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EPISODE 204

An Entrepreneur’s Undaunted Journey: Hint Founder & CEO Kara Goldin

52 minutes · October 22, 2020

You’ve got to be Undaunted to grow a business from a home kitchen full of water-soaked fruit into a global enterprise grossing over $150 million, and that’s the title of Kara Goldin’s new book: Undaunted: Overcoming Doubts and Doubters, just out from Harper Collins. She stepped Inside the ICE House to share lessons on learning from failure and frustration, and how to move by turning criticism into motivation. Learn more about Kara: www.drinkhint.com/InsidetheICEHouse

Speaker 1 (00:03):

From the Library of the New York Stock Exchange at the corner of Wall and Broad Street in New York City, you're inside the ICE House, our podcast from Intercontinental Exchange on markets, leadership and vision and global business, the dream drivers that have made the NYSE an indispensable institution of global growth for over 225 years. Each week, we feature stories of those who hatched plans, create jobs, and harness the engine of capitalism, right here, right now at the NYSE and at ICE's exchanges and clearing houses around the world. And now welcome inside the ICE House. Here's your host, Josh King of Intercontinental Exchange.

Josh King (00:46):

Let me tell you about a 10 year love affair, not with a person, but with a beverage. It was 2010, I was visiting a friend in Ventnor, New Jersey just south of Lenox City. The day was hot. I went out for a run on the beach, it left me wicked thirsty. Now, all through my life, I'd been a drinker of Coca Cola, that's NYSE ticker symbol KO, when I wanted to drink more healthy, I reached for a Diet Coke. So when I came back to that house I was visiting all sweaty and parched, my host handed me a can of seltzer wasn't a fancy brand, just that perfect combination of water and bubbles, the gut my mouth dancing, no guilt from calories or chemicals is staunched my thirst. And I've never looked back.

Josh King (01:33):

Then I read a book, The Invention of Air by Steven Johnson, it tells the story of Dr. Joseph Priestley, who lived from 1733 to 1804. And you may never have heard of Dr. Priestley. But when you breathe in oxygen, you're ingesting something he discovered. Back then, in one of his open source pamphlets, he called it dephlogisticated air. The guy did so many things in his life. He really was a revolutionary and a renaissance man all rolled into one. And along the way, in 1767, he accidentally discovered carbonation as well, creating the first batch of seltzer by passing water back and forth over a steaming vat of beer. And six years later, he'd published the recipe for that to calling it, Directions for Impregnating Water with Fixed Air. Now, I highly recommend Johnson's book, but it tells among other things, the story of an entrepreneurial failure, the failure of Dr. Priestley to successfully monetize his invention, but let me give you a hint of someone who has.

Josh King (02:37):

15 years ago at our home in San Francisco Kara Goldin was wrestling with that same draw of sugary drinks that I faced and did something about it. Water with just a hint of fruity taste. That was the name and it's stuck. A carbonated version followed and a line of sunscreen too. And today, cars company makes $150 million annually, distributed in all 50 states within an incredible online sales business and I'm one of her customers. You've got to be undaunted to grow a business from a home kitchen full of water soaked fruit into a global enterprise grossing over 150 million. And that's the title of Kara's new book, Undaunted: Overcoming Doubts and Doubters, just out from HarperCollins. We've all been there. Undaunted, shows you how to learn from failures and frustrations, and how to move forward despite uncertainty and turn criticism into motivation. Our conversation with Kara Goldin is right after this.

Speaker 1 (03:38):

Navigating dynamic markets requires a relentless pursuit of knowledge. Now, join market experts to learn with ICE Education Live. Attend live video training with practical lessons across global asset classes. On demand modules provide base knowledge. Participants can then attend live training sessions, including group review, and test for certification. We also tailor training for your needs and in-house projects. ICE Education Live courses, continue your education today.

Josh King (04:13):

On Twitter, checkout @karagoldin and get treated to many daily doses of simple inspiration. I've been following her for years and I know her story pretty well. The kid who grew up in Arizona, came east after college and started media sales jobs at Time Inc. and CNN, then worked in e-commerce for an Apple spin off startup, moving then on to AOL before deciding to step back and focus on her family. It was then that she like Dr. Priestley began experimenting in her home laboratory, her kitchen. And we'll let her pick up the story from there. Welcome, Kara, inside the ICE House.

Kara Goldin (04:49):

Thank you so much. So let's start with the sad roadblock, put in the away by your husband Theo, you sent him off to do some research and he comes back with bad news. He says Kara, there's no way to get the taste you want and still have enough shelf life to distribute this product around the country, there's a lot to unpack right there, manufacturing, taste preservation distribution, take our listeners back to your kitchen in 2005.

