Kara Goldin 00:03
I think instead looking at how you’re treating your body, I mean, I think today, it’s more important than ever, if anything. I think if anything good came out of the last few years, it’s that more and more people are realizing that what they actually put in their system and how they treat their body really matters.
Adam Baruh 00:36
Welcome to The Change, where we share stories and inspiration from servant leaders working to normalize the mental health conversation and increase empathy in the workforce. I’m your host, Adam Baruh. It’s tough to be a CEO. We face difficult challenges every day and have to navigate our companies through the many obstacles that make our job pretty interesting. For women, business leaders, the number and types of challenges are even further amplified. Imagine trying to start a beverage company in an overly saturated market with no industry experience. Imagine seeking advice from established and well known business leaders, only to be dismissed and called sweetie. This is exactly what our guests here today, founder and CEO of Hint Water, Kara Goldin, experienced as she grew the idea of providing delicious and healthy drinking water to consumers in an extremely successful business. Kara is undaunted in her desire to offer people a healthier alternative to sweetened beverages and impact people’s lives in a healthy way. Hey, Kara, welcome to The Change.
Kara Goldin 01:38
Hello. Thanks for having me.
Adam Baruh 01:40
Yeah, of course. So today, I want to focus on how you built a brand that continues to help people lead healthier lives. But first, I’d like to go back and start at the beginning. In telling the story of hand, I think it’s important to start with your childhood and family life. You were the youngest of five children. And you’ve described how being the youngest of five impacted you. In your book undaunted, overcoming doubts and doubters. You said if I had a dominant trait as a kid, it was persistence. You have to be persistent when you’re the youngest of five. So if you would just tell us about your childhood and how it shaped you into the leader you are today.
Kara Goldin 02:15
Yeah, so that’s right. I think you you do need to be if you have, whether you’re an only child or you have for others ahead of you. I think for me, I had to, you know, speak up by spirit definitely had to stick up for myself. And being the youngest, I felt, I always felt a little ripped off because I felt like you know, they always they, my brothers and sisters, I had two of each. And they always had things like cars and allowances and and, you know, they were constantly getting things ahead of me. And I actually wanted to be older. I really was, that was probably my biggest frustration as I remember as early as like five I thought like, why do they get to do that? And I downs and all of those things along the way. But I think also I was I was a sponge I learned I asked tons of questions. I remember, one of the stories I share in the book is about my brother who is 15 years older than me. And he was super cool. I mean, he’s still super, super cool. He lives in Scottsdale, and, and he used to buy V W’s and he’d fix them up. And you know, he had really great tunes. And so I would sit in the garage. You know, this is in the 70s we had eight tracks, right? It was even before cassettes, and, you know, I’d ask them all kinds of questions while I was doing my homework, like, Well, why is this VW going to be orange and not not green? And then when he would explain to me how, you know, he could actually get more money for certain colors and, and, you know, all these things along the way. I was constantly asking questions and and, you know, whenever they would bring friends over, they would warn them that okay, you have to know that my younger sister is going to ask you a million questions. I’d be like, Okay, do you have a job? Do you have cars? Do you have, you know, what do you do? Like, why do you do it? Like and what do you want to be? What’s your favorite subject? Like I would just sit there and constantly pound them and they would just laugh at me because they would just say anything else? I’m like, No, but I think I got it now. Yeah, and you know, I’d also ride my bike around the neighborhood when ever I saw a moving van, I’d stop and I you know, find out if there were any kids because we had we had Hide and Seek teams. We lived in an area where there were like orchards and so you know, you want to get to these people before the other team He is gonna get to them. I mean, that was sort of my goal. But again, I didn’t stop with the kids, I, of course, asked these the poor parents like, oh, come over my house, you shouldn’t be my parents. My mom would be like, wait, what? You’re inviting them for dinner? And oh, yeah, it’s all good. Well, barbecue, it’s fine. And I love it. So I was constantly, you know, that kid, but I think the thing is, is that they were sort of my my subjects in many ways, like, I learned a lot, even before, I guess, I needed to about, you know, the importance of asking questions, the importance of, you know, not actually knowing something, and, you know, being okay with being the least knowledgeable in the room, right? I think that if you can show your curiosity, I don’t think they necessarily looked at it as, as persistence, they, you know, saw that I was I was constantly wanting to be more and better. And, and I think that it’s something that, you know, I share with my kids, it’s like, you, you know, you ask adults about you have this opportunity, this window when you’re younger, and you don’t have any experience where you can just go and ask them a million questions. And and, you know, they’ll, they’ll answer them most of the time. And you can learn a lot about like, what do you like about your job? What don’t you like about your job? You know, how do you? How do you like running a public company? How do you, you know, all of these things. And so that was me definitely as a kid.
Adam Baruh 06:41
So this leads to now it’s 1985. And you’re, I believe, 1985, you’re graduating from Arizona State University. And you were kind of figuring out, you know, where you were going to land for work, and you turn to some of those relationships, from the teepee restaurant and had some interviews lined up. You know, I think on the West Coast, and then I want to also add in to that you were super, like, motivated to want to get a job at Fortune Magazine, you, you would love that magazine, and you really were motivated to try to get a job there. And how you had written a letter to Marshall Loeb, um, you know, just kind of asking, you know, being explicit, like, just putting it out there asking, you know, how, what it takes to get a job there, and how so then you had a trip where you made some trips to interview and you booked, you know, to go out to New York as well, which is where fortune was located, I believe in the time life building, and how you just kind of walked in. Because he had sent a response to you just encouraging you to, hey, if you’re ever in New York, you should try to arrange for an interview and how you just, you know, went into the time life building into fortune. And tell us a little bit about, you know, what that was like for you just kind of internally. Just going in there and asking for the interview?
