People are always asking me how I figured out that I wanted to start up and run a beverage company, but the truth is that when I set out on my path, Hint wasn’t even on my horizon. I can’t say that I made my way by charting out my trajectory and following the blueprint—in fact, it’s pretty much the opposite.
I was recently reading an article by Richard Branson, founder of Virgin Group. His piece was about what it takes to be an entrepreneur, and to him that thing was fearlessness. I totally related to that, and it reminded me of how this windy path of mine brought me to the life I live today—because when I really think about it, I landed where I am by a sustained disinterest in the status quo. Following the crowd was never my M.O., and that fearless independent streak has been one of the most significant contributing factors to becoming founder and CEO of a business I absolutely love.
Stop Following the Crowd
When I graduated from Arizona State, my friends were going into things like pharmaceutical sales or commercial real estate—jobs that were guaranteed to bring in a great, steady income. Of course, I wanted those things, too, but what I didn’t want was a job that bored me to tears. I was more interested in content and publishing, so while the rest of my friends were busy picking out apartments in Phoenix or L.A., I picked up and flew to New York for an interviewing spree at any publishing company that would have me.
Playing It Safe Will Never Get You Noticed
Right off the bat, that willingness to go out on my own worked in my favor. Though the interviews were tough (I was up against graduates from some of the east coast’s best universities), people remembered my story. I was that girl from Arizona who cold called for an interview, got on a plane to New York, and figured out the city all on her own; that was impressive to just about every company I talked to. Because I had done something that stood out, I stood out! It wasn’t long before my phone was ringing with numerous job offers—including a position at Time Inc. Publications, which was exactly where I wanted to be.
Life’s Best Teacher Is the Road Less Traveled
Once I was in New York, I had to learn a whole new way of life, and I didn’t have a single friend from home to navigate that strange world with me. Though it was scary to be alone in a massive city—especially those first six months—it gave me an opportunity to get to know myself, to figure out what I wanted and what was important to me. Long story short: I grew. I wouldn’t be where I am today if I hadn’t taken that risk and gone out on my own. Though I didn’t know it at the time, giving myself those years away from everything that was familiar to me, away from the comfort of friends and family, was absolutely necessary to preparing me for my future as CEO of my own business. Learning to trust my instincts, act on my own behalf, and take control of intimidating situations was part of my everyday as a young woman taking on the Big Apple, and those skills are still invaluable for me all these years later.
Here’s a perfect example. Years ago, I had a meeting with some very important investors. They sat me down to convince me that if I really wanted Hint to take off, I’d need to ditch the no-sweeteners policy. They wanted to encourage mass appeal, and sugars or sugar substitutes, they told me, were the only way to go. Had I been put in that kind of high-pressure situation without ever knowing what it felt like to stand on my own or hold myself accountable to my value system and my value system only, I’d be heading a very different company today. Instead, I very firmly let them know that my drink was about helping people get healthy, not about bottom lines.
If It’s Not Worth the Risk, It’s Not Worth Your Time
Our culture talks a lot about picking yourself up by your own bootstraps and living for your individual vision, but the truth is that taking charge of life and forging a unique path is a very rare thing for a person to do. Why? Because it involves risk, and risk is uncomfortable. But if your goal is comfort, you can forget about becoming a CEO, owning a business, or making a name for yourself in anything that you do.
Being successful is about owning risk and embracing the unknown. It’s like my dad said to me before I left for New York all those years ago: What’s the worst that can happen? You decide you hate it, and you end up back where you started. He was almost right—because even if you do end up where you started, you don’t. You come back smarter, wiser, and better equipped to achieve exactly what you want the next time you decide to take on the world.
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, Forbes.com, 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 OpenForum.com. Recently, Forbes named her as one of the “40 Women to Watch Over 40.” Follow Kara on Twitter.