It’s Good to Be Lucky, but It’s Even Better to Make Your Own Opportunities
6 minute read
With the benefit of hindsight, it’s easy to look back at the early days of Hint and recognize the key turning points in the growth of the brand. I can clearly identify those critical junctures where the business made a huge leap forward. And, interestingly, those leaps sometimes occurred at the most unexpected moments.
People might chalk up those sudden turning points to good fortune, having the right connections or being in the right place at the right time. Having lived through the process though, I will say that these critical points can be summarized — creating your own opportunities.
Case in point: Google.
In 2006, when Hint was still in its infancy, I still had no idea if this idea I’d cooked up in my kitchen would have legs. To outsiders – beverage industry veterans, as well as my pals in the tech industry – there were dozens of reasons to doubt that this “crazy” venture that I was jumping into would ever succeed. I’d spent about 18 months building the brand and delivering the product out of the back of my Jeep Grand Cherokee to a handful of local grocery stores. I’d enlisted my husband Theo (also a tech expatriate) to join me in my mission. And while I had cultivated a small but loyal customer base, it still wasn’t clear to me, or anyone else, if the idea could actually scale.
Around this time, a former coworker of Theo’s, Omid Kordestani, took on a new role at Google heading up sales and operations. We had met a few times and talked about my experience building out the shopping and commerce channel at AOL. He emailed one day, and asked if I might be interested in doing something in his new organization at Google. I was super interested in hearing more, but was also in the thick of launching a start-up. And of course eager to see if I could make my new venture succeed.
I headed down to Palo Alto to have lunch with Omid, and that’s when I decided it was time to share what I had been working on for the last few years. I reached into my bag and pulled out a bottle of my new creation: Hint.
I wasn’t sure where this would lead, but a voice inside me nudged me to reveal that bottle. To this day, I’m not certain why I wanted to show it with Omid, but I think I was so excited about what I had been working on and wanted to share.
“I know this is going to sound crazy,” I said, explaining to him that I recently started a beverage company – probably the last thing he expected me to say. I told him why I did it. How I learned a lot about health during my time off since leaving my last job. I launched into the story of getting my first bottle of Hint on the shelf. Our early success with it. How much fun I was having. How much I was learning!
Then, the unexpected happened. Omid could see how excited I was about my new company (and how Hint had helped me get healthy by drinking water that tasted better and had no sweeteners). He then shared that he had been working with the founders of Google on a program to offer their employees healthier food options. Maybe there was room for a healthy drink like Hint? He introduced me to their Head Chef Charlie to see if we could do a test. And Charlie said yes!
No doubt there was some serendipity at work here. My mission with Hint happened to align perfectly with Google’s health initiative that had just gotten underway. The timing was ideal. The next day, I dropped off 10 cases of Hint at Google HQ. Then I got a call the next day asking if I could drop off 30 more cases – as soon as possible! The next week, they wanted 300 cases – Google employees loved Hint! Within a couple months, Google became Hint’s number one customer. Really!
What did we learn here? Connections can get you an intro, but a great product is what allows you to stick around. If the product didn’t deliver – if Google employees didn’t care for Hint – it never would have remained there. In fact, many employees would joke about a term used inside Google called “Hint Hoarding,” where employees would hide bottles under their desk for fear that their closest fridge might be emptied out by mid-day. (They always refilled those fridges, but sometimes it wasn’t until the next morning.) It wasn’t unusual for some Google employees to be drinking six to eight bottles per day at the office. Maybe that’s how Hint became known as the “unofficial beverage of Silicon Valley.”
Hint. Started by a tech executive with no experience in the beverage industry. A small, local San Francisco brand that had purpose, that had a mission, even before the term ‘mission driven brand’ was a thing. Solving a problem for many by making water taste better with just the taste of fruit and no sweeteners was immediately embraced by employees at Google and eventually more.
And unlike what we were dealing with on the shelves of grocery stores – trying to convince the store buyers that we were needed or relevant – Google employees quickly understood what I was delivering.
After our success at Google, we focused on supplying Hint to corporate cafeterias and kitchens. As employees migrated to different tech companies around Silicon Valley, word spread and demand increased for Hint. Food service became a big part of our business and an even bigger part of the brand’s growing awareness. And it all started with a fortuitous lunch in Palo Alto.
I received a phone call one day from Sheryl Sandburg’s assistant. She had just moved from Google over to Facebook to be their COO. I had never met her, but she was interested in having Hint – Hint Fizz, in particular – stocked in their fridges. She missed having her favorite beverage on hand in her new office.
“Would you consider supplying Hint at Facebook?” the assistant asked.
“Ummm… Let me think about that…” I said on the other end of the line. “YES!”
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