Kara Goldin (05:15):

I came up with this idea, and I'm taking some money out of our bank account, our personal bank account, which is pretty scary when you're writing $50,000 checks, right. For bottles and caps, et cetera. And we were really just trying to kind of get the flavor to be kind of where I wanted it to be, but also get the proper shelf life, and we just knew that we were not going to be able to do this. And again, I talked about we because my husband ended up really kind of feeling sorry for me, because I was sort of going it alone. And he was curious about where I was going with this. And so at that point, he said exactly what you said. And I said, well, what can we do? And he looked at me, and he said, Well we can have a short shelf life and just create a product the best we can right now and potentially self distribute our product as well and get it out there to people and not really thinking that I would say, okay, fine, let's go do that.

Kara Goldin (06:24):

Being the person that I was, I always viewed the world as, okay, that we might not be able to do these things today. But let's dream of that, let's set that as our goal. And let's just go try. That is really, one of the biggest things that kind of gets in people's way is that they think that they actually have to wait to do something, or whether it's launch a new career, or solve a problem or launch a product, until they have all of the answers, until it's perfect.

Josh King (06:58):

We're going to roll through the story that you paint in Undaunted Kara throughout our conversation, but just to sort of set it up before we had back in time to Arizona. I get my Hint at my bodega in New York City. But I also get it with a few clicks of my mouse. Just so that people have a context of the person that they're talking to, paint a picture of your company quickly today, before we head back in time.

Kara Goldin (07:30):

Well, we are in about 30,000 stores nationwide, available in Target, Costco, Kroger, lots of different stores, Whole Foods. But in addition, we sort of grew up in tech companies, and they started setting up healthier and better for you things and like Google and Facebook, et cetera. And now we're an American Express and lots of other companies throughout the country. And then in addition to that, my previous life was running e-commerce partnerships for AOL. And so we ended up setting up primarily because consumers would say to us, we can actually get your product in our local store, or the flavor that we want.

Kara Goldin (08:14):

So we decided to start selling them, water online, and today, that business is 55% of our overall business. It's all of our flavors, and everything we do is there, we're truly an omni channel brand that looks at the consumer as having the choice of where they're ultimately going to buy it. And certainly, during the pandemic, when many people weren't shopping at stores, or not shopping at stores as much, having your own direct to consumer business, where we can connect with the consumer directly was super, super key.

Kara Goldin (08:51):

But we're the largest non alcoholic beverage in the country that doesn't have a relationship with any of the soda companies. And, again, always mission based. I started this company before, they're called mission based companies, now that's sort of a popular term, I guess. But I think what's the most fun about our company is just, like I said, really having the consumer in mind and hearing from the consumer every single day, that we're really helping them get healthy, and that we often are the first steps and then knowing that they can do it. And I think like that is something that is just as a CEO, as a founder. I mean to hear from consumers that you're really helping them do something that they thought was impossible. I mean, just think about that for a second, right now we're supporting breast cancer awareness and research and that really stemmed from the number of consumers who reached out to me over the years who shared that Hint actually helped them mask the metallic taste that they get when they're going through chemo. That's incredibly powerful, right?

Kara Goldin (10:12):

And all that every single email says, actually, two things help and discover, which to me says that's a brand, there is a relationship with that. And I mean, I'm incredibly excited and proud about what we've done with this brand to really help people.

Josh King (10:33):

And Kara, long before you learned all the things that you needed to learn and all the things that you didn't know, you were this young woman in Scottsdale, one of five kids, your dad was on the road a lot, your mom was working to, not a lot of time to get a lot of direction from parents, where did that leave you?

Kara Goldin (10:55):

Well, I think and also thinking, I had two brothers that were pretty wild, who were ahead of me. So I think by the time my parents got to me the two things that they would say to me is, don't get in trouble and don't embarrass us, right? Those were the key moments. But created a very independent, actually, all five of us very, very independent, but also left room to explore and just go try things. And so I was always, people always say, did you always want to be an entrepreneur? No, I didn't know I wanted to be an entrepreneur, but I would do things that I just thought were just, like super fun, right? Fun to me was such a key thing. But also typically, it would be making money along the way too.

Kara Goldin (11:58):

So my first job was at a toy store, that job led into me actually being one of the buyers along with the owner of the store, and I credit that for learning a lot about profit and loss and business plan. I was 14 years old, and I remember going home and saying to my dad, like, yeah, I'm helping with the buying and I mean, he was like, do they know that you're 14? And I was like, they never really asked.

