I love a good business story, and Kara Goldin has quite a few surrounding the origins of her company, Hint Water. Even if you’ve never tried the soda alternative with just a hint of fruit flavor, there’s a good chance you’ve seen it on a shelf somewhere. Hint is everywhere.
It wasn’t always that way.
The story there involves a C-section, a Whole Foods employee, and the power of persistence.
Sixteen years ago, Kara’s doctor planned a c-section to give birth to her fourth child. The morning of the procedure, she went to a Whole Foods store in the San Francisco Bay Area to convince managers to put Hint on the shelf. While making her pitch, an employee wanted to know the differences between a planned and emergency c-section.
“I sat there for the next 10 minutes telling him the difference between the two,” Kara recalled. “At the end, I said, ‘By the way, is there any way that we could get the product on the shelf because I got to go and a little bit to go have a baby.” He said ‘Oh, yeah, I’ll try. I don’t know. I’ll give it a try.’ We didn’t know when we left Whole Foods that day whether or not he was going to do it. The next day, in the hospital, he called me and said the 10 cases are gone. I said, ‘who took the cases?’ He said, ‘No, I mean I put them on the shelf, and somebody bought the cases, but I can’t hold the space for very long you guys got to get back in here.”
“So, we checked out of the hospital, and that’s the story of the beginnings of Hint.”
That’s one of the most badass business stories I have ever heard.
It was just one of many real-life examples Kara shared as part of a recent C-Suite Network Digital Discussion Leadership Series. Our conversation was a second opportunity to interview Kara in the last year. The first was to promote her book, Undaunted: Overcoming Doubts + Doubters. If you’d like to learn more about how Hint went from Kara’s kitchen to a global brand, read highlights of my first interview or listen to my podcast with Kara.
This time, we got into the nitty-gritty into what it takes to build a business and create a category from scratch.
Kara calls herself an ‘accidental entrepreneur,’ but I don’t think it was merely an accident.
“I didn’t know that I was going to become an entrepreneur, in fact, when I had the idea for Hint,” Kara said.
She had been working in the tech industry and was drinking a lot of Diet Coke. Then, she realized all the chemicals in her favorite drink weren’t doing her any favors. Kara blames her soda habit for a series of minor health problems. Once she switched from soda to water, she says most of the issues disappeared. However, there was a hiccup. She found drinking water boring.
“That’s when I thought, ‘Gosh, why isn’t there a product on the market that has just fruit and water, no sweeteners, just fruit and water?'” Kara said, “I kept thinking, I was shopping at the wrong locations. I looked everywhere, on both coasts, and that’s when I really thought, maybe I should just go develop this product.”
“I think that was my calling. (I) still didn’t call it being an entrepreneur. Maybe I thought about getting a product on the shelf and starting a new company, but, more than anything, it was really about that calling, that curiosity, and that ability to actually go solve a problem that could affect millions and millions of people’s health. I had this idea. I thought, ‘I need to just go do this.'”
Kara’s first sales pitch for Hint was to her husband.
“I kind of dropped a bomb on him,” Kara said. “I was going to start a beverage company.”
Then she unveiled this possible company’s name to her him. Did I mention his day job at the time was as an intellectual property attorney?
“I said, ‘Okay. You ready? It’s called Wawa,'” Kara said. “He’s an intellectual property attorney, and he said ‘Kara, I know you grew up on the west coast, but there’s a tiny, well not so tiny, store chain out in Pennsylvania (with the same name), and that is probably not a good idea.”
They kept talking, and Kara the name came to her.
“I was kind of joking around with myself, and then I said, ‘Wait a minute. Hint!’ He said, ‘four letters, you’re never going to get the Trademarks on it.'”
The other trademark her husband doubted was the tagline “Drink water, not sugar.” Kara said he laughed his way out of the room. Needless to say. Kara had the last laugh. She obtained the worldwide trademarks for both of her ideas.
So, she got to work developing Hint and getting it on the shelves — learning plenty about manufacturing, distributing, and creating a food product.
“Your product is not going to be perfect,” Kara said. “You’re going to learn things, fly that plane and just keep building it. Just know that it’s pretty darn good, but I know in six months from now, it’s going to be even better.”
Kara was a one-woman show, and it showed. That didn’t stop her from building Hint into the success it is today. She learned a lot building Hint into a global brand and isn’t afraid to get into the weeds of her business.
“The beauty of actually starting a company, doing the customer service, building the first direct-to-consumer store we had, figuring out how to put SEO in, figuring out how to go out and merchandise and pull cases out of the backroom at Target. Whatever it is, I can do all of that. Do I do it every day? No. I don’t do it every day. I hire people to actually go and do those things, and, in most cases, they can do it way better than I do, but I can do it? You bet! I think there are times when, as a leader, you need to show up, and you need to be able to do those things, or at the very least, you need to be able to understand those things in case somebody decides to go find another job or you know they need more support. You need to be able to jump in and do that,” Kara said.
It was great to catch up with Kara. She’s full of energy and entrepreneurship, even if she doesn’t consider herself an entrepreneur. If you’d like to hear the entire conversation, click here.
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