When Kara Goldin couldn't find bottled flavored water made with real fruit, no sweeteners and no preservatives, she decided to make her own. Now over ten years later, the product she created in her kitchen is a favorite among the health-conscious and bringing in revenue in the tens of millions.

Project Entrepreneur sat down with Goldin, a former AOL executive and the founder and CEO of Hint inc., to discuss navigating  fundraising hurdles and the importance of  storytelling in brand building.

Project Entrepreneur: What inspired you to create Hint water?

Kara Goldin: I first realized that I wasn't as healthy as I wanted to be when I took some time off after AOL. I had helped build a $1 billion business there, running the shopping and e-commerce partnerships, and was looking for a new career that would get me really excited. While I was interviewing, I was working out and eating right, but still neither feeling nor looking my best.

After seeing a few different doctors to rule out any major issues, I decided to look at everything I was consuming to see if that was the issue. Diet Coke was my best friend and I decided to eliminate it from my life just to see what would happen. Two and a half weeks later, I had lost over 20 pounds, I no longer had adult acne and I had a lot more energy. I questioned what I had been putting into my body for so many years based on the results that I was seeing and realized that the word "diet" had not been creating as much health for me as I thought.

I exchanged my Diet Coke for drinking water, but water became boring, so I started cutting up fruit and putting it in water for taste. I wanted to buy a product like this, ready made in a bottle using real fruit, no sweeteners and no preservatives. Shockingly, it wasn't available at any stores, so I decided to make it!

When did you know you had a product worth creating?

The first store to carry Hint was Whole Foods in San Francisco. We gave them a few cases (prior to delivering my fourth child that day), and the next day (while I was in the hospital) they called to say that the product was sold out. It was then that I realized that it wasn't just me who wanted to not only drink more water, but also water that tastes great.

What were some of your biggest hurdles fundraising for Hint water?

I definitely heard a lot of "no's" especially in the beginning. I think the key thing for anyone fundraising is do as much as you can first as it relates to sales and growing your company prior to going out and doing a raise. And learn from your "no's" and naysayers. Sometimes it may be that someone who says your company isn't worth the investment or isn't a good idea hasn't been trained to think outside the box. So find your audience that gets what you're trying to do, and blow them away with results.

What are some strategies for identifying which investors to pitch to?

Don't expect to raise from dudes on Sand Hill Road if they have never invested in your industry or don't do your investment needed (seed, Series A, etc). Also, remember, the most valuable thing you have as an entrepreneur is your time; some investors will continue to ask for information and meetings and turn cycles of your time. Know when to cut the cord on those types of investors, too.

What role has storytelling played in the development of your brand?

Storytelling is a way for investors and consumers to find meaning in your product, brand, and company, which is huge. If you don't have a story or a "why" you did it, it's not impossible to get the word out about your product, but it's a lot more difficult.

What advice do you have for startup founders around using their story to grow their business? 

Write and tell your story as much as you can to get your story out there. Social media is obviously a huge way to do that, but so is speaking at events. You never know who might be reading your story or sitting in the audience listening.

This article originally appeared on the Project Entrepreneur website and has been condensed for clarity.

Published on: Feb 27, 2018
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