Kara Goldin, UNDAUNTED

Kara Goldin, UNDAUNTED

Kara Goldin: Thank you for connecting. I’m really excited to do this, very, very, very excited.

Zibby Owens: I’m excited too.

Kara: Did you get a copy of my book, by any chance?

Zibby: I did.

Kara: Yay! Awesome. I just wanted to make sure that you got it.

Zibby: Oh, yeah, I devoured it. I read every word. I loved it. I love a good business story memoir. So many of them are by men. This was so great. I just loved it. It was awesome. I can’t wait to talk about it.

Kara: It’s funny because I didn’t know when I wrote this book that there really aren’t women’s books like this. It’s typically women who are no longer CEOs anymore or something horrible happened with their company. There’s a horrible story versus saying, yeah, I had some crap that went on in the midst of it, but at the end of the day, if you want to succeed and you want to move forward and you want to learn some lessons — also, it’s funny. So many people who have known me didn’t even know I was going through some of those things. It’s interesting. It’s not like when you bet your company on your life. You’ve now just made this deal. I think it’s more likely that people sort of go into hibernation. They don’t want to talk about it. They don’t want to have a lot of these conversations. Then they’re like, okay, I’ve just got to resurface and deal with some of this stuff. Even John Legend, who’s one of our investors, said, “There were so many things in here that I just have more respect for you saying you were trying and you were busy. We all knew that you were busy, but we just had no idea some of the stuff that you were really dealing with along the way.” That is really my hope for this book too, not just to explain myself, but also to share with people that if I can do it, you can do it too. It just got The Wall Street Journal best-sellers list too.

Zibby: Yay!

Kara: I know. Everybody was saying to me, don’t count on any of those because during this time, you’re not doing big book talks. It’s an election. There’s a million reasons why it wasn’t going to be able to get it. Then it got number seven. I was like, oh, my god. It’s crazy. I’m really, really excited.

Zibby: You deserve it. It’s a great book, seriously. It’s a narrative. It feels like you’re watching a movie about it. You’re telling it as it comes, but then you have these little tips called out. It’s not so much about balancing your life and your work. It’s literally the story of building a business, which I find fascinating. I went to business school. I just love entrepreneurial stuff in general, personally. When I hear about some of the things and some of the times you had to regroup like when you started out and there was the mold in the water and you had to figure out what to do about it and when you were having your c-section and how you had to load up the Jeep and you refused to stay home — you were sneaking out of the house to work. It’s awesome.

Kara: I still laugh about that. We live in Marin County now, but when we lived in San Francisco, we had this private school right across the street from us. It’s called Town School. It was all boys. I knew a bunch of those mothers who were dropping their kids off. I knew that their drop-off was at 8:15. Literally, in the beginning, I would go over there with bottles. I’d be like, oh, my god, I have to get across the street to get to the drop-off because I’m going to give them a bottle and see what they think of this flavor. People were like, uh, okay. I said, because they won’t expect it. You’ll hand it to them. I’ll be like, give me your honest opinion. Oh, my god, this is amazing. The more that I got of, this is amazing, then I would be like, okay, let’s move forward with it. Entrepreneurs laugh at that because they’re like, oh, my god. The mold story too, like I said, don’t get me wrong — we had this lab in South San Francisco called Anresco. I used to drive down there. It’s not in a great neighborhood. It’s in the Bayview neighborhood. My husband would never let me go by myself. I’d lock my doors. I’d never bring my kids in the car. I’d drive really fast, little scared. Then I’d drop off these samples just to make sure that there wasn’t botulism. We never wanted to kill anybody.

Zibby: Which is nice.

Kara: I always say to entrepreneurs, especially in food and beverages, it’s amazing how people do not take those steps. I wouldn’t be able to live with myself if I knew — there was definitely mold, but we were testing it. There’s mold in cheese and kombucha. There’s lots of stuff, but you have to make sure that it’s not the bad stuff that’s going to kill you.

Zibby: And how your husband would drink it in front of your buyers to be like, no, no, no, I’m good. Look at me drink it. The dedication of the two of you and the fact that you could do it together, all of it.

