We caught up with Hint Water founder, Kara Goldin, on beating the odds and the doubters

March 3, 2021
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Welcome to Rosie-Side Chats where we host conversations with trailblazers who inspire us daily. Our first guest is none other than the phenomenal Kara Goldin, Founder & CEO of Hint, Inc. and author of “Undaunted: Overcoming Doubts & Doubters“. We Are Rosie‘s founder, Stephanie Nadi Olson, sits down with Kara for a mind-blowing conversation about why curiosity is a superpower, stepping into accidental entrepreneurship, and the magic of welcoming doubters.


Stephanie Nadi Olson: Welcome to a very special Rosie Report interview, with CEO of Hint Water and author of the new book Undaunted: Overcoming Doubts and Doubters, Kara Goldin. Welcome, Kara!

Kara Goldin: Thank you! Very excited to be here.

Stephanie Nadi Olson: I’m so happy to have you here, Kara. I have followed your entrepreneurial journey quite closely. You’re somebody that I admire, having come from the media and publishing side, into entrepreneurship, having done it kind of charting your own course and really staying true to your values. I’m so happy you wrote this book. I loved every minute of it.

Kara Goldin: Thank you.

Stephanie Nadi Olson: No, I mean it sincerely. This is the content that we need. I’ve been having interesting conversations with some folks lately, about the need for women in business. We crave different types of business books because we have to overcome different things in business. I think Undaunted speaks to that really well.

Kara Goldin: Thank you.

Stephanie Nadi Olson: Yeah. I would love to hear more about your personal journey and this path that you’ve taken, from media executive to entrepreneur. It might not look like the sensible leap, and I’d love to hear more from your perspective about how you ended up starting Hint and getting where you are today.

Kara Goldin: Yeah. I call myself an accidental entrepreneur, because I didn’t really think that was where I was headed. I don’t think, if you asked me 20 years ago, if I would have minded being an entrepreneur. I don’t know if I was born with it. I didn’t sit there at age eight, saying, “I’m going to go start a company.” I also didn’t say, “I never want to work for anyone ever again.” That wasn’t me at all.

Basically, I started my career in journalism. I was at Time and then went to CNN, when it was kind of what I would term today as a late stage startup. PS, I learned a ton about culture between those two environments. Time was very Ivy League, which I was not. I was a state school kid and landed there and had an amazing experience. I definitely felt like odd man out at certain points, and that’s when I just decided that there was really nothing I could do about it, other than to just kind of do a great job and eventually move on to a different environment, a different culture that I really felt comfortable in.

I was recruited by CNN, to join them. Ted Turner was still running around the office and screaming in cowboy boots and a suit. I grew up in Arizona, and I didn’t even see people in cowboy suits. You either wore cowboy boots or you wore a suit, but both together is like a whole new world for me. He was married to Jane Fonda at the time, too. Part of the reason why I wanted to take the job was I just thought, “Wow, if I could just meet Jane Fonda.”

Stephanie Nadi Olson: Right.

Kara Goldin: Which I did! I got a chance to meet her, and she was awesome, on so many levels. Anyway, and then I met my husband in New York. We moved out to Silicon Valley. He was graduating from NYU law school, and I didn’t know anybody in San Francisco. We were engaged. The person that, in my mind, kind of equated to San Francisco and Silicon Valley was Steve Jobs.

When I was in college, I was lucky enough to have a computer in my room, which was not all that common then, but it was a Macintosh. I remember taking a computing class, and there were these giant mainframe computers, and they were just so hard and giant and ugly and complicated and then all of a sudden, the Macintosh came out. It was so beautifully designed and had a cute little apple on it. I had sort of been quietly following this guy, Steve Jobs, saying, “How did he think about this?” Sort of internally asking a lot of those questions.

Then when I came to Silicon Valley, I thought, “Maybe I can go find this guy and go work for him.” I knew that I didn’t have tech experience, and so I didn’t know how I was going to get a job at Apple. I had read about this little startup that was a Steve Jobs idea, that was doing shopping. They were throwing everything onto a disc, which was Steve’s idea, because the internet was so slow.

So, I cold called five guys who had worked at Apple and spun this company out. I cold called them. Again, what did I have to lose? I said, “Hey, I just moved here from New York.” I remember one of the guys saying to me, “So what’d you do in New York?” I said, “Well, most recently I worked for CNN.” I don’t even think he asked me what I did for CNN. He just was like, “You worked for CNN? That’s so cool! Yeah, let’s have lunch.”