Kara Goldin 08:07
Yeah, well, this is before security in the building, you used to be able to walk into buildings and, and find the HR department. And so that’s what I did, I went into the HR department and asked, you know, I brought the letter with me that Marshall had written. And when I got into the office, the poor receptionist, was I said, Hi, I’m here to see Marshall lobe, and she said, you have an appointment, and I said, I have a letter. So I didn’t, you know, directly answer her question. But I, I told her instead, you know, I guess why I felt like I could be here. And she said, she read the letter. And she said, so I’m confused. Do you have an appointment? And I said, No, I just have the letter. But as you can see, said, if you’re ever in the New York area, and so I came out here, so she didn’t know what to do with me, and so called the head of HR and said, you know, can you deal with this crazy woman and, and the head of HR came out and said, so I think what he meant is, well, I don’t know what he meant, but he is not going to see you. And he’s also you don’t have any experience, there’s no way that he would hire you into Fortune magazine with no experience. And I didn’t plan on, I thought that there was a possibility that he wasn’t going to see me but I didn’t plan on saying the next thing that I did say, which was are there any other jobs in the building? And so the timing of this probably coincided with her hearing from one of the other magazine groups that they really needed to find an executive assistant. And, and so if there was a group inside of time that it’s called circulation. I didn’t even know what circulation was at the time. But I thought, Okay, I’ll be working in the building. And eventually I’ll find Marshall lobe, and he’ll be thrilled to meet me. Right. And, and so I met with this woman, Brooke McMurray. And Brooke, you know, said, How did you get here? And I said, You mean, like, did I drive? Or did I fly flew? And I wrote this letter here, I’ve got a copy of the letter. And I showed her the letter. And she was just like, this is hysterical. I mean, this is this is so funny. And I can’t even believe you’re here. I mean, imagine you today interviewing somebody like this. And you’re just like, you just want to help them. Because they’re so authentic about, you know, the experience. And I figured, what’s the worst that can happen? I mean, if nothing else, I have this unbelievable story where I go back and I say, Well, okay, I was in New York, and then I walked in the building, and then they kicked me out. And the worst, usually doesn’t happen, by the way, everyone, right? You have to actually put yourself out there. And, and, you know, make your own journey, find your experiences, all of those things. But that was, yeah, so Brooke ended up I had a pretty good feeling. At the end of this interview, I had been on a journey, over 90 interviews over the course of that month in a bunch of states that anyone who ran into me, including friends of my brother, I’d say, Oh, where do you work? Okay, can you find me a job at your company? What do you guys do? You know, I mean, I was doing everything from interviewing at consulting firms to, to vacuum cleaner company to a beer company. I mean, I just was so wide open. And if nothing else, it was, I mean, it was an incredible experience, where I was able to learn about what people did every day. And you know, how happy they were, I learned about culture, all of those kinds of things. But I ended up getting pretty good at interviewing after 90 interviews in 30 days, and then my boss, my future boss, then gave me a job offer. And I thought, cool, I’m going to New York, like I was super thrilled, I was the only one of my friends that ended up going not only going to New York, but also just figuring out, you know, I was just gonna go find my way Fortune magazine was not interviewing on campus at Arizona State University. And so I just thought, you know, if I want to go, if that’s where I want to be, then what’s wrong was sending them a letter, and I still would probably do the exact same thing today. And I think so many people wait for opportunities to come to them. You know, maybe today, you go and look on, you know, whatever, monster or LinkedIn, and if those jobs aren’t there, or if a company doesn’t post the job, then you just assume there aren’t any. But you know, you’re a CEO of a company, right? You it’s all about the people, you find people who are hungry, to make you laugh, who you think, you know, I can teach them some things. It’s just you, can you can you find people who are curious, who are obviously smart, who are, you know, you can teach the rest of that exactly. But I think they, if they can see your, you know, your persistence, your, your desire to learn that those are the things that I think are really still to this day, super valuable.
Adam Baruh 13:50
Absolutely, um, it’s such an important skill set. And one other comment I wanted to make is, you know, emotional Courage comes into play in a real significant way here. And I’ve known a lot of people, and I’ve definitely been there myself, where I just felt that I wanted to do something different. But I felt like I had to achieve all of these things or achieve all of this level of knowledge, you know, before I can embark on this kind of new scary thing. And, you know, it really just takes that emotional courage and just, you know, taking that first step, you don’t have to have all the answers. It’s really and you know, once we kind of start exploring how you build hence it really again, it will demonstrate how you just got to really take that first step and build something that you envision in your mind, right, or go after something that you really want to go after. So, I want to stay with time here and your experience there a little bit. You know, as you wrote about it, you wrote about it being kind of a very, you know, fond time in your experience, good company. You were able to build long term relationships with your customers and you really liked that But you didn’t have an MBA and you weren’t, you were told quite explicitly that there really wasn’t going to be much advancement opportunities for you. Because you didn’t have the MBA, but also, you would need an MBA from an Ivy League school. So, you know, tell us about this part of your journey and some of the lessons you learned with that experience?