Josh King (12:29):

Tell me a little bit more about your dad, the guy who questioned whether the toy store owner Nancy even knew you were 14 years old, because the way you write about him, I suppose it's the way a lot of kids look at their parents, especially their dads, maybe going back to Jimmy Stewart as George Balian, Frank Capra's, It's a Wonderful Life. The man who worked so hard to provide for his family, who has to kind of squelch his own dreams, he was a Conagra man, maybe the original man in the gray flannel suit.

Kara Goldin (13:00):

Yeah. And he did have a gray flannel suit to some extent. And, yeah, I think for him, he was, I think about him, he passed away just over 10 years ago. But I think about him as really being a frustrated entrepreneur. In many ways this book is an apology to him, because I think I gave him a hard time over the years saying like, you come up with all these ideas, and you don't actually execute on them. And what I learned later was that, and this is something I share with entrepreneurs all the time when they say, should I just go do it? Should I go launch something? What I say is, I don't know what your situation is. So it's very difficult for me to actually tell you to go do something.

Kara Goldin (13:48):

For my dad, he had five kids, he had a steady income, I mean, back then if people could typically have the same job forever, right, or maybe two jobs, but for him, he really was dedicated and not just dedicated to his work, but also dedicated to his family and wanted to make sure that we all went to college. And that was really what his focus was, but I think also he viewed all of his kids, as go out and do whatever you want to do that ultimately makes you happy. He had founded a brand inside of Conagra called healthy choice, which I still look at today, as one of the original brands and packages that we're really talking about the story behind the brand and a lot of the sourcing and it's what he did every day and I didn't have a full appreciation for it. Because again, when you're a kid you just think like, oh my God just does this really annoying thing and we have to eat we call them TV dinners back then. We're like, no more don't bring this home anymore. But again, the fact that he created a brand that is still one of the top sellers for Conagra today is pretty crazy.

Josh King (15:14):

I mean, talking about the story behind the brand, Kara in a few weeks we're having on this show, Mark Salter, who is the author of The Luckiest Man: Life with John McCain. And mine's a family of Democrats. But when Senator McCain died, my son created a living memorial to him in our backyard, because he's so much bigger than his party affiliation. As a kid growing up in Arizona, you have your own McCain story about lessons he taught you?

Kara Goldin (15:39):

Yeah, so I interned with him starting when I was in high school, I've many John McCain stories, but one of my favorite and first ones was when I ultimately got the internship there. And he was doing the final round of internships. And he said, so why do you want to work here? He was actually in the House of Representatives at the time. And I said, "Okay, so here's the thing, my parents are Republican, but I'm not sure if I'm a Republican. And so I want to come and work for you. Because I want to know for sure." And he started laughing.

Kara Goldin (16:24):

So the running joke was over the next seven years, and I went to Arizona State University and ended up doing some internship being with him throughout college too, he'd walked by me in the office, not every time, but every once in a while, and especially when he was talking to somebody else. And he would point to me, and he'd say, "So have you figured it out yet? Are you a republican yet?" And I said, "No, I'm still," even when I left, I said, I'm still trying to figure it out.

Kara Goldin (16:53):

And then I worked for Obama on a project around entrepreneurship a few years back. I think, like the one other thing that he said to me, that still sticks with me, and I was very sad watching the funeral, as well as that, I remember disagreeing with him on a few things, and including the fact that Martin Luther King Day was not being recognized. And I said something to him just a little bit out of turn, but I also felt like, I should exercise my voice a little bit, and I wanted to know why all the rest of the states were actually recognizing it and Arizona was not recognizing it. And he said you need to remember one thing, you need to remember that sometimes you will meet people, and you will engage with people, and you're going to agree, you need to agree to disagree. And so, I said, okay, well, I do disagree. And what was so great is, I think it was 2012 he finally said that that was a decision that he made poorly. And it was not the right decision. And so I do believe that it was the right thing to do to bring it up with him. Clearly, he had friends that were not Republicans, right? And very close friends.

Josh King (18:32):

Over the 200 or so episodes of this show Kara, one of our favorites was back on episode 34 with Derek Mach, who's a senior brand director with Anheuser-Busch InBev. That's NYSE ticker symbol BUD, who stopped by to break down the newest addition to the company's reserve collection, freedom reserve, Bud lager. Kara tell us about how learning about selling beer launched your own career in marketing.

