Overcoming Doubts and Doubters: The Story of an Accidental Entrepreneur With Hint Founder, Kara Goldin

Kara GoldinKara Goldin is the Founder of Hint Inc., a beverage company most known for Hint Water, an award-winning unsweetened water with hints of fruit. Kara has been named one of InStyle’s Badass 50, Fast Company’s Most Creative People in Business, Fortune’s Most Powerful Women Entrepreneurs, Fortune’s Most Innovative Women in Food & Drink, and EY Entrepreneur of the Year for Northern California. She is an active speaker, writer, and host of her podcast, The Kara Goldin Show, where she interviews founders, entrepreneurs, and other disruptors across various industries. Kara is the author of the best-selling book, Undaunted: Overcoming Doubts and Doubters.

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Here’s a glimpse of what you’ll learn:

  • Kara Goldin shares how she began her entrepreneurial journey
  • How the idea for Hint Water was conceived
  • Kara describes overcoming hardships early on in her career
  • The difficulties of persuading decision-makers when launching a new product
  • How to shut down the naysayers when creating a new product category
  • Kara offers advice to up-and-coming entrepreneurs
  • Turning challenges into opportunities
  • Seeking guidance from fellow entrepreneurs in the same market space

In this episode…

Entrepreneurs rise when they identify a problem and create a solution others claim is beneficial. But the most successful business leaders rise to the top because of their passion — which is vital in the industry. Emerging entrepreneurs may encounter opposition when starting their business venture. Passion plays the role of keeping entrepreneurs focused on their goals and finding the right people to bring along on their journey.

Business leader Kara Goldin encountered her share of naysayers when she began her career as an entrepreneur. Although she had discovered a gap in the market for her product, she found it difficult to find supporters to help kick-start her company. While the skeptics could have dismantled her goals, her passion kept her dedicated to her mission. Eventually, she found the right people who believed in her product — and her company is flourishing. Her story inspires fellow entrepreneurs who are overcoming their own challenges.

In this episode of the CPG Troublemakers, host Aalap Shah welcomes Kara Goldin, Founder of Hint Inc., to discuss overcoming doubts and doubters. Kara discusses her path to entrepreneurship, the inspiration for Hint, and how she turned naysayers into partners and consumers. Kara also imparts her advice to emerging entrepreneurs.

Resources Mentioned in this episode

This episode is brought to you by 1o8 Agency. At 1o8 Agency, we are a holistic digital marketing agency that cultivates brand growth through creativity and innovation. We jump right in to create solutions with measurable marketing intelligence. 

The result? Our clients see increased engagement and increased e-commerce traffic, which equals more sales and profitability for our clients.

Episode Transcript

Intro  0:01 

Welcome to the CPG Troublemakers. The place where brands and makers, food and bev nerds, and investors all gather to cause a little bit of mischief. We welcome industry leaders, whitespace thinkers and channel partners to come together to turn problems into opportunities, or, at the very least, have a little fun along the way.

Aalap Shah  0:26  

But welcome, everyone. I’m Aalap Shah, the host of CPG Troublemakers. Today, I’m excited to introduce Kara Goldin, the Founder of Hint, best known for the award winning Hint Water. Fairly widely recognized in the industry as a trailblazer. The Huffington Post listener has won six disruptors in business alongside Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg Thrilled to have you today. Kara.

Kara Goldin  0:46  

Thank You.

Aalap Shah  0:47 

Tell us a little bit about your background and how you came to start start Hint.

