554 Kara Goldin:
People often talk about entrepreneurs as fearless, tenacious risk-takers, yet it’s hard to find any woman or man … who’s built a successful fast-growing business who has not struggled with fear or doubt.
I’m Melinda Wittstock and today on Wings of Inspired Business we meet an inspiring entrepreneur who has overcome many of her own doubts … to build a two billion dollar business.
Kara Goldin is the Founder and CEO of Hint, Inc., best known for its award-winning Hint® water, the pioneering unsweetened flavored water. Like many entrepreneurs, Kara spotted a gap in the market for a healthy alternative to diet sodas after she realized her old Diet Coke habit was harming her own health. Her journey to Unicorn status wasn’t easy, yet she remained “Undaunted” – the name of her bestselling new book.
You may remember Kara, who was my very first guest on Wings several years ago, and if not, I can’t wait to introduce you to her. First…
Kara Goldin says the only way you can know whether or not you can achieve something is simply to “go a little bit further”. With every new stage of growth comes new challenges, new setbacks, new opportunities. And Kara has learned along the way as she’s built hint to a $2bn business that some of the most wrenching disappointments or setbacks along the way … were the very things that enabled her to get to where she is today.
Kara has a wonderful new “must read” book for any entrepreneur – or anyone contemplating the entrepreneurial journey. It’s called Undaunted: Overcoming Doubts & Doubters, and today we dig deep into how to overcome all the overwhelm, self-doubt and limiting beliefs … and embrace the setbacks along the way as opportunities to learn and grow.
I can’t wait to share Kara’s hard-won wisdom with you..
Please download Podopolo now so you can join the conversation over on the Wings community there.
Kara Goldin is also a podcaster, interviewing founders, entrepreneurs and disruptors across many industries on the Kara Goldin Show. She’s an active speaker, and she’s
received numerous accolades, including being named EY Entrepreneur of the Year 2017 Northern California, one of InStyle’s 2019 Badass 50, Fast Company’s Most Creative People in Business, WWD Beauty Inc.’s Feel Good Force and Fortune’s Most Powerful Women
Entrepreneurs. The Huffington Post listed her as one of six disruptors in business, alongside Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg. Previously, Kara was VP of Shopping and Ecommerce at America Online where she helped lead the growth of its shopping and ecommerce business to over a $1 billion in revenue.
Let’s put on our wings with the inspiring Kara Goldin.
Melinda Wittstock: Kara, welcome to Wings.
Kara Goldin: Thank you for having me.
Melinda Wittstock: I’m excited to have you back. You were my very first interviewee on this podcast.
Kara Goldin: I love that. I feel so honored to be back here.
Melinda Wittstock: Well likewise. It was a great conversation. It remains one of our very popular episodes, so everyone listening will be so excited to hear you again, and I’m fascinated by the fact that you call yourself an accidental entrepreneur. You have had so much success, so I’m curious what you mean by accidental.
Kara Goldin: Well I didn’t start out thinking that I wanted to be an entrepreneur first of all, which I think some entrepreneurs do do that, which is fine, but that was not where I was headed more than anything, and I didn’t actually think about it as a kid like, “Oh, I’m going to go be an entrepreneur one day,” and nobody ever said that to me, but what I realized when I was trying to solve my health issues that I had really kind of stumbled upon them and kind of… What’s the word? I had ended up acquiring them over the years of working in tech.
And again, nothing against tech, but really kind of much more what I realized is that there was a lot of stuff around happiness, there was a lot of stuff around what I really wanted to do with my life, and I’d had a lot of kids, three kids at the time when I decided that I was going to take a break from a successful tech career, which wasn’t a popular idea in my house as well as with my tech community, because I could have gone out to do other stuff. But what I realized was that really drinking water, which is what Hint is, with some fruit in it helped me to ultimately get healthier and achieve my goals.
So going back to being an accidental entrepreneur, one thing that I talk about in my new book that just came out is really this concept of I had no idea what I was doing. The book by the way is called Undaunted: Overcoming Doubts and Doubters. I had no idea, but it really started from a problem that I was having, a passion for learning, and ultimately getting my product on the shelf that I realized, “Oh, okay. I’m going to go be an entrepreneur.” And today we’re the largest non-alcoholic beverage in the country that doesn’t have a relationship with Coke, Pepsi or Dr Pepper Snapple. In like 30,000 outlets. We do things a little differently. We have over 50% of our business now is direct-to-consumer, so really kind of… For somebody who didn’t know and didn’t have an idea beyond getting it on the shelf, it’s really grown into something pretty awesome.
Melinda Wittstock: So, Kara, just watching you and how you’ve grown this business is truly inspiring. Obviously ups and downs along the way. They come with the entrepreneurial journey, and I love that you’ve called your book Undaunted, because a successful entrepreneur surely does have to overcome doubts and doubters, and so the title is wonderful. Give me an example of a doubt that you had at any point along your journey and how you overcame it.
Kara Goldin: Yeah, so I would say the first doubt in establishing Hint was really wondering if I could get a product on the shelf at Whole Foods. I mean, I had been in tech, hadn’t ever worked in the beverage industry. I knew about beverages because I drank them, but that’s as far as I got, and so I had this doubt like “Could I do it?” And the more people I talked to frankly, they confirmed, “Yeah, it’s pretty hard. It’s impossible.” Right? And instead of actually really allowing those walls to stop me from moving forward I decided “Eh. What do I have to lose? I might as well just go and try.”
And so part of the reason why I really wanted to get my story out there, and really it’s a series of stories of building this company and goes a little further back to even sort of how I grew up, I mean it’s really a lot of things that people have asked me over the years. Did I know I wanted to be an entrepreneur? How did I think about my health issues? All of these kind of things. I felt like by telling my story about the fact that I had the doubts, I had the fears, I had some failures, and really owning these things and that I could ultimately help a lot of other people who may feel the same way know that I’ve been there, and if I can do it, you can do it.