Kara Goldin 15:21
Yeah, well, it was clear to me in the first couple of weeks, when I got this exciting job at at time magazine that I was a little bit fish out of water, I had never really thought about it in when I was in Arizona. And when I went to Arizona State University, I mean, it was, again, for me, super middle class family. Dad who had, you know, lost his job for, you know, a year and a half didn’t have income was state’s school seemed fine. And, and it was a great experience. And but when I got to time, everybody was asking me where I’d gone to school. And I answered ASU. And and, you know, everybody wants to know, what is your dad do? And I’d say, well, he works at ConAgra. And, you know, or I didn’t say, Oh, he founded healthy choice. And I mean, they wanted to see if he was somebody maybe incited timing or connection, somehow, people were very on to that I was not on to that. And so what I realized is that, I could be upset by this, because it was upsetting to me, I’m 21 years old, I want to, I’m social, like I want to get along with people, but they were very much trying to figure out, okay, she didn’t go to Yale, she doesn’t have an NBA there was, you know, a lot of that going on. And I thought, okay, I can let that upset me. And then I’m going to be focused on that and not my job, or I can focus on what I can control, which was me. And so I sat there and just put everything into my work, did a great job for my boss. And, and after a while, I mean, I would have these conversations with my boss about it, we got to be pretty good friends. And, you know, she said, look, and unless you actually go and get an MBA, I mean, at our at this company, she had been there for many, many years. She said, it’s, you know, her opinion that it probably is going to hold me back. And so when I got a recruiter called me for this role at CNN, it’s interesting, because, first of all, I I thought, maybe I if I want to move up, I need to actually get out. And it wasn’t like time was a terrible experience. But I thought, it’s probably the best thing for me to do unless I do want to go and and get my MBA. But it was interesting, because for CNN at the time was in 40% of households in the US, it was like 12%. Internationally. It definitely was, you know, the underdog as compared to ABC News. And NBC News, Ted Turner was still running around the office. Actually, I laughed because the first time I saw him, he was wearing a suit and cowboy boots, and I thought, I like even in Scottsdale, I don’t see people wearing cowboy boots in a suit. And, you know, I thought it was funny. I think that, interestingly, I learned, I learned a lot at time. But I also learned a lot at CNN, CNN was really my first kind of startup. It’s It’s interesting how time has changed. Doesn’t it didn’t have that cachet. You didn’t want to be known as a startup. Back then it was like, you know, Ted was running around saying, you know, we’re, we’re the leader. And yet, CNN wasn’t even measured at that. We were like, Wait, how can you say that you’re the leader. I mean, it’s just, we’re having a tough time selling advertising, all of these things, all of these experiences, but it’s something that I like, not only culturally, was it so different because Ted couldn’t care less if you had an MBA, I always say like, that stuff really starts at the top. You know, what people care about or what they don’t care about. But also watching a founder CEO, kind of put stakes in the ground around, you know, here’s the brand we’re going to, we’re going to get news throughout the world. And there will be one feed, maybe two feeds, but people are going to people need to see the news that’s happening in other parts of the world in order for them to be informed and Ted would say that over and over and over again, and Sunday. aise we believed that he would make it happen. Other days, we just thought he was crazy, right? And that he was the visionary founder. But when, when we started to make progress, it started to be more and more believable. So it was kind of my first experience and working for a visionary entrepreneur, I never even really thought when I was starting hint that it was, you know, I was starting a company. I mean, I remember, I would say, friends of mine, when I got the first bottles on the shelf, that whole foods friends would say to me, you know, it’s so cool that you’re starting a company and I was like, Wait, who you’re talking to? I mean, it’s, you know.
Adam Baruh 20:43
Because you were kind of thinking local or?
Kara Goldin 20:45
Well I just, I thought, I just got it on the shelf at Whole Foods. And, you know, best case scenario, I’m restocking the product at my local Whole Foods, but I just I never really thought about it as a company. I mean, I, I guess, I think sometimes if you think too much about the end, you’ll never get past the beginning. Absolutely. Right. And I think that’s, you know, that’s that’s sort of how I’ve always thought about even, you know, people would say back in the job working in a toy store, they’d say, you’re, you’re going to a buying fair, I mean, that’s a big deal. Like if you allow yourself to think too much about that. Right? All of the big stuff that the things that seem really scary, you’ll never actually do what you’re supposed to be doing.
Adam Baruh 21:38
Yeah, I mean, it leads into like imposter syndrome, impostor-ism, whatever, however you define that word. I mean, I’ve definitely been there. And so I can relate to it. It’s, it won’t get you to the end, just like you say. But I want to kind of start, I want to stay at the beginning of hint. So we’re back here in about 1996. You were working at AOL. You were traveling a ton, you were working long hours. And it was during this period that You increased your diet coke habit, I think you were mentioned, you were drinking about 10 to 12 cans a day. You called it an addiction and went on to describe there’s no question that the addiction that took hold in those days is what eventually led to the creation of hidden water years later. So tell us more about this time in your life.