Kara Goldin (18:58):

I was waitressing also, when I was in college, at a local Mexican restaurant that's still in Phoenix, one of my favorites called TP. And I was about to graduate. And I kept seeing this guy who came in off and one day he struck up a conversation with me, and he said, so what are you majoring in? What are you going to do after graduation? And I said I'm really not sure I mean, this is what my major is. And I said, "What do you do?" And he said, "Oh, well, I work for Anheuser-Busch." And I said, "Oh, like what do you do for Anheuser-Busch?" And he said, "Well, we film a lot of movies and commercials in Arizona. And so I actually do product placement on the sets." I'm like, wait what? Like you put beer on a set. I was like, "How do I get that job?" And he said, well, he was like, if you really want to interview for it, I can probably get you an interview. And I'm like, yeah, of course, I want to interview for a beard job, like on a set.

Kara Goldin (20:09):

And I was half kidding but half serious. And I think that was the first moment that I really thought, gosh, I'm like going to school, nobody talks about product placement on sets. Had you ever heard about that job in college? I mean, I thought, I don't know, that seems like a pretty good job, right. And so that was the moment when I had to go to LA, to go and interview and I thought, gosh, if I'm going to LA just to kind of make my time and my money go a little bit further justify it, I should go and see what else is out there that I really want to go do. And so that led actually to a series of job interviews over the next 30 days that I had over 90 job interviews in a time that everybody, I guess, I just didn't get the memo that it was a really tough time to go and find a job.

Kara Goldin (21:05):

And my husband who I met when I finally landed in New York had gone to Amherst College, great school, and on many, many levels, very difficult school, but he sort of had gotten the memo that it was a very tough year to get a job. And he did end up getting a job, but he was like, "How in the world did you get a job at Time Magazine, and you went and had all these job offers," I had over 60 job offers, like out of 90, because I would just like show up in these offices. And people would introduce me to people, they would hear like, oh, you're going to Chicago, you should meet my friend who is that XYZ or whatever. And that's what I realized-

Josh King (21:55):

And this is done on the year before LinkedIn and Facebook, this is just you personally networking.

Kara Goldin (22:00):

And I would send an email, the Macintosh was out, I had a Mac, I was just starting to do this and send letters, et cetera. But I think for me, it was just again, a story of trying. I mean, it was crazy, I interviewed at McKinsey, I didn't even know what a consulting agency was, interviewed like I said it Anheuser-Busch for different things and then I finally landed in New York and was really going for my dream job which was being in journalism at Fortune Magazine, but they weren't going to hire me with no experience.

Kara Goldin (22:45):

So I ended up getting a job and circulation at Time Magazine. And again, it wasn't as I say, one step above the mailroom, maybe it was two steps above the mailroom, but I think it's just getting your foot in the door.

Josh King (23:00):

I mean, the way you write about it, and you started with this walk into Marshall Lobes office at Fortune, we've had Alan Murray the current CEO of Fortune on this show, but when you finally get to Time, it doesn't sound like it was that easy. The woman you worked for needed help and reflecting on how you manage through that situation. I think you wrote in your book, I still tell new recruits that hint that the number one thing they need to do is make sure their boss and their team are successful. My old boss at First Data, Frank Bisignano told me something similar. Why is that such an important lesson?

Kara Goldin (23:33):

So often you get a job, right? And there's this huge excitement because you think, okay, I'm going to go in, and this is what my role is. But at the end of the day, your role will ultimately be much more visible if the people above you that are surrounding you are more successful, because so many people don't think about a role that way, right. They instead think about themselves and how they're doing and will they get a new title and a year and more money. I believe that if you actually focus on making sure that your boss is successful and that the company is successful, that stuff will come. If you are leading by making sure that the people around you are successful and helping where you can, I think that is also what you will be remembered for. And even along the way, I mean, I remember with time for example there were people who did not work in my group, I mean Michael Loeb, who was Marshall Loeb son, he was very good friends with my boss and he used to come and check on my boss and her husband had passed away. And he was a good friend of Michael's. And that's how I met him.

Kara Goldin (25:04):

And I remember Michael just saw that every single day, I just was really focusing on making sure that Brooke really had what she needed. And after a year of being there, he came to me and he said, I need an assistant, I need some other people, because he saw what I was doing. And years later, when I was in a very different role at AOL, he was still at Time. And when Time and CNN and all my former companies were coming together, he picked up the phone and called me and said, I know, you understand all of these different people and the different cultures, I want you to talk to me about the stuff.

Kara Goldin (25:53):

And again, this is somebody that I think just because I really focused on people around me and EQ and all that kind of stuff as well, it was somebody that years later that you just really relied on.