Melinda Wittstock: Well the biggest thing that women struggle with I think in entrepreneurship is that doubt that we’re somehow not enough, and then looking for validation from other people, and then when they confirm it, right? Like “That’s really hard,” or-
Kara Goldin: Totally.
Melinda Wittstock: … “What makes you think you can do that?” And that’s probably more, I don’t know, common than not, and so it becomes a mindset game. Like you have to overcome your own stuff. So what were some of the ways that you did that? I mean you mentioned, “Oh, well I have nothing to lose,” which is a great attitude out of the gate, From that starting point to all the different things that you had to overcome along the way, I can only imagine that doubts came back at different parts of the process as you grew and as you scaled and as you figured out how to pasteurize the water and all the things that you did, right?
Kara Goldin: No, totally, and I think that the key thing that I did, because I felt like I was sort of in it and that I needed to kind of figure out whether or not I would continue, and the only way that I would know whether or not I should stop would be to just go a little bit further. Right? And so I definitely felt like I would ask myself the same question that I asked myself as a kid or maybe even a time my parents would ask me like… And I have stories in the book about this as well, like even moving to New York when I knew anybody right out of college.
I remember getting cold feet and my dad said to me, “Well what’s the worst that can happen?” And he really laid out when you’re making decisions, think about, “Like in this case you’ll have a lease. Don’t sign longer than a year, and then maybe if you have to leave at that point and leave early then that’s what your risk will be.”
And so I think in the same way in decisions that I make today. I mean, no differently. It’s like when I’m really scared and I fear things, it comforts me to be able to go back to say “Well what’s the worst that can happen?” And I’ve had a lot of people tell me like, “I remember sitting in a meeting with you and hearing you say that over the years, and yeah, it’s got some strange comfort level, because when you really force to actually think about what scares you, then that may actually help you to undo that fear.” And no one should live in fear. No one wants to live in fear, but sometimes it just gets overwhelming, right?
And so I think that a combination of that and then actually once you do move forward to go and try something that you celebrate those wins along the way, because it can’t all be a disaster. Right? You’re always going to run into challenges. I mean, you’ve built companies like. You understand. There’s going to be challenges along the way, but-
Melinda Wittstock: Oh, all the time.
Kara Goldin: All the time.
Melinda Wittstock: Some of them are beyond your control though, so the only thing [crosstalk 00:09:15]-
Kara Goldin: Totally. And some are beyond your control, but that’s another piece of this that you… Especially the ones that are beyond your control. Instead of actually thinking, “Oh god, this horrible thing happened to me.” You can say that, but then also learn from those things so that the next horrible time that comes along that you’ve actually been through something, because what I’ve found also that just speaking from building a business during the pandemic, when March rolled around and we sort of smelled what was going on in the world, I mean we made some big decisions, fast decisions based on what had occurred and our journey in 2009. And like you and I were talking earlier about raising money, I mean in 2009 we waited too long and we almost went out of business, and we did some things that we didn’t really want to do, and we ended up recovering from it, but in hindsight we should have done some things. Right?
And so instead of actually saying, “Oh my god. It’s terrible. It’s great.” Instead, just sit here and say, “Okay, I got to regroup for a minute and actually take a good look in the mirror and figure out what I did wrong.” And I think living with that, it’s like we all make mistakes. I mean, this is a personal life thing as well as a business life thing. It’s the same sort of rules that go along with it where especially if you believe that you shouldn’t beat yourself up over things that have happened in the past and instead just keep looking forward. But instead, celebrate those things, because maybe those things that were really challenging for you are ultimately the things that will help you in your next gig. Right? To actually be successful. They’re all part of your journey.
Melinda Wittstock: Yeah. Always an opportunity to learn.
Kara Goldin: Right.
Melinda Wittstock: There was a shift that I had on this where I suddenly realized, when there’s a block, or some sort of challenge, or something that didn’t go right, learning to actually celebrate those moments.
Kara Goldin: Totally.
Melinda Wittstock: I know it’s hard sometimes to be conscious of them, but if you can quiet your mind enough to think, “Huh, this is interesting.”
Kara Goldin: Totally.
Melinda Wittstock: “What’s this showing me? Is it showing me that I’m going in the wrong direction? If there’s a block here, does that mean there’s a better path over here, and what can I learn from this?” When you start seeing it that way it’s less daunting.
Kara Goldin: [inaudible 00:11:52] no, exactly. It’s less daunting, and I mean people have said to me through the pandemic like… I mean, we had a huge chunk of our business in March that was going away. We were the largest beverage in Silicon Valley, and all of a sudden we hear all these offices are closed, and how long would that last? We don’t know. It was beyond our control, but we knew that our revenue was going away because who was going to be actually stocking the offices now that all of these offices are closed, right? And so we made decisions based on us weathering some other storms, and some of them we almost sank and others we did pretty well, but what we learned along the way is that make quick decisions, and don’t hold, and things. And I think the other challenge that I always share with people too is that when challenges happen to you, it’s sometimes hard to not have that be part of your DNA. Right? Right?
Melinda Wittstock: Or make it about yourself. That it’s some sort of personal failing, or take it too personally.
Kara Goldin: Right, but even like I’ve interviewed people on my podcast, like this guy Eugene Remm who’s the CEO of this Rumble Fitness, and I interviewed him in April in the midst of the pandemic. He had to close down his gym, he’s like… had just gotten a huge investment from Equinox. I mean in many ways it was great that they were their investor because they were in the same position, but it was… They had to close down the Equinox gyms too, but I think he talked about it on my podcast as well that it was like…
He had owned a bunch of nightclubs in the early 2000s, and then again in 2009 during the financial crisis, and he kept thinking like, “Oh, I just hold on and see what happens.” And what he realized is like, “That didn’t work the last two times, so I’m not doing it again.” Right? And so I think that’s the thing, he was very calm this time because he knew that he just had to make some decisions. He wasn’t going to get a lot of anxiety because he had this journey that he had been on, and I’m such a huge believer in that.
