Hitting The Mark

Hitting The Mark

Conversations with founders and investors about the intersection of brand clarity and startup success with your host, brand strategist and author Fabian Geyrhalter.

Fabian

EP067 – Kara Goldin, Founder & CEO, Hint

Strategic Clarity + Verbal Clarity

Kara Goldin is the Founder and CEO of Hint, Inc, the brand synonymous with the leading unsweetened flavored water in the US, loved by millions.

 

Within minutes of listening to Kara, you will understand why she became as successful as she has and why she is such an influential voice in business.

 

Kara shared an outpour of crucial lessons for both entrepreneurs and marketers alike, and her first book, Undaunted: Overcoming Doubts and Doubters, was released last October and is now a Wallstreet Journal Bestseller. Needless to say, an episode not to be missed.

Notes

Fabian Geyrhalter:

Welcome to the show, Kara.

Kara Goldin:

Thank you. Happy to be here.

Fabian Geyrhalter:

It’s so good to have you here. The brand you founded in 2005, Hint, can be found in most markets around the US. and is now the number one flavored water in the nation. It turned into an iconic brand loved by millions and known by most probably everyone who’s listening to us right now. I think in your Twitter Bio, you say, and I love that, you say that you started in tech, you landed in water. How-

Kara Goldin:

That’s true.

Fabian Geyrhalter:

It is true. How does a VP of shopping partnerships at America Online moved over into entrepreneurship with none less than a product in the highly competitive water segment? I learned that your father was a GM at Conagra Brands which is a gigantic CPG holding company and he was actually fundamental in creating the Healthy Choice brand with the help of none other than Julia Child. It’s crazy. Did that have anything to do with your jump into consumer packaged goods or how it come about? Tell us a little bit about your journey into entrepreneurship.

Kara Goldin:

Sure. Well, I think my journey into entrepreneurship, first of all, came by accident. So I frequently think back on so many moments including some of the ones that you just mentioned as really definitely core things that helped me to be an entrepreneur, but I didn’t set out thinking, “Oh, I’m going to go and start a beverage company for sure.” But I think that the one fundamental thing that I did have was an idea to solve a problem and I think that that is something that every entrepreneur needs to start with.

And for me, it was a very personal problem that I was going through with my health. I had gained a bunch of weight over the course of many, many years and I had developed bad acne, not really thinking that those two connected in any way. But when I decided, when I was taking a break from tech and trying to figure out what my next role would be, when I decided to try and solve those problems, that was when I realized that it really wasn’t as hard as I had originally thought if I knew what to do and that was enjoy drinking water. I had been drinking diet soda for years, thinking that I was doing the right thing. And then when I just did a little test and made the switch to water, that’s when I realized that I cleared up my skin and I lost the weight, but there was one problem, water for me was really darn boring.

And so I thought, “I could do the short term, but long term, it’s going to be much, much tougher.” And that’s when I started slicing up fruit and throwing it in the water and that solved the problem. That was the moment when I really looked at the industry as a whole and I thought, “Gosh, the diet soda industry, all these healthy perception products, the diets that so many people go on, it is a multibillion dollar industry combined with all of those different segments.” And I thought, “You know what people really want to do?” is get healthy, right? And they’re spending lots of money on it. And if I could actually take my idea, which is not very expensive for consumers to buy into, that if I could take that idea to them, and I really led with solving this problem less than saying, “I’m going to go launch a company. I’m going to go be a beverage entrepreneur,” that will help a lot of people.

And so leading with this passion, this interest around helping, around having an idea for how to help and executing on that was really how I thought about this. And today, I’ll go as far as to say, I talked to many entrepreneurs or want to be entrepreneurs, it starts with an idea and an idea that actually solves a problem for people that you, it may not be your problem, it helps because it becomes very personal and you become interested in it, but you have to be able to it … It really does start with being able to solve a problem and understanding that it’s a problem for many or it’s a service that will help a lot of people ultimately. Because if that isn’t there, it’s really, really tough to get a scalable business.