It’s something that I was speaking on a college campus yesterday and talking about this, something my dad said to me a long time ago, that brands matter. It was so true. I mean, the fact that I worked for Time and CNN, it really helped me get in the door.

Anyway, I ended up having lunch with these guys. I remember there was a guy sitting across the table, his name’s Steve. I knew it wasn’t Steve Jobs. I said, “So what do you do?” He said, “Oh, I’m an investor in the company.” I was like, “Oh, that’s great.” I said, “Is that all you do?” He said, “No, I have another company. It’s called America Online.” I said, “Oh, I’ve been on American Online.” It was Steve Case.

Stephanie Nadi Olson: Oh my god.

Kara Goldin: Yeah. Actually, I rarely talk about this. It’s funny because he was there, and Ted Leonsis, the president, was there as well. They said, “So what do you think about America Online?” I said, “Well, you’re like a distant…no offense, but there’s CompuServe or Prodigy and these other services.” They said, “So how do we be better?” I said, “well, you’re kind of graphically a little bit better, but not really much better. Also, let’s get back to this company to market that you’ve invested in. How do they make money?” Ted said, “That’s a really good question. You should hire her, because she cares about making money.”

So, I get the job. They make me a job offer. I was like, “What am I going to do here?” They said, “You’re going to go out to retailers, and you’re going to go figure out a revenue model, to go and get these retailers on the AOL service.” For those of you who aren’t that familiar with this, I know you know this, Rosie, but when AOL started, the significance of it was that it was a private service. It was faster because it was private. So when people were thinking about putting their store on the internet, it was just too slow. The graphics, we’re still dial-up. It was like, if your brother was in the other room, on the phone with his girlfriend and you wanted to be on chat on AOL, you’d get disconnected, right? More fights went on during this time.

Stephanie Nadi Olson: Not happening. Yeah.

Kara Goldin: Anyway, I ended up working for to market and then about a year later, America Online, actually we needed money. Through the fund raise, they decided to just acquire us. Through the acquisition, they asked me to run this channel called Shopping. It was the beginning of channels.

There was News and Sports. It’s funny, because I remember a few years ago, we were out raising money for my company Hint, and we were talking to Ted and Steve about potentially coming in on the raise. Which they didn’t do.

Stephanie Nadi Olson: They’re kicking themselves now.

Kara Goldin: Yeah, they’re kicking themselves now. But it was funny, because it was a bunch of guys that got the core buttons. No one actually thought that Shopping was going to make money, right? Everybody just said, “Oh, let Kara do it. She’ll just go do it.” I didn’t even have revenue targets for the first couple of years.

Stephanie Nadi Olson: Wow.

Kara Goldin: I just kept going, just trying to go and meet with whoever and sort of build up this mini mall. It’s funny, because one of the things that I share with people, we didn’t have a road map. I didn’t know what I was doing. Then I started hearing from so many retailers, for example, they would want to know who else was in. Then they would start using these examples, like, “Well, at the Stanford Mall, we’re always within 100 feet of this retailer, if we can.” So I started really, really studying mall development.

Stephanie Nadi Olson: Wow.

Kara Goldin: People would say, “How did you know how to do that?” I’m like, “I didn’t. I just tried.” Right? I just started. I had so much fun. Every time I was traveling, I would stop and I would look at these malls. Also, just developments. For example, in Berkeley there’s the little street called Fourth Street, where restoration hardware started. I would look at these and try and figure out exactly what they’re doing and who’s the anchors and all this stuff. It was just fascinating.

So seven years into building that business, and I was responsible for not only having my own team, but also managing the sales team, eventually the overall national sales team, who was selling into the retailers, too. That was another thing, where you’re sort of dealing with people where I’m not really their boss, but they still have to talk to me for any type of retailers. We didn’t just take anybody. It was also we need to build the right environment for people to be a part of, in order to sort of get the A-list, there’s a pecking order, and explaining this. Again, I had no idea what I was doing. I really was just making this up as I went along. Anyway, it was a billion dollars in revenue at the end of seven years.

