We all know how important it is to drink water, but let’s be honest, plain old H2O can be a little, well, bland. Hint CEO Kara Goldin felt so strongly about this that just over a decade ago she left her job as an AOL executive and began developing a sugar-free water beverage that offered a healthier alternative to sodas and drinks infused with diet sweeteners. Click through to read our interview with Kara.
Once she’d perfected her recipe, Kara began selling the drink from her garage. Fast-forward ten years and Hint Water has grown into a multi-award-winning, $40 million dollar business. We caught up with Kara to discuss healthy living, entrepreneurial tips, and what it feels like to see stars like Tim McGraw enjoying a bottle of Hint.
FreshDirect: What was the key moment that motivated you to begin developing Hint?
Kara Goldin: I wanted my family to lead a healthier lifestyle and the first step was eliminating all of the sugary sodas, juices. and sports drinks from the kitchen, leaving basically just plain water and organic milk to drink. That didn’t go over well with the kids—or my husband—and the truth is, even I got bored of drinking plain water. So I started slicing fruit into the water and it worked for the whole family and many of our friends. One day, the mother of one of my kids’ friends called to ask, “Where can I buy that raspberry drink you gave my daughter the other day?” I laughed, but then I realized there should be a simple product like this that you can grab-on-the-go. I actually called some people at the big beverage companies and tried to give them the idea, but they just laughed and said, “Americans like sweet drinks.” Soon after, I started Hint Water and set out to prove the big beverage companies wrong.
FD: How much trial and error was there before you got the recipe just right?
KG: It took about a year to get our first products tasting the way I wanted them and another two years for us to figure out how to make them in a way that would have enough shelf life without using any preservatives.
FD: When you started Hint did you ever envision it becoming as big as it has? What were your original targets?
KG: I’m excited about how far we have come but in some ways it feels like we’re just getting started. When I started Hint my first rule for the product was that it had to appeal to most people who tried it. I wouldn’t have founded the company if I didn’t believe we could help most Americans fall in love with water. Our main goal was to get to the point where most Americans understand that water can taste great without tasting sweet.
FD: Did your family and friends think you were a little bit mad when you started selling beverages out of your garage?
KG: Everyone who knows me well knows that I love big challenges and that I won’t give up until I achieve my goals. My family and friends might have thought I was crazy to launch a beverage had they not all played a big role in developing it. But the truth is, for 9 months no one could come into my house without having an early version of Hint shoved into their hands. I asked them all to be brutally honest with us and with their input. We made Hint better every day until we launched it.
FD: Hint was not an overnight success and there were some struggles. Was there ever a point when you considered giving up?
KG: There have been plenty of difficult times, especially in 2008 and 2009 when the economy was in shambles, but I never considered giving up. We often struggled with how to get through a challenge but never with whether we could. As an entrepreneur, you know that you just have to find a way. In some ways, it’s the struggles that help you make a good product great.
FD: What’s been the secret to your success?
KG: Before we launched our first drink, a friend who makes a food product told me, “Kara, this is pick and shovel work. It’s waking up every day and solving the same problems you solved the day before.” Another way to say it is that this is a marathon, not a sprint. Success comes one step at a time and is more about being consistent and persistent than it is about running fast.
FD: What’s been your proudest moment since Hint began?
KG: Over and over again and usually when I’m having a difficult day, we get an email or a phone call from a customer who just wants us to know how much Hint means to them, to recognize that discovering Hint was their first step in becoming healthier, losing weight or just feeling better. We don’t change people’s lives, but we’ve been told many times that we’ve made it easier for people to change their own lives. What could possibly be better than that?
FD: Tim McGraw was photographed backstage at this year’s Oscars with a bottle of Hint in his hand. Do moments like that feel surreal?
KG: Honestly it just feels great to see recording artists like Tim McGraw and John Legend making hint a part of their healthy lifestyle.
FD: Finally, what hints would you give to anyone thinking of developing their own brand of healthy drinks?
KG: I’m often asked for advice by would-be beverage entrepreneurs and I just repeat what I was told: “It’s pick and shovel work.” And I would add that it is a long road from selling your first drink to making a profit. Make sure you’re prepared for the long and expensive journey.
Make a refreshing Berry Blackberry Cooler using Hint!
What to Do:
Fill a chilled tumbler with frozen berry ice cubes (simply add berries and water to an ice cube tray and freeze) or use regular ice. Add vodka, blackberry hint fizz, and garnish with a few berries! Simple, tasty, and only 100 calories!