And that’s not to say that you can’t go be an entrepreneur and start a small business, but if you want it to be a larger business, if you want to be the unicorn entrepreneurs that we all hear about out there, you have to have a business that you can really think about as one that can scale.

Fabian Geyrhalter:

Was that always your goal? Obviously, “you started the company for yourself,” right? In the beginning, it was like, “Here’s my problem.” There are plenty of people out there that have the same problem back in those days, right? The mid-2000s. Every executive had a Diet Coke on their table. It was like this weird thing, right? It was this whole brainwashing of what actually it’s supposed to be healthy. In the beginning when you launched Hint, did you focus on a tiny niche market initially or did you go full mass market from the get go? You’re like, “This is a product for everyone. Let’s let the messaging be so big,” or did you start with a really narrow focus on, let’s say, people that have health issues or-

Kara Goldin:

Great question. Well, so I decided that I could help a lot of people and I knew that they were out there, that they were drinking products like what I was drinking, diet soda, or they were drinking other things that had this halo in their mind of healthy perception or healthy reality, but they were actually healthy perception type of products, so things like the vitamin drinks and things like that that were out there that they were drinking them because they believe that they have-

Fabian Geyrhalter:

Vitaminwater, I can say it, you maybe can’t.

Kara Goldin:

Right. No, I can say it. That was what the market was at that time, that there were those products out there, but pretty quickly what I realized was that there were consumers who definitely wanted to drink water, some of them didn’t realize that these healthy perception products had lots of sweeteners in them, whether it’s sugar or diet sweeteners or they might have other stuff, food coloring, whatever it is. And then when they tasted a product like Hint, then I started to get the story from them which was why they enjoyed the product and why the connection.

First of all, they like the taste of it without the sweeteners in it and the fruit in it, but then I started to hear about other reasons why they wanted to drink water and they didn’t want sweeteners and they were looking for an unsweetened flavored water like Hint. I remember hearing from a customer in the first couple of days of getting our product on the shelf and they called our customer service line. Don’t tell anybody. It was me answering the phone, right? It was me. And I was hearing about this disease called type 2 diabetes, which I had never heard about. And I remember this gentleman sharing that type 2 diabetes that he had, he found that his blood sugar levels actually spiked when he had diet sweeteners.

And again I didn’t even know the difference between type 1 and type 2 diabetes at that point, but I was hearing from customers, that they were seeing it for themselves, that they were trying to solve a problem for themselves and they had been looking for a product like Hint, “And thank you so much for launching this product.” But then I was also hearing from, I call them the gatekeepers, the people that I was dealing with at that time, the Whole Foods, the grocery stores that we were going into. And again, in first few months, we were in maybe 10 grocery stores in the San Francisco Bay Area. They were all the specialty stores because-

Fabian Geyrhalter:

Still amazing, right? Just to be in grocery stores within the first month, it’s a still great achievement.

Kara Goldin:

It was a big deal, but I couldn’t … The big companies like the Safeways and the big, the Costcos, the Targets, we were still way too small for them. We couldn’t even figure out how to actually get a meeting with them to get our product in front of them, but even with the specialty stores, I would bring in my product Hint and I’d say, “Here’s Hint. It’s an unsweetened flavored water.” And they would say, “What’s it sweetened with?” They would like the taste of it, but they would want to know what it was sweetened with. I remember thinking, probably didn’t say it, but I said, “Are you reading the bottle? Did you look into me? It’s an unsweetened flavored water.”

And what I realized was that the customer, I had two customers, I had the customer that was making the decisions, my gatekeeper, as to whether or not I would get it on the shelf, but I also had the customer like me or this gentleman that I was talking to on my customer service line who hadn’t seen this kind of product before, the buyers at the grocery stores were trying to figure out what category I was in. And so I hadn’t even thought about the fact that I was launching an entirely new category. And this is really important because pretend that you’ve got an idea in any industry for a company, you’re maybe speaking really quietly about it because you don’t want anybody to know your idea.