I remember the United Airlines pilot, when I was getting on the flight. Every Monday morning, I would get on the flight to either go to Virginia, where we were based, or to one of my retailers throughout the US. The United Airlines pilot said to me, “Hi, Kara, how are you doing?” It’s like 6:00 AM, out of San Francisco. I thought, “Wow, I wonder how he knows my name. I think I just travel too much.” I had three kids under the age of four and never saw them. My husband was working in Silicon Valley, at Netscape, was an in-house counsel there. I thought, “I’m going to take a break,” at that point.

So, I took a break for a couple of years. It’s so funny, because people were really worried about me. They just said, “How long are you going to take a break?” Because I wasn’t very old. I was in my mid-30s. I was the youngest vice president at AOL. I was one of the few women at that rank. I just kept thinking, and I don’t even know if I articulated it, but I thought, “If I did a really good job before, then can’t I go and get a job?” People would say, “Maybe, but I don’t know. Just don’t be out of the workforce for too long.”

Stephanie Nadi Olson: Yeah.

Kara Goldin: I don’t know. It was just something that sort of sat there. Everybody had a differing opinion about it. Anyway, I’ll get back to that in a minute.

It was about two years in, when I just decided, “Okay, I’m probably going to go do something. I just don’t know exactly what it is.” I kept looking around at different tech jobs, and everybody wanted me to go and do what I had done at AOL. It was kind of 2.0 for me. They were like, “And we’re going to crush AOL.” I thought, “Wait, those are all my friends over there.” That’s something that I built. I was really proud of it. It just seemed really awkward, on a lot of levels. It just didn’t have purpose. It wasn’t new. I wasn’t really learning. It was kind of just doing the same thing.

And again, I never thought of myself as a tech executive. Everybody else thought of me as a tech executive. I started out in journalism. Then all of a sudden, I’m in tech. I just didn’t really know what to do with all of these feelings. Again, also had these three young kids. That’s when I thought, “Okay, well, I’m just going to keep looking and see what happens. I’m also going to get in shape.” That’s what we do, when we go on a break from work, right?

Stephanie Nadi Olson: Yeah.

Kara Goldin: We’re thinking, “I’m going to get healthy. I’m going to start cooking. I’m going to exercise.” Whatever. For the first time in my life, I remember I really hadn’t gotten on a scale for so many years because I quietly just didn’t want to know. I knew my size of clothing kept going up. Over probably the last couple of years, before I actually decided to do something about it, I had developed terrible adult acne, that I didn’t even have as a teenager. My energy levels had gone down, and I wasn’t traveling like I was when I was working. So I kept thinking that I didn’t really have an excuse for it.

I went to bunch of different doctors. Finally, I just decided to go on all these different diets and try it. Then I started counting calories. Everybody said to me, “Exercise and eat right. Watch what you eat.” That’s what I kept hearing. Then I had pretty much given up. I thought, “This is the way I’m supposed to be. I don’t know why I have this acne. It’s just crazy.”

Then one day, this diet soda was staring me in the face on my counter, Diet Coke, in particular. I had been drinking it since I was in high school. That’s when I saw all of the ingredients. I thought, “Gosh, there’s just a lot of stuff in there. I’m sitting here making all these rules around the food, but not the drinks.”

Stephanie Nadi Olson: Yeah.

Kara Goldin: Again, it was diet. It wasn’t full-fledged soda. It was diet soda. It was 10 calories at the time. They hadn’t perfected the zero calorie drinks. I just decided to put it to the side for a couple of weeks. I remember a couple days after doing that, cold turkey, I didn’t sort of wean off of it, I just said, “No more.” My husband kind of watched, thought, “She’s been drinking it a long time. I’m not going to be the one that’s going to say this.” I remember a couple days into this little test, I realized that I was really thirsty because I wasn’t drinking anything. So I started drinking plain water, then thinking, “Huh. I like water, I know I should drink water, but I don’t like it that much because it’s really boring.” There was a bunch of fruit on my counter. I sliced it up and I put it in the water, and I thought, “This gets me to drink water.” Then two and a half weeks later, I realized I’m losing some weight. The other big thing was that my skin had cleared up, just by drinking water. It was crazy. Then my energy levels had come back. That’s when I hopped on the scale and realized I had lost over 20 pounds in two and a half weeks.

Stephanie Nadi Olson: Wow.

