Entrepreneur Kara Goldin is the Founder and CEO of hint Inc., the San Francisco based company which produces the leading, award-winning, no-sweetener flavored water, as well as a newly launched oxybenzone and paraben-free, naturally scented sunscreen.
Previously, Kara was Vice President of Shopping and E-commerce Partnerships at AOL, where she helped lead the growth of its startup shopping business to a $1 billion enterprise.
Kara is an active business speaker and writer, a member of C200, and a member of SFBay YPO, the world’s premier chief executive leadership organization. In 2016, Kara launched The Kara Network, a digital resource and mentoring platform for aspiring and established entrepreneurs.
What motivated and inspired you to start your own business?
I was addicted to diet soda, tired all the time, dealing with adult acne and struggling with losing baby weight after my third child. I began researching the ingredients in the soda I was drinking and realized that I needed to kick the habit and was advised to drink water instead. Plain water was boring, so I started looking for flavored water, free of sugars or diet sweeteners. I couldn’t find any.
Being a scrappy tech exec, I started making something at home. I tried flavoring water with strawberries, orange peels, and you-name-it cut-up fruits. When I realized how easy fruit got soggy, I found a creative way to just extract essences, removing any and all sugars.
All of a sudden, my health problems got better and I lost 50 pounds in a matter of months. When my family and friends started asking about the delicious water in our house, I knew it was time to start hint®.
At the end of the day, I consider myself a consumer advocate. I care about health and helping you get the healthiest product you can—without sacrificing enjoyment. So far, that’s been a delicious water with no sweeteners and an SPF 30 sunscreen with no oxybenzone or parabens that smells like heaven, but there’s no telling what’s next.
Tell us about your business.
We are a disruptive omni-channel healthy lifestyle company. We are most known for our delicious unsweetened flavored water, which helps people fall in love with water.
Since its launch, hint® water has helped consumers live healthy lifestyles by making water taste great without sugar or diet sweeteners. In addition to hint’s award-winning fruit-infused still water; hint makes a sparkling version; and hint kick®, the brand’s first caffeinated beverage.
In 2017, hint introduced its own sunscreen, scented with hint’s fruit essences to transform the application of sunscreen into an enjoyable experience. The SPF 30 mist is free of oxybenzone and parabens and is available in three refreshing scents: Pineapple, Grapefruit and Pear. hint water and sunscreen are produced in the USA and are available at drinkhint.com and grocery and specialty stores nationwide.
- Fortune’s Most Powerful Women Entrepreneurs
- Forbes’ 40 Women to Watch Over 40
- The Huffington Post listed her as one of six disruptors in business, alongside Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg
- EY Entrepreneur of The Year 2017 (Northern California Finalist)
- SF Business Times Most Influential Woman
- Fast Company Most Creative People in Business
- EY Winning Woman
- Fortune Most Innovative Women in Food & Drink
- NACIE appointee 2016 (resigned last winter)
- Gold Stevie Award for Female Entrepreneur of the Year
- Amex OPENforum’s Women to Watch
- Marketers That Matter Award for Brand Building, Small Company
In addition to hint’s award-winning fruit-infused still water; hint makes a sparkling version, hint fizz, that received Better Homes and Gardens’ Best New Product award and the Silver Stevie Award for Best New Product of the Year.
Where is your business based?
San Francisco, CA.
What were the first few steps you took to get your business up and running?
I set up shop in our garage and, at first, I was producing everything in my home. I found bottles (finding no BPA was not as easy then) and became a genius fruit extractor (with some help from my husband who eventually became my partner). I took some hint water into my local Whole Foods and they agreed to try selling a few bottles. It flew off the shelves, they wanted more and more and we had a business.
What has been the most effective way of raising awareness of your business and getting new customers?
We have been very lucky to have raised awareness and acquired customers in an organic way. A lot of it has been storytelling—face to face, through the press, our own website and now face to face again with our first retail store.
People relate to an authentic story, from a real person, especially one that ultimately leads them to a healthier place. After the success we had selling online with Amazon, we started our own e-commerce business and now it is 40% of our sales.
Having that direct connection with your customers only leads to more customers from word-of-mouth and genuine ambassadorship. Our e-commerce site has changed our business. We have a direct line to our consumer and they interact with us.
Whether we get wonderful press or social love, it all leads back to our site (drinkhint.com).
What have been your biggest challenges so far?
When I started this company, there were a lot of “no’s”. No market for unsweetened water, no room on the grocery store shelves, no space for a female CEO, and so on.
Turning the no’s into yes’s was challenging but I had the confidence, the passion and the purpose to make that happen.
The biggest challenge was to keep up with demand, find better ways to produce the water, keep the company’s vision authentic, avoid the shortcuts that destroy the DNA.
How did you overcome these challenges?
I was passionate and I had a purpose. I didn’t always take the obvious road, in fact, we often did things in a very untraditional way but we triumphed because the quality and innovation were there.
Don’t believe anyone who tells you your vision is impossible. I can’t tell you how many times I was discouraged every step of the journey. I always trusted my instinct, pushed for a solution and a new way of doing things that would make a difference towards a healthier lifestyle.Prove the doubters wrong.Click To Tweet
How do you keep motivated through difficult times?
I look to my family and my team, hint is more than just products, it’s a movement, a demand for healthier products to help people enjoy healthier lives. There’s a purpose that really means something to all of us and we always back each other up.
How do you distinguish yourself from your competitors?
We are authentic and we have an authentic story to tell. We are the #1 independently-owned non-alcoholic beverage company in the country. And we were not born into it, we jumped into it and created our own beautiful space.
We are purpose driven, advocating for our consumers and a healthy lifestyle. Our products are unique—flavored still water, sparkling water and caffeinated water with no sugars or sweeteners, sunscreen with no oxybenzone or parabens, we try to take out harmful ingredients without taking away the enjoyable experience.
What is the best advice you have received recently?
Not sure if its recently, but it rings true for me every day: Trust your gut.
What advice would you give to other entrepreneurs?
If you have an idea that excites you, solves a problem and can change people’s lives go for it! Be unrelenting, don’t give up, follow your passion and the magic will come… sometimes when you least expect it!
What are your favorite business tools/resources and why?
Your customers. They are what drives products to be successful.
What is a good article or book you have read recently?
I’m always reading articles when I have a few minutes in between everything. One of my favorite books was “Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World” by Adam Grant.
What are you currently learning about for your business or looking for help with?
That we are a customer-driven business. It’s why I developed the company and what makes our product sell no matter what channel we are selling in.
We are constantly learning about things at hint, new ways to deliver a healthier lifestyle—new ingredients, new products, new categories, new water sources, new distribution, etc.
What stays the same is the passion and the desire to help people lead healthy lives without compromising on enjoyment.
What are your goals for the next few months and how are you striving to achieve them?
- Focus on the customer and where they are heading.
- Smile more.
- Enjoy life.
What social media outlets do you use? List them below.