get back in there. And then finally, I think the lesson is is that I heard so many times is once you're out of a retailer, you'll never get back in case because these buyers change all the time. And I remember, you know, we were removed from target multiple times, frankly, for different for a variety of different reasons. And a lot of it had to do with buyers changing and they would want to put their different icing on the cake. And they would change things around. And it would be very frustrating. So again, another reason not to put all your eggs in one basket. But I think that it just absolutely is not the case that you know, if you're kicked out of a retailer for some reason, you'll never get back in.Joelly Goodson :
So you know what? Those are great lessons for the business world as a whole. Because a lot of salespeople, I am guilty of that, put it having a really big client and then one day that client leaves and then you know, 90% your income goes with it. You hear about that in other businesses as well as well as you know, you might have tried to get into some company or you were there and then the employees change and like you said the buyer is new. And so if you keep that relationship open and don't burn any bridges, you just never know. So I love that you shared that with us. Thank you so much before you go, I read that you are an avid reader and you also you share in your book, this great quote where you said "I've met or interviewed many entrepreneurs, and they can all point to a book that has inspired them change their lives, or positively affected their companies. "So Kara, what book has done that for you? And why?Kara Goldin:
There is a book, I'm grabbing it right now. It's called The Trillion Dollar Coach. And if you haven't seen this book, sorry, grab it over here. I know, we don't have video on this. But it's about a leader, well known in Silicon Valley, Bill Campbell. And Eric Schmidt from Google. And Jonathan Rosenberg. And Alan Ito wrote this book. And Bill Campbell was really kind of a she was an unofficial mentor, even before the word mentor kind of became what it is, and and he definitely he sort of moved around Silicon Valley and kind of told many people, you know, how to move forward. And I think having somebody who can help you at times when you feel stuck in some way. And again, this can apply to any industry, right? Any level, frankly, we all feel stuck at times, especially when we fail or we're running into challenges. But I think reading about people like this. And again, no matter what yourJoelly Goodson :
I can't wait to get it. Yeah, definitely. Okay, experiences are, no matter how undaunted you are, is definitely great. Well, thank you so much for your time. I appreciate it so much. It was so lovely chatting with you and learning a bit about your story. If people want to learn more about you or something that I go back and read this book over and over want to connect with you what's the best way for them to do that?Kara Goldin:
Absolutely. Kara Goldin within I, I'm all over again, when I was just reading it. So it's definitely it's it's social media and every platform also Karagoldin.com. And hopefully you'll pick up a copy or download it on Audible. The a page turner, and it was it's called the trillion dollar book is called Undaunted - Overcoming doubts and doubters. coach, trillion dollar coach, and he passed away a couple of And once you get a chance to listen or read it, hopefully, you'll get an opportunity to reach out to me and tell me what years ago. But I mean, on the back, just as an example, I you think it's a great book.Joelly Goodson :
Well, thank you again. It was so nice to meet mean, Sheryl Sandberg, Tim Cook from Apple. I mean, this is you virtually anyway. And I hope we will stay in touch. Thank you so much. All right. We'll talk to you soon. Bye. And there you like, good. have it. I hope you enjoyed the conversation and maybe learned a few things to help you with your branding. But most of all, I hope you had some fun. This show is a work in progress. So please remember to rate and review on whatever platform you listen to podcasts. And if you want to learn more about me and what I do to help my clients with their branding, feel free to reach out to me on any of the social channels under you guessed it, branding, bad branding matters was produced, edited and hosted by Joelly. Goodson awesome. So thanks again and until next time, here's to all you badass is out there