Kara Goldin: I mean, it was crazy. I thought, “Wait, how did this happen?” That’s when I really thought a little bit more about it, too. I remember in sixth grade science class, seeing and hearing about your skin is your largest organ. I think I was really on the verge of some really pretty big things, including probably type 2 diabetes, probably some other things. My organs were really in trauma, and my skin was showing it. Because there was no other explanation for it, suddenly I had reset myself.

I think that the thing that I learned, during that time, was that I was so curious why I was able to fix this in myself, just by paying attention. That’s when people were still calling me to come interview at different tech jobs. I’m living in the hotbed of it. I thought, “Okay, but I’m still really kind of interested in the health side of things. Maybe I go and look at a tech job in health.”

But every time, I just kept coming back. Every morning, I was waking up and I was thinking about not only how making water taste better helped me to get healthy, but then I really started paying attention to how big these industries were. Not just the diet soda industry, but also diets overall, and how much money is made off of these different diets, different drinks, healthy perception in some cases, not all, versus reality. I thought, “Wow. It is so hard to be a consumer.”

I think I even said that out loud, to people around me. I said, “It is so tricky.” This drink called Vitamin Water had just come out. Vitamin Water had more sugar in it and more calories in it than a can of Coke. That was not my drink, but I had friends who drank it. They actually thought it was healthy and better for them, because it had water on the bottle.

Stephanie Nadi Olson: Yeah.

Kara Goldin: So, again, I have no business, and my curiosity was kind of getting the best of me. I would talk to whoever would talk to me about it. I mean, if a friend, another parent… Then I started going into my local Whole Foods. I don’t know. It just sort of popped out of my mouth one day. I said to the guy stocking the shelves, “How do I get a product on the shelf?” I just became really, really interested in it.

Long story, but more than anything, I think that that’s when my curiosity finally had been challenged, on a lot of levels. I was just energized by just learning. Again, being a VP and then sort of taking myself down to the bottom. I didn’t intentionally do that, but I found that learning an entirely new industry, for me, was just so satisfying on so many levels. I mean, I loved not being the one that everybody looked at in the room for the answers.

Which is where, going back to when I was leaving AOL, I think that the thing that I couldn’t articulate back then, after being through sort of a hockey stick … Anyone who’s been through a hockey stick high growth company, you start to level off. You start to get kind of … You’re not really learning. It’s hard to articulate that you’re just kind of bored. You’re trying to figure it out. Your job is really to mentor and to manage, but not really to learn.

Here, just by going and being curious … Even when I started Hint, loading up my car, my Grand Cherokee, with cases of Hint and learning how many cases, based on weight, could go into my car. Just stupid stuff like that, it was just energizing. It certainly wasn’t popular. All my friends were like, “Wait, what are you doing?”

Stephanie Nadi Olson: Right, yeah.

Kara Goldin: They just thought, “Here she is…” By the way, when I decided to do this, I was pregnant. I didn’t know it, but I wrote the business plan when I was pregnant with my fourth.

Stephanie Nadi Olson: Wow.

Kara Goldin: So, when I launched Hint, I had four kids under the age of six. I was not the profile for the person that was going to be able to go do this.

Stephanie Nadi Olson: Right.

Kara Goldin: So that’s my crazy beginnings of the story.

Stephanie Nadi Olson: I love that. I’ve taken a bunch of notes, actually, as you were talking. There’s a few things you said that really stand out to me. One of them is the energy you got, and that you were really in tune with, “Wow, when I’m working on this problem, that I frankly have no business solving, I’m energized.” That’s a piece of advice that I get a lot of people, who are like, “I am unhappy with my life.” I’m like, “Find the pockets of your life that give you energy and just figure out how to do more of those things.” So it sounds like that was an important part of your journey, too, and gave you kind of the courage to chase this crazy idea, that none of your friends thought you should be chasing.

Kara Goldin: Yeah, and it’s interesting, I just wrote an article about this for LinkedIn. It’s so interesting. Again, I’ve got four Gen Z-ers, three in college now and one in high school. It’s so interesting because we’re telling our children and this next generation to be curious and keep learning and doing all these things. It often stops for people after high school, or after college, or after graduate school, or law school, or whatever.

I think that if you’re not learning, you do become bored. I think that stage two is angry, right? We talk a lot today about mental health. I think that one checkpoint for a lot of people who might be experiencing depression, and even anxiety, is, “Are you learning?” Because I think so often, I’ve talked to people about just that aspect, and they’re like, “No, I do the same thing for the last 20 years, and I don’t really care anymore about it.”

