‘What sucks in my world?’ 3 questions to kickstart your business empire
Miki Agrawal—the entrepreneur behind Thinx, Tushy, and Wild—explains how to turn your #1 gripe into an industry-disrupting idea.
Miki Agrawal is a social entrepreneur who loves to use designed innovation to break taboos and change culture. She's passionate about sharing her knowledge and strategies, from idea to launch to growth to overcoming setbacks, in the most human way possible.
Miki is the co-founder / chief inventor-er of THINX: the period-proof underwear company that’s disrupting the $15 billion feminine-hygiene market. She also co-created a gorgeous pee-proof underwear called ICON to help women stay their MOST unapologetic selves. For every pair sold, money goes to the Fistula Foundation to provide care for women with obstetric fistula in developing countries.
Miki loves eating so she founded the acclaimed farm-to-table gluten-free pizza concept WILD. The restaurant rang in its 12-year anniversary in 2017 (ding)! She just opened her fourth location in Guatemala!
Miki's newest brand is TUSHY (hellotushy.com) which upgrades the American bathroom experience with a modern, best-in-class, affordable bidet attachment. Wiping with toilet paper after you poop is not only ineffective but helps cause health issues like UTIs, hemorrhoids, yeast infections, anal fissures, anal itching (from wet wipes too!), not to mention kills 15 million trees to make the toilet paper. Toilet paper was introduced to America in the 1800s and Miki and her team agrees that it's time to get our butts into the 21st century. Each purchase helps Samagra combat the global sanitation crisis affecting 40% of the world.
Miki Agrawal: So, when I think about what ideas that I want to pursue, I think about three questions. The first question that I ask myself is, “What sucks in my world?" Does this thing suck in my world so much that I want to do something about it?
Like, for example, having period accidents every month. Having to literally like—when I was going to the bathroom, prior to bringing Tushy into the world, I would have to go to the bathroom, take—the average American uses 57 sheets of toilet paper per day; I was that person using probably more—I would take two wads of toilet paper, put them under the sink, so I would have two wet wads of toilet paper—because I wouldn't buy wet wipes, because they're are bad for the plumbing system and bad for the environment—so I’d get two wads of wet paper, then I would go to the bathroom and then I would take the first wet wad and I would like wipe. And then I would take dry paper and I would wipe. Then I’d take the second wet wad and I would wipe. Then I would get more dry paper and wipe, and I would do this whole thing to just make sure I’m clean down there. So what sucked in my world? Going through that process. What sucked in my world? Having stomach aches every time I ate pizza—regular, conventional pizza. You know, bleached flour, processed cheese, sugar-filled sauces, processed toppings. That was hurting me, but I loved pizza and I wanted to keep it in my life, but I couldn’t eat that kind of pizza. And so that sucked in my world.
The second question is, “Does it suck for a lot of people?” Because if it sucks for just you and you’re like a diva, then sorry, but that’s probably not a great business idea. But if it sucks for a lot of people, then: business opportunity.
One in five Americans eat gluten-free whether they’re gluten intolerant or not. Gluten does require a lot of energy for your body to break down. It’s not really great for your body to digest. And so to be able to eat gluten-free actually does keep you lighter. And so 20 percent of Americans eat gluten-free. That’s a pretty big market. Okay, we can start this business in this category.
In the bidet world or in the bathroom world wiping your butt with dry paper kind of sucks for a lot of people, specifically the 30 million combined cases of chronic UTIs, hemorrhoids, yeast infections, those who suffer from those, and just everyone that has to sit on fecal matter all day long, which is pretty much everyone. And so it sucks for everyone.
And the final question, which is the most important one, is: “Can I be passionate about this issue, cause or community for a really long time?” It takes ten years to be an overnight success. We often think like, “Oh my god, Dollar Shave Club sold in two years for a billion dollars. Oh, look at Instagram. It had ten people and sold for a billion dollars. I can do this.” Those are literally like winning the lottery. You have to feel like you can sit in that discomfort for ten years.
Can you sit in that, “Oh god, am I going to succeed or not? Am I going to like, just hand to mouth, figuring it out how to live during that period?” Can you do it for ten years? Can you be passionate about that issue for ten years?
