Entrepreneur Betters Lives Through Business
Issue   |   Fri, 11/11/2016 - 03:17
Theo Goldin ‘05
The critical thinking and analytical skills that Goldin accrued at Amherst are crucial to his business success.

From lawyer to healthy lifestyle entrepreneur, Theo Goldin ’89 has strived to make the world a better and healthier place throughout his journey after Amherst. Chemistry turned English major, Goldin used Amherst to explore a multitude of interests on which he then capitalized on throughout his career. Goldin and his wife started Hint Water together, a $30 million beverage company that sells unsweetened, flavored water.

A Change in Direction
Goldin chose Amherst for the opportunity to study multiple disciplines and explore various passions.

“I wanted a great liberal arts education and I had a lot of different interests,” Goldin said. “I felt like I could pursue them at Amherst; I was very interested in chemistry but I also loved to write.”

A long history of Amherst alums within his family, including his father Howard Goldin M.D. ’57, uncle Joel Goldin ’59 and sister Jane Zeitler ’91, also helped solidify Goldin’s interest in the college.

At Amherst, he played rugby, intramural football and attended Tuesday night taps — house-hosted parties. Though he started as a chemistry major, he turned his interests elsewhere after finishing a little more than half of the requirements.

“I was thinking about doing a career in science, but I freaked out one day and realized I didn’t want to spend my life in a laboratory,” he said.

Seeking more personal interactions with others as well as projects with shorter goals and more frequent feedback, Goldin became an English major.

“I really thought it was a well-rounded education,” he said.

Pathways After Amherst
After Amherst, Goldin attended New York University Law School. The location and social atmosphere at NYU was jarring for him in comparison to that at Amherst.

“I would highly recommend NYU for law school, but it wasn’t as immersive of an academic or social experience as Amherst was. It’s not a campus the same way Amherst is,” he said.

“I’ll be honest: I cannot remember why I went to law school. I think I felt like I had impression of law as a very logical discipline that didn’t involve the time frame of science research and I could use my writing skills,” he said. “I didn’t really love law school. Law is really illogical and internally inconsistent and not very scientific.”

After law school, Goldin found a job in San Francisco at Brobeck Phelger & Harrison. From 1994 to 1998, he worked in their business and technology group.

In 1998 Goldin moved to Netscape, a computer services company that had just created the first widely distributed graphical web browser.

“[Netscape was] in the beginning of a huge battle with Microsoft,” he said. “I thought it’d be very interesting to be on the inside of a company in this David and Goliath fight and we were on the right side of it.”
As technology counsel, Goldin Netscape promoted open standards for software to be widely distributed instead of being proprietary.

“I am very proud of the work everyone did at Netscape to ensure that … the internet [could] grow independent of a big company’s agenda,” he said. “We took the source code of our browser software and released it as an open source product. We took a major commercial application and released it as open source, which was the first time it had happened in that scale.”
Later, Netscape split up and was acquired by America Online and Microsystems. Although offered a position in the business affairs group at AOL, Goldin didn’t want to work at such a large company and declined..

A Focus on Health
Though he started out in technology, Goldin said his interest in health has always been a part of his life.

“[I grew up] in a family that wanted to give back,” he said. “My dad is a great doctor … Growing up, he was always involved in a variety of causes that were about making the world a better and safer place. I thought about following him in that career path but it didn’t seem right to me … [but I still wanted] to do something to help.”

When a former employer — Goldwin’s boss while in high school — approached him about starting a software company to make healthcare more effective, Goldin took on the role of chief executive officer and helped develop the company, which focused on streamlining communication with patients.

“I love the idea of being able to hand the doctor all the key information that they are going to need from their patients but also the medical rules of practice for optimal care of the patient,” he said. “I was motivated in trying to give back and try and make the world a little better and healthier place. The program ended up working really well.”

Zakim and Goldin ultimately disagreed on the application of the product as a consumer or professional. They sold the company to Robert Bosch Foundation, which is the largest charity in Europe and owns a large hospital chain in Germany.

Developing Hint
Around the same time Goldin sold ZMedix, his wife, Kara Goldin, came up with the idea for Hint Water.

“She had been prototyping [the unsweetened, flavored water] in our kitchen. Basically anyone who came through our door was handed a glass of hint and asked for feedback,” Theo Goldin said.

Many people they talked to expressed a desire to drink more water, but didn’t because they found plain water boring.
“I thought we could help a lot more people if they drink more water than we could if I was diagnosing them when they are starting to get sick,” he said.

When Kara approached him about working for the company, Goldin found two big surprises awaiting him.

“The way she told me about it was, ‘Theo, I think we are going to start this flavored water company and launch our first product in eight months and right around the same time we’re going to have our fourth kid. I am going to need your help,’” he said.

Today, the feedback and connection from consumers on social media, through emails, by phone and in person motivates Goldin to keep working. Never before working with a tangible product, he finds rewarding “that feeling of satisfaction and that direct impact on people you can meet and have a conversation with.”

“[Food and beverage] is a really tough industry,” he said. “It is the largest industry in the planet and touches every single person’s lives at least in industrialized countries. If you can make a product that people feel is helping change their lives, I don’t know what else you can do that you can feel better about.”

Within Hint, Theo focuses on the operations of creating product quality, managing stock and working across departments. Kara, the CEO and face of the brand, runs strategy, marketing and sales directly.

“A lot of my day is talking to our team of 50 people that are spread across the country, checking in, approving stuff, challenging their ideas and making sure they are giving good communication,” he said. “It’s a lot of different things but it’s always moving the businesses forward.”

Rather than balancing his professional and personal lives, Goldin instead believes in integrating both. “On some level we are always working and on some level we are always paying attention to our family and taking care of daily life things,” he said.
A large focus for Goldin is continuing the growth of Hint. They launched the direct consumer business two years ago and Hint has been growing about 60 percent from the previous year to the next.

“I really want to ride this out and make sure it’s big enough that no one can make us go away or slow us down,” he said. “There’s a million things I could see myself doing, but right now we’re totally focused on Hint.”

As a student at Amherst, Goldin never could have imagined being where he is today. He is happy with the path he took and how his time at the college influenced and continues to influence his life.

“The ability to solve problems and ability to think about things in a disciplinary way is a thing I use every single day of my life, he said. “It comes from being able to think and take in a lot of information from a lot of different types of sources and draw on the different types of abilities people have to integrate them and come up with the best solutions — I credit a lot of that from having a great liberal arts education with phenomenal people around me.”