People have often said, “Oh, you’re a fearless risk taker.” I’m like, “No. Maybe, but I’m also just really in tune with learning.” I’m constantly wanting to learn, digging in, and trying to learn about so much. It’s a longer story, but it’s another piece that I say to people all the time, founders who are saying, “How the heck are you still CEO of this company, years later?” There’s a lot of things around picking the right people to invest in you and all of that kind of stuff, but in addition, I think it’s knowing a little about a lot, right?

Stephanie Nadi Olson: Yeah.

Kara Goldin: Always be willing. I know how to code a little bit. I know how to sell this product. I know how to bottle this product. But I hire people that want to do that every single day, that love doing that with focus. As a leader, and as a CEO, I think it’s still really, really important to sort of know about all these different aspects. I mean, even all these different platforms that are out there today. Again, I just do it because I’m just curious. There’s people who know way more than me about all these different aspects, but I think it’s just a really, really important piece, and a part of humanity, is always be learning.

Stephanie Nadi Olson: Yeah, I couldn’t agree more. I always tell people, “I want to hire people who are curious and who can figure shit out.” If you’ve got those two things, I care much less about your background. I really want you to be able to figure things out. I think that comes with this kind of thirst for learning, because I think people, to your point, are most fulfilled when they’re able to experience that daily.

Kara Goldin: So true.

Stephanie Nadi Olson: One of the things that is coming up for me is, anybody listening to this is going to say, “Oh my gosh. Kara is a complete bad ass. She takes risks. She’s bold. She goes and gets what she wants.” But in Undaunted, you talk a lot about your own doubts and fears. I have this kind of working theory that courage is a muscle, and the more you do it, the easier it becomes, that we all need to be flexing that muscle. I’d love to hear from you what tips you have for people, who may be stuck in this fear-based energy. How have you moved past that? How have you flexed your muscles to get around it or through it?

Kara Goldin: Yeah. Well, first of all, I think I’ve met so many entrepreneur, CEOs over the years, and everybody has fears, right? I think we often don’t talk about the fears, which is not helpful. I don’t think that’s helpful to you. I don’t think it’s helpful to the next generation. It didn’t just happen overnight. People have always said to me, just in hearing how I built the company, they’ve said, “Oh, you’re a fearless risk taker. You never had any failures.” Any of these sort of big, bold opinions.

Stephanie Nadi Olson: Yeah.

Kara Goldin: For me, I started journaling. This book, I call myself an accidental entrepreneur, but I call myself an accidental author, too, because I never really thought I was going to write a book, even though I was a journalism major. I just started journaling about, now, almost four and a half years ago. It was really after I would do these keynotes and have a Q&A session, where people would ask me different things, not only how I built this, but how they didn’t think they could start a company because they didn’t have experience, they didn’t go to business school, or whatever it was.

I started just really journaling about all of those points. What I realized, in writing this book too, was that I did really have fears, even getting the bottle on the shelf at Whole Foods. I think for me, and maybe a lot of people listening can relate to this, I would say, “Oh, okay. I’m going to go get this product on the shelf at Whole Foods.” Then I would think, “Okay, now I got to go do it.” That’s a whole different story. Maybe I’m driving to Whole Foods, and I’m thinking, “Okay, I got to find the guy. What if he’s not in? Maybe I should turn around and call him first.” You know, all these different things would go on in my head. Then finally, I just decided if you overthink things, then you won’t do them.

Stephanie Nadi Olson: Yeah.

Kara Goldin: Right? I mean, that’s a piece of advice that I give to other entrepreneurs. Frankly, I think it’s the same with parenting, too. I tell my kids that stuff all the time, that sometimes if you just go try and you just go figure it out.

What I think is also really true is that you may go and get it on the shelf at Whole Foods, but maybe it’s not going to be in the section that you thought it was going to be in. Then you think, “Okay, that’s going to be a huge failure because it’s not in the beverage section.” Maybe it ends up in the fruit and vegetable section, and you’re thinking, “Oh. Well, that actually worked out better, probably.” Right?

Stephanie Nadi Olson: Yeah.

