How Kara Goldin Built A $220 Million Company
The founder and CEO of Hint Water, author of the book Undaunted, and mother of four talks to Susan Armstrong about entrepreneurship, inspiring leadership and the one person she’d want to be stuck in an elevator with.
Kara Goldin , Founder and CEO of Hint Water
Kara Goldin is a force. The kind of person who lights up a room, even when it’s over Zoom. Fizzing with passion, experience and wisdom, which she so freely and willingly shares, a mere five minutes into our conversation and I suddenly feel like I can take on the world. Really, I can. I get the same feeling when I’m listening to and transcribing the interview some days later, and it hits me once again as I start to write this very article. What kind of voodoo magic is this?


It’s actually called ‘inspirational leadership’ – and it’s something Goldin has in spades. It’s how she’s built her company Hint Water into the largest non-alcohol private beverage company in the US, now worth more than US$220 million. And it’s why she wrote her first book, Undaunted, even if it was unintentional at the time: “I call myself the ‘accidental entrepreneur’, but I’m also the accidental author, because I never set out to write a book,” she says. Goldin ‘took notes’ (about 600 pages worth) about her life and her career for about four years before a friend pointed out she should do something with them.


“When I thought about it, I realised that by sharing my stories – even the painful and shocking ones – I could show people that they can. And by ‘can’, I mean that there are so many who have big ideas of going out and starting companies, facing fears and taking risks. And then they come up with a million reasons why they can’t do it. I thought if I could show people I was there before, in the spot they are now, and that you just have to figure out how you step forward, then maybe I could encourage and enable them to do the same.”


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Perhaps not exactly the same though. After all, Goldin’s non-exhaustive list of accolades include being named one of Fast Company’s Most Creative People in Business, Fortune’s Most Powerful Women Entrepreneurs, InStyle’s Badass 50, Forbes’ 40 Over 40 To Watch and Ernst & Young’s Entrepreneurial Winning Women, to name a few. She’s earned each and every one of those awards, by the way, with a career that began with an impressive 90 unsuccessful interviews before she landed her first job at Time magazine. It was then on to CNN, before a seven-year stint as vice president of e-commerce and shopping at AOL in Silicon Valley. Then, in 2005, she launched Hint –  the unsweetened, fruit-infused water company – which has since grown its e-commerce business to include sunscreen, deodorant and other product lines.


And to think it all began with a Diet Coke habit and a desire to be healthier…


Kara Goldin , Founder and CEO of Hint Water
Kara Goldin, Founder and CEO of Hint Water


In 2004, Goldin had acne, zero energy and was overweight, by her own admission. That was, until she stopped drinking fizzy drinks. She sought out healthier options like fruit-infused water, which led her to think about doing it herself. She had no beverage-industry experience, and plenty of reasons to doubt herself, but that didn’t stop her. If anything, it spurred her on.


It could, of course, have had something to do with the motto she’s been repeating to herself for as long as she can remember: what’s the worst that can happen? “It’s something I’m known for saying,” she explains. “Whenever I’m a little fearful, whether I’m weighing up a risk, trying something new or doing something I’m uncomfortable with, I think about the worst-case scenario. And when you think about what the very worst thing could be, the reality is very rarely that bad.”


When things do go awry, Goldin’s advice is to simply keep going. “The most successful entrepreneurs are those who are willing to fall down, get back up and keep figuring out a way,” she says. “It’s like one big puzzle, which is the best way to describe an entrepreneur – somebody who has curiosity, tenacity and really enjoys figuring out the puzzle.”


And the most essential piece of the puzzle, according to Goldin? The people, of course. “You can’t create a great company without a great team,” she says simply. “However, as a leader, you have to be inspiring enough to bring people into a company, and also be willing to teach them.” When hiring, she refers to the best piece of business advice she’s ever received: “Hire for a curiosity, not for experience.”


It’s this kind of insight that makes Goldin the kind of leader the world needs more of. “Leaders today need to be inspiring. They need to be the kind of person who people want to follow, who makes people feel like they can do great things. That’s what I love to do; I love to enable people. I’ve always believed that the world seems really complex until you simplify it. I’m very quick at making things appear easier – it’s a gift I have. Even in the most complicated situations, I’ll look at something and kind of dumb it down first – not only to make myself better able to understand it, but then also to make it simpler for others. Being able to do that as a leader – demystify things for people – is something I love to do. When you support your team, they’ll want to support you.”


Well, she certainly has mine.


Take 10 With Kara Goldin

Describe yourself in three worlds? Curious, relentless, grateful.

The one movie you could watch again and again? Star Wars.

When do your best ideas come? I love the quiet of the mornings. I live next to a State Park and I go hiking. I like to get up there with my dogs, before lots of people are up there. I really love the peace and that’s where I do my best thinking.

One habit you wish you could break? One thing I’m not very good at is having patience. I’m not very patient with myself. I want to do things yesterday, I want to figure things out today, and I want them to happen immediately.

Who would you like to get stuck in an elevator with? Interesting question… Maybe Barack Obama. I’ve met Michelle – we worked closely with her on the Drink Up initiative when they were in the White House – but I never got to meet Barack. I think he is incredible and somebody I would be very interested in meeting.

Is there a book you recommend to everybody? Gosh, there are so many! Actually, I am right in the middle of reading a book right now – Richard Branson’s Finding My Virginity. It’s so good.

What have you learned about friendship over the years? I think the friends who know you through thick and thin, who are supportive and show up during times that are challenging, are the ones who are the most loyal.

What has motherhood taught you? That every day is different. I used to think that when my kids got older they wouldn’t need me as much, but they actually do – just in a different way.

What’s the virtue you admire most in others? Kindness. You can just feel the energy in people who are kind and who want to be helpful.

What makes a good entrepreneur? I think you have to be a glutton for punishment (laughs). No, a little crazy, maybe – there are way easier ways to make money.


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