Melinda Wittstock: It’s true. What do you think stops people from making quick decisions in that case? Is it we get too comfortable or too attached to what we’re doing, or fear of change, or what is it?
Kara Goldin: We fear it.
Melinda Wittstock: Just this fear of change.
Kara Goldin: [crosstalk 00:14:29] Yeah, we fear it. We fear that it’s the wrong decision and we agonize over it, but I think, again, I’m not saying that quick decisions are always the thing to do. I’m just saying that if you’ve been through challenging times it’s actually when you get to something like the pandemic you’re going to make decisions based on other parts of your life that sometimes it’s hard to even explain why you feel the way that you feel. I mean, he went into huge financial stress the last time. He’s not going there again. Right? So he was able to just kind of say “Fish or cut bait.” Right? And I think that that’s sort of this mindset, that the more times…
And really, this kind of goes to my thinking too that instead of thinking “Woe is me. Nothing ever works out for me.” Instead, what if all of those challenges that you’ve had along the way actually are leading you to this new thing in front of you?
Melinda Wittstock: Mm-hmm (affirmative). And they are. They are.
Kara Goldin: And you’re prepared, right?
Melinda Wittstock: Well this is a vexing thing I think for a lot of entrepreneurs, because sometimes we get the ‘spidey sense’ or a gut feeling, or just we literally like walk into a wall. We’re going in the wrong direction in a business, or a business isn’t working, or something about the business isn’t working, and there’s a fork in the road there where we can say, “Okay. Either I double down on… There’s something I’m doing wrong here and keep going in that direction, but pivot and modify.
Melinda Wittstock: To get where you’re going. Or, it’s a sign that you’re in the wrong business or you’re in the wrong role. It’s hard to know sometimes.
Kara Goldin: It’s hard to know, but I think that’s the other piece of this too is you don’t have to actually learn from the business that you’re in today or the industry that you’re in today in order to bring these learnings into this new world. Right? Anyway, it’s a lot of what I talk about in the book too, so the book is really about definitely the story of building Hint, but through my stories, and through my doubts, and through my doubters and challenges along the way.
My hope is that I can share these things, and maybe somebody’s sitting in the same situation but they haven’t been through as much crap as I’ve been through. Right? And maybe they don’t have deeper thoughts about this, and learnings along the way, or they’re sitting here thinking, “God, I really wish I had the nerve to go and… I don’t have the guts. I don’t have the perseverance, all of these things to actually go out and start a company or go and figure out how to do an idea.” Instead they’re having a pity party for themself just thinking…
And so that’s been my message to so many people that I’ve mentored over the years too that it’s like none of us have this figured out. You just go and try, and you have to accept the fact that being an entrepreneur or dealing with challenging times is… You get the zen feeling when you just sort of say, “I’m riding the storm.” Right?
Melinda Wittstock: Yeah, there’s an acceptance-
Kara Goldin: Totally.
Melinda Wittstock: So being curious is I think a vital characteristic, and also avoiding overwhelm, like this idea that somehow, or it all has to be perfect, or it all has to be built at once, or you have to get every single thing right. It doesn’t work that way.
Kara Goldin: No, and I think that that’s just so important, and for people to not only hear that I’ve been through it and maybe I thought that a little bit, but the reality is is that it’s much more about just going out and trying and recognizing that bad stuff will happen. You’re going to have doubts, you’re going to have fears, and even today in this world that we live in today.
I was on a CNBC segment and the person interviewing me was talking about how 30% of women are leaving the workforce, and it’s higher than it’s ever been in the history of women working. And I mean I remember, she’s interviewing me and I’m so thinking about “Wow.” Like, “Okay, they’re leaving because they’re taking care of kids, they’re getting furloughed or laid off and they make less money, so maybe if they’ve got another person at home they’re deciding ‘Well one of us has to be home to manage this.'” And so you have a choice. You can either say, “This is the situation I’m in,” or if you really want to go out and figure out what 2021 could be, what about thinking about what is that idea that I’ve always thought about? And learn how to go…
You can go online and figure out how to do a mini business plan, and if nothing else, you actually… What did you do at the end of 2020? You sat there and figured out how to do a business plan. You thought about, you looked at this category, you did lots of things that you’d never had experience doing. And then you can look at those little trials along the way and say, “Huh. I surprised myself.” Then you build up this confidence that you can do it, right?
And so there’s really any way you spin it, I really believe that there’s no reason to just stop and not go do something, and not go try something. You do have a choice. You can feel sorry for yourself and say, “I’m staying home,” or “I hate my job,” or whatever it is, or you can move forward.
Melinda Wittstock: Kara, what’s so inspiring about Hint is that you had a problem with your health, and Seeing all these doctors, and nobody could solve it for you, to the point where it’s like, “Okay, well I guess I got to go solve it.” I’m curious about your thoughts about women entrepreneurs because we do tend to launch businesses that are a little bit more personal to us.
Kara Goldin: And I think that’s great, right? I actually think that women are more intuitive to sort of saying, “Gosh, I wish there were something.” Maybe some women actually think like, “I wish that there was someone else to go solve my problem for me and find that product,” but I think actually a lot of women see the white space. See the holes that are out there, and I don’t know why.
Melinda Wittstock: We do, and we connect the dots.
Kara Goldin: Yeah, I think it’s genetic. I really do. I’ve thought about this for years, and I just think it’s, and not to say that guys don’t do this too, but I just think that you look at Hint, you look at Sara Blakely at Spanx, you look at you. There’s just so many ideas that are out there, and they were big ideas and they were hard ideas.
