Kara Goldin is the founder and CEO of Hint, a healthy lifestyle brand that produces the leading unsweetened flavored water, scented sunscreen spray that’s oxybenzone and paraben-free and—as of this January—eucalyptus + lemon deodorant made with 100% plant-derived ingredients and no aluminum.
Kara also hosts and produces the podcast Unstoppable, where she interviews inspiring entrepreneurs, such as Jenny Fleiss of Rent the Runway, Jessica Herrin of Stella & Dot, and, most recently, Cliff Weitzman of Speechify.
In This Conversation We Discuss: (50 Characters)
- [00:00] Intro
- [01:03] Sponsor: Gorgias gorgias.link/honest
- [02:06] Learning about paraben and oxybenzone
- [03:24] They reason why hint branched out
- [04:20] How long has Hint been around?
- [05:49] The birth of Hint and Kara’s son
- [06:27] Hint was an early ecommerce adopter
- [08:44] Kara and Hint’s backstory
- [14:30] Solving Hint’s hurdles beneficial for customers
- [15:39] Sponsor: Klaviyo klaviyo.com
- [16:18] Kara pitching the idea internally to go DTC
- [17:56] The advantages of having an online store
- [18:39] Confirming that Hint really changes people’s lives
- [19:48] Sponsor: Postscript postscript.io/install
- [20:18] Hint’s Superbowl ad experience
- [24:56] About her upcoming book, Undaunted
- [28:04] Kara’s advice to new DTC brands
- Kara’s website: karagoldin.com
- Hint’s website: drinkhint.com
- Kara’s Twitter @karagoldin
- Kara’s Instagram @karagoldin
- Pre-order Kara’s book on Amazon, Undaunted amazon.com/Undaunted-Overcoming-Doubters-Kara-Goldin/dp/1400220289
- Kara’s Unstoppable podcast: karagoldin.com/podcast
- Visit gorgias.link/honest to get your 2nd month with Gorgias free!
- Visit klaviyo.com to schedule a demo!
- Visit postscript.io/install for a free 30-day trial!
- To get updates on our new episodes and exclusive deals from our partners, text HONESTVIP to 72599 and join our VIP texting list!
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Hey everybody, this is Chase. Before we get started, I want to let you know that we had a little bit of technical difficulties during this one. There's a few times when Kara unfortunately dropped out and we edit it together the best as we could.
It is very listenable, not much was missed here. I just wanted to let you know in case you notice it during the podcast. Anyways, here we go.
You have to just try and just keep testing things. Everything from pricing, to who your audiences are, to what the offer is, and what works for you.
Welcome to Honest Ecommerce, where we're dedicated to cutting through the BS and finding actionable advice for online store owners.
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All right, everybody welcome back to another episode of Honest Ecommerce. I'm your host, Chase Clymer. And today we welcome to the show, another amazing founder to go with our founder series that we've been working on.
It's a healthy lifestyle brand that produces the leading unsweetened flavored water, scented sunscreen spray that's oxybenzone and paraber... I'm gonna screw that one up. You're gonna help me with that in a second aren't you Kara? (laughs)
It's paraben. Yeah.
Paraben-free. All right. Now, I'm learning something today. And most recently, they have launched a eucalyptus and lemon deodorant made with 100% plant-derived ingredients and no aluminum. Welcome to the show, Kara.
Thank you. Thanks for having me.
All right. So now, I'm curious what is parababen... Paraben. There we go.
It's actually a... It's a hormone disruptor. And so it's used often in lots of cosmetics, actually, as a preservative. But it's not great for women as well as men. And it's something that... It ends up actually not necessary. So there's other ways to develop great products without some of these ingredients that are not so healthy for you.
Absolutely. I've definitely noticed oxybenzone-free being oftentimes on a lot of the sunscreens. Myself when I go on vacations, it's definitely an island. So I'm very familiar with seeing that on labels. So it's cool to learn more about those types of products.
Yeah. It's good and we branched out from water. We've been doing water for a long time and have lots of different flavors and...