Kara: I know. We’re still laughing. We still laugh. Over the years when I’ve been out public speaking on this too, people are like — he’s from Scarsdale. He’s like a Seinfeld episode. He talks, but he’s typically not the one speaking on the brand. A couple of times, the two of us have been together and talking. They’re like, “What’s it like to work for your wife?” I remember when Inc. asked me the first time on this panel. I was like, oh, my god, where is this going to go? He was like, “Don’t we all work for women? I have two daughters. If they’re not happy, I’m not happy.” He’ll say these things somewhat tongue in cheek, but he’s pretty serious about it. He was like, “Look, we have sixty percent women in our company right now. Like Kara always says, it’s because the guys don’t want to work for women. She might be right.” The people don’t show up for the interviews because they’re like, I don’t want to work for a female-founded company. I’m like, good, don’t apply for the job. I’d rather you not show up and apply for this stuff.

He’s always like, “But then it leaves the cool guys here that actually want to work with women. They enjoy the thought process.” He’s hysterical. He just makes me laugh every single day. That was the other thing. He did a lot of the editing on the book too. He was this awesome and still is an awesome intellectual property lawyer in Silicon Valley. All of his friends were like, “What are you doing?” He was like, “Kara is writing $50,000, $100,000 checks off our bank account like it’s water. It is water. She can spend money like I’ve never seen in my life. She made money.” Still, he’s like, “I don’t want to go bankrupt over this whole project. I got to stay close to this and really understand where she’s going with this.” He’s so funny. He was the general council. He’s the chief operating officer. He always says, “I can always go back to being a lawyer if I really want to.” He realized that he didn’t like law. He loves the operations side. He loves the science side of things.

He’s automated our whole supply chain. We don’t have any people in the room when the bottles are being filled. That was a four-year project for him. He said when we don’t have any preservatives in our product, that’s where stuff actually happens. That’s where bacteria happens. He was working on this project. As of December of 2019, he got all the people out of the room. Again, I would look at that saying, that sounds good, but I’m not going to work on it. You can go work on it. He went and did it. Now with the pandemic, when the FDA was running around the plants trying to figure out, where was COVID in the food supply and the drink supply? we were so happy that we had done so much work around automation. That’s the way his brain thinks about things. While he’s excited to be working for a beverage company, he does so much other stuff that is so important but so way beyond what a Coke or a Pepsi — he loves what he does. You can’t discount that at all.

Zibby: I think that’s something that comes through for both of you and how you keep innovating. One of the parts of the book that stayed with me the most is when you approached somebody who was high up in your company at the time and you were like, “You’re doing a good job. You must be bored. Time to change it up. Let’s go.” He was like, “What?” You were like, “Aren’t you bored? You’ve mastered your job. If you’ve mastered your job, it means it’s time to step up and do something else.” That’s just so anathema. People don’t view it that way. I got good at this; I’m going to stay good at this. You’re like, no, no, what else can you do? Even you saying that you don’t want to be bored and you want to keep innovating, that’s how all the great stuff happens.

Kara: That’s the thing. We just developed a hand sanitizer. I don’t know if we sent you any.

Zibby: You didn’t send me any of this. I went online and bought out your website after reading this book. I was like, I have to try everything that they make. Yes, I have all the hand sanitizers. I have the deodorant. I have the sun lotion. I got everything to try it all.

Kara: It was so funny because I just kept smelling all this hand sanitizer in the beginning. First of all, it was really hard to get in the beginning of the pandemic. Then I started smelling stuff that just smelled rancid. It ended up that a lot of it was. There was a lot of stuff that was recalled. I just started thinking, god, there has to be some better ones out there. Finally one day, I guess this was the beginning of May, a girlfriend and I were hiking. She lives up in Sonoma. She knew this whiskey brand that was really struggling. They were doing hand sanitizers. She was like, “Maybe you guys want to do a hand sanitizer. Can you just talk to them and talk to them about maybe some ideas around direct to consumer and whatever?” I got talking. I kind of did it as just a favor to them to help them. Then all of a sudden, now we’re almost sold out of the product. We’re trying to figure out how to make more of it.

People were so surprised that the CEO was jumping in on it. I was like, really, I don’t want to bog the rest of my team down on this stuff. Then selfishly, that’s the stuff that I love to do. I love getting scrappy and roll up my sleeves and try and figure out, could this actually be a big business? It’s a lot of what I speak at on that topic, even on college campuses. I used to think that becoming a manager, the important thing was really getting a bigger title. Now the more that I talk to CEOs, they’re like, oh, yeah, I got this little project here. It’s super fun. Don’t tell anybody. It’s the secret, but it’s the best thing I do in the company. Sometimes it’s been philanthropy. Sometimes it’s other stuff. I think the more you can do these little things where you are learning — that’s the other thing that I’ve realized about really smart people. The mecca is not being this boring CEO that is just sitting here looking at a spreadsheet and watching the numbers. Instead, it’s, how do we innovate? How do we do other things? That goes at every single level of the company that I’ve really tried to push on. What else can you be doing that really gets your head thinking about stuff?