The reality is if you are the only product like it out there, as Hint was, you may be launching an entirely new category which sounds great, but the problem is, is that you’re the only one that is explaining it to people, right? I’m the only one telling buyers that this is an unsweetened flavored water and you need to put it on the shelf. And their response to me was, “Well, if it’s so important for me to have it on the shelf, then where’s the competition?” The product tastes great, but I need more people to actually create an entirely new category on the shelf. And I’m looking at them like they have four heads because I thought, “Well, just give me all that space,” but they’re not going to do it because they want to know that the category is something that the consumer wants.

And so how did I get around this? I figured out the very small base of customers that I had that were purchasing our product, I would either reach out to them because they had reached out to us through customer service, to talk to us about the product or I would literally go into stores and I would watch people pull the product off the shelf and I would ask them more about who they are and why they were picking this product up. Sometimes I would understand a lot more about the color of the label or what flavors they were looking for, but as I started talking to them, I would also get requests from them, for example, about some initiative that they were involved in.

Maybe it was Diabetes Walk or a PTA or something that they were involved in that led me to believe that maybe there’s more people like them that might be interested in my product. So we call that field activations where we would go out and we would sample our product. It’s very easy to do that with water. It’s a little harder if you don’t have a physical product to be able to, not impossible, depending on what the product or the category is, but people have always asked me, “When you’re building your company, did you feel like if you had a lot more money in the beginning to go out and advertise, especially since you were launching a new category, could you have gone faster?”

And I don’t think so. I could have blanketed the cities with tons and tons of advertising, but unless people tried it, unless people engaged with it, felt like they were discovering the product, it takes time. And that’s the problem with having a new product and not having competition. And it’s something I share in my book. It’s like a double-edged sword and so sometimes when competitors come in, and you think, “Okay, now the nail is going in my coffin”, it’s actually a really, really good thing. And what you have to do is actually just stay the course and have a great product and be better, right?

Fabian Geyrhalter:

And learn from the competitors, right? Seeing what they’re doing right and what they’re doing wrong and it’s so exciting to have that ability. And if you have no one out there, it’s-

Kara Goldin:

But it’s power, especially when that competitor has billions of dollars, right? And instead what I realized is that often, those billion dollar competitors, when they’re coming into a new category and they’re chasing you, maybe they’re trying to put you out of business. The most important thing is for you to stay the course, but also for you to have enough other business to stay alive. So if they come in and let’s say they pull you out, they go and shove you over to the side, they have more manpower, they have more advertising dollars, whatever it is, they have better relationships with the retailer than you have and so they’re going to disrupt and shake you up in some way, where you’re going to have to move over or get your product out of there, it’s typically temporary.

Because what ends up happening is those big guys, especially when it’s not what they do every single day, they will add more credibility to the category in the thing that you built. And then that way, the buyer will start to look at, “Okay, well, now we need more of these companies,” and maybe you’ll end up coming back into the retailer that you got kicked out of or maybe the consumer then will go and try those products because they’ll loss leader them or whatever they end up doing. But then as long as you share your story of why you did it, you have a great product, all of those things are the things that consumers will eventually come back to.

Fabian Geyrhalter:

So very often competitors are co-advertising for you, right? They’re co-advertising a category and then people go in, they research, “Well, who else is out there?” and then they actually stumble upon you. Just the insanity when one thinks about it and that’s why it’s so exciting that you wrote this book and we’re going to talk about this in a second, but just the insanity of going into a market that is CPG that has all the big money behind it and that you knew would eventually get completely saturated, which it has been ever since you were in the market, right? I know you have seen everyone come in to your market, the segment that you created.

Fabian Geyrhalter:

As someone who has a tech background and then you start bottling these waters, what I am so fascinated by are always those first months, right? Because everyone makes it sound so easy, “Well, and then we were only in a couple of stores,” but what’s really exciting to me is, how did you even bottle in the beginning? You didn’t have a bottling plant. Maybe you did, but how did the bottle look like? How was it branded? How did you make sure that it actually had a certain expiration date? How did all of this work? Because that’s usually with CPG, there are a lot of hiccups there usually.