But for me, it was always a brand that was developed out of purpose and out of solving a problem and initially solving a problem for myself around not being as healthy as I want it to be and figured out that these diet sweeteners were actually the culprit.
So for me, as I started to just live my life and do what I was doing including putting sunscreen on, I realized that there were certain things that I knew about that other consumers didn't know about and my curiosity really pushed me to develop that product. And then, a very similar story for deodorant as well.
Absolutely. So you said you've been doing this a long time. Can you let the listeners know how long when Hint has been around?
Yeah. So Hints in May this year, --end of May-- marks our 15th year. And I always remember it because I was pregnant with my son, Justin. And I actually got my first bottle on the shelf the morning that I was delivering Justin.
And [it] probably guilted the poor guy at Whole Foods into actually putting it on the shelf. Because I told him that I was having a baby and I really wanted to get it done. Get it on the shelf before going and delivering my son.
And then got a phone call afterwards from the next day, from the person. The guy that had put it on the shelf saying that the 10 cases were actually gone. That we had dropped with him. And initially, probably still getting over my euphoria or morphine drip or whatever you want to (laughs) equate it to but I was curious like "Who actually took the cases?"
And then he went on to explain to me that nobody took on the... Actually, all 10 cases have sold overnight. And so that was really the beginning of Hint. And this is the beginning of me actually getting into the beverage industry.
That's amazing. That's the first time I've heard someone use pregnancy as a negotiation tactic. So that's a first.
It was quite effective. I wouldn't have probably owned it back then or viewed it as such. But for me, it was just a thing that I wanted to get off of my plate: to get it on the shelf beforehand. But I really think he took a little bit of pity on me and that was the beginning of it.
So back then, 2005 --15 years ago-- I'm assuming that the brand was started with a more traditional business model. And then it has since evolved into D2C, as they like to say.
Yeah. Prior to launching Hint, I actually started and ran ecommerce and shopping on AOL. And was really early in terms of --actually in the beginning days of going to catalogers and retailers and getting them to come online-- and I was there for 7 years and left when it was a billion dollars in revenue to AOL.
And I really felt like I wanted to do some... I have 3 kids at that point. And as I mentioned, I have my 4th when I was developing the business plan for this. But I love technology, and I thought it was super interesting. There were definitely challenges because certain things were not like the actual technology was not there where it needed to be.
But I also felt like "Do I need to continue in tech? Is tech, the only thing that I can do?" And for me, I had left that question sitting out there as, I want to do something that has purpose, and connects with customers, and really helps people be the best that they can be.
And if there's health involved, maybe that is something that would be really great, too. And I kept thinking and many people --as I explained this to friends and family-- they would say, "Oh, you should do a nonprofit or you should join some boards that are helping things that are really... That you're really passionate about".
But I was passionate about a lot of different things and I felt like in many many ways, growing up in an ecommerce --early ecommerce-- days and the early internet days, so to say, where A, it was tough for me because it just moves so fast and we were just breaking so many new grounds.
And so it was hard because I was looking for that next thing and I just couldn't find it. And so while I was doing that I was really just trying to get healthy.
And my backstory was really that I had taken some time off to have kids and figure out what I want to do next and I realized that I had gained a ton of weight, my energy levels were low, I developed terrible adult acne, which I didn't even have as a teenager.
And when I really started looking for the problem... And a bunch of people, doctors in particular, nutritionists, all pointed to food. And one day I really became accustomed to reading labels, --and I had never before this time-- but while I was really trying to solve this problem, that's what I was doing.
But for some reason, I really wasn't reading the drink labels. I'd never really paid attention. And I certainly didn't pay attention to something that I was actually having every single day, which I'm convinced, actually, was the problem, which was diet soda.
And so I was drinking diet soda every day. On a slow day or good day, however you want to phrase it...
I was drinking anywhere from 8 to 12 a day of Diet Coke. And sometimes in the fountain sodas, etc. So I gave that up just as a test when I realized there were 30 ingredients in Diet Coke, in particular.
