How does someone launch a $200 million beverage company with zero experience and four children under the age of six? Just ask super-mom, author, and Hint Water empire CEO and Founder, Kara Goldin.
Goldin was first inspired to launch her beverage company as an alternative to other unhealthy drinks on the market. Not only did Goldin manage to build a company that is now the largest privately owned non-alcoholic beverage company in America, but she placed Hint on the shelves of her local Whole Foods on the same day she went into the delivery room.
Revealing all of the ups and downs of her journey in her new book, Undaunted: Overcoming Doubt And Doubters, Goldin speaks to Foundr’s Nathan Chan about relentless pursuit of your dreams, and overcoming fears and self-doubt along the way.
Nathan : The first question I ask everyone that comes on is, how did you get your job?
Kara: How did I get my job? My job now or just my first job?
Nathan: Oh, yeah, how’d you find yourself doing the work you’re doing today?
Kara: I am the founder and CEO of a beverage company in the US called Hint. This is what it looks like. I started it 15 years ago with no beverage experience. I was a tech executive and had this idea when I was looking at what I was drinking every single day, and I was drinking Diet Coke, which I’m sure you’re familiar with and drinking a lot of it, never really thought that there was anything wrong with it. I had been focusing on the food I was eating and had tried some different diets after leaving my tech role. That’s when I made this tiny switch from Diet Coke to trying to drink water. After two and a half weeks of forcing myself to drink water, what I realised was that I knew that drinking water was better for me, but I just didn’t do it because I just didn’t really like the taste of water.
But I love the idea that I was getting healthier. I had lost 24 pounds in two and a half weeks just by making this little switch. My skin had developed terrible adult acne over the years, and suddenly by drinking water, my skin cleared up and then my energy levels got dramatically different. Again, I was so passionate and so curious about why this happened to me. That’s when I went and started slicing up fruit to get myself to drink more water and throwing it in the pitcher of water, and I thought, “I wonder if a product like this is for sale.” I had been only focusing on Diet Coke for years. I went to the supermarket to see if I could find something that was just fruit and water, and I was shocked to see that everything was sweetened.
I thought even the stuff that was calling itself water, like vitamin water, had sugar in it. I thought, “This is diet sweeteners, and it’s really not making me healthy. And why is this?” I think that’s really what led… my curiosity led me to say, “There’s this hole in the market. I wish somebody would go do this company.” That’s when I thought, “Well, I don’t know what I’m going to do yet around tech, and maybe I have this idea. Maybe I should take it to my local store and see if I can… how hard is it to get a product on the market?” I mean, little did I know that I was jumping into the most competitive industry taking on as people talk about me, that the giants like the Cokes and the Pepsis of the world, but for me, it was really, if I could actually start a company that helped a lot of people get healthy and get them off of their addiction to sweet, which is how I view, the soda industry as a whole, that’s something that I want to do every single day.
I can do a lot of different things, I’m a very smart person, but if I could actually help people with this problem that maybe they don’t even know exists, really how I felt about my experience overall, then that would be what I want to do every single day. I just wrote this book Undaunted, it came out October 20th, Undaunted: Overcoming Doubts and Doubters. I know it’s available on Audible throughout the world, but it should also be available on Amazon in Australia as well. But basically the story talks about how I got my job and how I ultimately built this company with no experience, with lots of challenges along the way, including lots of doubts and doubters and fears and failures.
Today we’re the largest non-alcoholic beverage in the US that doesn’t have a relationship with Coke or Pepsi. I had four kids under the age of six when I started the company too. That’s a whole other topic that people often want to talk to me about. I just said, “This passion and this commitment and this curiosity and this frustration with an industry that I thought was just so bad and so awful on so many levels, if I can go in there and actually launch a product and fix it and really help people that that would just be awesome to do every day.”
