Kara Goldin is the CEO and cofounder of Hint which is a beverage startup that produces natural flavored unsweetened essence water. The company has raised over $50 million from top tier investors such as The Perkins Fund, Verlinvest, GingerBread Capital, and Springboard Growth Capital to name a few.
In this episode you will learn:
- What makes the best business ideas
- Working at a startup before becoming an entrepreneur
- The future of real estate and financial transactions
- How to vet and evaluate your startup idea
For a winning deck, take a look at the pitch deck template created by Silicon Valley legend, Peter Thiel (see it here) that I recently covered. Thiel was the first angel investor in Facebook with a $500K check that turned into more than $1 billion in cash.
Moreover, I also provided a commentary on a pitch deck from an Uber competitor that has raised over $400 million (see it here).
Remember to unlock for free the pitch deck template that is being used by founders around the world to raise millions below.
About Kara Goldin:
Kara Goldin is a purpose-driven, inspiring entrepreneur. She is a former AOL executive and the founder of hint®, the leading lifestyle brand of naturally flavored water. Kara Goldin created the San Francisco-based beverage company as an alternative to soda and sugary beverages. hint® has also recently launched a sunscreen spray that is oxybenzone and paraben-free and scented with fruit essence.
Connect with Kara Goldin:
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FULL TRANSCRIPTION OF THE INTERVIEW:
Alejandro: Alrighty. Hello everyone, and welcome to the DealMakers show. Today we have a powerhouse as a guest. I think that we’re going to be learning quite a bit from her, and her journey is quite remarkable. She’s also coming out with a really exciting book, and she’s going to be telling us all about it. So without further ado, let’s welcome our guest today, Kara Goldin. Welcome to the show.
Kara Goldin: Hi. Thanks for having me.
Alejandro: So born in Minneapolis, but then moved to Arizona. Tell us about your life growing up.
Kara Goldin: That sounds like a song: Born in Minneapolis.
Kara Goldin: My dad didn’t want to shovel snow anymore, and I think he just threw his finger down on a map to try and figure out where was the obvious place that there wouldn’t be the snow, at least in Scottsdale. We moved there, and yeah, it was pretty crazy. It was 100,000 people back then. It was a pretty small town compared to what it is now.
Alejandro: Wow. Obviously, you got the influence back then early because your father was an intrapreneur. Is that right?
Kara Goldin: Yeah. He developed a product inside of a major food company, Armor Food Company. The product was called Healthy Choice. Originally, it was called Dinner Classics. He was developing this product because my mom, who was in her mid-40s, decided to go back to work. I was the last of five kids. She had taken some time off, kind of renegade, especially looking in the rearview mirror and seeing what she did, but she had decided she wanted to go into retail. My dad, obviously, when she was starting out, she was starting out at the bottom and actually doing retail, and eventually, go into doing some buying and personal shopping and things like that. She was having to work evenings. My dad, instead of learning to cook, he worked for this food company, so he developed this idea that would allow him to have better quick dinners that you just had to heat up. I watched him as a little kid develop these. I think the thing that’s so interesting today and where no matter what industry you’re in that I think about that my dad was on the forefront of was telling the story, and understanding that consumers ultimately didn’t care about a great product and pretty pictures on the packaging, but also what is the backstory? He always believed that there were consumers out there that actually did care and, in the case of food, about sourcing and why you did it. The original packaging for Healthy Choice, they’ve lost it today, but the original was sharing those stories. There were a lot of things that I learned, not just from my dad, but also my mom in terms of finding your passion, and it’s never too late, and it’s okay to switch industries. She enforced in me that you’ve got to do what you believe in, but also things that get you excited to get up every day and work on and so I think there were a lot of lessons that I learned from both of them. Also, having older brothers and sisters, too, that were a little bit ahead of me, I was watching very carefully and not only what to do but also what not to do. I had naughty brothers that did all kinds of bad stuff along the way. So I was able to learn from them, too.
Alejandro: I’m sure that it influenced your drive early on because right after graduating, you came all the way to New York City. How did you manage to say, “I’m going to make this big jump and go into the big city”?
