Joseph Schell/Special to the SF ExaminerKara Goldin

Kara Goldin helped Hint Water become $30 million company

Kara Goldin helped turn AOL’s online shopping business into a billion-dollar entity in the 1990s. Then she walked away from the gig to create Hint Water, a healthy beverage alternative to soda and other sugary drinks. In just five years, Hint has become a $30 million company, and recently Goldin was named one of Fortune Magazine’s 10 Most Promising Women Entrepreneurs.

What is Hint?

Hint is unsweetened, flavored water. What most people don’t realize is that all the flavored waters out on the market are sweetened with something, whether it’s sugar or some sort of sweetener. I really wanted a product for myself that was water, but just tasted better. I found that I wasn’t drinking water because it’s so boring. I wanted something with a little more taste to it.

Where did the idea for Hint come from?

I had been drinking Diet Coke for 20 years and I finally woke up one day and said, “Why am I drinking this?” So I started poking around drinking Vitamin Water, Fuze, Sobe and some of the other drinks that were out there. I looked at the ingredients and realized there was a tremendous amount of calories in the products, sweeteners and chemicals I’d never heard of. At the same time, I was watching my four kids starting out life with a lot of sweet in their diets and I know from my own habits that once you start down that sweet track you just want more. It becomes an addiction.

What is your strategy for growing this product?

To date, we’re in major markets — San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York and Boston — and we’re just now going into conventional grocery with Safeway in the Bay Area. We’re also hitting schools and just trying to open as many doors as possible. Five years from now, I could see us going into a number of different categories. It isn’t just about beverages, but a lifestyle.

How do you juggle being a mother of four and one of the most promising women entrepreneurs in the country?

Hint is very integrated in my life and my kids’ lives, so it’s easy. In a lot of ways, Hint is about getting our house to live healthier. My kids actually do a lot for Hint, too, because they know it’s helping people. I’ve learned a lot by talking to my kids and their friends; they’re my biggest focus group.

How did you walk away from your high-profile job at AOL to launch this product?

I was starting my family and at the time I needed to live a healthier lifestyle. If you can change your lifestyle just a little bit it can make a big difference. We don’t do enough to help people understand how to live a healthier lifestyle, and that’s my overall goal. That’s why it’s called Hint — it’s just a hint that we need to drink more water, think about the things we put in our bodies and the way that we live.

How did your experience building AOL help you with Hint?

I loved AOL and I loved helping to build it. When I look back at what I learned at AOL, it was about figuring out what customers want and I think that transfers really nicely to Hint. At AOL, we were constantly trying to make the service simpler. It’s the simplest design that gets people and the consumer is never going to tell you exactly what they want. You have to show them what they need and be able to tell them the story of why they need it.

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