Nathan: Yeah. Well, thank you so much for sharing how you got to where you are today. Incredible mission. I’d love to go back to the early days because a lot of people have aspirations to create a company, physical product or tech products. You come from a tech background. I do see a trend where there are people that come from the tech tech world, they start moving into e-commerce or direct to consumer, and they do really, really well. I’m curious, how did you stop? Because yeah, moving into a space like that is extremely competitive. People tend to buy products like this, like beverages from supermarkets, off the shelf. Yeah, I’d love to hear, how did that start, even getting the proper licencing and making sure the bottle is… what’s inside is okay and all those sides of things? How did you start? Was it a costly exercise?
Kara: Yeah. I started… I had made some money in tech and I decided that I was really curious about this, but I didn’t want to take investors, even though I had friends who wanted to be angel investors and early investors, they believed in me, I was like, “Don’t invest in this yet. I have no idea what I’m doing. Don’t let me convince you to do this.” Initially I took $50,000 out of our bank account and shared with my husband so he didn’t think I was going off on some boondoggle with my girlfriends or something. I said, “I have this idea that is really big, and here it is. I’m going to a launch a beverage and it’s going to help people actually drink water.” He was an intellectual property, Silicon Valley lawyer. He was like, “Wait, what are you doing? You could do a lot of different things right now. Why do you want to do this?” And I said, “Because health is so important to people. It doesn’t matter your gender or socioeconomic background or any of this. At the end of the day, it’s like, if people don’t have their health, you have nothing.”
I hear this over and over again from people worldwide every day, and it’s only accelerated in 2020, I believe, for so many people. But I think for me, I had this big idea, but I had no idea all of those things that you mentioned, how to actually solve those ideas. I thought I go to a supermarket and there’s product on the shelf, but how does it actually get there? Some of the things I talk about in the book, just as an example are, I would ask the guy at Whole Foods. I’m like, “How do I get a product on the shelf?” And he’s like, “Well, you have to actually have it in a bottle and you have to be registered and you have to…”
Then I would go onto Google and I’d start looking around for more information. Then when I ultimately got it on the shelf… I wrote a business plan and I got it on the shelf at Whole Foods. It’s funny because one of the… another story in the book that I talk about is that I had no idea how long it took to actually launch a product from the beginning until the end. But I found out shortly after I wrote the business plan that I was having my fourth child. I thought, “Well, I want to take a break with my new baby, and I have these other little kids as well to be able to spend time.” I decided that was my timeline. It was six months from now before I got it on the shelf.
There’s always delays when you are producing a product. I got the product the day before I was having a planned C-section at my house. I woke up that next morning, May 27th 2005, my husband said, “What do you want to do? You don’t have to be at the hospital till two o’clock,” and I said, “Let’s go try and get the product on the shelf at Whole Foods.” He’s like, “Really? You don’t want to take a walk or go have brunch or something.” I’m like, “No, it’d make me feel so much better if I actually got this accomplishment done.” That’s when I went to this market Whole Foods in San Francisco. As soon as I walked in, I saw the gentleman that I had been talking to a couple of months prior about launching this product. The first thing out of his mouth was, “You’re really pregnant.” I was like, “I am. I’m very pregnant.”
He said, “You’re not going to deliver the baby right here in the store, are you?” I said, “I hope not. I’m supposed to be at the hospital at two o’clock.” He said, “Okay. I want to make sure.” He said, “How do you know you’re having a baby at two o’clock?” I said, “Well, I’m having a planned C-section.” He said, “What’s the difference between a planned C-section and an emergency C-section?” I said, “Well, I’ve had both, so I’m your girl. I can tell you exactly what the two of those things are.” He said, “What are they?” My poor husband was backing up into the fruit and vegetable section thinking, “Oh my God, she’s really going there, and she’s going to talk to this guy about where babies come from.”
Then 15 minutes later, he said, “Thanks so much. I’ve always kind of wondered, I’ve heard these terms, but I didn’t really know what they were.” I said, “Okay, can you actually put the product on the shelf now?” He said, “I’ll try.” I left and went and had my son Justin, and everything’s great. The next day he reaches out and and shares that the 10 cases were gone. I was like, “Who took them?” He said, “No, they sold. They’re gone.” I said, “Oh, okay.” I hadn’t even gotten that far. My goal was to actually get a product on the shelf at Whole Foods. Now they had sold.