Kara Goldin: I had always looked at New York as this dream thing that I had seen in the movies as a place that I wanted to go to. I had gone to school in Arizona and was a journalism major and minor in finance. I loved Fortune Magazine. Fortune Magazine had taught me – I also read the Wall Street Journal at the time, but I thought it was a little more complicated obviously than Fortune Magazine, but I thought, “It would be really great to move to New York and go work for Fortune. You and I were talking about this a few minutes before this started, but I have a book coming out in a couple of weeks. I talk about how I went about it, which was an unconventional way of going to New York and finding a job. I took a plane to New York and literally marched into the Human Resources Office at Fortune, which at that time was under Time Magazine’s umbrella. This was before there was security in the building. I marched to the HR Department and said, “I want to work for Fortune Magazine.” They said, “Do you have an appointment?” I said, “No, but I wrote a letter to (the then) Marshall Loeb, and he wrote me, “If you’re ever in the New York area, let me know.” I said, “I have this letter.” The poor people that were sitting back behind the desk in the Human Resources Department didn’t know what to do with me because they had never seen somebody just show up. The Head of Human Resources came out and said, “Listen. I think what they meant was if you’re ever coming to New York, maybe you should reach out to us and let us know, and perhaps there’s a way to get an appointment.” I wasn’t going to take that literally, and instead just showed up. While there was no opportunity in Fortune, I said, “Listen. I’m going back the next day, and is there anything else in the building?” That’s when I got an interview and, ultimately, an opportunity with Time in their circulation department. So, I think it’s a lesson of sometimes we dot too many of the i’s and cross too many of the t’s. Instead, just reach out and try. Right?
Kara Goldin: Especially, when you do things a little bit differently, I think clearly personality probably weighs in there. If nothing else, I figured that they might actually – I don’t know – it would be a funny story if they kicked me out of the building, and I’m just this poor college student. It ended up working out just great. Again, that was the beginning of my New York story. Then, not only was circulation an incredible experience for me and frankly, what I think is the backbone for terrific eCommerce and lifetime value and subscription business overall, but I think it taught me a lot. It also taught me that the way to – sometimes, people will say to me like, “That previous job was a waste of time.” I always tell people, “What I’ve learned on my journey is that nothing is a waste of time. The things that you do may be a stepping stone to the next thing, or they may be a reason why you don’t want to do that anymore, or whatever it is, but it’s all part of your journey.
Alejandro: Absolutely. It’s all about the journey. In this case, this journey took you five years being in Time Magazine before you made the switch. What triggered the switch to CNN?
Kara Goldin: The key thing for me was that I loved my time at Time. It was an interesting time where – I had gone to Arizona State University and was in-state tuition, which was what we could afford to do growing up. I got a great education. But when I got to Time, what I realized is that everybody had gone to an Ivy League School. I hadn’t gone to an Ivy League School, and so I was looking at “Do I go to business school? How do I fit in here better?” Those were the people that were ultimately getting promoted. I think maybe Time has changed over time, but especially when I was there, Time was known for having that culture of very super Ivy League and primarily people who had grown up on the East Coast. That, obviously, wasn’t me. So I thought when I got a phone call from a headhunter to come and talk to CNN, I saw this gentleman, Ted Turner, who was larger than life and was clearly not the typical Ivy League and person that was bound by – he was swearing. He was very, very different. But also, he was married to a person that really looked at fondly, Jane Fonda. I had viewed her as somebody that was inspirational, and I thought if nothing else, maybe I could get a role at CNN and meet Jane Fonda. That would be so cool along the way. Little did I know that what I was really learning from that environment, in particular, and again, it was a great, great learning. CNN was just getting going, and it was incredible to watch. But the other thing that I learned is that I had worked for two very different cultures. When I ultimately decided to start my own company, I think that culture has always been important to me because I paid attention to what I liked and what I didn’t like from various cultures that I’ve worked in.
Alejandro: What’s the thing that you liked the most from all these cultures that you’ve worked for or with? What’s one culture that you knew that when you were starting your business, “I’m definitely taking this with me?”