Kara Goldin: That stuff happens all the time. Having a very defined map is probably not the best strategy, either. You have to be willing to sort of bend a little bit, sort of allow the journey to just kind of flow. It’s funny, Steve Jobs used to say this, and probably in a much more articulate way, but eventually the dots connect. You start to think about all of these things that happen. I think that the best things happen when you actually do try and you ask questions along the way.

I think that one thing for me, that especially I thought about it as I was writing this book, is that when I moved to Silicon Valley, very different culture than five guys in an office, versus the Time and life building, which is where I … Just really, really different. Then obviously a late stage startup by a guy from Atlanta. It was just very, very unique and different.

What I realized, when I walked in the door at this little startup To Market, was that there were all different education levels in that room. I think that the most important thing that they appreciated out of me was that they would ask me questions, and I would actually tell them what I thought. I wouldn’t sit there and hold back because I didn’t have experience in the tech industry. I didn’t have a lot of money, so I wasn’t the best shopper in the world, but I had shopped at L.L. Bean and J. Crew and sort of I could sit there and keep up with them and think about …

So, I think being curious and being willing to try. Nobody had done what I was doing, in terms of going out to retailers and actually putting a pricing model together, but really common sense things. Initially, when they put the product out, To Market, they had basically been giving it away. They just said to retailers that if you want to be on this disc, you could be on for free. I said, “Well, going from free to actually charging is really hard.”

Stephanie Nadi Olson: Yeah.

Kara Goldin: You’re going to lose a lot of people. Instead, why not say it’s going to be $15,000, but we’ll discount it for you guys on this go-around. Then they feel like they’re really important. Again, I had no idea what I was doing. I was making this up. Then all of a sudden, it became industry standard. Yahoo and Microsoft and all of these other companies started using this model. Again, I would have days when I would fear things even during that time, but I kept thinking, “We’ll just try something. We can always change. We can always move in some other direction.”

I think building something from scratch, in some ways we had the product that we were continuing to improve at To Market, but building something from scratch from a revenue model and really trying to figure out how would the customer react to it, not only you and me who’s buying product off of it, but also people who were wanting to be a part of it. I think it’s always been something that I just thought about and always tried to simplify, as simple as possible, so that it makes sense for both partners.

Stephanie Nadi Olson: Yeah. I love that. I love hearing that. There’s something that I keep thinking about as you’re talking and as you’re sharing these stories. You seem to be the kind of person that thrives in an environment where you’re underestimated, or even overlooked. I’m the same way. I love it. I’m so competitive, so I’m like, “Yes, please underestimate me. Please just assume that I’m not a threat, or a competitor, or that I can’t do this.” Because it allows me to kind of quietly build in the background and observe.

Kara Goldin: Yeah.

Stephanie Nadi Olson: That’s been a big part of how you’ve built Hint, right? But you’ve encountered, I’m sure, tons of doubt and doubters. Has that come from surprising places, the people that have doubted you on your journey?

Kara Goldin: Yeah, definitely. It’s funny, as you’re saying this, I think about this a lot. I was a gymnast growing up. I think, like everybody else, you start somewhere. I would surprise myself. I would always work really, really hard, but there were people that were definitely better than me, in every sport. I would aspire. I would find those people, and I would go and watch them and learn from them.

My parents had a rule in our house, that everybody always had to be doing sports. There were certain times a year where I wasn’t doing gymnastics, and I had to pick a sport. Softball was always the sport that was sort of always there, but I was not good at it. After a while, what I realized is that sometimes you show up and you have a good attitude, and you jump in. I mean, you do the best that you can do. I think that attitude and mindset is so, so critical.

There were so many stories in the book that I talk about. One of the big doubter stories is when I was so excited to meet with this gentleman at Coca-Cola. I remember it was about a year into building Hint. I wouldn’t say I was burned out, but I was tired. I had four young kids. I was not taking a salary. I had sort of recruited my husband to help me get cases into stores in San Francisco. It was just a lot.

I couldn’t figure out a lot of things. I don’t give up very easily, but I had really a tough time figuring out distribution. I had a lot of people in these stores basically … Just different things, lingo that I didn’t understand. Every time I felt like I was gaining success, somebody would say to me, “Okay, well, you’ve got a three month shelf life. When are you going to get to a six month?” I’m like, “I just got to a three month. I mean, I thought I was doing pretty well.” I just felt like I’d take one step forward and two steps back, in so many directions.