Some of the stories that I share along the way is sometimes when you have it all mapped out so carefully, you have this big goal like, “I’m going to go and sell millions of cases,” you get yourself so daunted by this idea that you can’t even go… and it doesn’t matter what category or industry you’re in. For me, it was just like, “Okay, I’d love to sell a lot of cases, but let me just get it on the shelf first.” Now it’s sold. Now I have to figure out the next steps along the way like, “How do I deal with that?” That’s what I often share with entrepreneurs that if you’re really daunted by something, try and figure out how you get undaunted. How do you figure out? Take steps along the way and recognise that you’re going to accomplish some things, and when you do accomplish some things, remind yourself along the way as well.
That was really the early start of launching this. I didn’t have any idea of ultimately how to do it or how to distribute this product either and get it out there, or ultimately do all these different things. But every day there were challenges and every day I was getting educated about sort of going into this new industry. I’ll also say coming from tech, two things about coming from tech, I felt like coming from tech, I was at a place where I was the youngest vice president at AOL, the company that I was at, and I was managing 200 people. I was running the e-commerce and shopping partnerships, and I felt like I was supposed to be really happy and really content being in this big pimpin role. That’s really great. I wasn’t that happy. Part of the reason why I wasn’t that happy was that I felt like a lot of people were coming to me for mother may I. They were saying, “How does this look?”
I wasn’t really being educated. I wasn’t living in this world where I was learning, and something I talk about today, the happiest C-suite executives as well as people just getting started are the ones that are always trying to learn. The people even that are listening to podcasts or watching webinars or whatever, it’s reading a lot, are those people that are lifelong learners. I think it never stops even when you’re a CEO. What I was seeing when I was launching Hint was this whole new industry that I was fascinated by the idea that there were a lot of games that were played by the big beverage companies, that again, I didn’t even know existed. Some of them shady, but I was like, “Wow.” It’s like this whole new world opened my eyes to stuff and how can I change those things and how can I do things a little bit differently?
But then in addition, the one other thing I wanted to say about the tech industry is that in tech, which is what I grew up in, I felt like there was always this… even when you finished a product, there would always be an upgrade or version two or something coming along. It’s like doing a puzzle. In the internet industry, when you’re working on an internet puzzle, there’s not an end. It just keeps adding on. And that can drive a lot of people really crazy, but at the end of the day, that’s what the tech industry is. Innovation drives it as new things get created. It just takes time. People who jump into the internet, they might not even know what they’re living in, but it’s always going to change and it has to. It has to get better.
In the beverage industry, in consumer products industry, what I was seeing that was really archaic to me was when you launch a product, like a Diet Coke, for example, and if it’s working, people are buying it, then it’s like, “Don’t change anything.” It just stays there. Ruffles potato chips, it’s like, “Just keep it. Don’t touch it.” Right. Then maybe you do different iterations of it, but in our case with Hint, it was like I was going in and trying to… I was like, “Yeah, it’s pretty good. Let’s launch it. No one’s going to die obviously,” we had that all tested. But I kept saying, “Oh no, we want to get better. We want to get better. Let’s use better apples. Let’s do better blackberries or whatever along the way.”
I think that type of innovation crossing over from one industry into this other industry was… it just wasn’t done. But again, I didn’t know that. I wouldn’t be able to articulate that even 15 years ago when I started, but it’s the beauty of crossing over from industries. Frankly, maybe you feel this way as well. I feel like some of the leaders that I admire or that I’ve been able to read about are ones that are not necessarily in my own industry. They help me think differently about how I can bring innovation into mine.
Nathan: Yeah, no, I agree 110%. It’s very, very interesting to me. I have seen a trend of people that moved from tech to a physical products, e-commerce and they typically do very, very well, because I believe it’s not as competitive and it’s only… I’d say the past three to five years that Shopify has really taken off. It is crazy. I’ve seen, time and time again, speaking to people that they come from the SAS world and they move into e-commerce and they’re hardcore growth hackers and they just absolutely destroy it. It’s really interesting. Yeah, I agree with you as well around this idea of learning and that rise to the challenge. It is quite infectious. Yeah, it’s never ending, but the journey is the reward, right?
