What Does It Take to be a “Best-Led” Company?

November 11, 2021


4 minute read


by Kara Goldin

I spend a lot of time speaking and writing about the lessons I’ve learned as a leader, offering up my experiences as examples of the challenges I’ve faced in my career. Leadership is a topic that is near and dear to me. So you can imagine how thrilled I was last week to see that Hint was included on Inc. Magazine’s inaugural list of America’s “250 Best-Led Companies.” 

It’s an impressive list, highlighting great companies in every business category. No two companies among the 250 face the same set of challenges, and the examples they set of great leadership are equally varied. The editors at Inc. explain that they considered 14 different points of comparison in building their list — everything from “hiring and retaining top talent to putting out fires and managing amid a crisis.”

But for me, there’s been one core principle that has driven Hint’s success as an innovative, creative, and dynamic company. It’s our commitment to Hint’s underlying values

In the nearly seventeen years since I founded the company, I feel like I’ve actually led three or four different versions of Hint. First, it was the scrappy start-up, bootstrapped to the extreme. Those were the days when I was using my Amex card to pay for the bottles we used at our manufacturing facilities. We had a few employees back then — only the people who were crazy enough to sign on to a company founded by a former tech exec with no experience in the beverage industry. 

Then, there was the Hint a few years later that began gaining traction and expanding beyond our home in the Bay Area. Just as the Great Recession unfolded in late 2008. We were still a small company at that point; everyone knew each other on a first-name basis. We could fit an all-hands meeting in our conference room — and that’s where we often gathered to navigate our way through that financial crisis.

Today, Hint is the largest privately held non-alcoholic beverage in the U.S. with no ties to the giant beverage conglomerates (like Coke, Pepsi or Dr. Pepper). We have just over 200 employees all across the US. Hint flavored water is sold at major retailers and local grocery stores, as well as Amazon and our own direct-to-consumer channel, drinkhint.com.

The challenges of getting the company up on its feet versus steering it through an economic meltdown versus establishing itself as a household national brand each presented their own unique tests of leadership. Through it all, though, the one thing that has remained constant in each phase of Hint’s evolution has been our values. 

Hint was founded on a mission to make healthy choices easier for consumers. It was born out of my personal health journey, seeking an alternative to sweetened sodas — which I had discovered were contributing to my adult acne, weight gain, and lack of energy. I created Hint because I figured that there were many people out there, just like me, who needed this product. 

Over the years, hundreds of people have helped build Hint into the brand that it is today. Many of them were drawn to the brand precisely because of the mission that guided us. Hint’s values became our employees’ values, and our success was measured in the millions of customers whose lives were changed by our products. So when Inc. recognizes us as a “best-led” company, it affirms the entire reason we do our jobs each day. It validates that we’re making a difference in people’s lives every time they buy a bottle of Hint. And that’s the best reward of all.



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