The disruptor’s guide to transparency


Anyone who thinks “fake it till you make it” is the key to a company’s meteoric rise has clearly missed out on the Theranos scandal and now-unravelling uBiome saga. Scamming is never the secret to success. It’s so important to be honest in business, especially in today’s world where consumers are bombarded with brand options and, therefore, more discerning with where they show their loyalty.

Think of all the brands vying for consumer attention in the same way you’d considerlike all the prospective matches on a dating app. If you’re trying to grow your business, how do you get people to swipe right on you and stay committed?

The short answer: total transparency, integrity, and authenticity in leadership.

1. Transparency

In 2005, I founded hint - flavoured water with no added sweeteners or preservatives, based on my personal success with the product. At the time, I was a busy mom with an unhealthy diet soda habit. I took a serious look at what I was putting into my body and decided I needed to start drinking water instead. I found plain water boring, so I sliced up fruit and added it into the pitcher. Drinking fruit-infused water—instead of 8 to 10 cans of diet soda a day—helped me lose 45 pounds, regain energy, and clear up my adult acne.

From day one, transparency has been integral to the brand. Our customers know exactly what's in our product, our business partners know exactly what they’re getting when they work with us, and our employees know exactly what’s going on at any given moment.

Hint’s mission is to help customers live healthier lives, and our San Francisco headquarters mirrors our brand, from the laid-back, tree-lined location to the open-door policy that encourages customers to stop by, try new flavours or give us feedback.

Transparency is so important that we created the most open and collaborative workplace possible with an open floor plan and few conference rooms. When your team is aware of what’s happening, they’re more accepting when you need to make tough decisions. 

2. Integrity

Hint has steadily grown because we’ve sought to make it a meaningful brand. Rather than appear on every grocery shelf, we’ve been selective about our retail partnerships to balance the growth of the brand. We started out at specialty grocers, like Whole Foods, Harris Teeter, and Fresh Market, where we knew there was demand, and then branched out to more conventional chains, like Kroger and Publix. After a very successful partnership with Amazon, we started selling direct to consumers in 2014. We were the first of our kind.

We’ve also had the integrity to say “no” to tempting collaborations that weren’t the right fit for us. For example, we turned down an offer from the beverage company, Keurig, because they also produce pods for a major soda company—contrary to hint’s mission. Our marketing efforts are thoughtful as well; we won’t appear at an event where brands like Diet Coke or Monster Energy are being promoted.

Back at hint headquarters, we nurture integrity by encouraging employees to speak freely and share fresh creative approaches. We also teach them how to give and receive constructive criticism in a way that will develop more ideas, not isolate them from fellow co-workers.

3. Authenticity

The infallible leader is an old-fashioned idea. Being open about your weak points demonstrates an authenticity that will resonate with people. Also, asking for help empowers your team to take the lead. Case in point: Mark Zuckerberg had the tech skills to grow Facebook, but not the business skills, so he brought in Sheryl Sandberg as COO.

As an authentic entrepreneur and leader, you need to make time for everyone. I love getting to know everyone at my company and understand the challenges they face to develop great new products and keep our customers happy. I try to lead by example with authentic behaviour that inspires my team: staying positive despite setbacks, being punctual, and working with a sense of purpose and passion.

I firmly believe in making authentic customer connections, whether by creating a dynamic website that engages consumers or offering different incentives, like a rewards program or monthly subscription service. I also attend many health and wellness events where I hear what our target audience wants and needs.

Kara Goldin is one of nearly 500 speakers that have already been confirmed for Cannes Lions. Catch her speaking on Wednesday June 19, on the Palais II Stage

Harriet Palmer