Kara: Yeah, totally. For me, it’s even how I lead our teams too. I’m constantly encouraging our managers when they’re hiring people to make sure that they’re hiring people that they’re not just managing, but they’re also going to learn. I often ask these question like, “What do they know that you don’t know?” Because I said, “You may not know this, but that’s something that everybody craves. Even if you don’t crave it right now, you want to be king of the mountain.” After a while, it just gets old. That’s really what I think spurs people just getting frustrated and maybe depressed too, and not really understanding why they’re in the job that they’re in because after a while, if you’re just not learning, I mean, we’re humans, we do want to learn. I think that it just may not be so obvious to people who are in a C-suite or in a manager position. But I really do believe that that’s something that is something that most people if they are learning, I mean, that’s why starting a new job is really exciting and scary.
It creates fear around you. Then there’s this honeymoon period maybe where you’re actually like, “Oh, you got it all under control,” but then you get itchy, unless you are still learning. I guess you can do that by taking online classes or reading or whatever. But I think the more you push yourself into another area, whether it’s innovation or whatever it is, I think it really ultimately leads to happiness. Those are the things that I’ve learned along the way.
Nathan: We’re really big on learning as well at Foundr. It’s one of our values; learn and be curious. That’s one thing I think about when we’re interviewing people too, is have you learned something from that person. If you have, there’s a good chance that person is an A-player, they’re really strong. But I’d love to switch gears and just delve a little bit deeper around this idea that you went to Whole Foods… I interviewed John about a year ago.
Nathan: Yeah. About a year ago. Really great interview about leadership. Very familiar with Whole Foods. I thought there’s a pretty long process to get into Whole Foods. How did you just rock up to just store, and then they even put them on the shelf, was there a paperwork exchange? That’s a crazy story.
Kara: Well, I think a Whole Foods today or even a year ago is significantly different than it was 15 years ago. Now it’s owned by Amazon, so there’s a lot more processes in place, but when I was starting the company, they… and I think they do to some extent still have these programmes, but they would have local producers and they would have a small percentage of products in certain categories that they really wanted to get local companies. I guess it fell underneath that and it was pretty easy to get in there. But it’s interesting because I think that the more corporate companies like some of the grocery chains, the big grocery chains, there was no way I would have been able to launch my product into those stores.
The early days of Hint, like I said, we always sent it to… we figured out that there was a lab in South San Francisco that we could send our product to, to actually make sure that there wasn’t botulism or something growing in there that was really bad. I mean, it’s amazing. I’ve talked to so many entrepreneurs over the years where it’s a little bit flying from the seat of their pants kind of thing. We did that a little bit, but we were always super careful about having having insurance from day one. I mean, I’m married to a lawyer too, so of course I would… there was no way, even if I thought it was okay, he was going to go for that, but I think we always wanted to make sure.
But it’s funny. I remember, people would say to us, they would say, “Oh, instead of 10 cases, let’s go with 30 cases.” When I used to hear that from a buyer way back then I’d be like, “Oh,” because partly I wasn’t totally positive that our product would hold up, and I didn’t want mould growing in the product. I wanted to eyeball it because again, I think the other piece of this that a lot of people don’t understand is that Hint is a… were not only launching a new product, but also an entirely new category, which is crazy as it sounds, unsweetened flavoured water. There were a lot of things, including the fact that we didn’t use preservatives in our product.
People were like, “That’s impossible. You cannot do a shelf stable product without using preservatives.” We figured out for the industry just by thinking differently how we do that, that we pasteurise the product. No one had done that in water. Again, we were looking at other types of beverages, and we were like, “I wonder why that can’t work.” A lot of it had to do with the equipment because a juice plant versus a water plant, they’re never run in the same systems. But we were like, “What if we cross some of these components?” It’s amazing, after you do it, you’re like, “Oh, why didn’t other people think of this?”