Kara Goldin  0:51 

Well, I am an accidental entrepreneur, because I never imagined that I would actually start a company. And for me, I sort of fell into working for founders, which I think is something that if you have never worked for a founder, or maybe you’ve been working inside of a large company, and and maybe learning a lot, but also just collecting a paycheck, there’s a different feeling a different vibe, a different pulse. Culture, often that comes when a founder is is part of a company. And for me that that experience came after I had my first job or my first job after college, I should, I should say, with was with Time Magazine. And then I was recruited into a nother role in media working for CNN where Ted Turner was still running around the building trying to make CNN work. It was only 40% of households actually had CNN in the US. So it was a very, very exciting time. He was the underdog, right? He was up against ABC News. And NBC no one ever thought that he would be able to make it happen. And I happened to be there when it did when the Gulf War rolled around. And people around the world were actually finding out what was going on in their country watching CNN. And that was where something called the hockey stick. I had never heard of that expression before. But I was able to experience that. And overnight, it was like, boom, everything was CNN. I ended up meeting my husband in New York, I was living in New York at the time, and we moved out to San Francisco, he was graduating from law school had taken the California Bar and was working for a firm in San Francisco. He was very excited about computers. He always said he instead of going to law school, he should have been an engineer or a doctor. He was like What was I doing and going to law school. But he was very excited about the internet and had geeked out on computers that are very, very young age. And I didn’t know what I was going to do in San Francisco, I thought about doing media, maybe working in a satellite office of CNN when I moved out to sea when I moved out to San Francisco. But instead, I followed what my dad had always told me which was if you don’t know what direction you should go in, or maybe what company you should work for think about brands and think about, maybe people that you’ve heard about that you think seem cool, that you admire, maybe products that you admire. And so as I started to think about San Francisco, and again, I didn’t know any companies, I didn’t know any people, the one company that I kept coming back to where I had admired the product. And I knew that it was a San Francisco company was this company called Apple and Steve Jobs that I had read a million stories about him. I had a computer an Apple computer when I was in college. And I learned when I moved to San Francisco that Cupertino was not so close to San Francisco. So I thought, I’m not sure that we’re going to be able to get a job at Apple Plus, I’m not an engineer, I’m not in technology. So why would they want to hire me right? But instead, as I was doing the research, my husband actually had access to LexisNexis through law school and I remember getting on LexisNexis and looking up Steve Jobs and Apple I found that there was this little company that had spun out of apple that was doing this thing called CD ROM shopping. All I remember is Steve Jobs.

and shopping. And I thought I love shopping. What is he doing around shopping right now he’s created these great computers. But, you know, what’s he doing around shopping? And the article talked about the CD ROM that sort of was almost like an online mall. It was early stages of it. And I thought, Gosh, it’d be so cool. If I could just go and meet Steve. I don’t know how I’m gonna do that. But maybe if I call the person that was actually quoted in the article, maybe eventually I’ll get to Steve Blank, I’ll I’ll figure out what they’re doing. You know, what’s the worst that could happen? They don’t have a meeting with me, whatever. So. So that was the beginnings of me getting this job at at a company, the company was called to market. And it was this little CD ROM company. It wasn’t in Cupertino, it was in San Mateo, so slightly out of San Francisco, but not as far as Cupertino. And little did I know that one of the investors in the company was this other startup, a little later stage startup then CNN or, or to market but it was called America Online. And I’ll never forget meeting Ted leonsis and and Steve Case, and you know, they were not the front runner of online services, there was companies like CompuServe, and prodigy and some others that were out there. But I thought, it’s very graphic, very similar to what we were doing it to market, but kind of Apple Apple like, right, that it, it sort of reminded me of the visuals that you would get on an Apple versus an IBM, for example. And so they acquired us, our company, and they asked me to run this thing called shopping. And so that’s when I decided to join them. As part of the acquisition, I had never been a part of an acquisition, and helped to grow this group that nobody ever thought would actually happen immediately, because there was lots of work to do around it, we were still getting orders over fax machines. I mean, there was a like a lot of stuff that had to be done, there was no roadmap to how we were actually going to get there, which I think is part of the excitement of what I’ve always found that when you don’t have a blueprint, but you’re actually creating the blueprint, it’s even that much more exciting. Again, another, you know, founder led company where founders were in the room, still didn’t think that this was the reason or this was the way that I was gonna get to go start my own company. But after seven years, it created a billion dollars in revenue to America Online, I decided the company is really based in Washington, not in San Francisco. So I want to take some time off and be with my young kids at that point. And during that time, while I was going to be spending some time with my family, I would actually be looking at my own health and trying to lose the baby weight that I had gained. Stop eating at restaurants, three meals a day, and really focus on feeding my body with the right things that were going to get me to stay healthy and, and also keep my family healthier. I never really thought about changing my drinks, because I was drinking diet soda. And I had sort of fallen into this plan of thinking that diet soda was better for me, because it said the word diet. But one day when I was looking at really cutting out sweet out of my life, because I’ve always really liked sweet a lot. That’s when I thought maybe I should cut down on my diet soda and start drinking water. But I found water really boring. So in order to drink more water, I started slicing fruit and throwing it in the water. And basically it was after probably a few months of of doing that. And friends saying to me, what kind of fruit do you have in the water? They were very curious about, you know, how I raspberries and strawberries together and threw it in the water. And I thought Why is everybody staring at my water? I mean, it was just people would ask all kinds of questions like did you add any sugar to it? Did you put anything else in it? No, didn’t do anything just threw the fruit in the water. I thought there has to be a product like this on the market because it would make my life a lot easier if I wasn’t cutting a fruit every day and throwing it in the water and but there wasn’t. And so long winded Story getting us to the question that you asked, that was the point when I thought I need to bring this product to the market. I have no idea what I’m doing. I don’t have a blueprint. But I thought Ted Turner didn’t have a blueprint, either. He had an idea. He had a commitment. He had a curiosity, Steve Case, didn’t have a blueprint for how to do this. Because these other services, were not doing it the way that he thought it should be done. So that was, I think, more than anything, I’ll just close it off by saying, I think it gave me the confidence working for other founders to know that they didn’t have all the answers, but they had the ability to try. And they knew that it wasn’t all going to work out that things were going to be different than maybe they woke up thinking that they were going to be but that if they didn’t do it, who else would.