Josh King (26:08):

Just on company culture for a minute Kara, your next stop was at CNN, a brand that I've come to know very well through my years in politics, and have many friends who spent a lot of time there in different parts of the business, business side, editorial side, but it's an asset that has tended to shift a lot through different leaders and different owners. I mean, you mentioned that it passed eventually to AOL. What about the culture there at CNN taught you about the culture that you'd want to create when you started your own company?

Kara Goldin (26:36):

The concept that I first learned at CNN was speed of getting things done, you just didn't see people spending a lot of time sitting in meetings. And I think that today, something I'm really, really feel fortunate that I was able to see was all these different cultures. And so when I ultimately started my own company being able to bring a little bit of all of these into ours. An still to this day, probably my biggest frustration is when I see that we've gotten to a point on a decision where it's just like, we're just sitting in meetings all day. I'm like, no more meetings, like we need to just make decisions, and they might not be the right decision. But we need to just go and make a decision. And I think a lot of that comes from some of the stuff that I learned at CNN.

Josh King (27:33):

You write in different parts of your book about your own lifelong love affair with the Wall Street Journal, and I've had my own as well and loved the years, I think that you might have when Walt Mossberg was writing all about personal tech. Reading how Walt helped you figure out the nerve to make cold calls. Tell me how that all coalesced, when you made the move to the Bay Area, and the importance of gumption just to pick up the phone and show up at someone's door.

Kara Goldin (27:59):

Yeah, I mean, I just moved from New York to the Bay Area with my soon to be husband. And I wasn't planning on actually finding a job. I just left CNN. I really wanted to plan my wedding and take some time off. But I loved the Wall Street Journal and I opened up my Wall Street Journal over a cup of coffee and was reading an article about this little CD ROM company that was doing shopping on a CD ROM, right. I'd had some friends in New York who had worked on some different shopping internet companies, mostly the cable companies like Verizon, or not Verizon, Viacom, and Pacbell. And some others were doing some testing in it, but nothing was really getting anywhere. And I thought what was really intriguing about this article was they were talking about this guy who had been at Apple and I had followed Steve Jobs.

Kara Goldin (29:01):

And he had this idea that if you stuck all of the content onto a disk and just told the consumer to stick the disk in, then basically, they would think that the internet was working, right, and you just keep telling him to update it. And I was like, wow, like that. I mean, that is so big, right? And so I wasn't doing anything anyway. And these three guys who worked at Apple spun it out into this company, it was called Onpissant inside of Apple, and then they spun it out into this company called Tomarket and I had seen that the company was based in San Mateo. And I kind of remember that San Mateo was shorted by San Francisco, but I didn't really, I had a car so I figured, what the heck. So I called this guy up. And I said, "Hey, I just read this article and in the Wall Street Journal, and I think it's just really interesting what you're doing. Can I take you to lunch, coffee."

Kara Goldin (30:01):

And here, I said, I don't want a job. I'm just like really intrigued. I'm sort of like just trying to get some research about what I want to do next. I'd been at CNN, I'd seen some different models. And when I went down to grab lunch with him, explain the whole company. And I remember the one thing that everybody cared about it at both CNN and Time was actually making money. So I kept asking, but how do you make money? I mean, it all sounds great and pretty, and works fast and everything, but how do you make money and they were like, oh, we haven't really figured that part out yet.

Kara Goldin (30:36):

And so that's when I just decided that, basically, this company was not very interesting, because they were focused on money, I just couldn't like put two and two together to know how it was going to be successful. And then the one of the guys reached out to me and he said, I know you're not looking for a job, but would you be interested in maybe coming and joining us. And I'm like, "What would I do?" And he was like, you would call on all these retailers and you would get them to actually pay us money? Because we realized after this meeting that maybe we just don't really understand it, I'll never forget, they sent me a a employment letter and said, "Okay, here's your offer." And it's pretty long and my husband's new lawyer, and I said, "Can you read this?" And so you read it, and he's like, wait, they're giving you equity in the company. And I said, "What's that? I mean, what is equity?"

Kara Goldin (31:41):

I joined them. And I just thought it was interesting that here I was going out and calling on like Mickey Drexler at the gap who I had friends who were working there, and I'd say, yeah, I was in Mickey's office, and I was talking to him about what we're doing? And they're like, wait, how in the world did you get a meeting with Mickey and Mickey is one of many, what I learned is, this was innovation, right? This was a whole new thing. They were retailers that were trying to figure out, should they be on the internet? Shouldn't they be on the internet. And so here I was, really explaining the internet to them as well as this disk and why graphics won't load so quickly. And I mean, I loved what we were doing. And then after six months, AOL who was one of our investors came and acquired us and basically acquired us for not only the product but also the relationships that we had, that I had built with a lot of these retailers and so that just continued to really, just become more.