Kara Goldin 22:23
Yeah, absolutely. Well, it was a little later, it was 2000. You know, 2001, when I ultimately left America Online, and I was traveling, like crazy, had a house in San Francisco, was married, had never saw my husband. But somehow I managed to have a couple of kids. And I thought, you know, United Airlines pilot sees me every Monday I was on, if I wasn’t traveling, going to my customers, I was going back to DC to the America Online headquarters. And I thought, you know, I’ve been here for seven years, it’s a billion dollars in revenue to AOL, maybe I should take a break. And I didn’t at that point, even think that I was going to go start my own company. Or I think I really thought that I was a tech executive. And I would find something in Silicon Valley at at one of the companies that was around me that I knew of, but I I wanted to take a break for a couple years and really spend time with my young kids and go to mommy and me classes and do all of that kind of stuff. And it was during that time, when I wasn’t focused on what I was going to do next that I started to think about. Everything that I saw, that I thought should be changed, I thought should be different some way. And my first stop was really what I was putting into my kids bodies. I remember being horrified at I was supplementing, you know, had breast milk initially. And then I was supplementing with formula and I was horrified at how many ingredients were in the formula. Some of them smelled sort of funky, and I just thought, What’s in this, like, what am I giving my kids and I was shocked by the level of sugar and, and the product, but I was also shocked by all these other ingredients. And it was that was sort of the first stop and then I remember going to my pediatrician and hearing that you know after breast milk or formula, you upgrade to apple juice. And I thought well the kids that are at the park that are drinking apple juice all day long. You don’t really want to play with them for very long off the ground and and so I tried to figure out ways to get my kids not to be addicted to sweet, right. And so, you know, I would water down their apple juice and like that so much. So then I would try and figure out ways to, you know, put water in their bottle, and I would, you know, slice up fruit and let it sit in there for a while I was doing everything just to kind of maybe entertain myself to some extent on trying to figure out if, like, what would work. And it wasn’t until one day I looked down at my diet coke that I really started thinking that I was hypocrite, that here I was trying to do better for my family. And I was, you know, not doing so great for myself and I was drinking, you know, anywhere from eight to 10 On an average day, not always can sometimes there was at America Online, that nice fountain sodas, I would fill up, I wouldn’t always drink it, you know, I’d leave it in the car or whatever. But it was, it was really the it was this epiphany around ingredients, end of 2004 that really led me to say, I need to do better for myself that it’s not very useful for me to have healthy kids if I’m not healthy myself. And that’s when, you know, I decided I’m not going to drink Diet Coke anymore. And I’m going to just go cold turkey and not drink it. And little did I know that that would end up helping me to understand that I should be developing your company.
Adam Baruh 26:43
Right? I think you had explained you’re having some health issues too. At the time. After I believe it was the birth of your third child, you had a hard time losing that weight that you would gain during pregnancy, you had some skin issues, adult acne. And as soon as you gave up the Diet Coke, I mean, two and a half weeks later, you would lost 20 pounds in your skin cleared up. So you know, what was this revelation like seeing how a simple choice of what you were drinking and putting into your body could lead to really looking and feeling better?
Kara Goldin 27:16
Well, I think it really speaks to who we are as consumers today that, you know, people talk about fake news today. I mean, I think marketing to consumers is for years has really sort of played into this to some extent, because I really believe that diet was healthy. And I think for me, I never questioned it. I thought there there are, you know, large organizations that are watching this for me and here I am, you know, smart business person and I, I believed I believed for years, I started drinking diet coke in the early days of Diet Coke. Back when I was in high school, and I remember being marketed to my my mom was a tab drinker. And of course, I wasn’t going to drink what my mom had been drinking no high schooler would do that right. So I I remember hearing about diet coke and Diet Coke was better for you than full sugar and didn’t have sort of that different aftertaste that tab had and so I started drinking it. And you know, I just thought I can drink have as much as I want. And I didn’t really like water. I like I said did a lot of sports. I should have been drinking water. But instead I substituted it for my diet coke once I found that and thought okay, well, most of it is water never thought that there’s other things like the way that, you know, it interacts with your body really can, you know, vary and vary over time as you age too. And so, I think by the time I was, I guess, you know, a few years out of college and and starting to have kids when I had gained a good amount of baby weight. I never really thought about what I was putting into my body as the problem. And certainly didn’t think I wasn’t having 10 Cupcakes a day. I mean, I was like, you know eating normally except for this diet soda. And so when I finally decided just to give it up and start drinking plain water I mean it was a chore for me to drink plain water and but after two and a half weeks and losing 20 pounds, I thought oh my gosh, like I’m never going back to drinking diet soda but the biggest problem for me was the taste it was just so darn boring. So that was you know, when I started slicing up fruit and throwing it in the water and and and thinking okay, this isn’t so bad. And, you know, still didn’t think that I could actually go start a company, I actually tried to find a place that had a product like this, I even went so far as to call customer service and tell them that they should have this product, that I used to be a huge consumer of one of their drinks. And now I had left and and, you know, I thought someone would probably be interested in that fact. But the person on customer service really wasn’t and, and, you know, wanted to get off the phone with me as fast as possible, as much as..
Adam Baruh 30:39
Well that I think it says, you know, a lot about this, this theme for you is, you know, the curiosity and just asking questions, and, you know, not being afraid to pick up the phone and just make a phone call, I think you even describe that as being the best way to just really get things done. You know, picking up the phone, it’s kind of, you know, here and in 2022. It feels like kind of like an old school way of doing things.
Kara Goldin 31:03
Totally, ya know, and I think that that’s the That’s right. I mean, I just, I mean, sometimes you’re not going to get the answer that you want. Or, you know, sometimes they’ll hang up the phone on you. I mean, sometimes they’ll feel, you know, gauge whether or not they’re interested or not, but I figured, you know, what, what do I have to lose? And I think I always felt like, there would always be a story there. And, you know, somewhere along the way that I don’t know, I could humor my friends with saying, okay, get this, I gave up the diet soda. And then I decided to call that call Coca Cola on the phone. And I don’t know, I don’t know about your friends, but my friends would be entertained by this, that they would think it was funny. Why did you how did you get the phone number? I’m like, Oh, it’s so easy. You just go. You know, I mean, this is really before the internet was?
Adam Baruh 31:55
Yeah, what do you do you just go to the phone book?
Kara Goldin 31:58
You know, it’s interesting. It’s interesting. So my husband was, was an attorney, and he had access to, you know, Nexus Lexus, to research cases. And what I realized is that, I mean, it was sort of as good as Google. And many ways, like, I would go in and start to, you know, look things up, I mean, that when I moved to Silicon Valley, that was how I ultimately found the little startup that I went to work for, because, you know, they had filings for, to, you know, incorporate their company, and then I would see that, you know, Apple was a shareholder, and I would be able to see all of this information and, and so, I think I was always, you know, good at sort of jumping in and I could spend hours on, you know, the, the Nexus Alexa service, especially when he wasn’t around, I could go into his account and go check out these different, you know, companies, but I felt like, you know, I’d come up with questions, too, for the search. I mean, it was sort of the, the early days, I think of, you know, what Google ultimately became, was was what we were dealing with.
