Kalika Yap, an Entrepreneurs’ Organization (EO) member in Los Angeles, California, is founder and CEO of both Citrus Studios, a branding and design agency, and Orange & Bergamot, a creative agency for female founders.
As the host of EO’s Wonder podcast, Kalika interviewed Kara Goldin, author of Undaunted and founder and CEO of Hint, which creates nutritious products that help people live healthier lives. Kalika shared highlights of their conversation.
As we finish the week of International Women’s Day, what better story to share than one of a woman who created a whole new beverage category while pregnant with her fourth child, with three kids under the age of 6 and a US$50,000 budget!?
Who is this “Wonder Woman”? Kara Goldin is a force of nature: Authentic, unafraid of failure, and creative in pushing boundaries and disrupting the status quo. She’s inspiring entrepreneurs with her new book, Undaunted.
Kara shared seven lessons she’s learned in her 15 years as a startup founder of one of the most successful beverage companies in the US.
1. Identify the problem
After having three kids, Goldin was struggling with a few health issues, including adult acne, low energy and extra body weight. She was addicted to diet soda—drinking eight to 10 cans per day.
“I started reading labels, hoping a lightbulb might go off. As I was drinking my diet soda, I turned the can around. I saw a lot of ingredients that I didn’t understand,” she recalled. “Rather than trying to understand them, I decided to replace diet soda with water.”
She pushed through the caffeine withdrawal headaches and stayed true to her intention of drinking only water. Two and half weeks later, she was a different person: “My acne cleared up, I had lost 24 pounds and my energy levels were back. I realized that water was better for me.”
Though she aspired to be a water-drinker, she wasn’t enthusiastic about the taste. Searching for a flavor enhancement, she added sliced fruit to her water. “That’s when the lightbulb went off in my head.” And her product was born!
2. Just do it
A scan of the Whole Foods beverage aisle helped her realize that though there were multiple so-called “healthy” water and juice drinks, most had more sugar per serving than a can of soda.
Goldin asked an associate if there were any water-based beverages without sugary additives or preservatives. There weren’t.
“I thought, ‘Somebody should really launch this product, make this drink. Why shouldn’t I try to launch it myself?’ she said. “It became almost a game for me—in my spare time, with three kids at home, I developed Hint water in my kitchen.”
When she realized she was pregnant, she shared two things with her husband: Not only were they having another child, but also she was launching a company.
“I call myself an accidental entrepreneur. I was living my life, and there were issues around my health that I wanted to change,” Goldin recalled. “I thought, if I don’t get people to enjoy water by flavoring it with real fruit, nobody else is going to do it. I need to do this.”
3. Overcome fear
Building the company had its ups and downs. Still, Goldin never thought, “I can’t do this because I don’t have enough money, or because I have no experience, or because I’m pregnant and raising three kids.” Instead, she did her best to bring the product to market.
“People have called me fearless. That’s not accurate; I definitely had fears. It’s what you do with those fears that matters,” she said. “Can you come face to face with them, and ultimately do something as crazy as starting a beverage company?”
Goldin has learned the value of imagining the worst-case scenario and how she might face it. It may never come to pass, but it helps you troubleshoot potential problems in advance.
4. Ask questions
Goldin leveraged her lack of beverage industry experience in her favor. Being from the tech sector—she was formerly vice president of e-commerce at AOL—her curiosity and love of learning kicked into gear, and she started asking questions. She was excited to be a student of this different industry.
But the people in the beverage industry weren’t as excited to teach what they knew. She learned that her best source of actionable information came from people in other, related industries. For example, when researching how to give Hint a shelf life without preservatives, people in the food category were more willing to share.
When she finally did speak with a large soda company, it left a bad taste in her mouth. After being called “Sweetie” on the phone, she was told her idea would never go anywhere because “Americans love sweet drinks.”
It made her doubt herself, but instead of quitting, she doubled down. Fifteen years later, Hint is the largest flavored water company in the US without a relationship to Coke, Pepsi or Snapple. For Goldin, it was a good reminder that experience doesn’t equal excellence.
5. Do things differently
When you’re trying to disrupt an established category: Go outside of your business to search for inspiration and ideas. Don’t look at what everyone else is doing, Goldin says—you won’t find the answers there.
Hint pursues many direct-to-consumer opportunities, which is rare in the beverage industry. More than 50 percent of the company’s business is direct-to-consumer sales.
“I encourage our team to go out and look at who’s doing it right—whether that’s a company selling eyeglasses, mattresses or food,” said Goldin. “Figure out what people are doing. And then apply those lessons to your company.”
Goldin never wanted to start a beverage company. “That was never the goal. The goal was to help people get what they wanted out of their health just by changing a simple thing in their diet,” she said.
“I had been drinking diet soda for years, thinking that I was doing everything right. Everyone was drinking it!” Goldin said. Then she had an epiphany, realizing that “diet” drinks weren’t doing her health any good.
“I wanted to reset, disrupt, create something that helped people.”
She used the same approach when developing two new products in the Hint line—safe, affordable and high-quality sunscreen and deodorant.
6. When you lose, gain a lesson
In the category of “things she didn’t see coming,” Goldin recounts her experience with Starbucks. Hint water was in all 11,000 locations with sales higher than expected.
Then, without warning, Starbucks eliminated Hint products to feature more food items instead of (competing) beverages.
“It was a business decision for Starbucks. It wasn’t personal. It was understandable.”
Failure provides entrepreneurs with the opportunity to figure out what they could do differently. Goldin had placed a great deal of importance on the Starbucks relationship.
“I made a major mistake not diversifying much sooner,” she recalled. “I learned that lesson so intently that I will never do that again.”
Suddenly, she had six months of inventory that she needed to sell. So it felt like divine intervention when Amazon called to say they were starting to sell grocery items online. Even better? The buyer had been enjoying Hint at Starbucks.
“I told him I had plenty of inventory. He was excited that there was no lead time, and we made it happen!”
Hint became one of the earliest No.1 products in Amazon Grocery. Goldin often wonders whether the Amazon relationship would have happened if Hint wasn’t in Starbucks? Was the Starbucks chapter a failure? No. It was a stop along the way to success.
“There are lots of things you can call failure, but it’s something you need to go through to grow, and do what you are ultimately meant to do. Hopefully, those words will ring true for people in both their personal lives and their business.”
7. Inspire the next generation
Goldin has two sons and two daughters. She believes strongly that there is value in them seeing her as the founder and CEO of a company who is not afraid to get out there and be both curious and relentless in her journey.
“If we can be role models as mothers and teach our kids some of our challenges along the way, not just complain about them, but actually talk with them about what’s going on, I think that the future will be much brighter,” Goldin stated.
“If there’s something you want to do, go try it! Overcome your doubts and all the doubters. Just go out and do it!”