Kara Goldin doesn’t get scared often. The founder and CEO of the flavored-water company Hint Water was named one of Fast Company's Most Creative People in Business and Fortune's Most Powerful Women Entrepreneurs. She recently released her memoir Undaunted: Overcoming Doubts and Doubters sharing her major career moments. And not to mention, she built a $150 million business empire.

Now, it’s easy to say that nothing scares Kara. But 15 years ago, that wasn’t the case. We (virtually) sat down with the powerhouse behind the largest non-alcoholic beverage company in the U.S. and talked about navigating imposter syndrome, breaking unhealthy habits, and creating a new category from scratch.

Unhealthy Habits

After leaving a demanding position at AOL, Kara had picked up some unhealthy habits. Habits that had impacted her so much so that she was secretly running to the dermatologist.

“I wasn't as healthy as I wanted to be. I gained a bunch of weight. Over the course of many years, I had developed terrible adult acne.”

While trying to figure out these health issues, Kara reluctantly decided to make a “tiny, tiny” change and replace Diet Coke with water. Since she found water quite “boring,” Kara started to add sliced fruits into the water in hopes of satisfying her sweet tooth. Within two weeks, she lost over 20 pounds.

“I didn't have any experience in the beverage industry other than the fact that I was drinking beverages. Just having fruit and water got me healthier. [I] still didn't even think, ‘I'm going to go launch a company.’”

Keep in mind that it's the early 2000s. There weren’t aisles of La Croix or sparkling water. At that time, Kara noticed that there weren’t healthy alternatives in San Francisco or even New York. It wasn’t until a local Whole Foods opened near her, that she thought her flavored concoctions could have potential on the shelves.

In an effort to learn more about the beverage industry, the entrepreneur would spark up conversations with Whole Food employees about product distribution.

“I was a customer. I had no idea what I was talking about.”

Kara continued to flush out her flavored water idea with a “just try it” mindset. A mindset that she now attributes to all her success.

“I should just go launch this product [at] Whole Foods. I thought it'd be just so fun just to go and learn and figure out what that process is.”

You’re With Me Or With Me

While this idea was brewing in Kara’s mind, her husband was completely in the dark. After working up the courage, Kara finally told her husband that she would be taking out $50,000 from their bank account to launch a beverage company. On top of that, she broke the news to her husband that she was pregnant with their fourth child.

“He just walked out of the room. I didn't know if he was coming back or not because I had sort of blown his mind.”

Don’t worry, he came back. But Kara dropped another surprise and asked her husband to join her on a trip to Chicago the next day to watch the bottling process. While her husband was skeptical about the idea, the brand name, and Kara’s lack of experience in the beverage business, he went with her.

To make a long story short (and cute): After personally witnessing her weight loss journey, Kara’s husband realized her deep-rooted passion to change people’s health.

'Super Pregnant' And Thriving

Picture this: A nine-month pregnant woman taking a pallet of Hint to Whole Foods. That was Kara. With a planned C-section in the afternoon, Kara’s husband asked her what she wanted to do that morning of their son’s birth. Her response was straightforward: Let’s put our product on the shelves.

And that’s what she did. Kara and her husband went to their local Whole Foods to drop off Hint before leaving for the hospital. The day after her son’s birth, Kara received a call from a Whole Foods employee about how she sold 10 cases of Hint Water overnight.

“I figured out pretty quickly [that] I was building a category. Sometimes you've got to convince the buyer that [your] category is needed [by] customers. It's a little bit of a chicken and egg.”

“Creating a new category is like climbing Everest. I think that's what we really did at Hint.”

The Takeaways

Your career will hardly ever be linear. There’s bound to be ups, downs, lefts, rights — the point is to enjoy the rollercoaster. With 15 years of experience under her belt, here's Kara's advice when facing career changes.

“What's the worst that can happen?” Advice that Kara’s dad imparted on her from an early age. “When I was scared about something, that [advice] remained with me. In business and in life.” Kara hardly gets scared. In fact, her approach to risky decisions or failures is quite simple: Just try it. It’s a mindset that's helped Kara make some of the toughest decisions of her career (aka starting a business with no prior experience). In a LinkedIn post, Kara said, “You will always have reasons why you can’t do something. But remember, your time is limited.” When you’re questioning yourself, “What’s the worst that can happen?” Follow it up with, "What’s the worst that can happen if I don’t?"

Never stop learning. “I had no idea what I was doing. I still don't know what I'm doing half the time.” Music to our ears. We love leaders who can wholeheartedly admit that they’re still piecing the puzzle together. And more importantly, are still learning. A concept that Kara doesn’t shy away from. Here’s how Kara recounts her early days of Hint and asking questions to Whole Foods employees on product distribution: “I thought it'd be just so fun just to go, learn, and figure out what that process [was].” The keyword is fun. While she had no intention of building a $150 million business, Kara felt replenished when taking on a new challenge. Why? Because she accepted failures and obstacles as opportunities of growth.

Imposter syndrome can kick rocks. “You can’t do much about the other guy [or] company. If you focus on you and what you can do, chances of succeeding are higher.” Imposter syndrome, for a lack of a better word, sucks. But it happens to the best of us. While each person’s battle varies, Kara’s approach is unique. Taking control of her imposter syndrome meant giving positive attention to the distractions in her path. Instead of shying away from her failures and moments where she’s lacked confidence, Kara openly talks about her career hardships. The next time you’re reluctant to share your faults and shortcomings, change the script in your mind and get ahead of it.

A Peek Into Kara

At the end of every interview series, we ask our guests a series of rapid-fire questions to get to know them better as a leader. Their quirks and habits have led them to where they are today.

Q: What are you reading at the moment?
A: Erin Brockovich just came out with an amazing book that I just finished. I'm super passionate about water, it’s Superman's Not Coming.

Q: Who are three leaders you look up to?
A: Jamie Dimon from JPMorgan Chase, Michelle Obama, and Ellen Levy. She was one of the first employees at LinkedIn and [she knows] just a wealth of information around data.

Q: Night owl or early bird?
A: Early bird for sure.

Q: If you could have any drink, besides Hint or Diet Coke, what would it be?
A: Equator Coffee. Female founded company in the Bay Area. She’s awesome. Total badass.

Q: If you could instantly become an expert in something, what would it be?
A: I would say right now SPAC (special purpose acquisition company) because I'm trying to figure that whole thing.

Q: If you could go anywhere right now, where would it be?
A: Maldives. I went with my whole family, all six of us. It was like the Griswolds.

Conversation Starters

  • Communication: Don't just sell yourself, communicate your values. (Source: Entrepreneur)
  • Leadership: How these seven Black leaders are shaping history today. (Source: CNBC)
  • Resilience: Three ways professionals can restructure their work environment for greater resilience. Even if you're remote. (Source: Forbes)

Now’s Your Turn

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