Adam Baruh 33:14
Yeah. Alright, so, um, so fast forward a little bit, or I guess, keeping along the lines of kind of how hint finally got on the shelf. So you were shopping at Whole Foods as a customer and asking, you know, if they had, you know, fresh drinking water that was, you know, flavored without sweeteners. And, and you asked if they had anything in stock like that, and then the key followed up with saying, you know, if I built a product, would you guys put it on the shelf? So you know, talking about, you know, being undaunted, just that kind of forward thinking that I guess drive to just with your curiosity, like, like, maybe, maybe I’ll build this so so bring us there, bring us to the creation of hand and getting the you know, this first bottles, you know, manufactured and put on the shelf, because another kind of really, when I read your book, I thought it was kind of like a funny part of the this whole story was, you know, in in this time, then, when you first got the idea to create a company, a beverage company, you unexpectedly became pregnant with your fourth child. And you had already been working on kind of the concept, but if I read your book correctly, you hadn’t really shared that with your husband yet. And so you had to kind of drop a couple of juicy nuggets of information on him. Yeah, at the same time, so So bring us bring us through that a little bit.
Kara Goldin 34:44
Yeah, so a few different points there. But just you know, let me set up the situation when I went to Whole Foods, you know, they had opened in the Bay Area. For me, the visual of Whole Foods was so much different than you know. Are these other stores, these conventional grocery stores or big box grocery stores that had been out there, and I just thought it was, you know, I wanted to eat everything in the store because it was just so beautifully presented and fresh. And it just seemed like the exact kind of place that would have a product that like what I had been making in my kitchen. And when I asked the, you know, the guy stocking the shelf, I said, How do I get a product on the shelf? Again, be willing to ask questions, but I think he misunderstood what I maybe other people walked into the store and asked him the same question. I don’t know. But he said, Do you mean the local program? And like, how do you get a product into the local program? And I said, yeah, the local program, and he said, and I said, what are, you know, the qualifications to be part of the local program? Well, you have to produce locally, I’m thinking I’m producing in my kitchen. So that’s local. And he said, You need a UPC number. And, you know, you need a shelf life and all these things that seemed hard, but not impossible. And, and, you know, I was off to the races. So now I had a list of things. And if I could achieve those things on the list, then I could get my product to be affiliated with this beautiful store. And I thought that would be really awesome. And then, you know, my entire time that I had taken off from tack wouldn’t be that wasted, because I could go and learn about this new industry. Right. And so I think that it was, you know, it’s, it’s interesting to think back on it, because I fully thought of myself as a tech executive, I never thought about changing industries. But when I stumbled upon, you know, this, this epiphany of, of sort of an industry that was really in need of innovation, I think, having grown up and tack, my curiosity, my ability to solve problems, my, you know, the, the having a clean slate where no one else was doing this that I could find, I thought, what’s the worst that can happen? I could fail. I mean, that is the thinking and tack, so much of the time, right. I also felt like, I was in a position where I was managing a couple 100 people inside of this company that had significantly grown significantly changed. I was traveling a time, all of the stuff that I thought, okay, maybe what I should be doing is actually going back down to the bottom, again, because if I go back down to the bottom in another industry, then I can be the student. And I don’t need to be teaching as much anymore. And, you know, it’s, it’s interesting, because a lot of people have sort of dissected that piece of it. Because I think a lot of people fear doing that. They don’t want to go back down, you know, right to the bottom and go learning over but I think for me, I really needed to do that. I’m not saying it’s great for everybody to go do that. But I think for me, it just satisfied my curiosity because it was an industry that I really knew nothing about. So that was the beginning. And, you know, I sketch out a quick business plan, had thought, Okay, I’m gonna go get this product into Whole Foods. I hadn’t even decided, okay, it’s gonna be national. It’s, you know, it was not it was a really bare bones, you know, business plan. And that’s when I sat down with my husband, because I found out after calling around to a bunch of bottlers that I actually needed some upfront money to produce our first run. And you have to understand that when you don’t have experience, and you’re calling a bunch of modelers, you know, your NetSuite, and you know, you call up I mean, half the people don’t know what NetSuite is. The other half are like, Wait, you’re definitely not in my industry. And so, like, you’re wasting my time, this is never going to happen, whatever they’re thinking. And so it didn’t matter what my title was from America Online, they kind of knew what America Online was. Most people did, but they knew that it was irrelevant, because or they viewed it as irrelevant. So that was the that was the moment when I just thought, I just need one. I just need one bottler to say yes, so I can test the concept and know enough about this industry. I don’t want to, you know, be the next COVID Cola or vitamin water, I just want to produce a little bit of product in San Francisco and get it in the stores. But I was taking $50,000 ultimately out of our bank account, and I thought my husband is going to think like I’m going to the Bahamas with a bunch of girlfriends or something, I should probably tell them that I’m gonna go do it. And it’s interesting, because people said, like, did he have a problem with? I mean, I had made money, so he wasn’t sort of arguing about it. But he was very clear in that moment when I actually shared with him that I was going to go and, and try and launch this product that he didn’t think it was a great idea. And the first thing that I shared with him was while he asked me what is the name of this company, and I said, Oh, it’s it’s called Wawa. And he said, you know, don’t call it Wawa. And he were up in New York, and I’m glad you didn’t call it Wow. And he was just like, No, it’s like that. You you and a couple of your friends call, you’re trying to get the kids drink more water. So you call it Wawa. But that is just not something that you should call it. And there’s also this chain of convenience stores in Pennsylvania that is called Wawa. So if you’re really successful, it’s, you know, they’ll see, they’ll they’ll shut the company down. I mean, all of these, again, he’s a