Zibby: I feel like I share that. I’m obviously on a much tinier, tinier scale here. Even with this podcast, I’ve been doing it now for almost three years, so I know how to do it. I love it. I love everything about it. Recently, I started another thing called “Moms Don’t Have Time to Lose Weight.” I’m like, I’m cheating on my company. I’m cheating on my number-one priority by doing this thing on the side. Here’s my other Instagram account. It’s so silly. I’m like, let’s try this. Let’s try that. I love trying new stuff because I’m like, well, I don’t know. Okay, looks like that’s not working. Let’s go with something else. I love that. It’s the tinkering and experimenting and finding out what people respond to. It’s so fun.

Kara: I think that’s so true. It’s funny. I’ve spoken on so many college campuses and business school classes about this. I think I sort of disrupt the learning a little bit. I was speaking to a whole group of engineers at Berkeley. I’m like, look, if you want to be like Mark Zuckerberg, it’s not going to happen if you don’t actually go and take classes outside or try and figure out what other people do. Always be learning. It’s not a linear thing. The goal isn’t to get to the top of the heap and then manage a bunch of people. Yes, you’ll do that, but then can you go horizontally? Can you actually come back with creative ideas? Can you actually understand a basic business plan? Can you understand these different things along the way horizontally? That, to me, is the key to the kingdom because it keeps you energized. It keeps you learning. That guy is still at Hint. I point to him all the time as one of our best managers. He’s gunning for my husband’s job. He is, which is great. He keeps taking more and more off of his plate.

Eventually, if it’s not at Hint, he’ll go somewhere else and go be an amazing operating officer because he’s done exactly that. He knows enough to get him in trouble in all these different — you get it. People talk about this at business school. A lot of these learnings are there, but it’s clearly not how we’re teaching people in regular college campuses today. It’s not what we’re teaching people. If you’re a manager, you’re great with people, you know your stuff, and then you can teach people. I’m like, okay, but what about that person? There’s so many people who just get angry at their company or they get depressed or whatever. I really think it has a lot to do with the fact that they’re no longer learning. It’s the spice of life too, with marriage too and your personal life. It’s part of the reason why I think COVID is so hard for people. You got to switch it up. You got to go find new hiking trails. You got to get out of town every once in a while. You got to do things that are going to allow your brain to create and have new.

Zibby: I think that’s sort of an under-discussed contributing factor to depression. People don’t talk about how much we crave learning. I used to always say, I miss school. I really loved school. I’m such a nerd. I really loved it. I loved all the stuff I was learning. When I got out into the real world, I felt very rootless. Where is the structure? What am I building if I’m just showing up at work? Anyway, I totally agree with you.

Kara: It really is. Should we just continue on this? Do you want to ask me specifically about stuff?

Zibby: Yeah, let me just ask you a little bit more about your book. What made you decide to take all your experience and turn it into a book, first of all? Why a book? Why now? Why did you do it now?

Kara: It’s crazy. I was out speaking about founding Hint over the years at lots and lots of events. Then about four years ago, I started journaling. I was primarily doing it because I felt like I would tell these stories when I was out speaking and then I kind of wanted to hone them in and also think about, if somebody talks about, how do you get started? then I would have, what are the three stories that come to mind that are good examples of that? Then I just kept going. Every time somebody would ask me something kind of hard, I would think about, here’s my examples that I can go back to, or whatever. Then I started really hearing more and more from people not just in audiences. Also, they would write to me on LinkedIn and say, things are really hard. I can’t raise money. I have so many doubts. This is so much not like you. I’m sure you’ve never had any fears or failure. You’re relentless. You’re this. You’re this. I’m like, no, I totally had lots of examples of — I move forward, but I also have doubts, etc. The journal was like six hundred pages about a year and a half ago.

I have friends that are authors. I was like, maybe I should put this in a book because I could actually help a lot more people who are feeling this way that maybe aren’t going to reach out to me or who aren’t in an audience hearing me talk about this. I got an agent. Then the agent was like, “This is going to take a long time. These publishers are going to want you to write a certain book.” There was definitely that, but it got sold in like two weeks. It was really unusual, and I think primarily because I didn’t know how to write a book. I wasn’t this person saying, one day I’m going to be an author. I’m not going to lie. It feels pretty great to have a published book and be an author and a Wall Street Journal best seller and all that stuff, but I did it differently than most people. Today, so many people are journaling too and trying to feel like, how do I find happiness? How do I be a better leader? or whatever it is. They’re writing, but they don’t know where this goes. That’s another thing that I like to share with people.

