Kara Goldin, Hint, Woman Entrepreneur
Kara's story is classic. Growing up in a family where consumer food products were part of her family dinner conversations yet her father was never rewarded for what he built. Hint is built out of the desire to create something she knew was a void in the marketplace. Not knowing the realities of the competition in the marketplace has probably been the key to Kara's success. Her perseverance and tenacious attitude prevailed against everything...and a little creativity didn't hurt.
Kara grew up in Arizona continuing through college at Arizona State where she majored in communications. Her father worked for the Healthy Choice division of ConAgra. He had started his career in advertising at the Armor food company which was acquired by ConAgra in the 70's. When her mother went back to work after staying home with the five kids for awhile, her father started to bake terrible TV dinners for the family. He found the meals disgusting and reached out to Julia Child to develop a healthier alternative for food choices. Hence Healthy Choice was born. Kara watched him from a young age working so hard for ConAgra making not a lot of money yet he had obviously made the company billions. The company would acknowledge him every year at a big holiday lunch but in his early 60's the company decided that everyone should have a MBA at his level and since he didn't they told him it was time to retire. Incredulous. Not surprising that Kira developed a distrust for large companies early on.
When Kara graduated she had absolutely no idea what she wanted to do. She put herself through school working at a local Mexican restaurant that has been in the area for decades, an institution. Out of towners would frequent there and many of them told Kara that they would happily help her connect with the right people to find the right job. One particular patron who worked for Anheiser Busch used to come to the restaurant all the time. He really wanted to help Kara find a job but she kept thinking I do not want to sell beer. When he told her about some of the opportunities like putting products in movie sets that sparked her interest. He said talk to as many people as she could. At each juncture ask the person you are speaking to if there is someone else she should be talking to. People would say when you are in Boston come see me, when you are in Chicago come see me. So Kara talked to a travel agency and booked a trip to go from city to city to meet all these people. The flight cost $472. She had never been out of Arizona before. Once she made the rounds she had 60 jobs offers. Nobody told her it was going to be hard to get a job in 1989, she just went for it.
Kara decided NYC was the place to be. She took a job at Time Inc as an assitant to a woman who ran circulation for all the airline businesses. It was an amazing job because the airline circulation is bulk so the publishers loved it because they knew they could easily sell advertising around the circulation. Kara had access to the publishers and ad directors underneath the Time umbrella. She is sitll in contact with the woman she worked with there. She stayed for about three years until she got a call from CNN.
CNN was launching an airport channel and wanted to put television monitors into aiports. She was hired away for a nice chunk of change. A month into her job they put the project on hold because of the Gulf War. They needed people to jump into ad sales. They put Kara through a training program and she came a sales person at CNN. Right before that she had met her husband who was in law school in NYC. It was 1993/94. CNN at that time was not a big company. She stayed for two years, got engaged and her husband wanted to go out to SF to do Internet law because that sector was not really booming in NYC yet. Can you imagine?
Kara moved to SF and took a job with a small spin off from Apple that was doing CDrom shopping. This was the way they were going to get women on the services that were male oriented. Kara really had no idea what was going on at Apple and that they had zero money. AOL ended up coming in and saving her company and so she stayed for awhile in business development. They were offering catalog companies free space on the CDroms. Kara thought it was a really bad business model. Eventually they were fully acquired by AOL and they gave Kara the opportunity to run shopping on AOL. Her husband was at Netscape doing intellectual property and Kara was working on the beginings of ecommerce. They were both in the Internet world. At that time when you purchased something on line it could take up to a month to show up at your door. It was a bit of the wild west. It was between 1995-2001.
In 2001 Kara had her second child. AOL acquired Netscape and both her and husband were part of the transition team. When they merged with Time Warner it was like all her history came into one company. She really had no desire to stick around with her husband in the same company so they both checked out in 2001 and built a house. She was then pregnant with their third child. This was the point when Kara was trying to figure out what to do with her life. Oh yes, I have certainly been there. For awhile she interviewed with non-profits and profits but nothing sparked her interest. One day she was in her kitchen looking in her refrigerator and thinking there is nothing in this house I want to eat or drink. I certainly don't want my kids to eat or drink any of this stuff. She started reading the labels. At this time she had been reading more about hormones in milk and thought what is wrong with this world, we are ruining our food supply chain. Vitamin water is full of sugar and I do not want my kids to be addicted to sugar and this junk. Always skeptical having a father in large food companies she remembered what her father used to say that if something isn't growing mold you should wonder about how long it will take to break down in your system. She was very aware of the sweetners in the marketplace that were not good for you too.
She was addicted to diet coke at this point. Kara decided to clean up the house and make everyone aware of what they were eating. It was tough but two weeks later nobody had the desire to eat the junk that was in their system anymore. They began to change their eating habits. She was hardcore about it. They found the food items that satisifed their desires but drinking plain water was boring so she started putting fruit in the water and all of a sudden everyone started drinking more water.
Parents started calling Kara and asking her what fruit water were they drinking in her house? One of them wanted to know how much sugar she put in it. She told them it is purely fruit in water. The parents said wow, maybe you can make some up for me. Now she laughs because it was not that difficult but it became obvious to her that this was so basic but nobody had put it on the market. It was 2003.
In 2004 Kara that I am going to create this product and bring it to market. She took $50K and started creating essences with bottles she bought. Her husband asked her what do you know about beverages. She said nothing but she was curious and she decided she could figure it out. At this point her husband had just sold a company and was looking for something to do too. She told him to come with her to Chicago and meet with a company and they would figure it out together. She was pregnant with their fourth child.
The beverage industry is all based on chemicals and Kara was energzied to do something. She got the first product out with three months shelf life which is nothing in the beverage world. There were lots of issues at the beginning. Labels would fall off, the product would not be turned on the shelf, etc. Originally the name was WAWA and that was because she was going to do a kids line. There was a chain called WAWA and her attorney husband said it would not be a good idea to use that name. Everytime they would descirbe the drink she would say it had a hint of flavor. Hint. The name stuck and they got the trademark for it, "drink water not sugar".
In 2005 her son was born in May and at the last minute Kara went to the Fancy Food Show in NYC and got a bad space in a corner behind a pole. She engaged some old friends from AOL help her man the booth. She had zero idea what she was doing. Before she knew it people started stopping by the booth and loved what she had created. The story gets more complicated as Pepsi and Coke are not big fans of new products from tiny companies but she kept on growing.
Gourmet Garage was their first order and they have been growing every since. They grew 90% between 2011 and 2012. Dealing with distributors and category captains of chains is not easy. She has been very clever by doing business directly with companies such as Google where they provide drinks for the company. She realized to beat the big guys you have to be creative. She is beginning to think like the Zappos model. Go directly to the consumer.
Trust me, after speaking with Kara, there is no doubt that she will figure out how to grow this company to be as big as it can be. She is a take no prisoners kind of girl with a carrot just dangling in front of her nose. Her tenacity comes straight at you. Building a consumer brand is probably one of the most difficult companies to grow, IMHO. I am seriously impressed with what Kara has built and of course with the four kids in tow...