lawyer. So he thinks like that. And so he was not my favorite person on that day, because I thought I had it all figured out. And so that’s when I, I started thinking more about other names. And he said, Just keep throwing names out out at me. And that’s when I finally said, hint, I said, actually, it’s perfect. And he said, No, it’s not perfect. It’s a four letter word, you’ll never get a trademarked feel. You know, it’s very descriptive, all of these things. And I said, I’m the business person, you’re the lawyer. just file it, who cares? Like maybe it’s not going to work? And maybe it gets rejected, at least, you know, we have something and we’ll keep thinking about it. And by the way, also, try and trademark drink water, not sure started laughing. He’s like, Oh, come on, like, you’re never gonna get that trademarked. PS we have hint, trademark globally, we have drink water, not sugar trademark, globally. And, and that’s when I decided it was probably a good idea in the same conversation, since he wasn’t my favorite person, at the moment to tell him that I was pregnant with our fourth. And so the timeline was going to be six months. So I could take a little break. Once I got it on the shelf, and he just he walked out of the room, I wasn’t sure if he was coming back, because he was he was definitely shocked. And you know, that I was deciding to go into a totally different industry. You know, I thought it seemed totally reasonable that I wasn’t going to go and get a job and, you know, a big job in Tech because I was pregnant. So like, why would I go and take on a whole new career and, and have to get out of there for maternity leave, and all of these things, but it was, you know, it was definitely at the time, it probably wasn’t a funny story. But over time, it became, you know, it became funny or to too many people who many of our friends you’ve heard the story.
Adam Baruh 43:38
And so I also recall reading how you know, you had a goal to launch the product before the birth of your, your fourth child now, and you had a plan C section. And, you know, when it came down to getting the product and ready to put it on the shelf, it was, you know, the day of your plan C section is when you literally drove it out to that whole foods and you know, gave it to, you know, the manager there or whoever and just, like hey, this was my goal. My goal was to get it launched before my fourth kid and now I’m gonna go my, my plan C section. So I thought that was kind of telling of just who you are just the drive that feeling of being undaunted by you know, whatever’s in your path.
Kara Goldin 44:24
Yeah, well, the case is we’re actually in one of I had a two car garage in San Francisco, it felt pretty lucky. But there’s like street cleaning every two hours. And as I’m going into the hospital, I thought, you know, there I have two cars. And it’s, it’s going to be inconvenient for my nanny while I’m in the hospital to have to deal with, you know, jockeying one of the cars around San Francisco because there’s a bunch of cases in one of our parking spaces in the garage. So I thought if I can try and get rid of these cases, I was very, you know, there was a Very logical decision to me to actually go into whole foods that morning. Little did I know that, you know, it would be something that we actually I talked to the guy who told me about the local program and and and, you know, he didn’t know what a Plan C section was. And he first thing he said to me he was like, wow, you’re super pregnant? And I said, Yeah, I am. And he said, Are you going to have a baby in the store? And I’m like, gosh, I hope not. I’m supposed to be at the hospital in a few hours. But that’s why I want him to come and talk to you. And, you know, it’s also a story of, I think, people buy from people they like, right, they like the story. And so, you know, just taking the time to actually, you know, as my husband said, tell him where babies come from, but actually say what a Plan C section is. I, you know, the he, he liked me thought it was hysterical, that I was like trying to get a product on the shelf, and I was gonna go have a baby, and then you know, I’ll be off for a couple days, and then we’ll connect. Well, he didn’t actually give me a couple of days because the product sold. And he called me in the hospital and said, Hey, I’m sorry to bother you. But the products gone. And I said, who took it? Like, I was like, it was mean, so to people they like probably threw it in the garbage? And he said, No, I sold it, but I’m gonna get in a lot of trouble with my boss, if you don’t have more cases, and so is there anybody that can come and deliver. So that’s when my husband jumped in and said, all, I’ll bring some over to you right away. And, and, but, you know, lots of lessons involved in that as well, where, you know, we truly did not, I say we because that was the moment where, you know, my husband just wanted to help, like your I was delivering a baby and getting the product and a Whole Foods is like, I cannot even believe you’re doing this right now. But it’s, it’s semi funny, but it’s also concerning, you know, because now you’re going to put another $50,000 down to go and create some more cases. And so he really, I think, wanted to watch where this thing was going. But he also believed in the mission of, of health, and how, you know, I really believed that there were a lot of other people who had been fooled. Like I had been by words, I had been fooled by the word diet, I started looking at some of my friends who drink this drink called vitamin water that was, you know, the hottest thing on the market. And I thought, you know, there’s a world of healthy perception versus healthy reality out there. That, you know, it’s, it shouldn’t be that way. And I thought, if you can actually produce a product that is, you know, pretty minimal, that is using real stuff that doesn’t have sweeteners in it, that doesn’t have preservatives in it, then that will actually help people to drink water instead of these other drinks. And they’ll get healthy. Yeah. And I also had been looking at the, you know, the diet industry as a whole, I’d never really dieted, but I had many friends who had died in and I thought, you know, people are counting calories people are, they spent a lot of money, not just in the diet soda industry, but also in these different diets. And I thought, maybe they’re not really working for a lot of people, because they, you know, they can’t stick to a plan. And instead, I had seen in my own life, how I had gotten healthy just by giving up the diet soda, something that I thought was healthy. And I thought if I could bring that to more people that understanding just by creating your great product, and helping them drink water. I felt like that would be so personally fulfilling. Absolutely. So that was key early on for me, too, that it wasn’t, wasn’t like I hated tech. And then I couldn’t wait to leave or, you know, there wasn’t some big bad story over there. It for me, it was really about having a finding a mission finding a purpose for doing something that kept pulling me Yes. Which still to this day, you know, I believe.