Kara Goldin:

Yeah, well, we never owned our own bottling plants. We always co-pack through other people because again, we were just starting out. We had to learn so much and we didn’t even know what we had to learn until we started making phone calls. And so one of the things, my specs for the product were fruit, no sweeteners, no diet sweeteners, no sugar and no preservatives. And so I would call bottling plants. I would do a Google search and try and figure out who was out there that I could bother to bottle my product. And so I started learning about minimums. I started learning about … They would quickly size me up to determine whether or not I was a credible sale, potential sale on the phone. And they’d want to know what my background was, how did I come up with this idea.

I had it down in terms of sharing the story of what my why was, but then, they would ask, “Oh, well, have you ever done a beverage before? Did you use to work at Coca-Cola or Pepsi or whatever?” I’d say, “No, no, no.” And then I’d say, “Oh, I worked at this company called AOL.” And it was like silence, crickets, crickets on the phone. They were like, “Wait, what? AOL has a beverage?” “No, they don’t have a beverage.” “What did you do there?” “Never mind. Let’s go back to this drink, right?” And so this was my life. I was constantly sharing the story. And oftentimes, people would somewhat politely, a couple times not very politely, but hang up the phone on me. And they just think, “Okay, she’s going to go away. That was just wasted 30 minutes of my life, but now she’ll go away.”

But I’m back, right? I’d come back. And I’d say, “Hey, we were chatting and I know you said that you couldn’t actually do a product that didn’t have preservatives in it, but what if we did it this way or what if we did it this way?” And again, we go through these rounds where … After a while, I think that they started to question why they believed that a product had to have preservatives in it because I wasn’t afraid to ask a very, very important question that I think any great entrepreneur asks when they move from one industry to another industry, right? You don’t know all the answers.

And I think that if you’re okay with asking questions and you’re okay with being humble and being told, “You don’t know what you’re talking about. You worked at a tech company and now you’re going and starting this beverage company,” I heard that over and over again. But I would ask this question, “Why do products need to have preservatives in it?” And many of the bottlers would say, “Just because.” And I learned very early on as an annoying little girl, when I would hear my parents say, “Just because,” I’d say, “Why? Why? Why? Why? Why?” right? And so I continue to do that when I grew up and when I was trying to start my business.

I’d say, “Why is that?” And a few times, people would catch themselves responding to me that way, and they’d say, “I don’t really know the answer to that question,” then I would end the call and then maybe months later, as I started to gather more information as to why we might be able to change this, that’s when I would call them back. And I’d say, “Hey, I was talking to this guy in South Carolina and he said if we change this, if we do this, if we add this piece, that it might be possible.” And they’d say, “Oh, that’s really interesting. I never really thought about it.”

Again, what I was bringing to these bottling plants, I wanted to solve the problem for myself and be able to bottle with people,” but in addition, what they saw is if I could actually bring them an idea that helped to solve their help to solve a problem, they could expand their business and they could do more, right?

Fabian Geyrhalter:

That’s amazing.

Kara Goldin:

And so that’s what they were hearing out of me. And so there were plenty of not so smart people that didn’t pay attention, but then there were a few that were really interested because they thought, “Oh, that’s really interesting.” If I could take that component, if I didn’t have to add preservatives to a lot of these products and instead use heat, then that would be less expensive for me and easier for me to you, or actually, it’s not easier, a little harder, but more cost effective for me to do. And so that was something, again, I didn’t know, I didn’t really understand what I was getting into at that point. But this idea of actually producing a product that used real fruit and didn’t use preservatives in it, it wasn’t being done in the water industry.

There were juice companies, which has brought a lot of whole different thing, but water companies were not doing that. And so I just was relentless and willing to ask questions and not be the smartest person in the room. And frankly, that changed an industry in a way to actually bottle product for lots of companies today.

Fabian Geyrhalter:

That’s amazing. Back and around the same time when you must have gone through this, I worked for Evolution Juice. They got acquired by Starbucks. I was back then working directly with the founder and with the head of marketing and they were just realizing this whole idea of using heat and how this all works. It was a fascinating journey, just go in to the plant and seeing how everything comes about. They were fighting the good fight too like, “How can we ship our product?” Right?

