Entrepreneur Kara Goldin says ability to ask 'why' helped drive success
The founder and CEO of Hint Inc., Goldin detailed her path to success during her visit to Elon to deliver the 2018 C. Ashton Newhall Endowed Lecture on Thursday, Nov. 1.
Throughout her professional years, Kara Goldin has benefitted from being open to trying new things, whether it be in publishing, broadcasting, technology or the beverage industry.
Founder and CEO of Hint Inc., Goldin built a company that's a leading producer of unsweetened flavored waters available nationwide, starting with trying out recipes and methods in her San Francisco kitchen. She said she's relied upon confidence in the ability to adapt to new challenges and bringing to her work the willingness to ask "why?"
"'Why' is a word that is so valued in our company," Goldin told the crowd in LaRose Digital Theatre Thursday night. "Sometimes people won't have the answer, but it's a word that is so key to being a great entrepreneur."
Goldin visited Elon this week to deliver the 2018 C. Ashton Newhall Endowed Lecture. The annual series is named for C. Ashton Newhall '98 and brings successful entrepreneurs to campus to share their knowledge and experience managing the risks and rewards of entrepreneurial endeavors. The event was kicked off by Alyssa Martina, director of the Doherty Center for Creativity, Innovation & Entrepreneurship, with Goldin introduced by Ana Taveira '19.
Goldin has been named among Fortune’s Most Powerful Women Entrepreneurs and Forbes’ 40 Women to Watch Over 40. The Huffington Post listed her as one of six disruptors in business, alongside Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg.
Further accolades include EY Entrepreneur of The Year 2017 Northern California Finalist, SF Business Times Most Influential Woman (one of), Fast Company Most Creative People in Business (one of), EY Winning Woman 2012, Fortune Most Innovative Women in Food & Drink 2015, NACIE appointee 2016 (recently resigned), the Gold Stevie award for Female Entrepreneur of the Year, Amex OPENforum’s Women to Watch, and the Marketers That Matter award for Brand Building, Small Company.
Goldin didn't begin her career looking to develop a new category within the beverage industry that would become a market leader that others have tried in vain to overtake. Instead, she was a journalism major with her eyes set on law school. Pursuing a career in publishing, she ended up in the circulation department for Fortune magazine, a first job out of college she landed through pure confidence and perseverance.
"I made everyone believe that they should hire me," Goldin told the crowd. "I truly didn't know whether they should hire me, but I made them believe they should hire me."
Work in circulation immersed Goldin in the process the national publication used to target specific categories of potential subscribers, fueling a desire to learn more about how to better reach customers. "I felt like I was getting my MBA by truly and really understanding what customers wanted," Goldin said.
Goldin would move from Fortune to CNN after she was approached about leading an effort to place monitors in airport terminals that would broadcast the cable news network, then not as well-known as it is now. "There were no plans for how to do this anywhere, but I said, "Sure - sign me up," Goldin said.
She and her husband, an intellectual property attorney, moved to San Francisco in the mid-1990s and she reinvented herself again. After reading about a new effort to appeal to consumers using CD-ROMs that was being built inside Apple, she called the head of marketing for the effort out of the blue to find out more. That led to a lunch meeting, and eventually a job offer for the company, which would later be acquired by AOL.
"Don't be afraid to pick up the phone and call executives," Goldin said. "You never really know what's going to come of that. The worst they can say is, 'no'."
At AOL, Goldin was charged with developing an online marketplace as what would become e-commerce was just emerging as a concept. Again, Goldin was faced with forging a path where none existing and creating a blueprint with little to go on. "I had no idea what I was doing," Goldin said. "There was no blueprint for how to build an online marketplace. It was a lot of hustle and a lot of gut. We just went, went, went."
It was concern about her health that would eventually plant the seed that would become Hint Inc. Goldin realized the impact that the diet sodas she would drink all day upon her weight, her skin and her health. She dropped soda, but didn't care for water, sometimes lining up eight glasses on her kitchen counter and not letting herself go to bed until they were empty at the end of the day.
That would give birth to the idea for water that was infused with fruit flavors, but not filled with the sweeteners that accompany many flavored drinks. Beyond developing the new product, she also learned the ins and outs of the beverage industry along the way. Beyond just finding a new beverage, she wanted to find a way to help people live healthier and be more mindful of what they were putting into their bodies.
"I felt like I was onto something that no one else was really talking about," Goldin said.
Initially starting with introducing Hint water at a local Whole Foods, Goldin and her company would go on to land placement in Starbucks, a range of grocery and beverage retailers and then online with Amazon Prime as they began to develop their grocery business.
She's seen opportunities come and then go, only to be followed by new opportunities. Following a bought with skin cancer on her nose, Goldin took a look at what was in sunscreens, and set out to develop a fruit-flavored sunscreen that lacks many of the chemicals found in other products.
"The thing that I really want to do is help people, and if we can help people enjoy water again, then the world wins," Goldin said.