This book, my hope is that people will read it and be inspired and put it into their own storyline to figure out where it fits. Even Jamie Dimon, who’s kind of been a mentor to me over the years, it’s funny, he read the book and he said, “Your story in the Grand Canyon really got me thinking about, what are those really hard things in business that I faced where when I was facing something in my personal life that was super hard, what did I think about? How did I have the relentlessness to just keep going on?” He had throat cancer. He talked about all of these challenging times that he had in business and how he loves what he does. He loves his work, but he was really feeling like that was a challenging time for him. He was able to automatically set his mindset to think, I got this. I can do this stuff. Yes, of course, he remembered his family and all of those things. In addition, he remembered all of the hard stuff that he had been through as lessons to be able to tackle other hard stuff. I think it’s fascinating that that’s what he picked up on in the book.

Incredibly smart people are picking up things and placing it in their own life, which is helping them to figure out, what did that mean? I’m excited because I wanted to get it out there. Like I said, it got picked up by a publisher pretty quickly. I didn’t really know what that meant. I also realize women don’t really talk about this. This clearly is not a book about how I was shunned in some way. There’s moments in there. I also, hopefully, give people hope to say that there’s people like them. I clearly had some tough, tough times. Also, my kids are older now. They look at me and they’re like, my mom’s a badass. She just goes. She’s crazy. Right in the middle of my launch and Sheryl Sandberg’s interviewing me, my son’s texting me saying, “Can I get those shoes?” Crazy town, right? I’m like, “Stop it,” yelling. That’s real. It never stops. That’s okay that that stuff goes on. I think people think, is this just my life, or is this everyone’s life? Anyway, that was really why I decided to ultimately get it out there.

Zibby: That’s great. It’s a book I want to give to my daughters, when they’re older I mean. One of my daughters is seven. It’s an example. Look, you can do all this. You don’t have to write a book about things you’re complaining about, essentially. I think a lot of books right now are what has worked against us as opposed to, yeah, these things were hard, but I got through them. Here’s how you innovate. I thought that was really awesome. Once you sold the book, tell me about the writing process. When did you ever find time to do this?

Kara: Because I had really written so much of it, it was a lot easier for a publisher to actually say, let’s do this part of the book and these sections. Then I got this editor who’s on the inside cover of the book, John Butman. Then my husband, actually, he would remember other parts of the stories and stuff, and so he became sort of like the co-editor. What was so sad is that my publisher — we turned in everything at the end of January. It was pretty fast. It was from the end of June until the end of January. We talked four days a week, blocked three hours four days a week. We were on it. We just went back and forth on emails. I was doing weekends and nights. I’m still the CEO of the company. I’m still trying to do both of the things. Then actually on March 13th — do you know who Platon is? He’s a photographer in New York. He shot the cover of the book. He had shot me for this Verizon commercial. Just loved him. He’s shot Kobe Bryant, that picture that was so powerful. He’s done every president. He’s just this amazing guy.

Of course, the city was shutting down when all this was going on. I said, “Are you going to cancel on me, on the photoshoot?” He was like, “No, no, no. Let’s just do it. Then let’s both get out of here.” That’s what happened. Then I got the pictures back that weekend while we were out of stock on shelves everywhere. There was a lot going on at this time. I remember talking to John on that Monday saying, “What do you think about the cover?” In the meantime, we’re trying to figure out, do we close down our San Francisco office? We already closed down our New York office. He was like, “Oh, my god, I love the cover.” We put a period on the end of Undaunted. He was like, “I love it. It’s exactly how you talk,” all of the stuff. Then I get a phone call from my agent a few days later. She’s like, “I have something critical to tell you.” I thought, oh, god. What else is critical going on in the world? She’s like, “John died.”

Zibby: What?

Kara: I know. I was like, what? This is somebody that I talked to more than my husband for the last six months. He had a massive heart attack.

Zibby: No!