Aalap Shah  10:59 

Absolutely and Kara and your awesome book on Donta, I wish was a great joy to read. And I really think is a great playbook. For CPG founders out there looking to create an entire new category, which is what you ended up doing. You really describe many of the different pivot points, for example, going to New York and taking that risk and love, you know, the advice that your dad shared to you, hey, worst case is a few 1000 bucks, and you’ll come back home if it doesn’t work out. Can you talk a little bit about some of those pivot points that you might have had in those early days? That would have made anyone to think so just give up?

Kara Goldin  11:35 

Yeah. Well, New York specifically was, I mean, I went in eyes wide open. Like it was an exciting place. I didn’t know anybody there. My, my sister’s friend was living in the East Village, which, you know, if anybody is heard of the band, Green Day, and some of their early music, I mean, that was really, you know, not it was kind of a seedy part of New York City at that point, for sure. But I didn’t, I had never rode on a subway before. I mean, I was really I was Arizona girl that was like landing and air landing in New York, I had a sofa to sleep on, until I actually got a few paychecks that I could actually get an apartment and, and find a place to live. But I’ll never forget, like, a few days into my first job at Time Magazine. That’s when I remember. My scalp was really itching. And I was thinking to myself, like, oh, gosh, like, why is my scalp fishing? And I looked in the mirror, and I had bugs in my hair. And I had gotten lice. Can you imagine your first week on the job? And you know, I’m thinking I have no friends. I’m not with, you know, living at home with my parents, there was no one to talk to you. I’m in her. I’m in my sister’s friend’s apartment, on a sofa, feeling like, oh my gosh, like, how am I going to tell her that I have lice. I had never had lice in my life. And here I am sitting on her sofa with lies. I’m convinced that I probably got it on the subway or all of these new experiences along the way. And so I finally muster up the energy to I go to the drugstore, I call my mom and she’s like, Oh, you have to get this stuff. And I’m like, where am I going to do this? Because, you know, I don’t want to tell her because what if she kicks me out. I mean, I’m so upset about this. Right? I mean, it was crazy. And, and my mom was like, oh, you should just come home. I’m like, Mom, I can’t come home. I’m like, I have to go to work. I just got this job. I don’t want to lose the job. I don’t know what to do. I can’t get on an airplane. But lice. I mean, it was just like, like, there were all these things. And, and I kept saying to myself, Okay, I’ve just got to figure this out. I’ve got to figure out, you know, what’s the worst that can happen? Okay, this is I’ve been through hard things before. I’m like talking myself into, you know, everything’s gonna be fine. I finally muster up the energy to tell my sister’s friend that I’ve got lice, and I feel terrible. And you know, I’ll do everything to clean up her sofa and everything. And she says, Oh, I had it two weeks ago, it I must not have gotten rid of it. And I thought, oh, serious, like here and I was just like, oh my gosh, so anyway, it was just it was, it was a crazy time. I mean, I remember thinking, you know, between that experience and then actually seeing on my first day when I was heading to the subway, there was a spray painting of a dead body outside of her apartment. And I had never seen police officers actually spraying a dead body or having sprayed that luckily the body wasn’t there. But I, I remember calling my dad and saying, you know, I don’t think this is such a safe neighborhood. And I’ve got lies, there’s a dead body, you know, like all of these things were happening. But I thought, again, like, how many more times could this happen? I can’t happen again. And again, and again. I mean, maybe it could, but I had sort of convinced myself that it wasn’t going to happen again and again. But along the way, I kept thinking, you know, these are experiences that are not pleasant. But it wasn’t me, right? It didn’t happen to me, it happened to somebody else, and it’s terrible, and all of these things, but I have to just keep moving forward, right? More than anything, and I cannot let these situations stop me, they can shake me a little bit. But I have to just keep moving forward. Because it has to, I’ve always been really good at finding the good, especially when there’s the bad, right, like, find that little grain of good. And like sometimes it’s tough, you have to find a magnifying glass to really find it, but it’s always there. Like there might be lessons, there might be, you know, there might be more information that you can gather, that helps you to really realize that there’s some bigger story involved, and whatever it is, but you have to find the good and and every single day, because if you don’t, I think you get stuck more than anything,