I mean, certainly I can speak to Hint. We not only developed a new company, but also a brand new category, which was… It’s called unsweetened flavored water. No one was doing an unsweetened still flavored water when we started Hint, and they were doing it carbonated, but it’s very different from a production standpoint, and it’s just… The lines weren’t there. They were either plain water or they were juice, and there was just the inability to actually use real fruit was real, and without using preservatives and stuff. So again, it can be hard, but everything’s doable.
Melinda Wittstock: Well also for you the challenge too of going up against the Cokes and Pepsis of the world and competing with them for retail shelf space, and just even the bottling. I remember hearing you tell a story, about sleeping on the floor of the bottling plant as you were trying to figure this out, right?
Kara Goldin: Yeah, it was basically, well, so when I was trying to figure out exactly how to produce this product, and that was super challenging. We had gotten it on the shelf at Whole Foods, and then that was the point when I just could not figure out exactly how to produce a product that was shelf-stable, and so we were resting. We weren’t fully sleeping on the floor, but I dragged my husband with me because actually he offered, because he’s like, “You’re not going down to a bottling plant and spending the night.” Because I was like, “I don’t know, I’ll bring a sleeping bag. It’s the middle of the night. Whatever. [inaudible 00:24:38] might be cold in there. I might have to, I don’t know. They’ll have a chair or whatever.”
And it was close to San Francisco. It was just outside of the Bay Area in Watsonville, down by Santa Cruz, and so I thought, “Why not? It’s close. I can go down and learn.” And I think that that’s the thing, it’s kind of another lesson that I’ve learned is that you might not think you can go and learn what you need to learn, but if you really just think about things and also immerse yourself in a business. And I mean I learned so much just by reading, and also just following people in Whole Foods. Not in like a creepy way, but like I would see people who looked like they were stocking shelves with beverages, and some of them worked at Whole Foods and some of them probably worked for brands, and so that’s what I mean. It’s really unwinding “How do I get there?”
I would just go up to people and ask them, and some people just said, “You weirdo, lady. You go away from here.” But other people were like, “Oh. Why do you want to know?” And I’m just like, “Oh, I’m launching a beverage company.” And then to the point I mentioned earlier, I found that sometimes beverage executives wouldn’t talk to me because I was like, “Oh, she’s launching a beverage company. She’s kind of competitive.” Even though it wasn’t. But I found that if I sort of looked at it as “Well who else is kind of doing the same thing, even though the products are different?” I had no idea what I was talking about, but I just thought, “I don’t know, maybe the people that are doing chips. They might know some people who do beverages.”
So that was my sort of thinking along the way, that it’s like don’t be afraid to ask and also just I… a huge believer that curiosity is ultimately what got us to this point. Curiosity and hard work, but it wasn’t… I’m a very average person, normal person. I didn’t go to an Ivy League school. I didn’t have beverage person and work in some amazing training program. I just was willing to just keep trying.
Melinda Wittstock: Well the fact that you didn’t have beverage experience is probably why you were able to innovate.
Kara Goldin: Totally. And even today, I mean over 50% of our business is direct-to-consumer. Maybe not during the pandemic if you ask the soda companies, but for the last few years the message has been “Why would you do that? That’s not the way it’s done in the beverage industry.” And I’m like, “Why not?” And-
Melinda Wittstock: Well it proved very prescient, because here we are in a pandemic and 50% of your revenue is direct-to-consumer.
Kara Goldin: Yeah [crosstalk 00:27:30]
Melinda Wittstock: So what was the thing that made you take that direction? Because I remember discovering Hint for the first time in Starbucks, and I I became this Hint addict. And then it suddenly disappeared from Starbucks and I was pissed. I didn’t know where to find it. And was that the spark?
Kara Goldin: Yeah, well I mean it’s funny that you mention Starbucks, because really it sort of started there but wasn’t because of there, but I feel like that all kind of connects. So we were in Starbucks, doing really well. We had grown that business to about 40% of our overall business. We were in 11,000 locations. We thought we had all the information that we needed to make decisions around how are we doing, and we were doing like triple what they had told us, and that would be considered good. And then one day, we got a phone call from the new buyer letting us know that we were getting kicked out of Starbucks, and I’m like, “What do you mean we’re getting kicked out? We’re doing triple what you guys told us.”
Melinda Wittstock: And that’s like 40% of your revenue.
Kara Goldin: 40% of our revenue. Right? And I’ve made product that was sitting in my warehouse that was going to go bad, and so I’m like, “So when is this happening?” And their explanation higher margin business and also the ring is going to be higher. All rational reasons, but it wasn’t to my benefit at all. In fact, it was going to be really bad, and so that’s when I learned that we were getting kicked out in a week, and so-
Melinda Wittstock: Oh my… In a week.
Kara Goldin: In a week. And I was like, “You can’t do that.” And they were like, “Well, we actually can.” And I was like, “Oh my god.” And I don’t cry very often, but that moment I lost it. I was just like, “Oh my god. How am I going to go back to my investors? How am I going to deal with this product? I’m going to have to basically trash it.” Right? It was just a lot of stuff going through my head, and then finally I sort of used the same principles that I’ve used over the years which is, okay, so there’s a lot of bad that’s going on, but here’s the good. We were exposed to 11,000 corners. I mean, Starbucks is on every corner, sometimes two corners. Right? They’re everywhere, and so I thought, “They exposed us to so many customers that wouldn’t have even known about us.” Like you, right?
Melinda Wittstock: Like me, like me, yeah.
Kara Goldin: And so I was like, “Now we just have to find those customers.” And we had no data to be able to have that connection, and they weren’t going to share that with us just like no other retailer shares it with us, and so I’m sitting here trying to figure out, “Okay, how do I deal with these existing customers that are going to be missing Hint? We’re selling product in these stores, and now it’s going to go away.”