Josh King (32:55):

And I assume that the equity appreciate it a little bit.

Kara Goldin (32:57):

By the time they split it, it was like less than a penny, if that's possible. I mean, it was it was pretty crazy. But I think like that's another thing that really I brought to Hint. It was not very common 15 years ago, and there's still many companies today in the beverage space that actually don't give their employees equity and every single one of our employees has equity. That's just really something that I think just helps us also to retain, we have employees of the 200 employees, we have employees that have been here for over 10 years. And again, it's because they really have skin in the game.

Josh King (33:44):

When we come back, we get a hint of what's in Kara Goldin's future, as she mixes up her first batch of her potion in her kitchen. More with the author of Undaunted: Overcoming Doubts and Doubters, right after this.

Speaker 2 (34:00):

In our time of greatest need, we want to thank the true heroes around the world for stepping up, for taking care of us and keeping us safe. With your expertise, your commitment, your sacrifice, and your selflessness, we'll work together to create a brighter future. And we thank you for reminding us what really matters. From all of us. Thank you.

Josh King (34:29):

Welcome back, before the break, Kara Goldin the CEO of Hint and the author of Undaunted: Overcoming Doubts and Doubters and I were talking about growing up in the desert southwest and making your mark here in New York City before heading west again, as part of the e-commerce gold rush. Thinking back to the stories you told about your dad, there's so many dreams that people have that even they resist telling their spouses about and you didn't even tell Theo, your husband, who was the CEO of a company called Z-Medics the extent of your thinking as you're working in the kitchen. He thought you were just having fun screwing around as he put it. What was actually going on in the kitchen and what is it about dynamics between spouses that eventually, you had to come clean and eventually he becomes your partner.

Kara Goldin (35:17):

I think for me, I felt like I needed to talk to him about it when I was actually taking big checks, writing big checks out of our personal bank account, joint bank account thing. I felt like and I also didn't want him to think that I was having a big party in Jamaica with my girlfriends or something with the $50,000 I was like, oh, by the way, so I've got this idea. One of the things I write about in my book and really the subtitle is Overcoming Doubts and Doubters. When you ask your spouse or your friends about, you already have your own doubts and then you're basically saying okay, I'm going to like start this company, I don't know if it's going to work or not. Of course, they're going to doubt you, right? They're going to say, that's a bad idea, you have no experience, the big soda companies are going to kill you and whatever.

Kara Goldin (36:08):

And so I think that's where I was at. I just thought I maybe I need to just prove this out a little bit more and write a business plan and actually think about it. I mean, I started Hint with four kids under the age of six. The day I was having my fourth child was the day that I actually put the first bottle on the shelf at Whole Foods. I mean, it's like, there were a lot of reasons why I should have been daunted right by not being able to start this company but I kept ... I think, for me, what I always share with people that I've done over the years when things are hard. I kind of break them into parts, right. And actually think okay, well I'm not going to worry about the fact that everybody thinks with four kids I'm not going to be able to do this. Instead I'm going to figure out okay, how do I get it on the shelf at Whole Foods.

Kara Goldin (37:05):

I'm going to get in my car, and I'm going to go and talk to the guy at Whole Foods and then see what happens and then I would celebrate that win. I feel like now when I run into hard times, I remind myself very naturally about the things that I thought were never supposed to happen that I've been able to accomplish. And I think most successful people will actually say the same thing, that the more hard things that you've done that you've actually been able to achieve. Now I sit here and when people are doubting me, I think well I don't know, I've kind of done some pretty big thing, right. And I think like that's something that people really need to get in the habit of, challenge yourself, right and challenge sort of your mindset as well because if you do, you're going to have some failures along the way but you're also going to have some successes and they could be as big as Hint.

Josh King (38:08):

I'm curious, what you might think about how 2020 is different from 2005 for the few early years of Hint. We've all read the news a few years ago, when Amazon bought Whole Foods and those of us who've wrestled with a conundrum that is fulfillment by Amazon know how daunting it can be to work with that company in some ways. How can the next Kara Goldin, looking at the next Hint be minted in an age when there are no more Woodlands Whole Food markets with the local manager like Glen del Porto can take a risk on a homemade fruit water?

