How This Entrepreneur Turned Her Diet Coke Addiction Into a Company

January 22, 2016, 9:04 PM UTC

Kara Goldin always found water plain and boring. She swore by Diet Coke and drank about 10 to 12 cans a day.

“I had just had my third child, I was exhausted, I weighed more than I wanted to weigh, and I also had terrible acne,” said Goldin, founder and CEO of Hint Water.

Goldin decided to try giving up Diet Coke, and she lost 45 pounds in three months. This prompted her to start examining her daily food and beverage intake.

“Frankly, I was way ahead of my time,” Goldin said. “This was 11 years ago, and I wanted to know what pesticides were in my food, and I wanted to understand what hormones were in the product.”

Goldin saw a gap in the market and created Hint Water, a fruit-infused beverage with no calories, sweeteners or artificial flavors. With over $70 million in total annual sales, Hint Water continues to grow. Here’s what founder and CEO Goldin had to say about the current state of the food and beverage industry and Hint’s plans for the future.

Why did you decide to launch Hint Water, and when did you know you had a potential success on your hands?

Today, the food and beverage industry is so not interested in helping consumers get healthy. They’re interested in selling you stuff versus actually understanding who you are as a consumer. I fell into this game of being tricked by like words like “diet,” and “low-fat” and “calorie counts.” At the end of the day, if you understand the ingredients, that’s what matters. If you see something with sugar on it, don’t keep it from yourself – just eat it in moderation.

When I launched the company, I was actually pregnant with my fourth child. I had it in my mind that I needed to get this product on the shelf prior to going into labor. I decided to take it to Whole Foods the next day with 10 cases. Whole Foods called me a few days later and said, “Your product’s gone. It all sold.” That was a really big day for me. But then you have to go national. All of the experiences along the way have done nothing but expose the consumer to what we’re trying to do. They’re all good experiences but certainly come with the ups and downs of an entrepreneur.

You launched Hint Water about 10-and-a-half years ago. Do you think the beverage industry has changed since then?

Until we launched, I never realized how many beverages there were in the marketplace. We worked closely with Michelle Obama on her “Drink Up” initiative and helped define “What is water?” Water does not have sweeteners in it. Water doesn’t have color. Water does not have preservatives in it. I realized that there were over 2,000 beverages in the marketplace. It’s crazy how competitive it is. I think it’s filled with a lot of “me too products.” I tell entrepreneurs today that if you’re launching a company that is a “me too product” and you can’t really define how you’re different, then it’s probably not a good idea.

Hint Water has experienced pretty explosive growth. What advice do you have for entrepreneurs who are looking to scale fast?

I spend a lot of time looking outside of the beverage industry. In order to be that unicorn company that’s going to accelerate growth, you need to be different. I can’t compete with the billion-dollar advertising budgets of Coke (KO) and Pepsi (PEP) . Instead, I need to figure out, “How do I get to the consumer in ways Coke and Pepsi are not?” Without the consumers’ buy-in, it’s really difficult to be a successful company.

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What is the key to appealing to consumers?

A few years ago, marketing and branding was about, “We’re going to tell you what to do.” Today, the consumer is really intrigued by the idea that you can actually understand them without them telling you. If you’re a brand that can quietly solve some of the issues that they’re not even telling their friends they’re dealing with, then you can gain their trust.

What’s next for Hint Water?

The consumer is really pushing us to get healthier in other ways. I think we can be a billion-dollar company just in beverage, but I believe this can parlay in many other categories–whether it’s skin-care or food.

No one wants products today that are super complicated or hard to figure out. While Hint is not an easy product to make, it’s been our focus to make it fun and simple for the consumer.

This Q&A has been edited for grammar and clarity.