And so I got a phone call from Amazon and they’re launching their grocery business, and they’re about ready to launch in addition to that their Subscribe & Save, which is essentially their subscription business, and so they wanted us to sell through them, and the first thing that the buyer from Amazon says to me is, “Oh my gosh. I buy your product all the time at Starbucks.” And I didn’t know if I had the heart to actually share with him that we were getting kicked out of there, because I didn’t want him to sort of have this feeling like, “Oh, well why is it? Maybe we shouldn’t have it.” And instead he said, “Well how soon can I get the product?” I said, “You know what? I have extra product in the warehouse and I am happy to sell it to you. We can send a truck today if you like.” And he was like, “Perfect. Oh my gosh, I really need the product.”
So we became like the number one product in grocery over the course of the next couple of months. I mean, it was crazy, and then we had a real subscription business and they had never really tested any products in food to have a subscription business. It was just like all the stars were kind of aligning, and again I kept thinking, “Gosh, good thing that we had been in Starbucks, because if we wouldn’t have been in Starbucks, maybe this buyer would have not known about us.” Maybe he would have. I don’t know for sure, but it was clear that he had this idea in his head that he always got it at Starbucks.
So then a year into working with Amazon we asked him for the data, because we were paranoid. This is about the journey, right? Like we’re doing really well, but now we had that bad thing happen to us before. I wonder if we can get the data. I mean, this is a data company. And the buyer was like, “No. This is our data. Your data, you guys sell us product and that’s the only data that you get.” And so that’s when I decided that I wanted to launch our own direct-to-consumer business so that I could have the data and I could have the relationship with the customer, and because I thought I’ve been through this with Starbucks, and while it worked out okay, we got into Amazon and thank goodness that something good ultimately happened, I go back to…
So we decided to launch our direct-to-consumer business, which again, our own personal one, Hint, is 40% of the business, and we still deal with Amazon. Amazon’s amazing, but you don’t get any data out of them, just like we don’t get data out of Whole Foods or Target or Walmart. We do it top of funnel kind of stuff, and then ultimately they become our customers and they start looking around for more flavors, and so that’s how that whole thing works.
But I go back to this really challenging time at Starbucks where I thought I was doing really well, and what could I have done better? I should have never allowed 40% of my business to be in somebody’s decision-making process, right? And [crosstalk 00:33:51]-
Melinda Wittstock: Right.
Kara Goldin: Right? And that was a really tough time, but it was one that I learned a lot from and I was able to grow from it, right? And ultimately, I’m also just a big believer that when bad happens you look for the good, and sometimes it’s hard to find the good, but in this case I think it was really one where I don’t know that I would have launched the direct-to-consumer business if we wouldn’t have gotten into and seen what we did with Amazon. Right? But we did, and we were doing well, and we thought, “Why not?”
There were a lot of people around me who were saying like, “Oh, Amazon’s going to crush you. They’ll beat you up on pricing.” There’s all kinds of doubts, right? I had my own doubts but I was like, “Eh, we’ll start small. We’ll see what happens.” And that’s how I’ve kind of lived my life, frankly, of just going and trying, and I think that is what being undaunted is, is that you will not get if you don’t try.
Melinda Wittstock: You’ll never know. And I think what’s so fascinating about this story is hearing you tell it again now is that as you progress, as you’re building and scaling a company and you look back at the things, those pain moments, they’re excruciating in the moment.
Kara Goldin: They are, yeah.
Melinda Wittstock: And yet you can see they’re sort of like breadcrumbs. It’s almost lucky in a way that what happened to you at Starbucks happened to you-
Kara Goldin: Totally.
Melinda Wittstock: … because it forced you to grow. It led you on a path. Had you still been in Starbucks, Kara, would you have built a billion dollar, two billion dollar business?
Kara Goldin: I know.
Kara Goldin: There were just so many things along the way that kind of led, and it was… And sort of another piece of this, I mean it’s interesting, people have said… I had one opinion on my book from a… which obviously is still bothering me. Somebody who wrote in and said… I’ve had amazing, excellent opinions on the book, and this one person who reviewed it said, “Being an entrepreneur, what you should have done is actually told us how to do it.” And I thought, “No entrepreneur actually does know how to do it.” Right?
Melinda Wittstock: Every business is totally different. Like-
Kara Goldin: Right, and also if somebody says, “Okay, Melinda, you give me the 10 steps on how to build your company.” They’re lying. They didn’t know how to do it. Right?
Melinda Wittstock: Nobody does. Nobody does. If we’re defining entrepreneur a little bit differently than just business owner-
Kara Goldin: Totally.
Melinda Wittstock: … an entrepreneur is a creative, is an innovator, is creating something out of whole cloth that has never been done before. How could you possibly know if nobody else has ever done it before?
Kara Goldin: Yeah, and so that’s right, and this person had… They were obviously a writer and had never been an entrepreneur, and I mean I could go and look at every single industry and people that I know who are entrepreneurs. I mean I even interviewed somebody who worked closely with Steve Jobs. Steve Jobs couldn’t tell you how he built Apple. He could tell you things that he did along the way that were pretty great. He could also tell you things that bombed, and I think that’s the thing that I wanted to really write about too that we hear about these unicorns and major successes, and then we hear about the failures, and I always want to know the stuff in between.
Because I’m like, that’s where it gets great, because then you’re like, “Oh, I get it now. Okay, now they’re going to go off and do something else.” I don’t even care about the failures. Right? I don’t even really care about the successes. I care about the stuff in the middle that actually forms whether or not this person has persistence, has perseverance, and who lives undaunted, and that is…
I’ve been thinking a lot about this over the years, and even the book, I mean a lot of people have asked me, “Oh, did you always know you wanted to write a book?” And I’m like, I mean, I’m not going to lie, it’s pretty great now to say that I’m an author, but I didn’t think, “Okay, one day I’m going to go write a book.”
