Obsession: The Defining Factor That Every Founder Must Have, According to the CEO of Multi-million Dollar Brand

"I really didn’t want to launch this company. In my head I was like, ‘This is not what I should be doing. But I did it anyway. And it worked.

May 16, 2017
Image: Courtesy of San Francisco Chamber of Commerce

Thanks to the insane amount of content online about “how to launch a startup” there’s this idea going around—particularly to young people—that entrepreneurship is a skill that anyone can learn.

Are you willing to watch every single TED Talk and listen to startup podcasts until you’re blue in the face? You can be an entrepreneur, too!

And to be fair, there’s some truth to that. Knowing the best tactics is important for success.

But here’s the problem—if you dive straight into the “learn all the tactics” phase, you skip the most important step: finding something you’re truly passionate about.

If you aren’t completely obsessed with your ”why” then you will most likely fail. Period. All the knowledge in the world won’t save you from spending 100 hours a week for a decade grinding away on a project that you dread working on.

So, here’s some advice for all future entrepreneurs: Rather than trying to build “the next big thing,” solve one problem you have in own life. A problem you desperately want solved.

Rather than trying to build “the next big thing,” solve one problem you have in own life.

It’s what Hint Water founder Kara Goldin did, and it’s one of the biggest reasons why Hint makes hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue.

Here’s Kara’s story:

In 2004, Kara Goldin was 50 pounds overweight, felt sluggish all the time, had stomach issues paired with adult acne. Doctors said her metabolism was slowing due to age (she was in her 30’s) and that she needed medication.

However, Kara wasn’t convinced that pills were the answer, so she started taking a closer look at her diet. Then one day, she read the label of a Diet Coke.

“I didn’t even recognize most of the ingredients,” she said. “And I was drinking multiple cans a day of this stuff. So I decided to cut it out of my diet completely.”

The only problem was that Kara wasn’t a big fan of water. “It was just too bland for me.” So she went to the local Whole Foods to find water with a little bit of flavor (but no sugar or sweeteners) to replace her Diet Cokes.

“I just started chatting with the guy working there and he basically said that there was no such product, which sounded crazy to me. So I went to all the other markets in San Francisco, nothing. I flew to New York to check out the Korean delis, nothing. I searched the entire country for this product and couldn’t find it.”

“And I really didn’t want to launch Hint,” Kara said. “I mean, in my head it was like, ‘This is not what I should be doing. I’m a tech person. I know nothing about the beverage industry. Somebody else should be starting this company.’’


Kara Goldin, CEO of Hint

However, since it was such a problem for her, Kara overlooked the reasons why she shouldn’t launch Hint and focused on the one reason why she should start the company.

“I knew I couldn’t go back to being hooked on sweeteners. I just couldn’t. I also knew there were plenty of other people out there just like me. So I jumped right in. And since I was solving my own problem, it didn’t feel scary at all.”

A few weeks later, Kara went back to Whole Foods and spoke to the same guy from before, “Listen, I’m gonna make this thing myself. And you’re gonna put it on the shelf.”

His response: “Okay, lady. Whatever.”

That night, Kara boiled fruit skins in her kitchen and mixed the oils with water to give it a subtle fruit flavor. She called her concoction Hint

A month later, she walked back into Whole Foods with 10 cases of the first Hint Water, and somehow convinced her new buddy to put it on the shelf.

“The next day, he called and let me know that all 10 cases had sold overnight,” said Kara. “It was a crazy moment. Hint Water was officially born.”


Kara Goldin at Whole Foods


When you set out to solve a problem in your own life like Kara did with Hint, all rules and limitations are instantly thrown out because you’re desperate to find a solution from day one. It’s personal.

As a result, you do things like befriend Whole Foods employee and fly across the country to visit Korean delis and cook up your first product in your kitchen.

And that’s a huge advantage, especially when everyone else is reading articles like “How to Start a Business: A Step-by-Step Guide” and trying to find something they’re obsessed about.

Identify a problem in your life and solve it. It’s the purest form of passion. And no blog post or podcast or YouTube video can teach you passion.

BTW, Hint is giving The Hustle readers a chance to get the variety pack delivered to your door for $15 using this special link. Go forth, and stay hydrated.

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