April 20, 2024

The Boss: A Venture Born in the Kitchen

The five of us — I am the youngest — grew up in a neighborhood with Camelback Mountain almost in our backyard. My dad developed a line of healthy dinners for Con-Agra Foods and my mother worked at a local department store.

Toward the end of high school, my parents moved to Nebraska. I stayed and went to Arizona State University, where I majored in communications and minored in finance. By the time I graduated from Arizona State, in 1989, the job market had slowed down so I bought airline tickets to Los Angeles, Chicago and New York and started knocking on doors.

After three weeks on the road and 90 interviews, I took a job in Manhattan at Time Inc.’s department that managed placement of magazines with major airlines. I met my husband, Theo, who was attending New York University School of Law and hoping to work with high-tech companies after graduation. Three years later, I moved to CNN as an advertising sales trainee.

Theo and I moved to San Francisco together in 1994, and he began his career as a business and technology lawyer and I started to look for my next challenge. I heard about 2Market, a joint venture of Apple and AOL that was building one of the first computer-based shopping services. I was hired as their only salesperson, introducing retailers to the world of e-commerce.

Within a year, we had signed up many well-known retailers and were acquired by AOL. I then worked as vice president for AOL’s e-commerce and shopping partnerships — commuting across country (and virtually living on United Airlines) between San Francisco and Virginia, where AOL had its headquarters.

After giving birth to my second child, in 2001, it was time for a break, time to get in shape and build a healthier lifestyle. Step 1 was to get all the junk food out of the house, including my own worst habit, Diet Coke. So I cleaned out the refrigerator and replaced all the soda and juice with water. But Theo and the kids found plain water boring. And the truth is I did, too.

I searched for healthier drinks in the grocery stores, but could find nothing we liked. We tried a few flavored waters, but we didn’t like the lingering taste of diet sweeteners.

So I started slicing fresh fruits into pitchers of water, and everyone in my family liked that. My children’s friends even started to ask for it when they came over. One day, another parent called to ask where I bought that raspberry water her child had been talking about. I laughed, but then asked myself, “Why can’t stores sell something this simple?”

In 2004, I decided to turn some of my fruit-flavored waters into a business. I took $50,000 of our savings and plunged into learning the details of the beverage industry. Two weeks later, I realized that I was pregnant with our fourth child. I asked Theo to help me out. Soon we were building the business together.

At first, we sold Hint out of our Jeep and delivered the cases ourselves. In June 2005, we took samples to the Fancy Food Show in New York City, and buyers from Whole Foods ordered our line of 10 flavors. Things took off from there, and we now have offices in San Francisco and New York and sell to major grocers and online.

We have continued to build relationships with our retailers because shelf space is so crucial to our business. But nothing is more important than our relationship with our customers, which is why one of us answers most e-mails from consumers, and that is still my favorite part of the job.

As told to Elizabeth Olson.

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=1e6fa12d3edb7f5a8aa9c50f86828b51

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