But again, when you’re doing things in any industry, it’s working, you’re selling, everything’s going, you just don’t change. It’s sort of the story of companies that fail ultimately. They didn’t see it coming because somebody came in from another industry and just thought differently. But I think it led with my own curiosity and not knowing the rules and how I ultimately decided that this was one way for us to do it. Now it’s an industry standard, that there’s a lot of other companies that have done this, but for me, it prevented us from selling lots of product in certain situation because we were manually really trying to watch product over the years versus we didn’t want to have bad products sitting on a shelf that would harm somebody in some way by no means, but also just had bad taste, because we thought like the first experience with a product, if you taste a product and it doesn’t taste good, you’re never going to go pick it up again because you’ve already made that decision. It was crazy times, crazy startup days.
Nathan: I’m also curious as well, what happened next in the sense of 10 cases gone, young one, how did you-
Kara: Young ones. Yeah, four of them. Almost a year later… I mean, it was a year of really hearing… Like I said, you always have doubts when you’re doing something new. You’re educating yourself on the market and you have good days, you have bad days. I felt like there were so many questions coming up for me from a lot of these different places. I was trying to figure out with my husband who joined me as our chief operating officer, but he had no experience either. He was smart. He was a lawyer, but he was like, “I have no idea what I’m doing here either.” But really we were doing things, trying to figure out how to create a product that didn’t have preservatives in it and get some shelf life. We were trying to figure out how to get to distributor because these stores like Whole Foods, for example, were saying to us like, “You need to have an official distributor. You can’t just be like the mom who’s delivering the product to the store.”
The closest and the most I knew about distributors who was I had seen Coke and Pepsi trucks go down the street or Cisco truck, but I didn’t know how to get a hold of them. Literally, I would say to the Whole Foods guy, “Can you give me someone’s phone number?” He was looking at me, “I’m not giving you a phone number. You have to figure that out.” I was getting really frustrated by what I was hearing.
Then there’s another story in the book where I talk about my experience where I was telling a girlfriend of mine, I’m like, “I should go back into tech. I know tech. I like get it. I know a lot of people in. It’s way easier. Make a lot more money. All this stuff.” Then she introduced me to somebody at Coca-Cola in the US, and I was all prepared for this great call because I thought he has all this industry experience, he’s just going to wave his magic wand and it’s all going to be terrific and fixed and help me with distribution, maybe help me with creating the product. That’s when 15 minutes into the call, he interrupted me and said, “Sweetie, Americans love sweet. This product isn’t going anywhere.”
I was like, “Wait, what? He just called me sweetie.” I tell that story so often because it’s one of… stuff is going to happen along the way that you don’t expect, and maybe somebody who’s going to be super rude to you and I don’t know, dismissive, obnoxious, whatever you want to call it, and you have a choice. A lot of people have heard that story and said to me, “Did you tell him off, did you hang up the phone? What’d you do?” I said, “No, I just listened,” because I thought it was so unbelievable to me that he was saying this, that I was like, “Okay, I’m just going to listen now for the next 45 minutes.” He shared how he didn’t believE consumers actually wanted a product like mine, like Hint, that basically what they wanted was lower calories, and they wanted sweeter things.
During the next 45 minutes, I listened really carefully because I was still trying to figure out, size this guy up. I never heard the word health, ever. It was like, “How do I trick the consumer into buying this drink?” I thought, “That’s not my mission at all.” In fact, people weren’t even talking about it as a mission-based company or a purpose-driven company, but it was so clear to me that we were on different rivers. He was doing his thing and I was doing my thing. I had heard from customers that this drink was helping them drink water, that it was helping them control their type two diabetes.
I hung up the phone with him, and at that point I thought, “I have a choice. I either just not do the company and give up or I keep going and he’s not going to do this company, so it’s really pretty simple.” The story that I tell in the book, like I said, is one of many where you can get upset about people, but sometimes people actually show who they are and what they believe and their true colours. It’s like consider the source, to some extent. I just knew that I wanted to move this company forward and nothing was going to stop me. Actually I got a lot of clarity from that call that I didn’t expect going into it.
