Kara Golden: Connecting The Dots

Were it not for Hint CEO, Kara Goldin, I might not be here today. 

The year was 2013. And work was beginning to smell weird.

I’d helped transform MTV News from a revenue-neutral, broadcaster to a 24/7, digital first newsroom. But short form was getting shorter, and memes were replacing headlines. Worse, media was riding/boom bust cycles bigger than the Banzai Pipeline, one day IPOing (I was eying an Audi TT), the next shedding twentysomethings in double digits layoffs. Inside Viacom, executives were circling; they could smell the red meat.

I was trying to fill a vacant VP head with someone who’s going to blow the place up — in a good way. I was on the phone in my office — the one I knew was too nice, too big, and too old school to last (I could pan across the UN, past the Chrysler, over Time’s Square and well beyond The Empire State Building uninterrupted) — with an Australian named Darren Burden. After just a few minutes on the phone, he said to me, “You’d love this fellowship I’m doing at Columbia.”

The shadows cast by those executive raptor wings overhead triggered my fight, freeze or flight response, and I engaged an exit strategy. In the first days of 2014, I did three things in rapid succession:

  1. Hired a resume writer to optimize my CV
  2. Hired an executive coach to help me achieve my goals
  3. And applied to the Punch Sulzberger Fellowship at Columbia University

In June, the head of that Fellowship suggested me for a role at Facebook. I was on boarded in Menlo Park in October. I met Craig Mullaney — my Rhodes Scholar, Army Ranger, Memoir Writing friend featured in Season One of “Friends & Neighbors” — on my second day at Facebook.

Earlier this year, Craig told me I should meet his friend, Hint CEO, Kara Goldin. He’d met her at TED, he said. She was super-cool, he said. Have her on the second season of “Friends & Neighbors,” he suggested.


Hmmm, interview a best-selling entrepreneur who disrupted The Sugar Water Business by building a $150M empire on something that is made with good things, and is actually good for people? A woman who casually mentions her friend, Sheryl? Even if my brother and I aren’t sure whether we’re doing a second season?

I said yes.

Kara grew up in Tempe, Arizona, the youngest of five siblings. Her mother orked for a local department store. Her father was a VP for Armour & Company — which, it should be noted, manufactured a major staple of the Wagner Bros. adolescent diet, Healthy Choice Frozen Dinners, but also unceremoniously forced her father’s early retirement.

Kara graduated Arizona State University’s prestigious Walter Cronkite School of Journalism in 1989, made it to New York City, and hustled her way into an assistant gig at Time Magazine. 

Within the decade, she’d help build CNN’s adtech, then decamped to Silicon Valley where she grew AOL’s ecommerce business to more than a billion dollars. And she got married. And she had three kids.

When her Diet Coke habit made “taking the baby weight off” (her words) impossible, Kara went rogue, cutting out everything but fruit, vegetables and water. An empire was born.

Well, the idea for an empire was born. 

Kara’s  journey would include plenty of n00b lessons, hard luck, tough breaks, and at least one male Coca Cola executive who told her, “It will never work.”

He clearly didn’t know with whom he was talking.

Last year, Kara published “Undaunted: Overcoming Doubts & Doubters,” a memoir in which she breezily and brilliantly shares that journey so far, framed in clear, simple, actionable takeaways, like, “Just Get Started,” “Persevere,” “Share Your Knowledge” and “Face Your Fears.”

For a guy who spends his free time making self talk posters in Photoshop, this was my kind of book. And my kind of conversation.

Because, as I read “Undaunted,” and binged on her podcast The Kara Goldin Show, and read up on all that Google would tell me about her, I couldn’t quite make sense of what drove her to keep testing when her early ideas were failing, or keep asking when local retailers were turning her down. At every opportunity to fold, Kara carried on, well, undaunted. 

I have spent much of career and personal life in sort of constant analysis, rolling ideas, relationships and strategies over and over in my head, looking for deeper meanings, doubting myself, surprising myself, swinging wildly from humility to hubris (at least my wife would call it hubris). And by any objective measure, it’s been a good run — and I’m still in the race.

But periods of my career have been absolute agony: sleepless nights, flopsweat, second guesses, self doubt.

By contrast, I’ve found Kara to be clear, confident and matter-of-fact.

True, she sits atop a multi-million dollar enterprise. She has had at least two wildly successful careers. And she likely does not want for much.

But I would bet that Kara possessed the same inner cool and outward confidence today that she did on day one of her first job at the local yarn shop. It’s who she is.

One of my favorite parts of my year-long Sulzberger Fellowship was learning Temperament Theory from a one of the architects of the program, Karen Gordon. It’s kind of a TL;DR version of Meyers Briggs that identifies core behaviors of four temperament types: Stabilizer, Theorist, Catalyst  ans Improvisor.

The Stabilizer is The Worker Bee: task, responsibility, hierarchy. 

The Theorist values knowledge, thinks things through, seeks perspectives.

The Catalyst brings people together, gives voice, builds consensus.

The Improviser trusts her impulses. Hands on, action oriented — and pretty rare, as it ends up. And often CEOs.

Like, I would guess, Hint CEO, Kara Goldin.

Since Kara and my first conversation, we’ve exchanged a few emails, and I’ve even taped a segment for her podcast. And every time we connect, I feel a little like someone’s flipped a light switch: I’m energized, I’m on my toes. Because Kara moves quickly. She speaks definitively. She trusts her impulses.

I am a Catalyst, and always will be. But Kara rubbed off on me. More than once in the last few weeks, I found myself pushing just a bit more easily past that tiny voice that drones, “What if they say no?” “What if you get hurt?” “What if you fail?” 

More than once in the last few weeks, I’ve trusted my impulses, and I’ve taken action.

Example: I left Facebook to build my own company.

And example: I Tweeted a perfect stranger, “Death, Sex & Money Host,” Anna Sale, and asked her to be on our podcast. Anna joins us next week on Season Two of “Friends & Neighbors.”

It’s my favorite Fredism: “There really is something of yourself that you leave at every meeting with another person.” 

My new friend, Kara Goldin, certainly leaves a lot.

Download “Friends & Neighbors” on Apple, stream on Spotify; watch on Facebook or YouTube; and subscribe to our newsletter at friendsandneighborsshow.com. “Friends & Neighbors” is a Wagner Brothers production.

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