But I started journaling four years ago and telling these stories, and it was almost like therapy for me to think about these things, and then finally about a little over a year ago I said, “You know what? I’m already talking about so many of these stories when I mentor entrepreneurs or I’m out speaking, and people will ask me a question and I always really answer questions through these stories.” And I thought, “Gosh. You know, no one’s really doing this. I should really do this, because maybe it will help people to know that they can get through these things. They’re a lot like how I was, and maybe not exactly. Maybe they’ve got a different industry or maybe they haven’t even gotten out of the gate yet because they think that they need to know so much or be from somewhere specific in order to figure it out.” So that is really my goal and thinking around this that I hope this book actually helps a lot of people to go out and just go try, and [crosstalk 00:39:25]
Melinda Wittstock: Well congratulations on it-
Kara Goldin: [crosstalk 00:39:27]
Melinda Wittstock: … because it’s a wonderful kind of give forward in that way, and I think when women-
Kara Goldin: Totally.
Melinda Wittstock: … when women especially, when we really share, you know what it’s really like and what we went through, and we kind of de-stigmatize all those failures and all those doubts and all those moments of like, “Oh my god, I don’t know what I’m doing,” and then how we actually figured out a way around, or over, or through, or whatever.
I remember on the first podcast, the very first podcast of Wings where you were talking about how to get around, over, walls, and when we share that, it shows other women that first of all it’s possible, and that it’s natural to have those doubts and fears, we all have them, but it’s the roadmap. Here is how to overcome those things that stand in our way which are almost always inside our own heads.
Kara Goldin: Definitely, and I think that that’s just so important for people to recognize that it’s like they can do it if they actually get out of their own way, and they’re going to run into people who make them doubt even more, but again it’s like you have a choice. You can allow this stuff to bother you, or you can actually just keep moving forward in some way. So those are my life learnings, and hopefully they’ll be helpful to people.
Melinda Wittstock: They surely are, and so I have just a quick question for you about the role of inspiration in your life. Do you meditate? Do you do things like that that allow yourself to have that kind of quiet time or space to actually kind of just receive divine downloads? Is that part of your life?
Kara Goldin: I don’t mind doing it. I’ve definitely done it before and I enjoy going to a place in order to do that, and obviously during the pandemic I haven’t been really able to do that, but I think for me I’m able to kind of zone out. I live in Marin County where I hike every day.
Melinda Wittstock: Beautiful, beautiful.
Kara Goldin: Yeah.
Melinda Wittstock: Right. Another way of asking this question is do you find yourself getting inspirations and ideas when you’re not “working”?
Kara Goldin: Totally.
Melinda Wittstock: Yeah.
Kara Goldin: Totally I do, and I think that is finding that you don’t actually have to plug into something in order to do it. I think for me, and sometimes I have just me, sometimes I’m with my husband and my dogs. I mean, it’s just for me it’s just getting out in nature just really does it for me, and I think you have to find that kind of place that allows you to get there too. I think that’s super, super important.
Melinda Wittstock: Mm-hmm (affirmative). And so what’s next for Hint? There’s a Hint deodorant. There’s Hint sunscreen. I’ve used these products, they’re great, and they abide by the same thing: they’re good for you. Right? Getting rid of all the toxic chemicals that I think most of us have in our bodies and having things that are healthy. So how are those lines going, and where do you see yourself going next?
Kara Goldin: So we launched sunscreen a few years ago. I mean, that was another one that I didn’t plan. I had to use the Hint name in order to actually get the finalization from the FDA for approval. You have to have a name on your product, and so I wasn’t even sure I was going to keep the Hint name on the sunscreen, but basically I felt like the consumer really got it.
They were like, “Oh, I get it. You really helped us with what goes inside your body, and now you’re really helping us with what goes on your skin.” And so it was at that point when I really started realizing that our consumer really wants us to go further and wants us to… They didn’t say, “Go develop a sunscreen.” Instead they really saw that we were a trusted brand that actually was there to help them with some of these other things that they were not so excited about, like they didn’t find the greatest sunscreen until they found ours.
And so I think along the way, I’m that woman who you mentioned earlier that always sees things. I see holes in the market all day. I don’t know why. I just am always like, “Gosh, where is that?” And I’ll go to like 15 different stores looking for something because I’ll always think about things, like, “I wish it was there.”
And then the beauty is that now that I own a company I just go and develop them. I just did it during the pandemic with sunscreen. I mean, excuse me, with hand sanitizer. I was just like, “All these hand sanitizers are just horrible that are out there.” They smell like alcohol. Some of them smelled rancid, and I’m like, “God, I got to…” You know.
Melinda Wittstock: Yeah, and a lot of them were recalled because they were dangerous. They [inaudible 00:44:40]
Kara Goldin: Yeah, and so I’m like, “Why isn’t there one that smells like grapefruit, or one that I can find that was grapefruit, or clementine, or something that smells good, that smells fruity?” And so I’m like, “Eh, I’ll just go develop it.”
And it ends up that that’s something that I’ve learned about myself too that I also share with people thinking about going into entrepreneurship, that just because you hear these entrepreneurs that have built this great company and they have this huge exit, it’s like they don’t hear the stuff leading up to it, that it’s really hard. And it’s not that it isn’t doable, it’s just it’s a lot. Right? You’ve been through it a few times [crosstalk 00:45:26]
Melinda Wittstock: Oh gosh, yeah, and they’re different problems at different scale too. I mean there’s the start-up, but then there’s that heart-palpitating moment when you’re growing really fast and you need to hire really quickly, and your cash flow becomes an issue. You could be wildly hitting it out of the park. I’ve been there where you’re just growing so fast that you… That’s a dangerous point actually in a business.