Kara Goldin:

I remember when they first started and it was … They were trying to figure out new ways of doing things too. And that’s the thing. I think it’s a bigger conversation too, is that initially when you go into an industry, you have your own doubts about yourself. You think, “I’ve got to go find people who know what they’re doing and what they’re talking about and maybe go listen to them because they’re going to have all the answers that I don’t have.” But instead what I realized is that so often you come from another industry, you’re smart to begin with and you go in and you’re willing to be vulnerable. You’re willing to ask questions, that those people with lots of years of experience who are seeing the same whiteboards, doing the same thing over and over again, especially if they’re successful, they’re not going to be asking the weird questions. They’re not asking, “Why do products need preservatives in them?” They’re not, right?

Fabian Geyrhalter:

It’s so true.

Kara Goldin:

Right? And so that’s what I’ve realized about entrepreneurism as a whole. It’s like the people that are innovative, the people that change whether it’s the process or the actual industry or the creators of these new categories, so many examples of this, they typically don’t come from the industry. And yet, it’s not what we’re taught, right? Any of these entrepreneurship classes that didn’t exist when I was in college but exist today, that is the thing that is missing from these classes and there are numerous examples. There’s so many different industries and so you have to, to coin Steve Jobs’ term, “You have to think differently,” right? You have to be curious. You have to be vulnerable. You have to be willing to fail. You have to be willing to take your challenging times and learn from them and keep moving and not stay complacent. All of those things are what truly makes up the groundbreaking entrepreneurs that we see today.

Fabian Geyrhalter:

So important, so important, what you just said and this whole idea of … It’s beaten down because everyone’s heard it, right? The idea of you have to ask why, you have to constantly question. But what you just said about having that industry knowledge, the problem with industry knowledge is exactly that, right? It’s always step and repeat. And even us as branders or marketers, we get clients all the time that say, “Oh, could I see a couple of case studies of,” I don’t know, like really niched down like, “We’re in the retail space. We’re doing this. We’re doing this and we want to see some case studies.” And I’m like, “Look, we’ve done maybe 4,000 projects or 2,000 projects or whatever the number is over my last 20-year career, but we don’t have exactly these case studies.”

And that’s the problem, right? People shouldn’t ask for that. It’s like, “This is an advantage that we actually don’t know the industry as well as you do because we ask the right questions to actually create something that is really differentiated and wouldn’t you want to be differentiated? Wouldn’t you want everything to not sound the same?” It’s like, “Oh, yeah, we only work for a credit union. That’s all we do.” “Well, good luck because then everything is going to look like every other credit union, right?” And so I think that your concept can be applied to any business, even to service businesses. It’s really coming in from the outside and looking at something from a different angle. That’s what it takes so often.

Kara Goldin:

And I think it’s a really good point that you make because it’s like the larger companies, what I realized you, you mentioned my father earlier, when I realized just by his frustrations was that there were all these checkboxes that went into his daily life that had to … He had to fight against other products that were fighting up against him for the Freezer Case, right? Because that’s where things were done and it was looking at sales per square foot. And so things that I was learning as a little kid, never really understanding why I was learning those things, right? But I think what I really realized is that the ability to think outside of the box and do things a little bit differently and you certainly have to be smart.

You have to have curiosity. You have to have the ability to look not just at your own industry, but also look at other industries and make those connections and contribute. All of those things, I think, are really, what? That’s what makes a successful entrepreneur journey, right? And frankly a company because they are they’re constantly looking around at what other people are doing in other industries. And even in the beverage industry today, so many people have asked me along the way, “What other beverage companies did you look at?” I glanced at many other beverage companies.

But I think there’s two different types of entrepreneurs too and I know you’ve dealt with a lot of entrepreneurs, lots of different industries, but there are entrepreneurs that start companies and essentially rip off ideas. They see an idea and then they go create a follower. And that’s one way to do it and then there’s other entrepreneurs that actually create categories and go in and they’re the first movers and they create something totally new. And that is really hard and that is exactly what we did at Hint. And I know that there are two different entrepreneurs. I don’t know that I could ever do the second, right?