Kara Goldin: I think, AOL, which came after – actually, there was a small startup that was a spin our of Apple that I worked at that was a little-known Steve Job’s idea that was doing the CD-ROM shopping that I worked at, and we were acquired by AOL and ultimately became the backbone for their eCommerce and shopping. But what I learned, part of it was from ToMarket, but then part of it, which was the name of this company, but then part of it was AOL was moved quickly. I think that in many ways is something that as we’ve grown our company – today, 15 years later, Hint is the largest non-alcoholic beverage in the U.S. that doesn’t have a relationship with Coke, Pepsi, Dr. Pepper, Snapple. We’ve been able to build something from scratch into arguably a Top Five beverage company and clearly in the world. I feel like we’ve been able to do that because we don’t take a long time in order to make decisions. I think that’s the problem with large companies overall is that you end up having lots of red tape in order to – it’s hard to do things. Right?
Kara Goldin: So I think that was what I saw at AOL was, just go try. You’ll make mistakes, but hopefully, you will make more good things happen than actually mistakes along the way. The other cultures, too. I think CNN was like that to some extent. I felt like the culture at Time was very buttoned-up. Everybody was very nice all the time. I think I put this quote on social media the other day. My boss, at times, used to tell me, “Judge people by their actions, not by what they say because people can be very nice, but they don’t necessarily help you.” There’s that kind of culture. Then, on the flip side, at CNN, if you didn’t do something right, I felt like somebody would run down the hall and start screaming and cursing at you. You would never hear that in these other cultures. Again, when I decided to start my own company, I think when you live in lots of different cultures, you’re able to pick out the pieces that you like and pick out the ones that you don’t like and ultimately, one where you think is the best. I think it’s one that I’m very proud of and being kind to people, being inclusive, but also making sure that we’re listening to the consumer at all times, and ultimately, making a great product but not being afraid to continue to do what’s right for our employees and also for our customers.
Alejandro: Absolutely. Always with integrity and delivering on your promise. Here, AOL was a nice segue. There, you helped to build a business that ended up being acquired by AOL into billions of dollars, but this was what made you think that you can do it yourself too. So tell us about how you came across the problem, and then how you came across bringing it to life.
Kara Goldin: I had taken a couple of years off. I didn’t plan on taking a couple of years off. Basically, what happened is, it was a billion dollars in revenue to AOL, and I was commuting from my home in San Francisco to Virginia or New York. I remember one day getting on a United flight, and the pilot knew my name. I thought, “Oh, that’s really scary. I wonder if a lot of people get on planes and the pilot knows your name. I’m getting on this plane a little too often.” When I decided I was going to leave, I was pregnant with my third child, and that was when I said, “I’ve got these young kids. I want to be closer to home in San Francisco, and there were plenty of companies that were going in the Bay Area, but not as many as in San Francisco. This is the ’02, ’03 time period. They were more down in Silicon Valley and the Palo Alto area, which, at the time – I laugh now because it was maybe a half-an-hour commute, and I was like, “I don’t want to commute half an hour. I want to be able to be home with my family and also work and do something.” Now, that same commute would be easily over an hour. But that was the thinking that I just wanted to do something a little closer to home. I think, for me, like a lot of other people, 9/11 was a time when I stopped for a minute and thought, “Is this really what I want to do with my life? If there’s no tomorrow, am I actually doing something that is better for people. While I’m proud of everything that I build, I felt like doing shopping on AOL was not giving me the same kind of feeling that maybe a non-profit would or something that would really help to change lives for the better. So I looked for a lot of those different opportunities and non-profits, thinking that the way to actually do good is purely through non-profit. I think in many ways, my experience with AOL kind of ruined me. Like I talked about before, the speed side of things, things just got done. When I looked at these non-profits, they were moving very slowly, including the interviewing process. I thought, “This is going to make me insane if I sit there and live in a world where everything takes too long to get things done.” On a parallel path, I thought, “I’m going to take this time to get really healthy.” I had gained increasing weight, I should say, over the course of my pregnancies, but also, I developed terrible adult acne, and my energy