Kara Goldin: Yeah, but-
Melinda Wittstock: There are all kinds of different little challenges you have.
Kara Goldin: But there’s different stages to your point too, where sometimes I even share with people that if you’re a little nervous about, and you fear it, maybe you should actually go work for a company that is smaller than the one that you were in before. Right? And try and see what life is like being an entrepreneur. It doesn’t mean you even have to be in the same industry. You can go work for somebody that you admire, or maybe it is in the same industry, and you go and figure out exactly what it might be like to work in a start-up, because so often people are running away from something to and they think that there’s this beautiful castle living on the other end of being an entrepreneur [crosstalk 00:46:40] right? And I think that’s really important, because I do, I don’t know about you, but I run into people. “Oh, maybe I should just start my own company.” And I always ask “Why?”
Melinda Wittstock: Yeah. Like, “Why?” Exactly. What is it? I remember doing a talk years ago at Google, and [inaudible 00:46:55] about 300 young women, and I remember just asking everybody, “Say how many of you want to be entrepreneurs,” and all their hands shot up. So “Oh, that’s great. Okay, so how many of you want to do it because you want to make a lot of money?” About a third of the room. Right? “Okay, how many of you want to do it because you want to be your own boss and you never want to answer to anyone ever again?” About a third of the room. Right?
Kara Goldin: Yeah.
Melinda Wittstock: “And how many of the people want to do it because they can’t not do it? They have something of value they want to share with the world and you really want to go out and solve problems.” [inaudible 00:47:28] about a third of the room. It’s like, “Well that last third, you probably have a chance.” Because there are lots of other ways to make money much easier-
Kara Goldin: Totally.
Melinda Wittstock: … than being an entrepreneur, if you do have like a mission, a burning mission, if there’s just something that you want to go solve and you’re passionate about it, your chances of success are infinitely higher I think.
Kara Goldin: Yeah, but I think that there’s something else that people don’t talk about is actually supporting entrepreneurs, because I often tell people that they can’t actually do what they want to do unless they actually have a team. Right? And-
Melinda Wittstock: Oh, gosh, yes. This is so true and-
Kara Goldin: Right?
Melinda Wittstock: … this is something that comes up on this podcast all the time. Women tend to be too late to hire.
Kara Goldin: Yeah. But also the value of you having built a ton of companies, the value of actually having a great team is-
Melinda Wittstock: It’s everything.
Kara Goldin: … really high. Right? It’s everything.
Melinda Wittstock: It’s everything.
Kara Goldin: And so therefore, could you actually go in and learn while you’re actually doing? Because you’ve worked in a big company. You’ve done that stuff, and then you can actually… What I always share with people is there’s different stages of start-ups too. You may not want to go [crosstalk 00:49:18]
Melinda Wittstock: All the way. You might be a starter.
Kara Goldin: Yeah.
Melinda Wittstock: That’s actually a question I had for you is did you know at the beginning starting Hint that you wanted to ride the whole wave and stay the CEO on that whole trajectory? Because that doesn’t usually happen. There’s not a lot of entrepreneurs that can ride that whole path. You, Sara Blakely, people like Mark Zuckerberg, but there aren’t a lot that actually have done that right, scaling into the unicorn status.
Kara Goldin: And I think it’s just, I mean part of it is is that… I mean, I did kind of the support roles. Not intentionally, but I started out at a really big company, at Time, and it was big, and I learned… It’s funny, because I wasn’t thinking about this certainly when I took my first job there, but I had this vision of sort of like, “This is how companies are, and they’re big, and they’re in the publishing industry, and everything’s great.” And then I get recruited out to go and work for CNN and it was like, “Oh my gosh, it’s really exciting.” I mean, this is the 90s. It’s like CNN was new. It wasn’t in all households. There’s this guy Ted Turner who’s married to Jane Fonda.
It’s just really exciting. What I learned is that the culture, I didn’t even call it culture at the time, but people just screamed and yelled at CNN. And again, I’m not saying that it’s like that today, but it was very much a starting, and it was very much probably the culture of Ted Turner. Right?
It was who he was, and versus this other. So what I saw was a start-up that was going through crazy growth. Right? Versus something like a Time that was very, very established, and then I moved from New York to Silicon Valley, and I had been admiring this guy Steve Jobs, and I had really… I had my first iMac, and I just thought he really got it. I mean, we’re not using these giant computers anymore. They’re cute and little. I mean, they’re a lot littler now, but they were much smaller at the time.
And I would read interviews and I’d just be obsessed, and so I just thought when I saw an article about this company that had spun out of Apple, I had no idea that it was five guys in a garage. I was just like, “Oh, wow. That’s super crazy, and I don’t know, maybe I’ll just go talk to them and see what they’re doing.” And I’m like, “How do you know it’s a company? How do you guys make money?”
All of these things that they had no idea what they were doing, and then I got a job offer, and it was higher than I was making at CNN and Time in New York and I’m like, “Okay, I’m in.” But there was so much chaos, and we didn’t have an HR department, we didn’t have… Right? There was just nothing. It was just everybody sort of sitting around and ordering burgers, and kind of laughing, and creating ideas. And then we got acquired by AOL, where I saw another hyper-growth company, but it was calmer than what I had seen at CNN.
And so then when I ultimately decided to start my company Hint, that’s another thing. I actually have worked in a lot of different size companies. I’ve also seen a lot of different cultures, and that’s all about that journey too, that when starting my own company I was able to sort of pick the good and the bad from all these different experiences, and I also have a belief that your culture, I always have shared with people when they’ve shared that they don’t like the culture. I’m like, “It starts at the top.” Right? It does. Good and bad.