Kara Goldin (38:44):

Well, I think first of all, I don't believe that grocery stores are going away. I think that they are staying. I still get great pleasure and Glen is actually sadly not at my local Woodlands market anymore. But I still get great pleasure in going in and shopping in a very nice grocery store. And I think Whole Foods being acquired by Amazon, it has changed and it's become more mass, I think they try every day not to change but I think there are some aspects that have clearly changed but I think for us what Amazon did was really show us that consumers have an appetite for having deliveries directly to their home. I mean, I think during 2020 the company that clearly showed up, they were already here, but they've showed up in spades and 2020 is Instacart. I mean, the way that people shop during a pandemic in stores is Instacart.

Kara Goldin (39:54):

And I was working through, I took on a route through the pandemic to help my sales team out. And I told my sales team, that everybody, I would say 95% of the people that were at the cash register were Instacart workers. And so I think that grocery stores will remain, but it will be different. And certainly while Amazon, we love Amazon, and they were awesome for so many people during the pandemic. If you were not an essential product, like Hint, getting the product from Amazon took a lot longer, so you'll still go to a grocery store. But I think that if you're a company today, and you're interested in actually getting on the shelf, and frankly, this is sort of a conversation, I think for retailers as well. I feel like, if you're a product that is kind of being forced to buy shelf space, or let's say, your pack of gum, for example, those impulse buys at the cash register, I just think, shouldn't you actually be figuring out how to advertise on a service Instacart, or I don't know, whatever it is, the equivalent of that, that goes in and does your shopping for you.

Kara Goldin (41:25):

So when the consumer is trying to figure out what they're going to put in the cart, that's where you end up seeing it and seeing it showing up versus actually paying the retailer. So I think in many ways these retailers are really going to fight for dollars from Instacart, even though they're partners, right? I think there's going to be this complicated situation there. And I think if you are a brands, then you have to figure out exactly how is the consumer ultimately going to know about you?

Josh King (41:56):

You write in Undaunted that when I speak with entrepreneurs, and would be entrepreneurs, they often ask me, how do I know when to launch my product? How perfect does it have to be? And the answer is perfect enough to deliver on the basic product promise, it's now been 15 years. Kara, and as we head into the final stage of our conversation with would be Kara Goldin's taking notes. What was the basic product promised for Hint, and how is it endured through different stages of your company's growth?

Kara Goldin (42:24):

So the basic promise was always to create water that tasted better without sweeteners and without preservatives. And we've always done that. But we've continued to have a better label, we originally had clear labels then we figured out that things in Whole Foods which was our first store, that we couldn't control the lighting that was on the shelf. So when we were bookended by products that had bright labels or other clear labels, you just couldn't see our product at all. So my advice, really to entrepreneurs is get your product out there, figure out what your consumer promises, and you can always continue to get better on your packaging, on your marketing materials. But at the end of the day, let the consumer get your product and taste your product. And if you're a food product, and obviously it's got to be safe.

Kara Goldin (43:33):

But we went from those early days of maybe having a shelf life of 30 days to now two years with no preservatives. I mean, that's the other crazy thing that again, I don't typically talk about it, I talk about it a bit in the book, but we just didn't know that nobody had done a non alcoholic beverage, a water beverage that had real fruit in it that didn't have preservatives. To us, we were just consumers. We were just asking the questions and I think that's what was so fascinating, even to the bottlers when we were going to them. We'd ask them questions like, okay, we want to not use preservatives and these bottlers would be like, oh, we don't want to touch that, because we don't want a lawsuit. And then we would start to, like, there were plenty of people who just hung up the phone at that point and said, we're not even interested in having this conversation.

Kara Goldin (44:37):

Those same people, once we actually figured it out, are coming back to us and saying, you've created an industry standard for so many companies that not only are you using less ingredients, but you're actually like thinking about it, and you've helped our companies to innovate. So I think it's something that we personally don't get a lot of credit for. But if you talk to a lot of bottlers out there, they'd say, yeah, there was this product Hint. And we never ran it, actually, but then we ultimately ended up using what they were doing.

Josh King (45:11):

Kara, eventually to scale in needed investors. One of them was Ken Sadowsky, a legend from the industry. And then comes Verlinvest, how did you figure out who you wanted, and could take money from?