levels were going down. I had health issues that were not necessarily defined. There was no diagnosis of any sort, but it just wasn’t me. It was something that I wanted to change. What I really focused on was exercising. There had just been a new store called Whole Foods, which opened in San Francisco. I thought, “There are these opportunities that are in front of me for potentially doing better, but why don’t I actually do better for myself and for my family too and get healthier.” I focused on the food that I was eating, and nothing was changing. I was actually eating fairly well. Then one day, I looked at my label on my diet soda that I was drinking, Diet Coke, in particular, and I noticed that it had over 30 ingredients, and I couldn’t understand the ingredients in the drink that I was putting in my body every day. Again, being a new mother, too, here I was so focused on what I was putting in my kid’s body, but not in my own. That’s when I thought, “Gosh, this is crazy. I’ve given this a pass for so many years, and maybe I should actually pay closer attention.” So I put the diet soda that I had been drinking for years to the side and swapped it for plain water, but then realized that I just wasn’t a water drinker. Like I said, I grew up in Arizona. I should have been drinking a lot more water. You’re from Madrid. It’s the same kind of thing. But I was one of those people that just didn’t like water. I aspired to be a water drinker, but I wasn’t. So I started slicing a fruit and throwing it in the water, and again was looking for this in the store because I wanted something that was already in the bottle. I had never even looked around at other beverages other than diet soda. That was pretty much all that I had bought in the stores. That’s when I realized that all of these things that were called water that had some kind of flavor in it were either filled with sugar, vitamin water was out on the market, and vitamin water’s original product has more sugar in it than a can of coke, which didn’t say that on the label. It seemed to me like vitamin and water shouldn’t be unhealthy at all. That’s when I really realized how the decks are so stacked against consumers to actually figure out what they’re buying in stores, and particularly around the drinks. While I was going through this process, a couple of weeks into just drinking water with some fruit in my glass, I ended up losing over 24 pounds in two-and-a-half weeks. Like it was literally melting away. That’s when I took a closer look at diet sweeteners. Today, as I mentioned, the growth of our company over the last 15 years, I think I’m known for being an advocate against not just sugar – I tell people that sugar in moderation is probably better than even these diet sweeteners that actually trick your body into believing that they’re doing good, and trick your brain into thinking. At that time when I started, the other thing that was interesting – I hadn’t had any beverage experience. I was purely looking at this from a consumer perspective is this idea that all of these things on the shelf, you think that there’s somebody checking. Like the diet soda and the vitamin water. What I realized is that it’s a huge business, and the consumer ultimately loses. Things like Type II diabetes were 2% of the population when I started Hint. Today, it’s 40% to 45% of the population has Type II diabetes or pre-diabetes, and most of those people that are diagnosed with this horrible disease are claiming to drink zero-calorie things. So why haven’t we put the connection together around these diet sweeteners and health because they run on these parallel paths? Again, I never started a beverage company thinking, “That’s my dream,” and whatever. For me, it was just to develop a product that wasn’t in the market. My goal was never to go and compete against the soda companies because I believed they were on a different path than the path of getting people to enjoy soda. Mine was on a path to move people to enjoy water. That’s what I’ve always been focused on.
Alejandro: So, obviously, the rest is history. How big is Hint today?
Kara Goldin: We’re estimated at a couple hundred million, so we’re still a private company, but pretty big.
Alejandro: Pretty good.
Kara Goldin: Yeah. And in a different way of doing business, too, I think another thing that we’re known for is – obviously, other industries have done this, but eCommerce, which is, again, something that I had spent some time on, is now 55% of our overall business. If you look at the large soda companies and beverage companies that are out there, they may talk about eCommerce as being very important and big, etc. but they’re funneling that business through Amazon, which, of course, you don’t have the relationship with the consumer. Amazon has a relationship with the consumer, so we do still do business with Amazon and love doing business with Amazon, but view Amazon as a retailer, no different than a Target or Costco, or Whole Foods versus our own direct-to-consumer business is where we have that relationship with the consumer and all the data around it.