To me, it’s just less interesting because I think that my curiosity of trying to solve a problem, I naturally look at other people who have done it and I think they’re already out there. Maybe they won’t be as successful as I would be, but for me, it really is about creating the new and solving the problem and looking at something that isn’t there. And that is really what I try to do even when I look at for inspiration, when I look for other people that I can look at their businesses and go off of. I typically look outside of the beverage industry for people that have solved problems in lots of different categories.

Fabian Geyrhalter:

I think this is really wise and I agree. I’m currently working on a little startup of mine and I’m doing the same thing. I look at other industries to actually educate what I could do in this industry. And so it’s a really, really great, great point there. Let’s look back at the journey of Hint. What was that one big breakthrough moment where you felt like, “You know what? Now this little startup idea of mine is actually turning into a brand. Now I can feel …” There’s usually a trigger event, right? Where you validated it from something fun to do to actually, “Wow, this could turn into a mainstream brand.” Do you remember the moment where … Was there one incident where you just felt like, “You know what? I think we’re just about to cut this corner”?

Kara Goldin:

I think that the challenge of starting a company and I guess building a brand as well is that you have these moments where you work, work, work, work, work and then sometimes you don’t get to achieve what you set out to achieve at all. That happens a lot and hopefully not too much, right? And then once in a while, you work, work, work, work, work and then you achieve something. And you end up … I think you have the small celebration. I’m thinking even getting the product on the shelf at Whole Foods, right? That the first product on the shelf and starting to hear from the buyer that they’re going to order more and then you hear customers-

Fabian Geyrhalter:

That’s huge.

Kara Goldin:

It’s really, really exciting. But then the rubber hits the road, how much work you have. So I remember Whole Foods saying to us, “Okay, you’ve got it on the shelf. People are buying. It’s all great.” And then they said, “But the three-week shelf life, we have to move that up.” “Well, how much well?” “To six weeks.” And then you go work, work, work, work. You give them six weeks and then it’s like, “We really need more three months.” “Three months? I just got six weeks,” right? And so this is a cycle where you’ve got somebody moving the high jump bar up every time you achieve it. Then that’s what it feels like. I have another visual for people too that I love even more.

It’s like somebody gives you a puzzle and they don’t give you the picture on the outside, right? And so you have no idea what you’re doing, you go in and you’re just building, building, building and then you feel like you’re making traction, but then somebody comes and takes a handful of the pieces away and you’re not even sure if you need it. You think you need them, but you don’t know if you need them tomorrow, but they take them away. And then you’re like, “Well, I better just keep working on something here.” If that visual bothers you, you shouldn’t become an entrepreneur because it will happen.

And I guess the point is that you have these little successes, these little wins along the way, but then you never know when those pieces of the puzzle end up getting taken away from you because there’s no guarantees, right? And then suddenly, I always share with entrepreneurs that’s why it’s important to not put all your eggs in one basket and that you learn that the hard way too and all the lessons that can be learned from that as well, you have to pay attention to that because that is the challenge of any business, even if you’re in advertising, right? You put all your eggs with one client and then they wake up and then they say, “Oh, actually, we’re going to go do something different.” And you’re like, wait, what? What? Wait, what are you talking about? This can’t be happening to me. We put all our efforts into you. We did a great job.”

“Well, actually, we decided to change direction, change strategy.” That’s the story I share in the book about my experience with Starbucks. And again, it was something that I dedicated a year and a half of my life to making sure that that was going to work and that we were great partners and everything and then they change strategy. And the new strategy was awesome for them and they were going to put more food and higher margin business in the case, but we were doing well with them. We got bumped out of the case because they changed strategy. And I had product in my warehouse that was going to go bad.

And the biggest lesson I learned from that is that never ever put all your eggs in one basket. Did I dislike Starbucks for the moment when they share that news with me? You bet. I defended myself. I did everything that I could, but it didn’t matter. And in many ways, it was my own fault for not protecting what would happen if that business went away. And people do it over and over and over again. And I tell them … People ask me all the time like, “How do I get my product into Whole Foods?” I’m like, “You’ll get into Whole Foods. Don’t worry about it, but then, figure out how you get other pieces of business so that you’re not living and dying for that. And keep everybody happy, but figure out these other ways to diversify and protect yourself.”