I didn’t really think that that was what I was… I was expecting him to solve all my problems, and that wasn’t in at all. It’s a story of again, so many things happen along the way that you don’t think about, you certainly don’t expect, but it’s another thing that I believe that it’s part of your journey. Sometimes when you look at these things that are, like I said, unexpected, obnoxious, whatever, sometimes they may be exactly what you needed in order to push you in a certain direction.
You don’t have to be a beverage entrepreneur or even an entrepreneur to believe that and move on and find what you’re doing. I mean, the book has only been out for a few weeks, but I think it’s interesting what the book doesn’t do is actually give you a one, two, three on how to start a business. What it does instead is tell you my journey. There’s a lot of moments in here where people are like, “Okay, this is where she shuts the company down,” and they’re like, “Wait, no, she didn’t,” because it’s very honest. I’m somewhat surprised. It’s not what I thought about when I wrote this book either where I’m shocked that more people haven’t told these stories.
We hear about the entrepreneurs in every industry being the unicorns or the failures. But I always felt like the stuff in between, how they did certain things, that there was never one way. That those are the most interesting. That’s what really, I think, founders and leaders also need to hear too, that in order to lift other people up, the way that you have to you have to tell it as it is. That’s how people are ultimately going to be better and how we, whatever, teach the next generation or help entrepreneurs to go and do great things is to get them to not quit, and know that we’ve all got fears, we’ve all got doubts, we’ve all had failures along the way, but it’s really how you move forward and how you learn from all of those things is the most important piece.
Nathan: Do you believe that if you’re just persistent and you never give up, you can make a business work?
Kara: I think you have to have a great idea or a great product. I mean, if you’re coming in, if you’re not a founder, if you’re coming in, I think there has to be certain elements. Still have to have great people. I mean, that’s another thing that I try and share in my mentorship or along the way is that not everybody has to be an entrepreneur. I mean, I always talk about contributors; founders and CEOs can’t do what they do every single day without people who actually want to contribute. I’ve had people who have said, “Oh, I’ve worked for founders forever. I think I should go start a company, but I don’t really have an idea.” I’m like, “No, the idea that contributors aren’t important is great.”
I mean, there’s a lot of reasons why people maybe shouldn’t go start a company. I think that is so key, just being persistent is a lot, but it’s not everything if you don’t have a great team. I mean, there’s a lot of examples where most great leaders today talk about their teams and about what they’ve been able to do because I think, again, you can’t really move forward and keep trying and doing a lot of things that I’m talking about, especially as you’re scaling, if you don’t have great people that are really supporting these efforts and doing a lot of stuff and making it great too.
Nathan: Yeah, I agree. I guess when coming to team, how do you identify, and you must have been good at this in the early stages, had to find great people, how do you identify great people at would all various stages of the journey?
Kara: Living in San Francisco, I mean, huge tech world. The interesting thing is, is that it’s very competitive. It’s very competitive, but there’s also, we don’t have a tonne of beverage executives. There’s not a lot of people with beverage experience. I would say there’s more companies that have cropped up out of the East Coast, like in New York and then obviously Atlanta with Coca-Cola, at least for non-alcoholic. There are some differences between alcoholic and… there’s some similarities, I should say. There’s more differences between alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages just in terms of… non-alcoholic in general, although there’s exceptions aren’t in bars and restaurants, they’re most in grocery stores or online or whatever. Finding those people was hard for those two big reasons.
But early on, we went into Google with our product. That was another story that truly happened by accident. I was a tech executive and I had started my company and I was getting recruited by Google. There was this guy, [Hamid Kodissani], who was one of the first employees outside of the founders. I had known Hamid for a while. He worked with my husband at a company called Netscape, and he wanted me to come in to Google and we had been having a few rounds of conversations, and I wanted to keep my options open in case this Hint thing didn’t work out. But when I shared with him that I was doing this beverage company, I was embarrassed. I’m like, “I’m interviewing at Google, but I got this side hustle thing going on. I know you’re going to think it’s silly.”