Aalap Shah  16:43 

I would agree, you can get stuck, and you get that inertia, and you can’t move forward. And I love that you shared that experience. Because as you read your book, one can see how you use that to shape your experiences and challenges you had, for example, with production. And I do feel bad for Theo who’s probably drank, you know, 1000s of moldy bottles to showcase how safe it is. Talk to me about some of those experiences and how that shaped it shaped you and your journey as you launched a new brand of water and a category?

Kara Goldin  17:14  

Well, I think while I had been used to being involved in startups, I was never running a startup, right? The buck didn’t ultimately stopped with me, even though I was managing a group of people. There was always like a beggar backbone, right where there was, you know, somebody else raising money to pay the people that were doing the job, or whatever it was. And I felt like there was just an enormous amount of responsibility, not just for myself, but for other people. Plus, there was a lot of things that had to be figured out. You touched on this earlier where it wasn’t just about starting a new company and launching a new brand, but launching an entirely new category. So how do you actually help people to understand why they need this product? And it wasn’t just how do we make the consumer understand what I knew, and what I had seen for myself about diet sweeteners, but also make people who were helping to get it on the shelf, right, the decision makers at the drawing a planograms, helping them to realize that this is a new category that consumers are going to want. And the response that I was getting back from many of those decision makers in particular was, well, if it was such a big category, why isn’t Coke or Pepsi, actually providing products that are focused on this? And, you know, it seems so obvious to me that they were more focused on the mothership products that they were producing the cokes and the Pepsi’s and the diet, Cokes, and Pepsi’s, but it was really about sweet. And so as I started to explain that to more and more people, not just not just the people who are helping us get the product on the shelf, but consumers, what I realized was that, you know, the challenges weren’t just about actually producing a product that had brand new specs, like in a using fruit, no preservatives, nothing else in the product. But also how do you actually get the message out to people without talking down to them? Right, that actually making them be a part of this conversation? So I think like the challenges of, I guess, in short, the challenges of a startup I was used to, but the, the when it’s, it was hard. I mean there’s there’s no easy way to sort of talk about out and other than the fact that you have to be willing to kind of roll up your sleeves and, and take on the challenges and try and find progress along the way. And I think that, you know, it was probably it was probably even, I was out of my element a bit too, because we had never done a physical product. So there were all kinds of things that we were getting used to like shipping and shipping heavy product and, and shipping or figuring out who actually trucks product. How many pallets can fit on a truck? What happens if it’s not temperature controlled? I mean, there were so many things that every day there was like a new problem. But again, you know, it was what we signed up for.

Aalap Shah  20:49 

Absolutely. And a new baby at that time. And yeah, you know, all sorts of things that were going on in that moment in your life in the early 2000s. Talk to me a little bit about the challenge of creating that category, because I know you had a lot of naysayers, right? You know, I can infer that as you were looking to get into this industry. People were saying, hey, America loves sugary drinks. And we’re not going to escape that.

