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.
Not too many years ago, my advice to political candidates would have been pretty simple: "Don't do or say anything stupid." But the last few elections have rendered that advice outdated.
When Barack Obama referred to his grandmother as a "typical white woman" during the 2008 campaign, for example, many people thought it would cost him the election -- and once upon a time, it probably would have. But his supporters were focused on the values and positions he professed, and they weren't going to let one unwise comment distract them. Candidate Obama didn't even get much pushback for saying, "We're five days away from fundamentally transforming the United States of America." That statement should have given even his most ardent supporters pause, but it didn't. It was in line with everything Obama had previously said, and it was what his supporters wanted to hear.
2016: What rules?
Fast forward to 2016, and Donald Trump didn't just ignore traditional norms, he almost seemed to relish violating them. Who would have ever dreamed we'd elect a man who talked openly about grabbing women by the **** and who was constantly blasting out crazy-sounding Tweets? But Trump did get elected. Why? Some people believe it was because Americans finally felt like they had permission to show their bigotry. Others think Obama had pushed things so far to the left that right-wing voters were more interested in dragging public policy back toward the middle than in what Trump was Tweeting.
Another theory is that Trump's lewd, crude, and socially unacceptable behavior was deliberately designed to make Democrats feel comfortable campaigning on policies that were far further to the left than they ever would have attempted before. Why? Because they were sure America would never elect someone who acted like Trump. If that theory is right, and Democrats took the bait, Trump's "digital policies" served him well.
And although Trump's brash style drew the most handlines, he wasn't the only one who seemed to have forgotten the, "Don't do or say anything stupid," rule. Hillary Clinton also made news when she made a "basket of deplorables" comment at a private fundraiser, but it leaked out, and it dogged her for the rest of the election cycle.
And that's where we need to start our discussion. Now that all the old rules about candidate behavior have been blown away, do presidential candidates even need digital policies?
Yes, they do. More than ever, in my opinion. Let me tell you why.
Digital policies for 2020 and beyond
While the 2016 election tossed traditional rules about political campaigns to the trash heap, that doesn't mean you can do anything you want. Even if it's just for the sake of consistency, candidates need digital policies for their own campaigns, regardless of what anybody else is doing. Here are some important things to consider.
Align your digital policies with your campaign strategy
Aside from all the accompanying bells and whistles, why do you want to be president? What ideological beliefs are driving you? If you were to become president, what would you want your legacy to be? Once you've answered those questions honestly, you can develop your campaign strategy. Only then can you develop digital policies that are in alignment with the overall purpose -- the "Why?" -- of your campaign:
- If part of your campaign strategy, for example, is to position yourself as someone who's above the fray of the nastiness of modern politics, then one of your digital policies should be that your campaign will never post or share anything that attacks another candidate on a personal level. Attacks will be targeted only at the policy level.
- While it's not something I would recommend, if your campaign strategy is to depict the other side as "deplorables," then one of your digital policies should be to post and share every post, meme, image, etc. that supports your claim.
- If a central piece of your platform is that detaining would-be refugees at the border is inhumane, then your digital policies should state that you will never say, post, or share anything that contradicts that belief, even if Trump plans to relocate some of them to your own city. Complaining that such a move would put too big a strain on local resources -- even if true -- would be making an argument for the other side. Don't do it.
- Don't be too quick to share posts or Tweets from supporters. If it's a text post, read all of it to make sure there's not something in there that would reflect negatively on you. And examine images closely to make sure there's not a small detail that someone may notice.
- Decide what your campaign's voice and tone will be. When you send out emails asking for donations, will you address the recipient as "friend" and stress the urgency of donating so you can continue to fight for them? Or will you personalize each email and use a more low-key, collaborative approach?
Those are just a few examples. The takeaway is that your online behavior should always support your campaign strategy. While you could probably get away with posting or sharing something that seems mean or "unpresidential," posting something that contradicts who you say you are could be deadly to your campaign. Trust me on this -- if there are inconsistencies, Twitter will find them and broadcast them to the world. And you'll have to waste valuable time, resources, and public trust to explain those inconsistencies away.
Remember that the most common-sense digital policies still apply
The 2016 election didn't abolish all of the rules. Some still apply and should definitely be included in your digital policies:
- Claim every domain you can think of that a supporter might type into a search engine. Jeb Bush not claiming www.jebbush.com (the official campaign domain was www.jeb2016.com) was a rookie mistake, and he deserved to have his supporters redirected to Trump's site.
- Choose your campaign's Twitter handle wisely. It should be obvious, not clever or cutesy. In addition, consider creating accounts with possible variations of the Twitter handle you chose so that no one else can use them.
- Give the same care to selecting hashtags. When considering a hashtag, conduct a search to understand its current use -- it might not be what you think! When making up new hashtags, try to avoid anything that could be hijacked for a different purpose -- one that might end up embarrassing you.
- Make sure that anyone authorized to Tweet, post, etc., on your behalf has a copy of your digital policies and understands the reasons behind them. (People are more likely to follow a rule if they understand why it's important.)
- Decide what you'll do if you make an online faux pas that starts a firestorm. What's your emergency plan?
- Consider sending an email to supporters who sign up on your website, thanking them for their support and suggesting ways (based on digital policies) they can help your messaging efforts. If you let them know how they can best help you, most should be happy to comply. It's a small ask that could prevent you from having to publicly disavow an ardent supporter.
- Make sure you're compliant with all applicable regulations: campaign finance, accessibility, privacy, etc. Adopt a double opt-in policy, so that users who sign up for your newsletter or email list through your website have to confirm by clicking on a link in an email. (And make sure your email template provides an easy way for people to unsubscribe.)
- Few people thought 2016 would end the way it did. And there's no way to predict quite yet what forces will shape the 2020 election. Careful tracking of your messaging (likes, shares, comments, etc.) will tell you if you're on track or if public opinion has shifted yet again. If so, your messaging needs to shift with it. Ideally, one person should be responsible for monitoring reaction to the campaign's messaging and for raising a red flag if reactions aren't what was expected.
Thankfully, the world hasn't completely lost its marbles
Whatever the outcome of the election may be, candidates now face a situation where long-standing rules of behavior no longer apply. You now have to make your own rules -- your own digital policies. You can't make assumptions about what the voting public will or won't accept. You can't assume that "They'll never vote for someone who acts like that"; neither can you assume, "Oh, I can get away with that, too." So do it right from the beginning. Because in this election, I predict that sound digital policies combined with authenticity will be your best friend.