So I think that is one of the biggest lessons that I’ve learned along the way, is that you’re going to have the wins, you focus on having a great product, a great story, great curiosity questions, all of those things along the way, but diversify so that when somebody changes strategies, when somebody goes out of business, right? You’re not sitting there holding on to something that will never be.

Fabian Geyrhalter:

Well, let’s talk about diversification. Let’s talk about brand extensions because Hint launched into the sunscreen space a few years ago and now you also make lip balms, you make deodorants, farfetched from water, but the common thread is a hint of fruit flavor, right? So how did expansion come about? And as we know, you’re unafraid, but boy, that must have been a big move into again completely uncertain waters, I guess there’s a pun, for you yet again to go into sunscreen and deodorants. There’s completely new segments. How did it come about?

Kara Goldin:

Well, the core, as you mentioned, is, is really the fruit. And so for the taste, when it’s in the water, but the smell when it’s in sunscreen and some of the other products that we have, but it really lies in the purpose of the company. So as you know, my purpose in launching Hint Water was health and to get myself healthy first. And when I looked at the sunscreen market, when I had another problem which was I had basal cell skin cancer on my nose and I started looking for a sunscreen that I wanted to wear, that I wanted to have a relationship with the product, which is another thing that I’ve learned in building a brand, not just for my own company but the other great companies that I had worked for is that in order to actually sell a product and scale a company, it’s not impossible to sell the first one.

What’s much more difficult is actually to sell the second and the third one because the consumer is making choices. They’ll try things. You can figure out ways to get consumers to try things, but to get consumers to keep buying something, whether it’s a service or a product or whatever, is it has to be great, right? And it has to be memorable and they want to have an experience with it. In the case of sunscreen, I was never putting sunscreen on my face because I wanted to avoid things like zinc because zinc made me itch. And I didn’t want it under my foundation. Oftentimes, it was white and it would just discolor me in some way.

And also the smell. A lot of products, and still to this day, are unscented. To me, I didn’t understand why things were unscented. In some cases, they actually smelled really bad versus actually having no smell at all. When I had the scare, that’s when I decided to really look around for a great sunscreen. I finally found a great sunscreen and it was in my dermatologist office and it was $70 a bottle. And I thought, “For $70 a bottle and I just want to get healthy and have a great sunscreen to protect me, that’s a lot of money.” My curiosity kicked into gear and I started thinking, “Is it really that expensive to create a sunscreen?” And then I went and bought all of the ingredients. And I went in my kitchen and started creating my own sunscreen. And I remember-

Fabian Geyrhalter:

Like one does in the kitchen, just creating your own sunscreen.

Kara Goldin:

Of course.

Fabian Geyrhalter:

Of course, a sunny afternoon.

Kara Goldin:

And so a friend was over and she used to work for a big cosmetics company. And she said, “This is really an interesting product.” And I had taken the essences that are in our waters and threw some grapefruit into the bottle. And I thought, “Oh, this smells pretty good.” And she said, “This product has to be approved by the FDA.” And I said, “What do you mean?” And she said, “For Hint Sunscreen, it has to be approved by the FDA.” And I said, “Oh, how do I do that?” And I went on and googled, then looked for, how to file the application for the sunscreen and they needed a company name. And so I said, “Oh, I’ll just put Hint down.” And that was how it started. I didn’t intend on having a brand extension or product extension off of the brand because I assumed that I could change the name.

Well, it took us about a year and we got the FDA approval on the sunscreen. And that’s when I thought, “Well, I already got the approval. Maybe because I have our own direct-to-consumer business. I’ll just launch it on drinkhint.com just to see what will happen.” Because again, I didn’t know if people would want it.

Fabian Geyrhalter:

And you have an audience already, right? You had an audience.