Kara Goldin  21:13 

Yeah. So well, I’ll back up a little bit. I remember. So we had gotten the product into Whole Foods. And I remember when the first 10 cases sold. And you know, Justin was born and gotten product on the shelf, actually, right? The day the morning, before Justin was actually born. And I felt we’re off to the races, there was this product called vitamin water out there. That was killing it. And, and I thought, Okay, we’re gonna be just like vitamin water, we’re gonna be giant, right? Tomorrow, I had no idea how long it would take. I had no idea, frankly, how many years vitamin water had been at it. But I thought if we just keep going, if we just keep, you know, getting into more and more retailers, will eventually be like vitamin water, maybe next year, right? Will be as big as them. I had no idea. But as I started to think about, how do I actually get product into Colorado, and Las Vegas, and all these other places, were Whole Foods had markets, I thought, well, how do we actually distribute product into? How do we get with those distribution companies, I had no idea even where to start. So I reached out to my dad who had started a product inside of a large company, a product called healthy choice that he had created as a product manager inside of armour food company, and they had eventually been sold to a much larger company called ConAgra. So he had worked at ConAgra. And basically, that was sort of the first lesson that I learned in sort of how different it is to be a, you know, product manager or work inside of a large company versus actually starting your own company. Because when I reached out to him, and I said, Listen, I want to figure out how to get a distributor for our product, because we’ve done really well inside of Whole Foods, but also how do we get into Safeway. And he had no idea how to get a product into Safeway. And I thought, What do you mean, like you meet with Safeway all the time growing up in Arizona used to fly to San Francisco and meet with Safeway? And he said, I have no idea. And so I was like, I can’t believe it. Like, what do you mean, you have no idea? And he said, Well, there’s a planogram, and basically the planogram, because ConAgra owns a big chunk of space inside of the frozen case. And so we’re sort of like ConAgra is given a chunk of the of, you know, the, the allotment inside of the case, and then they decide which brands and which skews are going to go into that case. And so I’m almost negotiating internally. He was like, I think you’re actually negotiating directly with the buyer, but we don’t really have those conversations. And I thought, Ah, okay, well, that’s really hard. Okay, so now I have to also figure out who the buyer is for beverages as compared to, you know, the frozen food section. So when I finally figured out how to have that conversation with and who to have that conversation with at Safeway, that’s when I saw this planogram. And I thought, Okay, well, my dad told me about the planogram. And so pull up the planogram. And I said, so how do you allocate the planogram? And they explained that there’s these different categories that they focus on. So there’s soda, and there’s diet soda, and there’s water, and there’s thing called Enhanced water, which is where probably Looks like vitamin water would go. And then there was energy, I think was another one like Red Bull and some of the other ones that were out there. There were like, so which one would you fit in? And I’m like, Well, can you create another category? And the buyer said, Oh, I don’t do that. I just figure out what goes inside the categories. I’m like, who actually develops the planogram. And the spire didn’t know who develops it. They’re like, Oh, it’s done. Like, at a much higher level? I have no idea. And I’m like, just right. It’s fascinating, right? And they were very nice about it. So they said, well, once you sort of figure out what category you would be in, then, you know, we can talk again. So I call my dad and I’m like, what, what do you think you would do? And he said, Well, I mean, you’ve already asked them to create a new category, but I don’t think it’s going to be so easy to like, who else is in your category? And I’m like, no one. It’s just us. Like, we’re, it’s an unsweetened flavored water. And so there’s no, we don’t have any competition. And he’s like, Well, they’re probably not going to create a category then for you. And, and, you know, it’s, it’s interesting thinking about this, because it’s something I share with entrepreneurs all the time, I used to think, like, oh, it’s amazing, like, we’re the only one doing it, right? It’s like, put us in and, and the challenge is sometimes when you’re the only one, and there’s nobody else out there, because no one’s crazy enough to start an entirely new category. That is sometimes not a good thing. Because the people who are trying to make these decisions about whether or not to create a category, or actually have that category at all, or support it in some way, they want to see choice, right for the consumers, and they want to get the risk, right? They don’t want to take the risk, right. And so again, like you’re, you know, you’re trying to create a new blueprint, it’s not easy. So you know, I use coconut water as, as a great example, I knew when Mark Rampolla started Zico and Mike Kirban started, Vita Coco, and there were all these like, play, it was kind of the two of them sort of duking it out, and it still wasn’t enough, it wasn’t until they there was a lot more competition, that vibe that the coconut water category really took off. And then people started to realize, you know, that there was lots of different choices, you know, they kind of duped it out. And then, you know, there ends up being a couple, right, but until that sort of happens, it’s very difficult to grow a category. So probably one of the things that I’m most proud of is the fact that, you know, we’ve been able to actually grow a category, kind of on our own. I mean, our biggest competition has been we’ve had, you know, lots of different Dasani essence water and lots of people sort of touch on it, but then they sort of go back to the mothership, and think we should just like this category is too new, it’s too small, we’re not going to, we’re not going to put any effort towards it, we’re just going to like, go back to what we were doing before, we didn’t have that option. We didn’t, that wasn’t our purpose, and actually starting the company. So we sat there, and we stayed in the game, we continued to grow. And we were the category, he still is the category to this day, our biggest competition, so to speak, is private label inside of all of the so people have tried to knock it off, inside of, you know, all these different supermarkets where they have Hint, they’ll also have the private label version. Initially, we sort of thought that was a bad thing. And then we realized, if no brand is actually going to come in here and compete head to head on Stillwater, then having a private label product alongside us just builds, builds the category overall. And what we have to do is focus on what we do, which is quality and variety of flavors and leading the category to be the best. Because there will always be people I believe, who are going to purchase brand over a private label, and you’re always going to have people are gonna buy based on price. And they think that the product is fine that a private label product has but I think that there’s a lot more people who are going to continue to follow brands specifically in beverage definitely happens in other categories as well, but I believe beverages has proven a category to be very brand sensitive.