Adam Baruh 49:33
So I definitely want to encourage people if they want to, you know, hear more about the story to read undaunted, I mean, I think the journey definitely. You were met with a lot of obstacles you guys had to creatively get through them like how you originally started with a cold fill method. And you guys, you know, had flat had found like a cloudy substance in the bottle one day and discovered it was mold spores and having to work through that, you know, you were not interested in a hot film method which would have killed you know all the organisms and produced a longer shelf life, because you were really just encouraged and motivated by the the flavor and the purity of the product. And then, you know, eventually launching into Starbucks in 2010. Originally, I think that was planned out for a smaller launch 100 stores or something like that. But very quickly, you guys were in all at the time 6700 Starbucks locations. So definitely want to kind of like put it, put the brakes on the story a little bit, and then again, encourage people to read undaunted, I’d like to shift gears a little bit. And as you were just talking about your mission, I’d like to stay there for a little bit because that to me, is you know, I think the important part of this story. So I’d like to I’d like to stay here by reading a few quotes, and then get your perspective on them. So I’m just going to be reading here from the book. “I’ve never really enjoyed drinking water, but now I do. I have more energy now I feel much healthier. My skin has cleared up just like yours did. I know Hint didn’t change my life. I did. But you helped me take that one difficult first step. And that means the world to me. You’ve heard from diabetics, cancer patients and people who’ve had gastric bypass surgery hint as a godsend for me.” And then quoting you, “Parents told me they hadn’t realized how much sugar their kids were consuming. And that Hint has made it possible for their families to lead healthier lives. Others told me that Hint has been a key part of their lifestyle changes, including their ability to lose weight. Cancer patients tell me hint helps mask the metallic taste from chemo treatments, while other patients say that it helps them control their type two diabetes. While we don’t make healthy claims or health claims, for Hint other than its water that tastes good. Consumers are telling us about positive changes in their lives. That hint has helped them make.” So I think, you know, especially this last quoted, it perfectly demonstrates you know why I want to explore this topic further with you you related, you know how the product it really it’s just water that tastes good, right? Yet Hint has clearly had a profound effect on people. So I’d like to start by, you know, getting your thoughts on. What do you think’s behind this? I mean, people could make the same healthy choice by simply choosing to drink filtered water and cutting out sweetened drinks. But why do you think that Hint , has had this type of impact?
Kara Goldin 52:39
Well, I think first of all the you know, the story. You know, a lot of people have said, Did you? Did you think about you know, telling your story early on? No. I mean, I learned early on that I was not only just launching a product to get it on the shelf, but an accompany but also, realizing that we were launching an entirely new category, because we couldn’t get on the shelves of outside of specialty grocery stores like Whole Foods. There were these things called planograms. And again, not having come from the beverage industry or the food industry. You know, I I knew a little bit about planter grounds, because my dad with Healthy Choice sort of had played in the planogram of the frozen case, but I never really thought about who else was in the planogram. Right outside of, you know, for him at ConAgra. He was kind of negotiating internally with other product managers to get space inside of the frozen case. But you know, when you’re launching your own company and a brand new category, and the the real estate isn’t there, I had to figure out how do I get them, them the buyers to understand that this is something that should be in the planter ground. And so when I started hearing from consumers early on, that it was helping them change their life by helping them drink, better tasting water, without sweeteners and without preservatives in it. I started to try and really understand who this consumer was. I mean, starting with one of the first emails we got from a consumer was somebody who had just gotten diagnosed with something called type two diabetes. And you know, I went on he had emailed us I reached out to him and asked him about type two diabetes because I had only heard about type one diabetes before I knew that you were you know, born with diabetes and that that was something that you know, you definitely couldn’t have a coke right. Maybe you could out how to dye it. I never really knew that much about it. So when he told me that he was a marathon runner and that he was pretty hell ofI and had been drinking a lot of diet soda. And what he figured out was that he still was getting insulin spikes. After, you know, drinking diet sweeteners, I was fascinated by it. And I wanted to learn more information. So I asked him, you know, who was at the diagnosed you again, going back to my questions, you know, just curious, and he would, say, an endocrinologist. And so then I, you know, reach out to an endocrinologist, sometimes I found just, like making an appointment with endocrinologist, I mean, what’s the worst that can happen? I get charged for an office visit. I mean, it was just, I sat there and just kind of tried to live like my consumer, and tried to really understand more and more, while I was waiting for the shelf space to open up. And then I would start to think about, well, what else do these people Do? Do? What else do they eat? Where do they have? Do they go to, you know, runs? Do they go and do certain types of exercises, whatever it was, where I could find more of those people that looked like him, you know, that that was kind of my mindset. And what I realized along the way, was that I was sampling the product, right, I would, I would go to these fun runs, and I would hand out water, I would get, you know, friends of mine from America Online to come and join me for the weekend, just because they liked me, right? And they would help hand out bottles, and we would hear people’s reactions. And for us, it was just about getting more information from people. Little did we know, that was kind of the beginning of these people, kind of, you know, creating this pull strategy for us, because they would go into stores, and they would request the product and request the flavors. And so and then ultimately, I mean, a major point for us was about a year into the brand. When I was really hitting a wall, I wasn’t sure exactly whether or not you know, I was going to be able to figure a lot of things out distribution, how to make the product. And I was really challenged by this, you know, point in the timeline. And that’s when I was