I was telling a girlfriend of mine, I said, “I don’t know. Maybe I should just go back into tech and do something else. This is just a lot. I just feel like every time I try to talk to experienced people, too, that they just look at me like I have four heads because I just don’t have the right experience.”

She shared with me that she had met this gentleman from Coca-Cola on the plane. She said, “He seemed really cool. Maybe he’ll give you distribution or whatever.” I thought, “Okay.” I totally prepared for this meeting. I was so excited and really was going into sales mode. I was going to tell him how I not only got it into all these stores but people were buying it, and by the way, I used to be a huge Diet Coke consumer, and this is where I’ve gone. I had the pitch so down. When I started sharing this with him … We ended up having a phone call. I started sharing this whole story with him, and about 15 minutes into the conversation, he said, “Sweetie, Americans love sweet. This product isn’t going anywhere.” I was like, “Wait, did he just call me Sweetie?”

Stephanie Nadi Olson: Oh god.

Kara Goldin: I’ve told this story a million times, and people were like, “Why didn’t you hang up the phone? Why didn’t you just say, ‘Excuse me?'” I have no idea. I just sort of … I don’t know.

Stephanie Nadi Olson: You’re shocked, probably.

Kara Goldin: I was shocked, right?

Stephanie Nadi Olson: Yeah.

Kara Goldin: At that point, I allowed him to just keep talking. He was trying to convince me not to continue to do this product. He was saying this, that people actually don’t want an unsweetened flavored water, what they want is zero calories, and that if we just get it to zero calories, that’s exactly what people want. They still want sweet.

I remember thinking, “Okay, I’m going to let him keep talking, and hopefully he’ll say the word health along the way, because then I can sort of tie in what I’m doing and how I got to this place.” He never said the word health, in the one hour conversation.

So I hung up the phone. I think he thought I was just going to quit at this point. I thought, “I have a choice. I either quit or I recognize that we’re both on a different …” My visual is a river. He’s on one river, and I’m on the other river. I have a tugboat or a rowboat that has patches on it. It’s terrible. We have no money. He’s got this beautiful cruise ship. He’s got a lot of money. It’s going to take him a while to turn the cruise ship around, in order to catch up to what I’m saying, but I’m …

This is before people even called it a mission-driven company, but I had a purpose for starting this company. It wasn’t to start a beverage company. It was a realization that this tool, the beverage, actually helped me to get healthier, by making that one switch. That was just such a big concept, and one that he wasn’t there yet, but he could get there. So I needed to throw the gas on and just keep going and really build this thing out.

I think it’s something that entrepreneurs maybe face. I certainly didn’t recognize it until a couple months in, but now I look back on so many stories, including my own that I was a part of, at somebody else’s venture. I knew I was building a company. When you’re building a company, that’s like climbing a mountain, different levels of mountains. When you’re building a category, which is what I was doing, which is unsweetened flavored water in the beverage industry, that’s like climbing Everest. It ends up that the people who have the experience in your industry probably are not going to be the ones that are going to be helpful to you, because they are so focused on climbing that mountain.

It’s just at a totally different level. You call them visionaries. When Steve Case decided to start this private network, when Steve Jobs decides to make computing smaller and have design, when you look at these people, Sara Blakely from Spanx, people don’t get it. That’s the problem. When you’re starting a category, it just takes time to do it. That is something that I talk a lot about in the book, too. The only way to do it, I think, is you can’t buy that time. You have to allow the consumer to really engage and discover it and all of those things. It doesn’t just happen overnight.

Stephanie Nadi Olson: No.

Kara Goldin: So that was really kind of the biggest. I had my own doubts. I met doubters all along the way, but recognizing that you’re on a different river than other people, but also that they just don’t get it yet.

Stephanie Nadi Olson: Yeah.

Kara Goldin: I still say that today. I mean, today we’re the largest independent non-alcoholic beverage in the country that doesn’t have a relationship with Coke, Pepsi, or Dr. Pepper, Snapple. I still say, when we go into retailers and they say, “Oh, we’re going to give you two skews.” Versus at Target we have 17 skews.” I just say, “Oh, they’re just not ready for us yet. Let’s say no. Let’s just go back next year. I think that is really what happens to so many people, when you’ve got the only one in a category out there.