Aalap Shah  29:57 

I agree with you, and I’m thinking about that. I can see that you spoke with at a beverage company that you almost sold the company to, I wonder if you’re still in touch with them, of course, because you built an entire category and, and brands and a very unique point of view on our beverages that we drink, right as an alternative, as a daily habit. What I’m curious about is, you are an outsider to the industry, both to that whole foods buyer that you met, very at the beginning to the CO packers that you met the suppliers to the ingredients. Talk to me a little bit about those challenges and opportunities, you see that that entrepreneurs need to be ready for? What are some of those? What would be some principles or advice that you’d give them as they approach these conversations when they are doing something so innovative? And then and asking a lot of people to take a risk?

Kara Goldin  30:49 

Well, I think when you’re asking, I think you hit the nail on the head, right? It’s when you’re, they’re taking a risk as well with you, right. And I think not only whether or not to partner with you, but also spend the time with you. Because if you have a crazy idea which most entrepreneurs do, especially ones coming in from a different industry, they have an idea that they want to see happen. If you’re dealing with a co packer, for example, that is quite busy. And then you have to figure out okay, well, when is their down? Line time, right? Or when do they actually have time? How can you make it worth their while to allow you to not only produce product with them, but also but also, like spend time with you to think about some crazy idea. And I think that when you think about knowing what I know, today, I I worry more about the founders and with the crazy ideas, right with the ones that are willing to, you know, go to a co Packer at one o’clock in the morning to run their product, because that’s the only line time that they have or the ones that are willing to make 200 phone calls before. They’re relentless undaunted in their approach to not giving up that they understand that they only need, you know, one person to test an idea with that it might take 200 phone calls, but eventually, they’ll figure it out if they just keep going. versus somebody who has worked inside of, you know, a large company, where they have an assistant where they’ve been, you know, used to people taking their phone calls, that things just happen when they snap their fingers. Right. They’re not used to that scrappy, underdog getting in your right house, right? I mean, and so I think that, you know, I used to hear early on that you don’t have the experience. People even went so far as to say, don’t you have like four children? Like, why are you you know, staying home with your kids versus actually trying to create a product? Like, I mean, crazy, crazy things that people would say along the way, I don’t think that they meant those things to be hurtful, right? I think that they’re just saying stupid things and stream of conscious, like comments that would come out of their mouth. But you have to be willing to kind of let it go in one ear and out the other. And I think that that is that is the life of an entrepreneur, the the entrepreneurs that know that what somebody says to you, is maybe their own experience, maybe it’s their own fears that are coming out, right that they maybe people have told them for years that you can’t go do something because you don’t have the right experience. And they bought into that statement. And therefore they’re telling you when you’re asking them to take a risk on you. They’re sharing their own perception and their own fears with you.

Aalap Shah  34:23  

So I really resonate with that. As a minority founder. There’s hidden barriers and challenges and opportunities. Right. And one of the one of the areas that most resonated with your book is you turn it in as an opportunity. It’s an opportunity for education. It’s an opportunity to be relentless, or undaunted. It’s an opportunity to be persistent. And one of the things one of my main takeaways in reading the arc of the book is cast a wide net, because you’re not sure that to your point, or you only need one person to say yes, and and, and I see that time and time again and your story and your journey when COVID shuts down. Those are offices and wholesale accounts. You know, you pivot, and you you take that challenge. And what’s the opportunity? Where can we service? Where can we do good? And I think there’s a lot of that in your book that’s, that has some great takeaways of just how to keep on pushing forward. And one question I have, because it’s often a chicken and egg, when you have a crazy innovative idea is when you think about your retail buyers, and how you educate them and talk to them at a show like fancy foods. And that was a big moment, I’m one of your first shows that you attended, and a lot of our clients attend that show. How do you balance that between creating that those brand ambassadors, getting those retail buyers? I mean, it’s, it’s got to be a struggle, how did you approach it,