interviewing for a role at Google and knew some people at Google, my husband had been at Netscape and I knew some people from AOL, who had gone inside of Google as well. And the sky Mead core, Dasani was interviewing me and, and said, Hey, if you should definitely come and join us, and he had no idea that I had been working on this beverage and and that’s when, you know, I decided to tell them that, you know, I hadn’t been just doing nothing. For the last few years, I had actually been focusing on this drink. And, and he was fascinated. He’s like, asking me all the questions that people still ask me today, like, how did you have the courage to go do this and or just start, you know, all these really basic things. And finally, I think he felt sorry for me and and just kind of barely mentioned that Google was hiring chefs to come in and cook for them. And I should call this guy, Charlie, because Charlie, you know, maybe he needs a drink. He, they don’t have any drinks yet. And if they can, they had a food initiative to help people, you know, eat healthy, but maybe, maybe that could extend to drinks. I think he was I mean, no meat wasn’t even thinking like that. This was really helping us out. I think he, he really just was kind of like trying to connect the dots in some way. So that that one phone call, ended up with Charlie, ringing in 10 cases, the next day calling me and saying can you bring 30 more cases, and by the end of the week, they brought in 300 cases. And I was getting worried that I didn’t have enough product in the garage, you know, and so Google became our number one distribution point, you know, really, really fast. And then people were leaving Google for the day. And, you know, there was this thing called hint hoarding for a while where people would put it in their bags, and they would, you know, a couple of people got fired over, you know, stealing hands, like we would hear these stories, like people would write to us and say, Oh, my God, you know, I no longer work at Google anymore. Where can I buy your product? And or I’m starting a new company in South Park. Is there any way you can deliver and the all the stories along the way that I think, you know, for us were just they were sort of surreal, right? We were just trying to we were just Trying to keep our head above water. But in the end, those were the, those were the, you know, decisions that we made that ultimately helped us to get into lots more stores get distribution, because people wanted to help us. And people wanted to, you know, be able to buy the product and expand it in and many ways and, and then, you know, we get bigger and so do the people who are our customers, they move on, they end up, I’ll never forget when Sheryl Sandberg left Google and she went to Facebook, her assistant called and said, there’s an executive and she just moved over. And she really loves hint, fizz. And and I was wondering if you could distribute it to Facebook, we just put in a request. And I’m like, Of course we can. And, and so again, like so many crazy stories along the way that that, you know, we think back on as as really key to sort of helping us to grow the company.
Adam Baruh 1:01:06
So as we wrap up here today, tell us, you know, what you got planned for the future, what sort of other change making activities you have lined up for the next couple of years.
Kara Goldin 1:01:16
You know, more than anything, just excited to help people get healthier. I think, you know, as I said, somewhere in the segment, I think that it’s it’s something that that you don’t realize, until it’s too late for a lot of people when you’re not actually as healthy as you need to be. I think a lot of people just give up, right? And they just assume I’m overweight, because that’s just the way my body is or you know, that’s how my hormones are. Or as doctors told me, I had too many kids, so too close together, of course, after the fact, right, like all of these things. And I think instead looking at how you’re treating your body, I mean, I think today, it’s more important than ever, if anything, I think if anything good came out of the last few years, it’s that more and more people are realizing that what they actually put in their system and how they treat their body really matters. I mean, if you are checking into a hospital today with COVID, or Omni or whatever the variant is of of the hour, and you’ve got underlying conditions like type two diabetes, or type one diabetes, I mean, sadly, your your chances of getting out of there are 50%. Right? And and so trying to figure out how you can actually get your body in fighting order to be able to tackle our things while they’re frankly getting figured out is it doesn’t matter your gender or socio economic background or anything, what your what your title is any of these things if you can actually do something to make you make yourself equipped to be able to take on whatever. I mean, that that is. That is I think the biggest lesson learned from the last couple of years for me.
Adam Baruh 1:03:27
Well, I’m so grateful to have had this opportunity to speak with you today. It’s been a pleasure. And I really enjoyed reading your book. So again, I encourage people to go check out undaunted, overcoming doubts and doubters. It’s a really enjoyable read. So thank you so much for being my guest here today.
Kara Goldin 1:03:44
Thank you.Thanks so much.
Adam Baruh 1:03:46
Kara Goldin is the founder of Hint Incorporated, best known for its award winning hint water, the leading unsweetened flavored water. She has been named one of InStyles Badass 50 Fast Company’s Most Creative People in Business, Fortune’s Most Powerful Women Entrepreneurs Fortune’s Most Innovative Women in Food and Drink and EY Entrepreneur of the Year for Northern California. The Huffington Post listed her as one of six disruptors in business alongside Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg. Kara has successfully navigated the world of large companies and startups in many industries, including media tech and consumer products. In addition, she understands retail and direct to consumer Well, she’s an active speaker and writer and hosts the podcast, the Kara Golden Show, where she interviews founders, entrepreneurs and other disruptors across various industries. Kara’s first book Undaunted was published by Harper leadership in October 2020 and is now a Wall Street Journal and Amazon Best Seller. She lives in the Bay Area. You can read more about Kara on our website, eiqmediallc.com/thechange. Our theme song and sound engineering was provided by Shane Suffrirti. You can listen to more of Shane’s music at www.shanesuffriti.com. If you have story to share about making a difference in the lives of people you lead. Or if you want to tell us what you think about our podcast, send me an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank you all for listening. We’ll see you next time on The Change.
EIQ Media, LLC 1:05:11
The Change is produced and distributed by EIQ Media LLC. Elevate your emotional IQ with podcast and content focused on leadership, mental health, entrepreneurship and more.