Q&A: Founder and CEO of Hint Water Talks Amazon and CPG Brands

Kara Goldin believes in doing what’s best for the customer

Kara Goldin, founder and CEO of Hint Inc. Hint
Headshot of Ann-Marie Alcántara

Take a walk around some of the biggest tech companies in the world, and you’ll notice one line of beverages in their fridges: Hint Water. Since the beverage company—which made an estimated $90 million in 2016 sales—was started by Kara Goldin in 2005, it’s expanded with a carbonated drink in 2011 and (for some reason) sunscreen in 2017.

Adweek recently sat down with Goldin to chat about retail trends, the power of consumers and Amazon’s acquisition of Whole Foods.

The following has been edited for length and clarity.

Adweek: What does it take to have both an online and offline presence as a beverage company?
Goldin: We now have probably 30 people on the e-commerce team—it’s a big investment in a company to actually do it right. [There’s] just all a lot of components to that business, and I think about my days at AOL. I launched shopping at AOL way back in 1995. My task was to actually … talk to retailers and get them to put a store on AOL. But most of the time, they would say, “We’re the Gap and we have all these stores; why does the consumer need to go here? … They should come to us, because we have stores everywhere.”

It’s kind of the issue with consumer packaged goods (CPG) today. They know how to do truckloads of products, [but] they don’t know how to do the nice pretty box. It’s a totally different business, and so a lot of times these companies and retailers have to really figure out how they can actually do this one-to one and accept the fact that it’s … a very different business.

The reality was, 100 percent of the time, over the course of the next five years, we saw in retail that people who actually [had] different ways for the customer to actually receive their product and [leave] it to the customer to decide [would see] the rest of their business [go] up.

At the end of the day, it’s about a great brand and a great product, but it’s really about the customer and figuring out how the customer wants to shop. And if you’re not thinking about that as a consumer marketer, then you’re dead.

Have you seen any changes in your business since Amazon bought Whole Foods?
Our Amazon business is super strong. We’re still doing phenomenal business with Amazon. We were in every single region across the country when when that deal happened, and then Amazon like walked in with its analytical and data mindset and basically cut us out of certain regions because they couldn’t figure out the data.

There were some regions that picked [Hint] flavors [and they] weren’t necessarily our top sellers. So [Amazon] basically did this whole analysis and said, “Well, there are certain regions that are actually doing better with this product than other regions, and we should just stop selling,” instead of saying, “Maybe we should bring those top flavors into those other regions and basically make it all consistent, which is what our customer ultimately wants.”

I think we’re actually going to come out better in this whole thing. I don’t think stores are going to all die tomorrow. I still think people want experiences, but they want better selection.

Consumers want a company that stands for something and has a story. Do you think it’s played a role in Hint’s success?
I always say to entrepreneurs if you’re not solving a problem, don’t bother, don’t start a company. There’s nothing wrong with being a contributor. If you don’t have this killer idea [that] you can actually very quickly like visualize it and explain, then go work for somebody else for a couple years and actually give yourself time.

You have to have a good product or service. But I think that you also have to be able to articulate the reason why somebody should actually pay some sort of money [for a product]. I think people remember stories, so I think that the founders that are actually out there articulating their story, whether it’s Hint or Warby Parker or Glossier, it just resonates with [people]. And these brands rarely do a lot of advertising. They’re telling stories.

@itstheannmarie annmarie.alcantara@adweek.com Ann-Marie Alcántara is a tech reporter for Adweek, focusing on direct-to-consumer brands and ecommerce.