So, for me, all of my businesses have a cause attached to it. For Tushy every bidet sold we’re helping fund clean latrine projects all over India. To date, we’ve helped over 12,000 families gain access to clean sanitation through our partnership with Samagra which is an organization that builds clean latrines all over India. Right now the global sanitation crisis is—over a billion people practice open defecation. The global sanitation crisis is one of the greatest killers of our time. I’m half Indian. My father came to this country with five dollars in his pocket from India, and that could have been my life. He came here, he meet my Japanese mother, they fell in love and in one generation built the American Dream for us. But for so many people they just don’t have that.
And so for me, what keeps me going is that not only am I changing culture in the first world by introducing a product that helps save the environment, helps save your health and hygiene, but also we’re helping fight the global sanitation crisis, which is helping—truly—people just gain basic access for human dignity. And so that really keeps me excited, and I think having that passion, that purpose and that thing, that you can be like, when you close your eyes and ask like, “Can I sit in this for ten years?” My answer is yes across the board. So I think if that is your answer too, then go for it.
So why I chose to be a social entrepreneur instead of a traditional entrepreneur—I mean, I think, first of all, the future of entrepreneurship is social entrepreneurship. I don’t think you can start a business without it being a social—that has a cause attached to it, because if there are two products that are the same and one has a cause and one doesn’t, who will you support? Obviously, the one that has a cause attached to it.
And secondly, as an entrepreneur when you are like crawling up a hill in molasses trying to just make it and keep your head above like the death zone, which, by the way, between 60 and 95 percent of businesses close within their first or second year, it’s a really daunting thing to start and grow.
What keeps us motivated, that when you close your eyes you can say, for every product sold I’m helping support someone who really desperately need something like this, or desperately needs to have a solve for what their issue is, like the global sanitation crisis.
And so, for me, I think for any entrepreneur, social enterprise actually drives you further and keeps you going for ten years, instead of just kind of like try to create a tee-shirt company so you can sell as many as you can and then sell it to hopefully Target and make your millions which, you know, you can’t start a business like that, because first of all, it’s inauthentic. People will see right through it. People who start businesses for the exit, most of them will fail because there’s just no true passion behind it.
To really, really succeed you have to have such deep passion and drive to make it succeed. When you’re going thorough the worst of times and you close your eyes, you really have to remember like “Oh my god, I’ve helped so many people just gain access to sanitation.” That's going to keep me going. Most people can’t say that if they’re just trying to sell a tee-shirt company.
Why do you put up with things that an entrepreneur wouldn’t? For Miki Agrawal, her entrepreneurial empire started with one question: "What sucks in my world?" Since then, Agrawal has made a habit of disrupting industries—especially in the taboo space. Her farm-to-table gluten-free pizza concept Wild is in its 13th year, her period-proof underwear Thinx shook up the $15 billion feminine-hygiene market (and famously rocked the advertising world), and her latest company Tushy is bringing bidets back. Here, Agrawal explains the three-question test that helps her decide what ideas she wants to pursue, and she makes a case for social entrepreneurship over a pure profit model: she knows from experience that your motivations really matter when times get tough. Miki Agrawal's latest venture is revolutionizing the American toilet with Tushy.
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Evolution doesn't clean up after itself very well.
- An evolutionary biologist got people swapping ideas about our lingering vestigia.
- Basically, this is the stuff that served some evolutionary purpose at some point, but now is kind of, well, extra.
- Here are the six traits that inaugurated the fun.
