Miki Agrawal, Author of Do Cool Sh*t, Helps Spark Startups
Miki Agrawal is our kind of girl. She’s the best-selling author of Do Cool Sh*t: Quit Your Day Job, Start Your Own Business, and Live Happily Ever After and is an entrepreneur who’s been named to Forbes’ list of “Top 20 Millennials on a Mission.” Obviously, we had to know more (like, what’s her secret?), and kindly, she obliged. Here, Agrawal shares her experience in becoming an entrepreneur, founding a high-tech women’s underwear company, and how she stays inspired.
When did you first realize you had what it takes to be an entrepreneur?
When I was in third grade, my parents started a gifted children’s summer camp, because there were camps for everyone, but my parents couldn’t find one for gifted children. My mom, who’s from Japan, has a super-strong Japanese accent, and my dad has a super-strong Indian accent, and they still managed to start a gifted children’s summer camp which went on for 20 years, because it filled a need. That was a good starting point, to show that, hey, if you see that something’s missing, you can solve the problem, even if you have no relationships, no expertise, nothing — as long as you have a good idea that people want.
Then when I was in ninth grade, my parents started a company called Tomorrow’s Professionals, which is an electronic kits company that taught kids electronics. My parents thought it would be really good for kids to learn about electronics. So without any experience or knowledge of starting a business, they created this electronics kits company. My dad wrote the manual and my mom did all the packaging. It was placed in schools throughout Canada. Again, they filled a need. They saw something that was lacking and they figured it out. It was a good model for us to say, “Oh, wow. If there’s a problem, you don’t have to have experience to solve the problem.”
When I was 19, I was in L.A., and my sister and I raised our first $6000 to produce our first short film. Obviously, it was a total disaster, but we got a budget, we got a whole crew together, and we shot the whole thing. We learned a lot from that experience. So when I went on to start my first real business, a restaurant in NY, I had experienced a lot of failure and a lot of learning. Though I will say, the restaurant was a next level of messing up and figuring stuff out.
What advice would you give someone who is just starting out with a business idea? What are the most important first steps?
Step one is to eliminate all negative influences in your life. Sometimes, a parent or friend thinks that they’re doing right by you by telling you to do something safer. Create a little distance from anyone who’s a naysayer, including those who tell you to get a safe job. And start seeking out those who support and inspire your dream. I eliminated a lot of the negative relationships in my life, like those who were working regular jobs and wanted to go out on the weekends and get drunk, and not really have meaningful experiences.
Then I found a couple of really kindred spirits who are also interested in starting their own businesses. We really inspire and support each other to follow our dreams. So, step one is to really find your tribe. That can be done by going to events like conferences and like-minded group meet-ups. When you find your people, then you can really have a support system to grow and to keep going. Aside from that, push until stuff keeps happening.
How do you advise that someone get to the point of quitting her day job?
You want to have like a six-month cushion to pay your rent and bills — and to make sure that you don’t have to give up on having dinner with your friends and things like that. The minute you feel like you’re giving something up, you become less excited to keep going (versus, having what it takes to still do what you want to do, but still really focus on your business). Radical self reliance is so important — you want to make sure that you’re taking care of yourself.
Tell me about your company, Thinx.
Thinx is my current inspiration, reimagining feminine hygiene products for women both here and around the world, changing the taboo around something super normal like a woman’s period. Part of doing cool shit requires, oftentimes, doing things that have polarizing feedback. A lot of women don’t want to talk about their periods. Many women are totally fine talking about their periods, but a lot of women find it unclassy or gross, yet every woman has a cycle and every man is here, in part, because of it. Part of doing business is to change people’s thought process and reframe people’s mentality and ideas around things that could generally be taboo, like women’s periods.
Basically our first innovation is a pair of underwear that you’ll never worry about leaking through or staining, and they absorb up to five teaspoons of liquid, which is a lot. Anytime a woman has a period, she has the perfect way to replace tampons or pads, it definitely replace pantyliners. It just gives women complete peace of mind when they’re out doing anything when on their period. For every pair of underwear sold, which solves a problem here, we fund seven reusable cloth pads that goes to a girl in the developing world, so she can go back to school. Because over a hundred million girls are missing one week of school when they have their periods. It’s a huge problem in the developing world that not a lot of people talk about.
What’s your average day like?
Mondays and Fridays I’m in the office for team meetings, to make sure everyone’s doing what they’re supposed to be doing, and to get reports and sales numbers and things like that. The rest of the week, I have meetings for various Thinx projects — I’m working on a Thinx documentary, an upcoming Thinx runway show, tons of PR and marketing ideas, and to create partnerships for the brand. Every day is different, really.
How do you keep your head on straight when you’re so busy?
I meditate as often as I can, maybe three days a week. I go to the gym three to four times a week. I eat very healthy — for the most part, no sugar, no gluten, no dairy. I get eight hours of sleep a night. I make sure I spend quality time with my friends who are inspirational to me. Then I’m able to be creative and am ready to work everyday.
The title of your book is, “Do Cool Sh*t.” I’m wondering — what’s the coolest thing you’ve done lately?
My twin sister Radha and I started DJing. One of our friends was doing a residency at the W Hotel, and we called her and said, “can we DJ for New Year’s Eve?” And she was like “you’ve never DJ’d before in your life.” And we were like, “we’ll learn!” So before she left for her NYE booking, she left her DJ equipment at our house and gave us a one hour lesson, and we just learned. We practiced for like a hundred hours or so, and we became DJs.
So we got booked at the W Hotel in the Maldives. They put us up at the most beautiful resort in the world for a whole week, and we DJ’d two one-hour sets. We’re getting to go on these amazing adventures for free to play our favorite music.
How do you stay inspired? What gives you energy to keep going?
All of my friends. Literally, my best friends are the founder of General Assembly; the founder of Change Heroes; the founder of Change.org; the founder of Luna, the founder of Ocho; the founder of Tribute; the founder of Daybreaker, the morning dance party; the founder of Artsy.
Last week we all had a storytelling night at my house, and everyone came and shared our most inspiring stories of 2014, and just looking around the room, it’s like the most inspiring people in the world. That’s where I seek all of my inspiration and energy and support from — people who are also in the trenches, just like me. Some might be a lot more successful — one of my best friends is Alex Young, the founder of SoundCloud. These are our best friends, and they’re so incredibly inspiring and so wonderfully supportive, and that’s really what keeps you going.
What is next for you?
Last year, I held my first Do Cool Sh*t boot camp, which developed out of the book. It’s a place where people can learn everything from creating your mission and vision, to actually creating all of the digital strategy (such as Facebook advertising, Google advertising, Twitter advertising and inbound marketing). People can also learn how to pitch their business ideas and get buy-ins from investors, create business presentations, prototype concepts and do market research; These are all things you can learn in five days at a bootcamp. We had twenty people attend whose lives are changed. They are completely ready to tackle the world and do cool sh*t themselves. All of their ideas are in inception mode, and now they know what to do next year in the years to come. We’re going to keep doing it, because it was so rewarding for people.