Kara Goldin, CEO and founder of Hint Water, had a drinking problem.
I was consuming products like Diet Coke and felt that I wasn't as educated as I thought. I had been tricked by things calling themselves Vitamin Water. How can it be called water when it's colored? And yet, I wasn't feeling very good and I also wasn't taking the baby weight off. So I figured we need to just go back to bare bones and eat fruits, vegetables and hormone free foods -- oh and, by the way, we're going to drink water.
But here was her problem: "I realized that I wasn't a water drinker -- and neither was anyone in my family."
Thus began her quest to find a better water -- and drink more.
Goldin started by throwing everything out. She became an avid label reader. She emptied her cupboards and declared, "We're going to start from scratch! My husband thought I had lost my mind." She experimented with adding fruits and fruit skins to the water, which gave it both flavor and sweetness. She knew she was on to something when neighborhood parents were calling to ask how to make the raspberry water their kids had had at her house.
The first question everybody asked was what sweetener I used and how much of it. They were all surprised to hear that I wasn't using a sweetener. So at that point, I told my husband I was going to start this company and take $50,000 out of our bank account. He almost fell out of his chair! He was doing a medical start-up, and I was pregnant with our fourth child.
Like many entrepreneurial ventures, Hint Water began with a problem that needed to be solved: how to get people to consume more water for health. And like many women entrepreneurs, Kara Goldin, a former AOL executive, has a bit of an evangelical streak: she's going to solve world hunger -- or at least health care in the United States. According to Goldin, "Basically what we're doing is helping to change health in America. If we could just get people to drink more water -- or Hint -- and not all of the sugar and sweeteners, we wouldn't even be talking about a national health care system."
Many female founders establish their firms with a mission that is far greater than they are. Anita Roddick started the Body Shop with the twin goals of ending animal testing of cosmetic and skin care products, as well as to provide a way for poor women in developing countries to earn a living. Similarly, Goldin's passion drives the company culture and attracts a certain kind of person to work there.
I think that the core thing I want to know when anyone comes into this company is I want to understand the lifestyle they're leading and their belief system. Because that is really the central part of what Hint is as a company. We're not just selling beverages. This is a disruptive movement about getting people back to drinking more water, and not sweetened products. So for example, somebody who is a seasoned beverage executive, they've been working in the industry for years, they drink Red Bull everyday and they don't read ingredients. Buyers are going to see through that. That won't work here. I find that we have extremely health-conscious, passionate people working here.
In fact, several of Hint's employees were drawn to the company as a result of personal experience and their own convictions. Goldin told me about one of their best salespeople who had learned about Hint through a Weight Watchers blog. After a month of forsaking diet sodas and drinking nothing but Hint, he lost 10 pounds. Over the course of two years he dropped 70 pounds. "He had really seen what reading labels and truly understanding what he was putting into his body could do. He ended up reaching out to us about coming to join the team. And it worked!" Another senior employee had been a rising star at Frito-Lay, but didn't eat Frito-Lay products because she lived a healthy lifestyle. After discovering Hint, she approached Goldin for a job and is now head of marketing.
Kara Goldin shares another trait common among successful women entrepreneurs. She asks a lot of questions and won't blindly accept the shared orthodoxy. In 2005, when Goldin was launching the company, industry experts told her that she couldn't create a product with any reasonable shelf life without preservatives. She was adamant that Hint Water would never have preservatives. So for nine months, she followed the advice (and extra expense) of cold-filling the bottles to maintain the taste (heat, she was told, would change the flavor). But that still didn't address the shelf life issue. After some experimentation, they discovered that they could flash pasteurize the water using a hot fill process, giving it an 18-month shelf life with zero preservatives.
"I would say that the most important thing I've learned is that people who claim to have experience in the industry often don't know what they don't know... You have to just keep trying things and asking why," she said.
People will say, 'Target won't do that.' And I find myself asking 'Why?' and 'Have you asked?' It's always the people who have been living and breathing in this industry or think that they've done it or seen it before, who are the most likely to jump to a quick answer about it. Verses people who haven't been in this industry and don't know better who are more likely to ask those questions.
I asked Goldin what her exit strategy is and whether she would consider selling Hint, which is approaching $50 million in retail sales in 2014, to one of the major beverage companies. She laughed.
A friend of mine had connected me with a gentleman at Coke. He said, and I quote, 'Sweetie, Americans like sweet. You live in San Francisco, where maybe people are healthier, but Americans aren't interested in products that are healthier for them. They might say they are, but they still crave sweet.' That was eight years ago. I knew then that if I didn't go and develop this product, that Coke and Pepsi weren't going to do it.
Kara Goldin solved both her weight and her drinking problem by creating Hint Water. She's solved mine, too -- except that now I've developed a severe addiction to Hint (they are really that good). So take a hint from me: Get healthy. Drink more water.
This article originally appeared on Forbes.com
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