Kara: I know. It was so sad. He had just bought a house in Portland, Maine. He was super healthy. He was sixty-five years old. I’m convinced that COVID is — we’ll find out years later that — he didn’t have it that he knew of. It was really, really sad. I hadn’t gotten my manuscript back from the publisher. In many ways, because I had time sitting at home and was able to dig through it, and John did such an amazing job to really get it where it needed to be, there wasn’t that much editing even that was needed. John, in many ways, I felt like for the process of getting it out there, I could just feel his presence, as crazy as that was, like, you got this. It’s going to get out there. It was very, very sad, though, along the way.

Zibby: Oh, my gosh. I’m so sorry that that happened. It’s terrible.

Kara: I know. Really sad.

Zibby: Do you have any advice for aspiring entrepreneurs and aspiring authors? Now you’re both. You can show that off.

Kara: The main thing that I’ve signed up for over the years that wasn’t as clear to me maybe earlier on in life is that if you don’t try, then you actually won’t succeed. I always share with people that no idea is crazy, especially if you just keep thinking about it. If you keep thinking, oh, gosh, I should go write a book or I want to launch this company, you can just take baby steps to actually go and do these things. People are like, I don’t know how to write a business plan. I’m like, you just google business plan. You can start to figure this stuff out. It might not be the best business plan in the whole world, but stop putting these walls up in front of yourself that actually prevent you from moving forward. I think that that’s the biggest thing. Frankly, that’s the biggest thing that I find for entrepreneurs. They think, I haven’t worked in a couple of years. I’ve never worked in that industry. I didn’t go to the right school or business school or whatever it is. I’m like, just go. Just go try. If nothing else, you can actually say, I thought about it. I looked at the industry. I wrote a business plan. I talked to some people. That’s actually succeeding. That’s doing something. You got a little bit further than you were six months ago or whatever it is. That’s my biggest advice to people.

When you look at successful people today, they didn’t have all the answers. They actually had a lot of failures. They had a lot of doubts. You have to go and just take these little steps and figure out, what are those steps that I can go even figure out whether or not this is worth doing? Really, just live your life undaunted. If you do that, I do believe too that, while it can be stressful at times, it’s also really rewarding. Today, we’re the largest nonalcoholic private beverage company in the world that doesn’t have a relationship with Coke, Pepsi, or Dr Pepper Snapple. That was never supposed to happen. I didn’t have the experience. I was just this mom with four kids under the age of six walking into Whole Foods. I was just driving in my Jeep Grand Cherokee. None of this was supposed to happen, but I just kept trying. I was getting educated. I was really intrigued by the fact that originally, I thought these little things were caps, and they’re actually called closures. I was like, that’s so cool. There’s this whole secret, hidden vocabulary out there for these things. I don’t know why I geeked out on the fact that those were the things. You have to get confident in yourself that you can go and accomplish a lot. Most people actually can do a lot more than they allow themselves to do. Again, if you don’t want to do something, that’s a whole other topic. It’s really, do you want to get up and actually move forward? That’s the biggest question that I think people need to answer.

Zibby: Wow. I feel less daunted, maybe not un.

Kara: You are definitely. You’re doing lots of amazing stuff too.

Zibby: Thank you. I feel like your book is so inspiring. It’s just so important. I think that entrepreneurship right now is sort of the greatest thing we have left in this country. During this pandemic, watching people innovate has been the most encouraging thing that’s happened, with your hand sanitizer. There’s this company that sent me all these things. What were they called? Something like Scenties, scented masks. You should actually talk to this company. Maybe you should talk to this girl. It’s this random entrepreneur. She’s making scented masks.

Kara: So fun.

Zibby: All these little things, that’s what it’s all about. That’s how our country can really get better. Anyway, I feel like I could talk to you all day and ask you a million other questions. I’m so glad to have met you, to have read your book. Now I’m drinking all this extra water, which is amazing.

Kara: And getting super healthy. I love it.

Zibby: And getting super healthy. Thank you so much for our very informal chat today. I hope to stay in touch.

Kara: Definitely. I love it. If anybody wants to reach out to me too, I’m on social, @KaraGoldin. Again, the book is Undaunted: Overcoming Doubts and Doubters. It’d make a great holiday gift too. I’ve been talking to a lot of people who are reaching out to me saying, how do I buy fifty of these? I know a lot of girlfriends or high school kids or college kids that need this book. It’s very applicable.

Zibby: Perfect holiday gift. I’m holding it up now. Thank you. Stay in touch. Have a great day.

Kara: Have a great rest of the week.

Zibby: You too. Buh-bye.

Kara: Buh-bye.

Kara Goldin, UNDAUNTED