Kara Goldin  35:44 

I think there’s there’s definitely getting the retail buyers is is challenging, and and I felt like a lot of the energy that I would get, and it didn’t come initially, but maybe, you know, a few months into actually, once we had gotten the product created and then went to the Fancy Food Show, I would start talking to other entrepreneurs that were a little further ahead of us. And I would ask them, first of all, I’d go to the products, going back to, you know, my my days of trying to find my first job in San Francisco, I would go back to the products that I consumed that I loved. And I would go find those at the Fancy Food Show. And typically, I would find the founders, and I would start talking to them. And I would start asking them, like how did you figure out how to get into unify? How did you I found that there was this wealth of information, just talking to other people who had broken through. And that that really helped me to know that if I just kept going, as one founder said to me, look, you’ll get just like, there are many products that don’t get into Whole Foods, you’ve already achieved getting into Whole Foods that’s further than a lot of other people have been able to get. So now you just need to figure out what do you need to do next, you have to keep adding on to figuring out how you make that happen. And you also have to have enough money in order to stay alive, because that’s the thing like it’s like a, it’s a juggle for so many founders to juggle those pieces. And if you can figure out how to stay alive, if you can figure out how to continue to get consumers to buy your product, then the rest will start to come you’ll get into more whole foods, you’ll find the distributors, but it really the thread kind of weaves in in all those pieces together if you start to do all of these things, right. And some of them are not going to go right right away. But you have to just keep moving forward. And in some way I remember a friend connected me with a gentleman I talked about him in the book, Josh Dorf, and Josh’s family had started the first organic whole wheat flour company years ago. And of course, I wanted to meet with him before we got into whole foods because he had gotten his product into Whole Foods. And, you know, he shared that story with me that that I’ll never forget. He said, look, you’ll get into Whole Foods eventually. Like, I’m sure you’ll figure out a way to get into Whole Foods. He said, But let me tell you something, and remember this and I’m like thinking, Okay, I’ve got my pen and paper and I’m gonna remember, he said it’s pick and shovel work. And I’m like, pick and shovel work, wait, let’s pick and shovel work. And he said, you’ll get into Whole Foods, and then something else will happen. You’ll get kicked out of Albertsons, and I said, Wait, what, but I’m not even in Albertsons yet. He said, Yes. You’re in Albertsons, you’re in Whole Foods. You just got kicked out of Albertsons? And I’m like, oh, no, like, Why did I get kicked out of Albertsons? It doesn’t matter. Like somebody came in and decided to take your space. And, and so what do you do? And I’m, like, get into more stores. And he said, exactly, he said, You have to just keep going, you have to keep figuring out how you keep chipping away, because you just can’t stop. And one day, you think you’ve mixing metaphors, but you’ve put out the fire over here. With everything’s great at Whole Foods. You figured out how to make things better at Albertsons and whatever. And then all of a sudden, something else happens, right? And you have to just keep that is the life of an entrepreneur, no matter what category you’re in.

Aalap Shah  39:52

And it can be terribly lonely. And as I was saying, as I think about your story, you had that moment when Starbucks called you to say, hey, you know, we’re changing strategies here, and you had to pivot. Talk to us a little bit about that. If you have a moment of that change and how that opened up, I believe you to see an Amazon and and a new channel for you.

Kara Goldin  40:14  

Yeah, totally. Well, I think that the key thing about that story is that, you know, you, you can be doing really well. And with a customer, you can think that you’ve asked all the right questions, you have all the goals in place, everything’s fine until it’s not, I always tell entrepreneurs that when new buyers come in for any relationship, you should be on alert, you know, that, that people want to change strategies, they want to put their mark on things. And so it’s not even though the last buyer thought you were great, this one might want to do things a little bit differently. And that was the story of Starbucks. So when we were told that we were being discontinued, because they were putting food in the case, instead of having our nice water brand that they were killing it with. The biggest problem for us was that 40% of our overall business was in the hands of this relationship. And we had product that I had already been made that was sitting in a warehouse that they weren’t going to be buying. And it was one of our top skews it was Blackberry, but still, I didn’t have a customer because I had really focused on making sure that that Starbucks relationship was perfect. So I had to figure out exactly what to do with the product. And that’s when, you know, I I cried for a few days, I tried to figure out what am I going to do with the product I didn’t really know. And then suddenly, in my inbox, I get a email from an Amazon buyer. And the Amazon buyer says, Hey, we’ve been putting together a bigger initiative around grocery, and we think it would be great. The problem is, is that we need the product yesterday, I buy your product every morning at Starbucks, and I absolutely love it. I’m thinking, do I actually tell him that we’ve been discontinued from Starbucks? Probably not. But so he, he said, or I wrote back and I said, Listen, I’ve got a bunch of BlackBerry in the warehouse, if you guys wire the money in and send the order and wire the money, and you can I can send a truck out this afternoon. And so he called me and said, That’s amazing. I’m so excited. I didn’t think I was going to be able to have you guys at launch. So that’s great. So, so we went into Amazon, and we were one of the number one products in their grocery offering from day one. I guess the bottom line is, is there’s there’s so many lessons and that story. But first of all, I have a lot of risk going into Starbucks, because 40% Having 40% of your business with any customer is very dangerous, right? Any category overall, if you you should always be thinking what if it went away tomorrow? Is it going to affect your business, right? So that was a problem that will never, we would never do again. Then when we went into Amazon, everything was fine. Again, we were cranking and everything was great. The one thing that I realized was that Amazon was no different than any other retailer, they were just a virtual retailer. But they weren’t giving us emails, yet it was a digital play, right. And so I knew enough because I had come from the digital world that I knew that they had a lot of data on our consumer. And one of the things that the Amazon buyer said to us was that they really liked him because the consumer that was buying him was also buying things in other categories like diabetes monitors and sports equipment that really like painted this picture of a consumer that was very active, very healthy, very different than what they were seeing in the beverage category with other beverage companies that they were testing with. And so I wanted some emails, and Amazon wasn’t gonna give me the emails. And so I thought that the only way to actually get emails on our consumers, which by the way, when we were discontinued from Starbucks would have been enormously helpful to be able to have those emails to tell people we’re no longer in Starbucks Chicago, but you can go to Amazon or you can go to one of our other retailers in Chicago. That’s when we decided to launch drinkin.com And, you know, it’s funny because I kind of thank Howard Schultz and Starbucks for ultimately for thing is to kind of have enough product in the warehouse to be able to go out with that launch and Amazon for the Amazon relationship to realize, help us realize the importance of a connection with our consumer, the data and how important that was, as well. And also, the fact that consumers want to shop from, they want the brand. And they want, they’re willing to shop from lots of different places they’re willing to, in the same day, buy from Amazon, go to Starbucks, go to Whole Foods, go to Costco, and buy online, if they’re sent an email, maybe with a different flavor or a different pack size in their inbox, because we make it easy for them to just click send.

