Editor's note: This story originally appeared in the winter 2021 issue of ASU Thrive magazine.
Kara Goldin started her company, Hint Inc., to help her family and other people drink more water and get healthier, and her business now employs nearly 250 people. Here she provides her hard-won advice for starting a business, raising capital, managing people and sticking to your values.
Question: What is your advice for people thinking about starting a business?
Answer: I created Hint to solve a need that I discovered in myself. After having three kids fairly close together — and I now have four — I had gained a lot of weight and lacked energy. After trying diets and exercise and seeing several doctors, I realized that my problem was the diet soda I had been drinking all day for many years. I tried switching to water and, after a few weeks, I had lost a lot of weight and was starting to feel better, but I found water so boring! After experimenting in the kitchen all summer, I decided to start Hint to help people fall in love with water. With fruit essences, I was able to make water taste great without tasting sweet.
It helped me break my addiction to sweet drinks. So the need was personal, but it quickly transformed into something bigger: a mission. I knew nothing about producing a beverage for sale, but I did have a deep feeling I could develop something healthy and positive and that there was nothing else quite like it available.
I thought, “This might be the opportunity to make a difference in the world. I could help make people healthier and feel better.”
Q: Hint’s value system includes transparency and the desire to help people. Has it been challenging to keep this value system front and center as the company has grown?
A: Once you get past 50 people in a company, it is very difficult for everyone to do what they’re supposed to do without much supervision. By that point you’ve moved well past the stage where it feels like one big family and you better have a few good people in place to manage the team. That’s also the point where the mission is at the most risk if you haven’t laid it out clearly. I try to share stories with the team that illustrate why we’re on our mission and what’s important to us.
The other thing that reinforces our value system is aligning the brand with a cause. In Hint’s case, it’s several causes: clean water, breast cancer awareness, Alzheimer’s disease research, even ad-hoc stepping in to distribute water to firefighters during the California wildfires. Some of this work takes the form of fundraising, but what I’ve realized over time is that we can be contributing our knowledge and our time to champion these causes. That’s where we’re bringing that sense of mission front and center, when our employees can give of themselves and truly embody our values.
Q: What was your biggest challenge in making Hint successful?
A: The hardest thing was getting an industry built around sugar and preservatives to help me bottle a fresh-tasting, unsweetened water infused with fruit flavor. I wanted to have a drink that most people would enjoy, that didn’t taste sweet, that didn’t contain preservatives but that had a decent shelf life. Basically that was impossible when I started Hint in 2005. My initial solution was to give up shelf life to find out if people liked it enough to buy it.
Q: Have you turned to mentors over the years?
A: I’ve got people I can turn to for advice as things come up. One of my favorite things is hosting my podcast where I talk to entrepreneurs and business leaders. And through those relationships, I’ve learned many lessons about building a thriving business, managing through change, overcoming obstacles, and so on. It’s a different kind of mentorship, but those connections have been incredibly inspiring and enriching to me.
Q: What advice would you give someone who is thinking of starting a business?
A: Building a business can be fun, but when you’re the boss you have a lot of weight on your shoulders and you need to recognize and be comfortable with the risks and responsibilities. Also, always be learning.
Top photo: Kara Goldin, ’89 BA in communication, is the founder and CEO of Hint Inc., a flavored water brand founded in 2005. The company has expanded into other markets with an oxybenzone and paraben-free sunscreen, and a plant-based, aluminum-free deodorant. Goldin has donated to scholarships at ASU and volunteered to help mentor student entrepreneurs.
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