Alejandro: Now, you’re actually coming with a book, which is very exciting. It’s going to come out very soon, and it’s called Undaunted, so overcoming doubt and doubters. Obviously, you have to do that left and right where when you’re an entrepreneur, just like you were saying earlier. For the people that are listening, what are they going to be able to find in this book?
Kara Goldin: I decided to write the book because in my travels and speaking commitments throughout the past few years, what I noticed is that you always have a Q&A session, or usually, you have a Q&A session at the end. People would stand up and ask me these questions and almost make statements in the questions and wondering either how I did it or should they do it. Usually, they would also say things like, “Unlike you, I have fears. I have doubts.” All of these things that I actually did have and what I fundamentally believe most people have. One day, a couple of years ago, I responded that I felt like the key difference between them and me or people that feel this way is that I try and that I don’t actually allow walls to get too big in front of me. I’ve definitely had doubts. I’ve definitely had doubters. I’ve definitely had fears and failures, but what I do after these things happen is recognize, “Oh, that’s why that happened. That’s why I got that job at Time in Circulation, and not the job that I wanted at Fortune because ultimately, I was going to be eCommerce at AOL or running an eCommerce business inside of Time where I can literally sit there and connect these dots along the way. I was writing this book for four years and all my travels building Hint, and I thought, “If I can actually put a lot of these stories down for other people to read these stories, then maybe it will give people inspiration and ability to actually go and try. As I talked about earlier, I think the key thing for people is understanding that they can do it and that entrepreneurs don’t have it all figured out. If you talk to any entrepreneur who’s done something incredible in any industry, they didn’t have “These are the five things that you need to go do, and then you’re going to go and build this incredible company.” Instead, they just went and tried, and they were super aware. I think another thing is Sheryl Sandberg, who reviewed the book early on, said to me that the key thing is that you didn’t really pay attention to the fact that you could fail. Instead, you just kept going, and you kept trying, and then you were gaining these wins along the way. It’s so needed, and especially – we’re recording this, obviously, hopefully, coming out of COVID. We’re trying to be optimistic, but I think the key thing for so many people today, even if you don’t choose to be an entrepreneur, is the idea that sometimes you get in your own way. It’s not that you can’t do something; it’s that you’ve told yourself that you don’t have permission to go try. But when you hear stories of many people who have founded companies, you’ll see that they didn’t have it either. Also, I think another piece of this, too, is that – I think entrepreneurism has been glamorized over the years, and a lot of people don’t really hear the hard stories. I spend about five hours a week mentoring other entrepreneurs. What I say to people is, “There are way easier ways to make money.” Especially if you want to have a family. I started this company when I had four kids under the age of six. It’s definitely doable, but it’s a big commitment, and you’d better be doing something that you think really has purpose and meaning and that you are excited to get up to every single day because it’s not all glamourous. It’s very lonely, especially if you’re ahead of the consumer, and you’re up against large companies like Coke and Pepsi and lots of games that they play, and pick your industry. It’s the same kind of conversation in all these different industries. I think that book needed to be written because it’s a unique perspective in many ways. Oftentimes, entrepreneur stories will be written, and then it ends badly. This is a great story. Hint has been able to build to be the company that it is today, but it’s been a lot of hard work, and I think people need to hear that too.
Kara Goldin: You wrote a book on fundraising. I talk about that too. People will say it’s harder to raise money as a woman and like I’ve never been a man. So, I don’t know. I just can tell you that I don’t love fundraising. Just being transparent, I hate it. Did I have to go to more than maybe a male founder? I don’t know. I could guess, but I don’t really know for sure. But at the end of the day, it didn’t matter because I was going to get it done, and I was going to figure out a way to get it done. I think that is the mindset that people need to have.
Alejandro: Absolutely. For everyone that is listening, you should get it done and get your copy on October 20th. Kara, for the people that are listening, what is the best way for them to reach out and say hi?
Kara Goldin: On all social channels: @karagoldin. The book is in preorder right now. Amazon is also on our site at my same name, as well, karagoldin.com.
Alejandro: Amazing. Kara, thank you so much for being on the DealMakers show today.
Kara Goldin: Thank you for having me.
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