Aalap Shah  45:53 

I love how full circle it is, you know, to launch and drink hence to to launch AOL shopping. I mean, that just really brings it full circle, right? For your business. And I really love either chapter on using that data, right, and building and launching and creating other products that really benefits your consumers life. I know we’re running on time here. So I’d love to kind of what I’d love to close up with is what are some of your favorite chapters? Or, or if an entrepreneur came to you and said, Hey, Kara, I’m launching a new beverage or a chocolate? Where would you guide them in your book? And what are some takeaways that you you’d encourage them to think through?

Kara Goldin  46:40  

You know, I think you touched on this about experiences. And I think that the most important thing is to live a life of always trying new things. And always be challenging yourself, if you’re not challenged, whether it is in your role, and what you’re working on, or you know, your personal life and which I feel like is all connected, right? And that you always have to be finding ways that you’re going to be learning that you’re going to be challenging yourself. So the one of the last chapters is, I take people on my journey to the Grand Canyon. And what I realized after making it out of the canyon, I’ll leave it at that, but lots of challenges along the way that I didn’t plan for. And what I realized is that the more situations you put yourself in, to be better, to figure things out, to know that life isn’t perfect. That if you that you can do really hard things, if you put focus on it. All of these things, when you finally surface out, you realize it makes you feel pretty darn good, right? Like you got through some really, really challenging times that you didn’t know how you were going to do it exactly. But you were able to use your head, use your gut all of those things along the way. So I would say that, that’s the most important thing that I tell people is connect a lot of things that you’ve done.

You’ve worked at Deloitte, right, people are like, wait a minute, you’re in CPG, and you’re doing direct to consumer, but you’re at Deloitte, it does all connect, sometimes it doesn’t, on the surface Connect for everybody, but in your mind, it does. Because they’re, they’re helpful to you to understand how to move forward. If you use some of those other experiences.

Aalap Shah  48:42

I couldn’t agree more each, each kind of waystation. And each door closing leads to bigger and different and new opportunities. And I’m really aligned with them can resonate a lot with a lot of what you said today and your book and all the materials that all the podcasts that you’ve been on. I really appreciate you coming on this show. It’s incredibly inspiring to our audience, check out the book Undaunted, it’s incredible. A really great share of experiences as you navigate entrepreneurship. Kara, how do we reach you?

Kara Goldin  49:15  

So all over social at Kara Goldin, G-O-L-D-I-N and yeah, I mean, just excited that you invited me on and and hopefully everyone gets a chance to pick up a copy of the book are download it and and on Audible and and really excited that you had me on?

Aalap Shah  49:37  

Absolutely. Thank you for coming on.

Kara Goldin  49:39 

Thank you.

Aalap Shah  49:40  

Take care.

Outro  49:42 

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