And then I started drinking plain water. I was never a water drinker. I didn't know that about myself, but I aspired to drink water but I just wasn't doing it. So I was slicing up fruit to get me to really enjoy the taste of water because I thought that's the key thing. It's just super boring.
And I lost... In 2 and a half weeks, I lost over 20 pounds. In 6 months, I lost the weight that I was really trying to get off which was 55 pounds. And that's when I really started thinking about everything that I had been talking about around, doing something that helps people, that has purpose, that really changes people's health would... I had stumbled upon it.
And so little did I know that... I always thought, "Okay, I see all these soda trucks, and some water trucks like Nestle running around." And I thought, "Okay, I've gotta go get it into stores." When people ask me, "Well, you know a lot about ecommerce, why aren't you actually bringing this online?"
I kept thinking about all of the challenges that many people have thought about ecommerce and why their business isn't going into ecommerce which was, it's a heavy product, it's, people aren't buying that way. And that was true, 15 years ago, that there were these hurdles.
And so we continue to sort of initially do what I thought was the way to go which was... We started in Whole Foods which is considered a specialty and then we eventually got into conventional grocers like the Krogers of the world.
Very early on, Google was actually trying to hire me to come in and do something with ecommerce and shopping. And I knew the guy that was recruiting me and I said, "Listen. Actually, I want to be honest with you and sort of share with you what I'm thinking I want to do."
And we've been really like doing everything ourselves, loading up the truck with cases, and delivering it to Whole Foods locally in the Bay Area. And so, I think he kind of took pity on me that I was and maybe still wanted to stay in connection with me.
So he was like, "Oh, you should try and get with our guy that's cooking meals for all Google employees." Which later even got bigger and became Microkitchens. And so that was huge business for us and a huge, impactful way to get to customers even outside of stores. [It] was corporate food service.
But then about 6 years ago, Amazon reached out to us and asked us to launch on their platform. They were just starting Grocery. And I think it was about 6 years ago. I always get confused on my timeline.
But basically, we did it as a test launch. There were only a few food and beverage items in their offering. And we --very, very quickly-- became one of the top food and beverage items.
The beverage item that was really selling. And for me, the interesting thing about selling on Amazon was that we proved it out that the customer actually would buy our product. And all of the hurdles that I talked about around ecommerce including reasons why we wouldn't do it: Like "It's heavy."
And all of these issues I recognized very, very early that that was actually, solving a problem for customers. And while it was heavy for us and something we had to figure out, it was something that customers were actually thinking about when they went to the grocery store that they didn't want to carry a heavy case home. They'd rather have it delivered to their house.
So that was the early days of it. And yeah. And I think I'll leave it at that.
Yeah. That's a fantastic story. I like how when you first got going, the heavy product was almost a limiting belief. And you're like, "I don't think it's gonna work." And then that actually, from a customer's perspective, it's the reason why it worked. That's so cool.
Yeah, it was just... It was really... Sorry, I had to take a sip of my Cherry Hint here. But it was... Definitely, it ended up to be a benefit. And I look back on that now and I always think about things that are hurdles internally, whether it's to me or team or whatever.
And I think that "How would the customer think about that?" That may be the exact reason, maybe phrased differently, but that may be the exact reason why they haven't tried your product.
Because they don't want to carry a heavy case home. Especially in the last few years, more and more people don't have cars. And they're trying to figure out exactly... When they get their groceries, how do they actually get...They're limiting the amount of stuff that they're actually purchasing inside stores.
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So that was the key thing. And I think for... A lot of people asked, including when I decided to launch our direct-to-consumer business internally. I went to our board and said, "Hey, this is what I want to do.
And I've got experience in ecommerce. And we'll set up our super bare bones ecommerce site on our end And we'll just fulfill it from our office. [Start] really, really small just to kind of test it out." It's already been tested on Amazon.
It seems to be doing fine but, again, the thinking was "There's... Amazon has so many customers. And how are you going to actually get people to recognize that you've actually got your own site."
