Originally posted by Kara Goldin on LinkedIn Pulse here.
Time and again, investors, bosses, teachers and coaches miss the chance to encourage people who have truly unique talents, perspectives and ideas. Walt Disney was famously fired from the Kansas City Star in 1919 because he “lacked imagination and had no good ideas”. Anna Wintour was fired from Harper’s Bazaar after nine months for being too edgy. Oprah was fired early in her career for not separating her emotions from her stories. Spielberg was rejected from USC’s School of Theater, Film, and Television three times.
When we first started Hint Water (drinkhint.com), I set out to create a bottled beverage that duplicated (maybe even improved upon) the wonderful fresh taste I had created at home with fruit-infused water. My goal was to make a drink that tasted great without tasting sweet, so that it would be easier for people to drink more water. Of course it couldn’t have any preservatives or sweeteners or chemicals but it would need a reasonable shelf life. To solve that technical challenge (long shelf life without preservatives) I looked to industry experts. A friend had introduced me to someone at Coke who they thought could help. I explained the challenge, but instead of advice on how to solve the technical problems, he said “Listen Sweetie, this might work in San Francisco but it’s never going to take off anywhere else. Americans like sweet.”
Did he really call me “Sweetie”? That offhand condescending insult really opened my eyes and ignited my fire. I took his insult and instantaneously turned something negative to positive. I realized that he saw only where the consumer was today and was blind to where they were going. The idea of a water that tasted delicious without being sweet was unthinkable. He continued: “I’ve been in this business a long time. And I know what customers want: more and more sweetness with fewer and fewer calories. Your flavored water doesn’t sound sweet enough. It might sell in a few places like San Francisco, but it’ll never take off nationally.”
In that moment I saw the opportunity to get a huge jump on the biggest beverage companies in the world, despite the technical challenges that we would have to solve, because they didn’t even see why it would be worth doing. Not appreciating the gigantic market shift that was already beginning they weren’t even thinking about developing a product like hint. So I continued on my path to launching hint. And today we are in more than 20,000 stores and counting, nationwide, and sold online.
Some of the best success stories begin with people whose ideas or capabilities met with great disdain. One of my favorite examples is Paul McCartney. In the book The Element, Ken Robinson (one of my favorite “thinkers” today) tells a story of how Paul McCartney received no encouragement from his grammar school music teacher; in fact, the teacher discouraged him from pursuing music at all. Paul overcame this by, well, becoming one of the best musicians in our history.
Here’s an example that’s closer to home for me: I have a niece whose high school soccer coach ignored her speed, foot work and spirit and told her that she was simply too short to be a great player. He wouldn’t invest in coaching her because he couldn’t imagine her success. But she stuck with it, trained harder than anyone and became one of the best players on the team. And then she had a crazy growth spurt and went on to play for Pepperdine and even played on a professional team. If she had listened to her coach she would have just given up.
As an entrepreneur, you hear “no” all the time. But in each “no” a good entrepreneur sees an opportunity to better understand the world they work in and to get fired up. If you really believe you can see the future clearly, be glad that the world is filled with people who can’t. That’s how you get your head start. And if you’re right about where the world will go, its how you win.