Stephanie Nadi Olson: Yeah. I think there’s so much of the finding fulfillment in the entrepreneurial journey that is just a mindset game. It’s just, instead of getting beaten down when people don’t see your vision, you have to see that as an opportunity. This is exactly why I’m going to gain a ton of ground before anyone else catches on, because they’re the naysayers. They’re very comfortable with the status quo, and I’m not.

I think that that is a gift that so many entrepreneurs have and need to embrace. At We Are Rosie and The Rosie Report, we are advocating for a more flexible future of work. We’re advocating for people being able to work on their own terms, with the end game of happy and more fulfilled people do better work, and they can really tap into their zone of genius.

I’ve heard you say a lot of things that we talk about a lot here, which is, have an outsider’s mentality and embrace that. If you see something that nobody else sees, have a dogged determination to go explore that. Be bold. Follow the energy I think is such a big one. You can tell, Hint was your life’s passion. It’s exactly what you should be doing in this season, and you’ve really followed that.

Also kind of embracing not knowing, right? Instead of beating yourself up because you didn’t go … I also didn’t go to an Ivy League school. I also have built a category that I didn’t know a lot about before I started my business. It’s a super power, this kind of outsider’s … Instead of viewing it as a weakness.

Is there anything else that you want to leave our listeners with, around how to follow their dreams and to be undaunted in the face of building a more fulfilled life and way of working?

Kara Goldin: I think you sort of reverse engineer it, to some extent. I’ve come to kind of believe this, where there are points along the way, again, where the dots eventually connect. You should view your life as a time to try things. You’re going to have errors, right? Trial and error, trial and error. You’re going to pick up things that you like and things that you didn’t like, but you’re going to learn who you are.

I think that that is the most important thing, and yet when we look at our career, it’s funny because maybe we look at it when we travel. We think, “Okay, well, I love Mexico, I didn’t like Mexico.” Or whatever. We don’t sort of look at it instead … When it doesn’t work out the way that we want, we so often think of it as a failure in some way, versus actually saying, “Okay, well, here’s what I learned. Here were the aspects. Here’s what I didn’t like about it. Let’s move on.”

Maybe it’s gamifying the thing, where maybe you look at school as you get out of the penalty box. Suddenly you’re going and you’re trying to figure out, “How can I get to the next move?” I think that that’s how I view the world today. Even during the pandemic, I always suggest to people, “Look at what you learned along the way.” How can you be better? Those are going to help you, going forward.

I think even speaking about the pandemic and how I managed during it, I think there were points during the financial crisis in 2008, 2009, where my brain automatically went back to those times and thought, “Okay, well, here’s what happened.” Again, you piece those things together because it’s all part of your journey.

Stephanie Nadi Olson: Yep. Yeah. I love that. I love this idea of gamifying your career, because I think people do need to think more broadly. I think we get our identity so tied up in the work that we’re doing, that we take it so personally when something doesn’t go right or exactly how we planned. It’s actually just giving us more information to find the thing that’s going to be the most fulfilling and that we can kind of excel at. I love that, Kara. It has been incredible to chat with you today.

Kara Goldin: You too!

Stephanie Nadi Olson: And to hear more about your story. I have loved this book. I think everybody should read Undaunted. It is fantastic. It’s a must read for people that are looking for the next phase of their career or what they want to do with their lives to be more fulfilled and happy. Where can people find you on social media, Kara, and obviously where can they go to buy your book?

Kara Goldin: Yeah, all over on social media. Kara Goldin, with an I. In book stores everywhere, super easy peasy. online at Undaunted on Amazon.

Stephanie Nadi Olson: Awesome. Thank you so much for being here today and sharing your story.

Kara Goldin: Thank you.

Stephanie Nadi Olson: We’ve loved having you on TheRosieReport.com. Appreciate everybody who’s tuned in. Until next time.


Kara’s Socials: Linkedin, Twitter, Instagram

Stephanie’s Socials: LinkedIn, Twitter

Editor’s Socials – Kiana Pirouz: Linkedin, Instagram 

Written by We Are Rosie

Welcome to The Write-Up, a central hub for all voices shaping the future of work to be heard. 

Manifested by We Are Rosie in 2020, The Rosie Report began as a report and quickly swelled into a podcast, The Write-Up, and newsletter series. Thanks for being here to help us create the future we all deserve. And please don’t be shy with your comments, suggestions, and pitches!