And I had said, "Well, we'll do a little bit of advertising." But I really, really fundamentally believed and had seen in my AOL days that it was for the customer. There are some customers who really want to buy directly from the manufacturer.
And some customers believe that they get fresher products directly from the manufacturer, which is not most of the time the case.
Or they may have had an issue with a store or third party that has nothing to do with your product and they want to just go directly to you.
And in times like [this] --we're recording this during a pandemic. During COVID-- I think that it's not always the case for a product if you're not [an] essential product today. If you're going through Amazon, your product may not ship for a couple of weeks. And there's not a whole lot you can do about it.
So the controls when you have your own site, getting the word out there about why somebody should buy your product, what is, you know, your purpose, all of those things, you just have more room to kind of tell the story and also selection.
We have over 20 products and just in water that we sell, and, you know, even if CVS may only have our sunscreen seasonally, you know, you can buy it on our website, your round, you know, all of those things, and then also just a better knowledge, ultimately, who's buying your products.
So if you sell through Amazon, I mean, what we were hearing early on from Amazon was that people were buying our product and they were also buying things like you know, type two diabetes monitors or KIND bars or healthier kinds of products or products that we're going to help them stay healthy.
And, you know, that for us was really, you know, confirming that we had a product that ultimately was, you know, what we knew it was. It was changing people's lives. And so it was very different than you know what I sold a company would do and maybe the opposite of that, right?
We were actually helping people to get their health back, which is or keep, you know, their health and which was super, super powerful. And so, again, the ability to connect with your customer and talk to your customer and really, like, ultimately launch new products off of that information too, as is just, you know, really what you're on site allows you to do.
Oh yeah, absolutely.
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Let's fast forward a bit. So a couple months ago, you guys actually debuted an ad during the Super Bowl. I think that's a crowning achievement for any brand. Why don't you tell us about that experience?
Yeah. I think every brand is especially ones that sort of think about doing advertising. That's kind of the holy grail, right? It's like, “Oh one day, I'll do a Superbowl ad.” And I had actually, prior to AOL, had been at CNN. And I was doing advertising at CNN.
And so I knew enough about advertising and really have always built this brand based on getting people to try the product, and love it, and share their love of the brand, individually.
But I got to a point where I felt like it might be time to actually do advertising and I had actually run into a person that used to work with me at CNN and I just barely reached out to her and I said. “I'm just so curious. Do you know anybody over at Fox Sports which was the one that was actually carrying the Super Bowl.” And so she connected with me. She did.
She knew the head of Fox Sports and connected with me. And I said, “Hey, I'm friends with this person. And just curious, are you guys actually sold out?”
And he said, “We are but there's actually regions --including the one that you're in-- in San Francisco and New York and a few others that actually do have openings.”
And so it ends up [like that] for certain shows/events, whatever. So I was just thinking “This is so unlikely, but I'm more curious than anything else.” And so I reached out to him and learned that basically he had the openings in every single key market.
And so, ultimately, we sort of sat on it for a couple of weeks prior to the Super Bowl. And about one week prior, I remember some lessons that I learned at CNN, which was for events like the Super Bowl: You have to actually traffic the ad, and it has to get traffic through Fox Sports, and then it also has to get traffic through the NFL for approval, And so and that just takes time.
It just doesn't get submitted to the NFL and then you snap your fingers and it's approved, typically.
And so I knew that because there was inventory available that the person sitting around inside of these regions we really had a limited amount of time to go and get this thing done.
And so we ultimately watched that time, that clock, and ended up putting in a bid like, you know, not even a week before the Super Bowl was actually going on.
And we got 80% of the country, and for less than a million dollars, which was significantly less than a Super Bowl ad. And again, it's like, if you really understand the total equation anytime and how the other person's thinking on the other side of the table, it's ultimately it can be... It can work to your benefit, and it definitely did.
And for us it was amazing. I think it really put us on the map. And I had my phone pretty much blown up that night with well over 300 texts all coming at me at once when everybody saw it because it was really a surprise and delight.
