A first generation Indian-Japanese Canadian, Miki Agrawal moved to the United States when she enrolled in Cornell University. Being the child of immigrants, Agrawal was instilled with a strong level work ethic at a very young age. Growing up, Agrawal was kept so busy going to school seven days a week that she didn’t have time to get into any trouble. Agrawal’s “aha moment” happened on one of the most tragic days in history. The first and only time Agrawal slept through her alarm clock was on September 11, 2001, her second week on the job at a prestigious investment banking firm across from the World Trade Center.
After realizing how lucky she was to be alive, Agrawal decided to make the most of her time on earth and began crossing off all the things on her bucket list (like playing soccer professionally, making movies, and starting a business). Soon Agrawal teamed up with her twin sister Radha to create Thinx, period-friendly underwear that never leaks, never stains, and absorbs two tampons worth of blood. For every pair of underwear sold, Thinx funds a pack of reusable menstrual pads to girls in the developing world.
When Agrawal decided to put ads for her brand on New York City subways, the MTA refused to run the advertisement, Agrawal went to the press. “You can’t predict virility,” she says, but the MTA scandal went viral. She spent the next four days speaking to over 40 publications, and the entire situation put Thinx on the map. Now, she’s working on her second book and two new projects, both with their own respective missions to help women in the developing world.
“Wherever you go, wherever you work, even if it’s not exactly what you want to be doing, master a skill while you’re there.”
- Miki Agrawal
One thing is for sure, whatever Agrawal does, she does it with passion. And she has done a lot and proven to have an impressive track record in the disruptive path.
One day, while at her producing job, Agrawal found herself coming home with stomach aches. After some researching, she realized that all the processed food she was eating throughout the day, thanks to catered meals and her busy lifestyle, were causing her to get sick. This led to a natural progression to the third item on her bucket list: to finally see through her vision of starting a business.
"It takes ten years to be an overnight success"
With an initial idea to create a healthier version of America’s favorite comfort food: pizza, Agrawal began the start-up process.
Despite the fact that restaurants in New York have a huge failure rate, Agrawal understood that in order for there to be progress, she had to give herself time. “You take a positive action toward your business – even if it’s just 30 minutes – every day,” she says, adding that she treated starting a business no differently than how she treated training for a sport. "There’s no way around it. If you sacrifice your social life, so be it. It’s four months – whatever. It’s not a big deal.”
She kept working her producing job for a third of each month, while the other two thirds were spent working on her restaurant idea, Wild. She funded the enterprise through what she refers to as an “MB experience," short for a mutually beneficial experience. She hosted dinner fundraisers at beautiful apartments she would sublet for the weekend, where she would feature food made by her chef friends. In its 11th year, Agrawal says that the concept is only just now hitting its stride. "It takes ten years to be an overnight success,” she says. Clearly, being wildly successful looks easier than it is.Agrawal has a unique ability to turn her personal problems into brilliant business ventures that provide solutions for virtually everyone. That’s how Wild became Wild and how her next venture, Thinx, became Thinx.
At her family's 15-annual family barbecue, Agrapalooza, Agrawal and her twin sister were defending their 3-legged race champion title when one of them suddenly got her period in the middle of the event. That’s when they thought, wouldn’t it be amazing if there were underwear that never leaked, never stained, and absorbed blood? It also occurred to them that this idea should have already happened. “When a 9-year-old has more access to information on her phone than the President [of the United States] did less than ten years ago, how are women still dealing, managing, and coping with leaking and staining and feminine hygiene products that don’t work?" she asks.
Scarlett Etienne For Thinx Underwear
Thus, Thinx was born, and it became the first of a succession of businesses under the category of “conscious capitalism.” Essentially, conscious capitalists solve first world problems and use the money from those ventures to solve third world problems. “It’s really about elevating humanity while creating a business," she says.
During her launch process, Agrawal discovered that “feminine hygiene is a root cause of cyclical poverty in the developing world.” Hundreds of millions of girls stay home home school during their “week of shame,” some even dropping out for feminine hygiene-related issues. She took it upon herself to help these communities that have access to nothing.
Agrawal says it was the lessons she learned as a young adult that made her want to give back. ”My dad came to this country with $5 in his pocket from India; my mom came with 0 friends from Japan. And one generation put three children through Ivy League schools and built the American Dream for us," she says. "It’s on us now to take that to magnify that and amplify that and do as much good on the planet as we can because our parents made that sacrifice for us.”
From a simple internet search, she found a potential partnership organization in Uganda. It was called AFRIpads, and the company made washable, reusable cloth menstrual pads at an affordable price. The Agrawal twins spent the following three-and-a-half years working on the technology by cold-calling various textile technology companies, to make underwear leak and stain resistant. Once they had their ideal product, they started their Kickstarter campaign. In keeping with her philanthropic mission, for every pair of underwear sold, Thinx funds a pack of reusable menstrual pads to girls in the developing world. After a few rounds of fundraising, they had raised approximately $130K. The sisters started by fulfilling everything themselves, and they were eventually able to close a Series A round with manufacturing partners once they got all their “ducks in a row.” At this point, they also brought in an executive team to clean up and manage the operations and finances.
Under the Thinx umbrella, there are two other projects: Icon and Tushy, and both are equally disruptive. Icon, which is essentially urine-proof underwear, helps fund fistula operations for those who can't afford it through the purchase price. Tushy, on the other hand, turns every toilet into a bidet for under 100 dollars. Tushy is collaborating with charity:water “to help people defecate with dignity.” The common thread in all these businesses, Agrawal laughs, is that she has no idea what she’s doing in any one of them. And yet, she wrote a business and lifestyle book called Do Cool Sh*t that teaches anyone how to go from Step 0 to Step 1 in business and life. "At the end of each chapter, there are tangible, granular takeaways to go from Step 0 to Step 1″. Seems like she knows what she's doing after all.
Photo Credit: afewgoodclicks.com
In 2016, Renee Wang sold her home in Bejing for $500,000 to fund her company, CastBox. Two months later, she landed her first investment. Just a half hour after hearing her pitch, she was offered one million dollars. By mid-2017, CastBox raised a total of $16 million in funding. CastBox's user numbers at that point? Seven million. Fast forward to today. Renee Wang of CastBox announces a $13.5 million Series B round of financing, bringing her funding total to a tidy $29 million. CastBox is now serving more than 15 million users.