I sat in my new office, Rose's Cafe, on Union Street. My daily agenda included a meeting with Kara Goldin, the CEO of Hint Water--a company that launched in 2005. Several weeks ago, Fortune Magazine selected Kara as one of 2011's "Most Promising Women Entrepreneurs." As I sat at my table, I spotted a smiling woman with fire-red hair and a Hint branded, organic-looking green tote tossed over her shoulder.
Kara and I had emailed for a while, as we had hoped to get Hint distributed on Virgin America planes when I was the VP of Marketing for the airline. Today, Kara has one foot in a brace, the result of a heel injury due to running and spinning classes. We both bond over the fact that we love exercise and motherhood.
"Back in 2004, I took a break from the tech world after having kids," Kara explained. "One day I was cleaning out the kitchen, trying to make my home healthier and I realized I needed to get rid of my habit of drinking Diet Coke." Kara continued. "Plain water worked fine for me (for a while) but the kids and my husband just weren't happy. That's when I started slicing fruit into the water to add a little flavor. That got everyone off my back, but I didn't realize there was a product idea in there until I got a phone call from the mother of one of my kids' friends." "Kara, you've got to tell me where you got that raspberry-water my daughter keeps talking about," she asked. "I laughed and told her that it was just raspberry in water, but then it clicked in my head and I realized that it would be great to have a simple drink like this in the stores."
Kara decided to tell some of the big beverage companies that they should make unsweetened flavored water and she got a friend to introduce her to some of the product development people at a major beverage company. They said, "Sweetie, Americans like sweet drinks," she confessed, "it hit me that if I wanted this idea to become a product, I was going to have to do it myself. "
Here was a woman in her kitchen, with no experience in the beverage category, and she decided to do what was seemingly impossible. The task? She was going to get a slice of the beverage industry.
From an overall health perspective, I thought, "Wouldn't it be incredible if some day sodas were obsolete?" You can't pronounce their ingredients, the stuff is loaded with chemicals and there is no nutritional value in the liquid. To top it off, these often fructose filled beverages are one piece in the obesity puzzle that's fueling health care costs and pushing the obesity statistics off the charts. As a matter of fact, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, 33.8% of adults and approximately 17% of kids and adolescents are obese. Ugh. I wish I could clone Jamie Oliver and put him on a soapbox on every street corner in America. Frankly, there aren't many categories where consumers are getting a worse deal than the beverage category.
But Kara's goal isn't to make soda obsolete. "Sugary beverages are never going to go away or become obsolete, but they shouldn't be the first thing that you reach for when you are thirsty. The attitude that Americans will only drink sweet drinks is what I wanted to make obsolete. I've traveled to quite a few places and I can tell you this: Americans everywhere aspire to lead a healthier lifestyle, but they don't find it easy. By showing them that unsweetened products can be very satisfying, I feel that we're making it a little easier for them to reach their goals."
And as Seth Godin observes in his new book We Are All Weird, "the fringe or 'the weird' are becoming mainstream because of increased wealth, explosion in media and shopping choices." So, going up against soda giants may not be as crazy as one would think. Natural food trends continue to rise. People are becoming more health conscious and if Mr. Godin is right, it's getting easier to market to "weird" or fringe targets.
In salute to Kara, I applaud her for: going after her dream, creating change and bringing a great product to the marketplace. Let's hope Mr. Godin is right that we're all a bit weird and that the mainstream isn't so mainstream anymore.
What industry will you choose to challenge today? Please send comments or questions to @portergale. This is the 4th piece in a series on entrepreneurialism and career changes by Porter Gale, former VP of Marketing of Virgin America. (1st here, 2nd here and 3rd here.)