Melinda Wittstock: It really does, yeah, and it’s interesting with start-ups. Often you tend to hire people from your own networks or people you know so you can end up with like an identikit kind of culture, which doesn’t really work. So say in my case with Podopolo now, we’re hiring a lot of people. We have to hire quite a few people quite quickly, and so culture’s very much on my mind… also the one thing I’m conscious of too, as a CEO you can sort of impose that, but on the other hand you want to empower people bottom-up as well, so when you approach the culture at Hint in terms of how you grew it, did you have this idea in your own head about what it was going to be, or was it more organic in the way the culture came together and how you created it?
Kara Goldin: Yeah, I mean I think it really… I didn’t sit here and have a big plan around it, but I also feel like especially not having the experience, that category experience. I always share with people like, “Look, the first people in our company, I mean why would they trust me that I was going to be able to build what I built?” Right?
I mean I had never done this before. It was my first start-up. I had never done anything in the beverage industry either. I had built something else inside of a large company, but I always share with people that your first people that you bring into the company, don’t be sad if they don’t stay around for a long time, because you needed them just to sort of move the brick across the road a little bit. Not saying that there’s anything wrong with them, but they may or may not stay, right? And that’s okay. You have to go and figure out during different stages along the way what you really need.
I mean, it’s kind of the same as, not calling employers babysitters, but it’s my same feeling on having babysitters over the years. As much as I loved my nannies when my kids were really young when they started moving and they wanted somebody besides me to play soccer with them, that wasn’t necessarily the person or somebody [inaudible 00:56:43] with them. There’s different stages along the way, and again, because I had seen so many different stages I knew that there’s just different people along the way.
But I think the other thing that I’ve learned, and this probably came from the start-up that I was at that was the Steve Jobs spin-out was that it’s a humbling experience when you just decide “I’m just going to learn these things in order to figure out whether or not I need people on these businesses,” and oftentimes it’s hard. You have to roll up your sleeves, you have to learn a lot and educate yourself, and then what I’ve found is along the way, I mean I love learning, but also you learn all these things about your business that when ultimately somebody does decide to leave, you actually are a quick study. Right?
You’re not sitting here looking around the place thinking “Oh my god, somebody’s left and I’m going to be in the dust.” Right? How many times has that happened inside of a large company, right? You’re sitting here thinking “Oh my god, I know nothing about it.” You’re in react mode trying to hire somebody, so I’ve always wanted to know a little bit more about each parts of the business, because I really wanted to not only really understand what people do and whether or not I should invest money into that sort of business unit, but along the way I’ve also learned a lot about the people and what works and what doesn’t work and…
So anyway, I don’t know. I mean, I really do believe that it’s really come [inaudible 00:58:31] organic growth, but the more I think about culture too that I think it’s sort of the same theory that you just never really know what someone has been through, and what they’ve seen, and what they’ve heard. Right? And that’s their imprint. That’s their DNA, and it’s the same with work and environment, so…
What I worry about the most is as we’ve been along a great run for 15 years, but I’m a little paranoid when I bring in people that are like experienced people that I feel like I need to manage bigger teams and do the stuff that they’ve done at big companies, because I know that they’re bringing their cultures in. Right? And I don’t want to mess up my culture. So I think that is something that I probably worry about more than I have ever worried about before, because I think it’s culture [crosstalk 00:59:24]
Melinda Wittstock: Yeah. It’s one of the most important things.
Melinda Wittstock: So 15 years, Kara. This is amazing. Is this something that you’re going to continue for the foreseeable future, or how do you see it playing out in terms of what you want to do with the rest of your life? Is there a beyond Hint?
Kara Goldin: I feel every single day I continue to get emails from consumers saying, “Gosh, you’re really helping me drink water. You’re helping me get through chemo. You’re helping me control my type 2 diabetes.” Whatever it is, it starts with help. Right? And so for me, what I love to do and frankly what I think everybody loves to do is they love to help, right? And so if you’re doing something where you feel like you’re needed and you’re servicing the client, then why not? I mean, would I ever sell? Maybe. I don’t know. I don’t really think about it, to be honest with you. I-
Melinda Wittstock: Well, you’re on a mission and it’s when you have a business that is actually helping people with real-world things, what can beat that?
Melinda Wittstock: What could be better than hearing those things from customers, and being in a place to really help so many, many people? I want to make sure that everybody has a chance to get your incredible book and dig deep in a lot of these stories that are so inspiring and so helpful to so many women entrepreneurs out there, whatever stage you are in working on your business. And also, grab a case of Hint water while you’re at it as well. What’s the best way, Kara?
Kara Goldin: You can go to Amazon, and it’s just Undaunted: Overcoming Doubts and Doubters. There’s two Undaunteds out there right now so, maybe even more than that, but there’s two fairly new ones. One is written by the former head of the CIA I believe, so it’s a very different book, but yeah, so it’s Undaunted: Overcoming Doubts and Doubters. Kara Goldin. So you’ll find it, and yeah, and once you get a chance to read it, definitely, definitely shoot me an email and let me know what you thought of it, so I really appreciate the support.
Melinda Wittstock: Ah, well thank you so much for coming back and putting on your Wings. Flying with us.
Kara Goldin: Yeah, totally. Totally. And yeah, and I’m really, really excited for your journey as well.
Melinda Wittstock: Well, Kara, thank you so much for saying that. I’m so excited about Podopolo because it really is changing the game for podcasters, and it reminds me of what you were saying about not having the data back at Amazon, and we’re changing the game by giving podcasters that data so they can actually engage and monetize their content, so changing that relationship completely to put power in the hands of content creators, so we’re so excited about it, but thank you.
Kara Goldin: Yeah, no, absolutely. I’m really, really excited for you, so… Well thank you, thank you, thank you, and everybody have a great rest of the week.