Kara Goldin (45:23):

Yeah, so both of those guys are awesome. I mean, they've been really supportive of really how we've been growing the company, particularly recently, as really, people have kind of understood what Hint was, and wanting to really bring more and more health into their life. But Ken was actually, his grandfather was a distributor, and one of our original distributors. And so that's how we met Ken. And then Ken actually introduced us to Verlinvest. They had been not on their board, but advisors at vitaminwater. And Ken was also on the board of vitaminwater. And so he knew Verlinvest was basically, most of the money came from the stellar beer family in Belgium. And so he knew that they wanted to make investments in non alcoholic products. So that was really when they jumped in, and both of them jumped in, and it's interesting. I mean, they've definitely invested in the company, I think what's most interesting about our company, and sort of the way that we've been able to kind of raise capital is we have over 100 investors, we don't have private equity or venture money, and especially for a Silicon Valley brand.

Kara Goldin (46:50):

We have a lot of female investors that have invested, we have a lot of fans, including John Legend. Also just people who have kind of grown up in tech who have really been drinking our brand, maybe the brand's solve a problem for them that they were trying to solve, and reached out to us over the years and said, "Hey, if you guys are ever doing a round of financing," I mean, I literally get those emails weekly, still to this day, where people just they're like, I just love the brand. And I really want to invest if there's a way and so when that's happened, we've reached out to these people and said yeah, we're doing around if you're interested. And I mean, it's amazing how fast those deals get done because you're not trying to convince somebody, right. They're already hooked on it. And many of those people also are asking us to take the company public too. And that's something that we've entertained as well.

Josh King (47:59):

I follow your Twitter feed at Kara Goldin, I see the joy that you have in visiting places like Bentonville, Arkansas, as you chronicled in a recent Wall Street Journal story. But as you are grounded, like so many of us and sitting at home with Theo, Emma, Caitlin, Keenan and Justin and also Sady and Buster during the pandemic, what do you prize most about the journey that Hint has taken the Goldin family on?

Kara Goldin (48:23):

Wow, so much. I mean, I think just as a female leader, teaching my then four kids under the age of six, who were now three in college and one in high school, that you can actually do something that maybe seems daunting, right. They also, in a time when there are very few female CEOs, there are very few founders that actually remain the CEO and 15 years later. And so I think my kids are very alert and aware, and they know that they've grown up in a house where their parents work together, during a time when we're clearly having that conversation throughout the US and in Silicon Valley, that's just not the way that things work.

Kara Goldin (49:20):

We have over 60% of our employees are female, as well, we just do things just a little bit differently. And so I'm hopeful and most proud that I'm teaching my family and maybe some of their friends that it doesn't have to be that way, that you can actually go and do what you're passionate about and go try and kind of tackle hard things and you'll learn a lot along the way. And I feel in some ways too, that we started this company to really help myself and help my family and help consumers but now I feel like we're in a place where we've developed a few other products including sunscreen and deodorant, now just came out with hand sanitizer as well. If we can lead companies to do the right thing and not put ingredients and a bunch of crap in there, products that consumers shouldn't be having, because it's unhealthy. That's a pretty awesome, to lead companies to do better. I mean that's amazing.

Josh King (50:31):

And that is amazing Kara and we are so grateful for the time that you've given us, to give you a hint of what was in your past, what's in your present and what may still hold in your future. It's been great to have you inside the ICE House.

Kara Goldin (50:43):

Thank you so much.

Josh King (50:45):

And that's our conversation for this week. Our guest was Kara Goldin, the CEO of Hint, and author of Undaunted: Overcoming Doubts and Doubters. If you liked what you heard, please rate us on iTunes so other folks know where to find us. And if you've got a comment, or a question you'd like one of our experts to tackle on a future show, email us at ICE House at theice.com or tweet at us at ICE House podcast. Our show is produced by Pete Ash and Kearney Ferguson, with production assistants who Ken Able and Ian Wolf. I'm Josh King, your host signing off in the library, the New York Stock Exchange and heading online for an e-commerce break to order myself another case of Hint. Thanks for listening. We'll talk to you next week.

Speaker 1 (51:27):

Information contained in this podcast was obtained in part from publicly available sources and not independently verified, neither ICE nor his affiliates make any representations or warranties, express or implied as to the accuracy or completeness of the information and do not sponsor, approve or endorse any of the content herein. All of which is presented solely for informational and educational purposes. Nothing herein constitutes an offer to sell, a solicitation of an offer to buy any security or recommendation of any security or trading practice. Some portions of the preceding conversation may have been edited for the purpose of length or clarity.

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Information contained in this podcast was obtained in part from publicly available sources, and not independently verified. Neither ICE nor its affiliates make any representations or warranties, express or implied, as to the accuracy or completeness of the information and do not sponsor, approve, or endorse any of the content herein, all of which is presented solely for informational and educational purposes. Nothing herein constitutes an offer to sell, a solicitation of an offer to buy any security, or a recommendation of any security or trading practice.