How Putting Customers First Brought Kara Goldin to the Top
It’s safe to say that the first hint of Kara Goldin’s entrepreneurial career began in downtown Scottsdale, Arizona. When her mom would go to the fabric store, Goldin would bide her time at the toy store next door. One day, the owner asked if Goldin wanted a job working the cash register on Sundays. Goldin said yes and, at dinner that night, told her family she had a job. “How can you have a job, you’re only 14,” her dad replied. “Did they check your ID?” Goldin had to remind her dad that, at 14, she didn’t have an ID to check, and the store owner hadn’t asked her age.
Goldin recalls thinking at the time, “What’s the worst thing that could happen. They fire me?”
But she didn’t get fired. In fact, she got a promotion. People who came to the store gravitated toward the kid at the register to ask her advice about what toys to buy for their own children. And Goldin’s advice was spot on because she knew the end consumers well—she was one of them. Eventually, the store owner asked Goldin to join her at toy shows and help decide what products to carry, where Goldin learned more about the business-end of retail while maintaining her keen focus on the consumer. All before graduating high school.
Fast forward and it makes complete sense that Kara Goldin, a veteran of major roles at major firms including Time, CNN and AOL, would grow her own formidable business from the seeds of her own priorities as a consumer. It was when trying to kick her own Diet Coke habit and find healthy alternatives to “boring water” that Goldin started naturally infusing water with fruit. And sort of like a kid who likes playing with Legos recommending Legos to people shopping at a toy store, Goldin figured that if she wanted a healthy, tasty way to drink more water, others would, too. She was right. The result, Hint, is now the single largest independent, nonalcoholic beverage company, recently valued at $150 million.
“Starting with myself and the problem I was trying to solve for myself allowed me to really think about customers,” Goldin says. But really, it’s her do-gooder service ethos that has suffused her career, and still infuses Hint today.
In fact, before starting Hint, Goldin was looking for a role at a nonprofit. She’d quit her job running a billion-dollar revenue stream for AOL’s e-commerce division, had just given birth to her third child and felt, as she recalls, “Life’s too short to do something that’s not doing good.” But the often cautious, process-laden nonprofit world didn’t feel like a great fit for someone so accustomed to the fast-paced tech company startup culture. And then came the idea for Hint.
Trying to lose her baby weight and feel healthier overall, Goldin realized she was eating healthy but that wasn’t the problem. It was the sugary drinks, even the ones often marketed as “diet.” “Vitaminwater had just come out,” Goldin says, “and I would talk to friends who were drinking it, and they would say, ‘It has vitamins in it, it’s going to make me healthy.’” But that was all industry messaging, not truth. They didn’t realize, for instance, how Vitaminwater is loaded with extra sugar—32 grams, only about 50 percent less than a regular Coke. Goldin’s desire to make a delicious, accessible, truly healthy water for herself and everyone else drove her to become an entrepreneur somewhat accidentally, figuring out the beverage industry from the bottom up. “I had never thought about starting my own company,” says Goldin. What she was thinking about, all along, was helping people. Good entrepreneurs do well financially and then decide to use their profits to do good. Great entrepreneurs do well by doing good. Kara Goldin is a great entrepreneur.
What comes next for Hint? During the pandemic, consumers focusing more and more on health only strengthened Hint’s business. Their direct-to-consumer stream tripled over the last 18 months and growth overall increased 50 percent. Recently, Hint branched out into a new product vertical—chemical-free personal items, like deodorant, sunscreen and hand sanitizer. Continued growth and the possibility of going public loom on the horizon. But undoubtedly, the through-line will be the same as it always has been for Goldin—helping customers access good choices and doing well by doing good.