I pulled this bottle out of my purse and he was like, “Oh, I don’t really like cucumber.” Cucumber was one of the flavours. He’s like, “I personally don’t really like cucumber, so I’m not going to taste it, but that’s really interesting. Why are you doing this? You have all this beverage experience.” Shared with him what I had seen around health and how it really helped me. I was like, “I don’t know where it’s going to go. I have no idea what I’m going to do, but it’s making progress and it’s exciting.” He was like, “It’s really interesting. We are hiring chefs to cook for us and our employees here because we found that as we’re building up the employees in Google it, there’s not enough restaurants around here, and so it just takes forever for people to go out and eat. So we thought, ‘Well, maybe we’ll just hire chefs and then we’ll allow people to eat inside.’”
I was like, “Oh, that’s such a good idea.” He was like, “Yeah. They’re really good chefs. They’re really healthy food because the healthier people are too they’ll be more active in the afternoon and be able to do lots of great work and stuff.” He was like, “But I don’t think they have any drinks. I haven’t really seen any drinks around. I mean, we have these vending machines, which are not so healthy, so you should talk to the chef.” I was like, “Okay, give me his phone number.”
I got his phone number, and I’ll never forget this guy Charlie at Google, he was like, “Yeah, I like Hamid a lot. Hamid told me he’s known you for a long time and you were a tech executive, why are you doing this, this whole story.” Then he was like, “Yeah, just drop off a case. I’ll see what the team thinks, no guarantees, whatever.” I did. Then the next day he called me and he said, “Do you have 10 cases?” Then I was like, “Yeah, sure.” I drive in my car and drive him 10 cases. Then the next day he was like, “Do you have 30 cases? Do you have 60 cases?” Google became bigger than the distribution in Whole Foods. Just from having that honest conversation with Hamid about what I was doing. It’s fascinating because that’s really how so many people learned about it.
Again, people are like, “It was a brilliant strategy getting into Facebook and Google,” and I’m like, “No, I didn’t even…” You have to understand, everyone thought I was crazy. They’re like, “What is she doing? She’s had too many kids. That’s why she’s starting a beverage company.” Nobody could quite connect the dots. They thought I was losing it, that I was even doing this. I feel like so many of these steps along the way were just by trying, and sometimes not even really intending to try, but I just said, “Yeah, sure. I mean, I’ll call Charlie and see if he’ll do it and just follow up.” Then it like worked out even better. I don’t know. Thinking back on this staff too, it just goes along with there’s no right way. I still don’t really know what we’re doing every single day. We try lots of different things and we just keep trying, and most of those things work, sometimes they don’t. Then we’re quick enough to back out.
I’m not sure how familiar you are with our direct to consumer business, but today we’re an omni-channel brand and people talk about Hint as very different than the Cokes and the Pepsis. 55% of our overall business is direct to consumer. My previous life, which I shelved thinking when I was going into beverages that I wasn’t really going to be utilising any of the skills around SEO or Shopify, they didn’t have a Shopify back then when I started this, but that’s when seven years ago we started on Amazon. Then what we realised is that we weren’t getting a lot of the data that Amazon had because we knew this from my previous life that they had a lot of stuff that we would like, including emails and all that, and we weren’t going to get it.
We decided to start our own direct to consumer business to have that relationship with the customer, and fast forward, as I said, it’s been significant. As we’ve grown our direct to consumer business, what’s fascinating is that everything else has grown too. I’s like advertising, people see our advertising online, the consumer makes a choice. They still go to the Costcos and throughout-
Kara: Right? They make decisions on how they’re going to buy, and I think that during the pandemic, what I’ve seen as a CEO is that there were all kinds of issues with people not being able to… or I should say stores not being able to have our product on the shelf. They’d run out of stock, there was hoarding, all of the stuff. Stuff that we couldn’t control. But when we saw that being chaotic and then offices were all closing down, which as I said, we’re the number one beverage in all these offices throughout the US because everybody wants healthy beverages for their employees. We were huge. That business was 15% of our overall business, just went away overnight in March when the pandemic was really hitting the US.