Kara Goldin:

I had an audience who had been buying the water. And you know what was so crazy? We launched it, get this, in January and we sent out an email to our customers. And we weren’t even savvy enough to go and throw it on beaches or take it to Miami or Southern California during January. We instead just said, “Let’s just send out an email to our customers and say, ‘Hey, we’re launching the sunscreen,’ and see what happens.” And it was insane. It was like 80% of our customer base that had been buying on our website which was significantly smaller than it is today, but still it was something.

That relationship with our customer, that’s when I knew that we really had a brand because we weren’t even spraying them. They couldn’t smell it, right? They’ve never tried it. We weren’t sampling. We just said, “Hey, will you buy this bottle for about $20?” and they did. And I thought, “Wow.” We’re not-

Fabian Geyrhalter:

So amazing.

Kara Goldin:

Right? That says a lot.

Fabian Geyrhalter:

And on top of that, from a brand’s perspective, it’s amazing how far the brand name Hint can actually carry you now, right? Because anything can have that Hint in it and it’s all related with the big, I guess, brand DNA or the big why behind the brand which is about health, right? And then two, once you connect them, it can carry into a lot of different areas which is really interesting. I know we’re coming to an end here slowly. There are so many more questions that I have, especially about your book. But there’s one question that I definitely need you to answer for my listeners because they’re waiting for it. Now that you crafted a brand beloved by millions and you outsmarted the Coca-Colas of the world, in hindsight, what does branding mean to you? It’s such a misunderstood word, branding, but what does it mean to you?

Kara Goldin:

I think branding is really getting inside of the needs of the consumer in a way that helps consumers to know that you’ve got their back. And I think that brands today, in particular, have meaning, right? They don’t just bring recognition, but they also bring a lot more behind it. And there’s a development of trust for whoever’s behind that. Sometimes people don’t even know who the people are initially, but there’s an understanding that they get me, right? And I think what is so interesting to me is that when brands get sticky with their consumers, when you purchase a product, you interact with them in some way, that’s when you …

It’s just like a relationship, a friendship where you want to engage with them because they believe that you get them. And I think more than ever, that is the competitive advantage, frankly, for entrepreneurs and new brands, is that there is a person behind, there is a person who had a problem that might not exactly be your problem, but it’s something that you can connect to, maybe a loved one that you know has a need for that. Or whatever it is, I think that that’s when you establish this … It’s a needs hierarchy in a way that it’s going on, that again you … I’ve never believed that asking the consumer what their problems are either is the solution. And I think that it’s really figuring out what problems exist. And coming up with a solution, is where the brands that really have longevity end up being. Because it’s just a …

People don’t know necessarily what they want. They want you to show them what they need. And I think that that is when you really establish the brands that are loved brands, is that when you’ve got people who are telling other people about your brand because it has solved a problem for you. And they smile about your brand. They want to know more about your brand. They want to understand why you decided to develop it. They want to share why it’s important in their life. And so that is how I think about brands today.

Fabian Geyrhalter:

I so agree with you. Wonderfully said. Listen, we’re just about on the hour and I want to make sure I let you go right on time because I’m sure you’re back to back. How can people follow you personally or get to know Hint? Where can they find your book, Undaunted, which we didn’t have time to talk about but please, please, everyone should pick it up. I’m halfway through it. It’s a fascinating story.

Kara Goldin:

Thank you. Well, I really appreciate that. It’s called Undaunted: Overcoming Doubts and Doubters and it’s on Amazon and many fine bookstores as well. Please check it out. It’s also on Audible too. And of course, Hint Water, that’s at drinkhint.com. We’re also on Amazon and Costco, Walmart, lots of stores throughout the country, Target as well. And I’m all over social media @Karagoldin. That’s Goldin with an I. And I hope you will stop by and say hi and I so appreciate everyone listening to this. And hopefully, we’ll get a chance to meet at some point.

Fabian Geyrhalter:

This was so much fun. Thank you so much for the time you took today and for sharing all of your insights, Kara. Great, great pleasure having you on Hitting The Mark.

Kara Goldin:

Thank you so much.


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