Grit, Guts, and Willingness To Be Big

Subtitle: What It Takes To Go Up Against The Big Guys

Going up against the big guys (in any industry) is a bold move. I know. I am doing it. And I have three things to tell you about it: 1. It takes grit. 2. It takes bravery. And 3. it takes willingness to shine and be visible – because if you you do it, you might win big.

Let’s talk about the first one. When I started hint®, I did it with my own money—earned and saved from working in the corporate world for 12 years. I pulled $50,000 out of the bank and started a business. And at the time—I had three kids (I have four now) to care for, feed, and support. That is NOT an easy choice to make. But I knew then that I had something special. And that by creating a product that helped people move away from bad health (sugar), I also knew that investing my time and money in it was the only way to make it grow—particularly since I was competing with the biggest companies in the world — soda. So I did it. And I did it. And I kept doing it. The startup grind was real, and so was the tenacity is has taken to keep it going. It takes grit, and it is worth it.

Which brings me to the second point: going up against the big guys is brave—and a risk. At the outset, my company did not have a million dollar marketing budget. I did not have pre-existing relationships with retailers. I also did not have beverage experience when I started. But like Sara Blakely who has grown Spanx to a billion dollar business, I did have heart and the deep belief that this was something that was needed in the world. That was solving a problem. I needed it—my health was suffering from drinking sweetened drinks. I thought that other people must be suffering too with the same issues, so I made the bold, calculated, and somewhat crazy choice to move forward.

Which raises the third point: if you are willing to make those kinds of bets on yourself and your company—to believe in yourself that deeply—you might win big. Especially as a startup.

Big companies have budget at their disposal, but they simply do not have the flexibility to iterate fast enough to beat a fast growing startup. They can win – but few have the same willingness to embrace uncertainty and take risks without a predictable outcome as a startup. Big businesses are like giant ships – they are designed one way. Turning a behemoth is hard.

Startups are small and nimble. They can sail into channels bigger companies could not because they are only designed to operate at a certain scale. Small companies can shift course and make decisions on the fly that. Big companies are all about execution. Small companies are much better at finding the next big thing to execute on.

But you have to be willing to make that leap—and to accept the massive success that can come with it. Marianne Williamson said, “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be?”

That’s what hint® did. When we started, I knew nothing about the beverage industry. What I knew was business. And passion. And hard work. Having spent years in the tech industry and in the business development size of media, I knew how to sell, how to market, how to identify a great idea, and how the business side of things worked. I did not know the beverage industry – or how to execute when it came to bottling and creating a product. But I learned. I trusted my gut. I listened to anyone who would talk to me. Even as a multimillion dollar company, hint® is a relatively small company (compared to PepsiCo’s $15.395 billion in July 0f 2016). But by playing against them, we are playing a bigger game.

The stakes are higher.

So are the rewards.

Kara Goldin
About the author: 

Kara Goldin is Founder and CEO of Hint Water, the fastest growing flavored water in the United States. Previously Kara was Vice President – E-Commerce and Shopping at AOL. Ms. Goldin has been a contributor to The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, The Huffington Post,, Reuters, BusinessWeek, CNBC and Fox News.  She was selected as one of Fortune’s 2011 “Most Powerful Women Entrepreneurs,” and in 2012 as one of Ernst and Young’s “Entrepreneurial Winning Women.”  She was honored with the 2012 Gold Stevie Award Winner for “Female Entrepreneur of the Year” & was listed as a “CEO to Watch in 2013” by  Recently, Forbes named her as one of the “40 Women to Watch Over 40.” Follow Kara on Twitter.