I don't think anybody expected a small-ish beverage brand --and certainly not Hint-- to show up. And so it was exciting not only for our customers but for our employees [and] for our distributors. Everybody was just really, really excited about it.
I was excited about it. It was cool. Obviously, I've actually seen you speak before. I saw you speak in Klaviyo --at the Klaviyo Conference in Boston-- last fall. I just root for everybody in the DTC game, as you'd say.
I think it's fun when people win. So I was super excited about it myself, personally.
Yeah. So the book is called Undaunted. And I've been writing for 3 years and and, really, the key for me was... I travel a lot and so it's what I do on airplanes, and in hotel rooms by myself at night.
I just start writing as I'm thinking about things. And it's everything from what people will ask me on... I'll be on a panel or on a webinar, and people have asked me like “Why are you okay with risk?” or “Have you had failures or things like that along the way?”
And I just started really thinking and writing about those things. And obviously, I've heard from a ton of entrepreneurs of the years who are interested in either launching a food or beverage company or moving from a different industry like tech to the food industry.
And frankly, I think a lot of those questions come in and I just don't get to answer all of them. And I really wanted to put down the things that I've learned along the way.
So Undaunted is really a mixture of business in terms of [answering the question] how did you do it, but also a lot of theory that I've had around like, “Life is not about putting roadblocks up in front of yourself.” to “not do something…”
And it's like if you use words like failure or I could fail, then you probably won't do it. But instead if you use words like “I'm going to go give it a try and see what happens.”, then you might.
So things like that along the way that, I think, are really important people who have had a lot of impact on me. I'm also a big believer... I think I've talked about it at the Klaviyo conference a bit..., I look back on the people that were most helpful to me, and they wouldn't have been...
Those people that are where I got inspiration and lessons for what other channels I'm in or whatever. It's really just about how did you ultimately think about launching it or whatever was successful. And I feel like, so often we get these blocks along the way like that.
You think, “Okay, I've got to go hire somebody because I know nothing about this industry.” And, you know, like I said, I felt like it was really the people outside of the industries and in different industries that were really sort of doing what I was doing: That I was learning the most from just by them telling their own story. And that to me, I think, is just super powerful.
That's amazing. I look forward to reading that book. And I'm sure it's full of a lot of impactful advice for young entrepreneurs. Before I let you go for the day, is there one piece of advice that you think would resonate with our audience, like [for] new direct-to-consumer brands per se?
Well, I think I touched on this just a minute ago, but I think that, so often, people look at putting things like “It's gonna be expensive.” [or] “ Amazon's gonna crush us if we do it right.” All of these factors.
And I think that, first of all, you have to figure out a pretty inexpensive, cheap, --whatever you want to say-- way to try it. That doesn't mean that you have to go... Nothing against Shopify. I love Shopify, but you don't necessarily need to go set up Shopify tomorrow, in order to actually go and do ecommerce.
You can do it in a more bare bones way, like what we did. And maybe you don't have your entire selection, but you try some products and do some test ads on Facebook and some Google AdWords or whatever, just to see whether or not something's ultimately going to work.
And at the end of the day, you just don't know what the customer is going to do. And even like a focus group saying, “Okay, customers tell me that they're going to do it.”
Customers often do differently than what they say they're going to do. And so you have to just try and just keep testing things, everything from pricing to, who your audiences are, to what the offer is, and what works for you.
It's not to say that affiliates work for everybody or don't work for everybody. It doesn't... All of those aspects of it, I think, are just... You just have to go out and try lots of different things. And that's the most important part.
That's amazing, Kara.Thank you so much for coming on the show today.
Yeah. Thanks for having me. And if you want to reach out, I'm at on most social channels @karagoldin with an I. Kara Goldin. And yeah. And definitely check out Hint at drinkhint.com.
Awesome. I'll make sure to put all those links in the show notes for everyone.
I cannot thank our guests enough for coming on the show and sharing their journey and knowledge with us today. We've got a lot to think about and potentially add to our businesses. Links and more information will be available in the show notes as well.
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