We sat there and thought about, “What can we control?” We were pretty calm about it. People are like, “You seem like you’re pretty zen about it,” and I said, “When you have a business that you actually can control…” We knew with a lot of predictability that if we could just go out and get more ads on Google and Facebook and some of the other places, then we could actually throw the gas on those channels, and we could get to the consumer who didn’t want to go to the store or their store wasn’t open or whatever, and just deliver directly to their home. Our businesses almost tripled in 2020 because we made these fast decisions, but also having that direct relationship with the consumer and coming from a different industry and being able to… and also live through 2008, 2009, where we also look back on that year where it was challenging for the world, but it was really challenging for us and we made some decisions along the way that, again are ones that we didn’t necessarily want to, but we live to tell and we live to improve.
I think that when we saw the pandemic coming, unlike a lot of people who just froze or didn’t know what to do, being a startup and still operating very much like a startup, we were like, “Okay, well, let’s not panic. Let’s figure out what we can do to continue moving forward.” It’s something I’ve talked a lot about to press in the US.
Nathan: Yeah, no, I think it’s really smart that you had diversified risk when you were in both B2C and B2B. That’s really smart. I’m just curious, would you be able to share how many people are drinking Hint every year?
Kara: Yeah. It’s hard to tell. I mean, we’re in 30,000 outlets throughout the US. It’s hard to say, millions. I don’t know. Hopefully, we’ll get to Australia sometime soon as well. I think for me, part of our ethos as well is to manufacturer as locally as possible. While we see other companies producing in one country and then shipping it, we’ve never really thought that that was that sustainable. For us, I think that the growth has just been pretty big in the US, so we’ve really been focusing on continuing to do that, but it’s interesting things, as I mentioned earlier, like type two diabetes, I think is something that is a global issue that only leads to heart disease and cancer and some other really pretty crummy situations that I think are at the root for so many of these diseases, not sort having an internal system that’s functioning properly and all roads lead back to, as I used to say, sugar.
But I think all roads lead back to sweet and sweeteners, and figuring out, is it a sugar issue or a sweetener issue that I’m having. I joke with people that I didn’t realise this until I had this come to Jesus with my own palette, but I really believe people, if you throw a bag of potato chips on the table or a piece of cake, people will make a decision. They’re both in excess bad. Not even the potato chips, but the sodium. I think people just… you’ve either got salty savoury or the sweet craving. Then there’s a large percentage of the population, if you think about it, two circles and there’s a large percentage of the population that overdo it on both of those, and that’s why obesity and lots of things that are worldwide issues really come into play.
If you want to go and follow your dreams and start a company and do all these things, you have to be healthy to do it. It’s an issue that I think everyone, no matter what your age is, no matter what your career is, you need to pay attention to it.
Nathan: Yeah, I agree. Look, we have to work towards wrapping up, Kara, but this has been an amazing conversation. You’ve been so, I guess, open and honest around all these crazy stories in your journey thus far. I’m curious, have you had offers from Coke or Pepsi?
Kara: Over the years we’ve talked to them. I think that we’ve been less focused on trying to convert them into believing what we’re talking about, which seems to me to be common sense around health verse and continuing to just grow the company. Every day I think that… I can’t say never, but I think if you wait for people to catch up to where you’re at, it prohibits you, or I should say it leads you to live daunted like, “When are they going to call?” I think for me, it’s just much more important to just keep growing and serving the customer and coming up with ways, whether that’s being in tech firms or having a direct to consumer business, or what else can we do to really communicate better and ultimately service the consumer?
Nathan: Yeah. That makes sense. Awesome. Look, a couple last questions. One, any final words of wisdom that you’d like to share with our audience of early stage founders, and then two, where’s the best place people can find out more about yourself, Hint, and your latest book?
Kara: Yeah. I would say that the big message is just go try and if you’re feeling alone, I think it’s like just know that starting a company is really tough and I get it and I think it’s something that you just have to take baby steps and you have to figure out a way over the wall, through the wall, and those are the stories of all great entrepreneurial journeys. Definitely pick up a copy of Undaunted: Overcoming Doubts and Doubters. As I said, it’s on Audible for sure all over the world, but also it’s on Amazon. Also, just visit on social too at Kara Goldin with an I, and let me know what you think.
Nathan: Amazing. Thank you so much for your time. I really appreciate it.
Kara: Yeah, I appreciate it. Thanks again.