The plica semilunaris<img class="rm-lazyloadable-image rm-shortcode" type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8xOTA5NjgwMS9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY3NDg5NTg1NX0.kdBYMvaEzvCiJjcLEPgnjII_KVtT9RMEwJFuXB68D8Q/img.png?width=980" id="59914" width="429" height="350" data-rm-shortcode-id="b11e4be64c5e1f58bf4417d8548bedc7" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
The human eye in alarming detail. Image source: Henry Gray / Wikimedia commons<p>At the inner corner of our eyes, closest to the nasal ridge, is that little pink thing, which is probably what most of us call it, called the caruncula. Next to it is the plica semilunairs, and it's what's left of a third eyelid that used to — ready for this? — blink horizontally. It's supposed to have offered protection for our eyes, and some birds, reptiles, and fish have such a thing.</p>
Palmaris longus<img class="rm-lazyloadable-image rm-shortcode" type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8xOTA5NjgwNy9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYzMzQ1NjUwMn0.dVor41tO_NeLkGY9Tx46SwqhSVaA8HZQmQAp532xLxA/img.jpg?width=980" id="879be" width="1920" height="2560" data-rm-shortcode-id="4089a32ea9fbb1a0281db14332583ccd" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Palmaris longus muscle. Image source: Wikimedia commons<p> We don't have much need these days, at least most of us, to navigate from tree branch to tree branch. Still, about 86 percent of us still have the wrist muscle that used to help us do it. To see if you have it, place the back of you hand on a flat surface and touch your thumb to your pinkie. If you have a muscle that becomes visible in your wrist, that's the palmaris longus. If you don't, consider yourself more evolved (just joking).</p>
Darwin's tubercle<img class="rm-lazyloadable-image rm-shortcode" type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8xOTA5NjgxMi9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY0ODUyNjA1MX0.8RuU-OSRf92wQpaPPJtvFreOVvicEwn39_jnbegiUOk/img.jpg?width=980" id="687a0" width="819" height="1072" data-rm-shortcode-id="ff5edf0a698e0681d11efde1d7872958" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Darwin's tubercle. Image source: Wikimedia commons<p> Yes, maybe the shell of you ear does feel like a dried apricot. Maybe not. But there's a ridge in that swirly structure that's a muscle which allowed us, at one point, to move our ears in the direction of interesting sounds. These days, we just turn our heads, but there it is.</p>
Goosebumps<img class="rm-lazyloadable-image rm-shortcode" type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8xOTA5NzMxNC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYyNzEyNTc2Nn0.aVMa5fsKgiabW5vkr7BOvm2pmNKbLJF_50bwvd4aRo4/img.jpg?width=980" id="d8420" width="1440" height="960" data-rm-shortcode-id="8827e55511c8c3aed8c36d21b6541dbd" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Goosebumps. Photo credit: Tyler Olson via Shutterstock<p>It's not entirely clear what purpose made goosebumps worth retaining evolutionarily, but there are two circumstances in which they appear: fear and cold. For fear, they may have been a way of making body hair stand up so we'd appear larger to predators, much the way a cat's tail puffs up — numerous creatures exaggerate their size when threatened. In the cold, they may have trapped additional heat for warmth.</p>
Tailbone<img class="rm-lazyloadable-image rm-shortcode" type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8xOTA5NzMxNi9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY3MzQwMjc3N30.nBGAfc_O9sgyK_lOUo_MHzP1vK-9kJpohLlj9ax1P8s/img.jpg?width=980" id="9a2f6" width="1440" height="1440" data-rm-shortcode-id="4fe28368d2ed6a91a4c928d4254cc02a" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Image source: Decade3d-anatomy online via Shutterstock<p>Way back, we had tails that probably helped us balance upright, and was useful moving through trees. We still have the stump of one when we're embryos, from 4–6 weeks, and then the body mostly dissolves it during Weeks 6–8. What's left is the coccyx.</p>
The palmar grasp reflex<img class="rm-lazyloadable-image rm-shortcode" type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8xOTA5NzMyMC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYzNjY0MDY5NX0.OSwReKLmNZkbAS12-AvRaxgCM7zyukjQUaG4vmhxTtM/img.jpg?width=980" id="8804c" width="1440" height="960" data-rm-shortcode-id="67542ee1c5a85807b0a7e63399e44575" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Palmar reflex activated! Photo credit: Raul Luna on Flickr<p> You've probably seen how non-human primate babies grab onto their parents' hands to be carried around. We used to do this, too. So still, if you touch your finger to a baby's palm, or if you touch the sole of their foot, the palmar grasp reflex will cause the hand or foot to try and close around your finger.</p>
Other people's suggestions<p>Amir's followers dove right in, offering both cool and questionable additions to her list. </p>
Fangs?<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-conversation="none" data-lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">Lower mouth plate behind your teeth. Some have protruding bone under the skin which is a throw back to large fangs. Almost like an upsidedown Sabre Tooth.</p>— neil crud (@neilcrud66) <a href="https://twitter.com/neilcrud66/status/1085606005000601600?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">January 16, 2019</a></blockquote> <script async src="https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script>
Hiccups<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-conversation="none" data-lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">Sure: <a href="https://t.co/DjMZB1XidG">https://t.co/DjMZB1XidG</a></p>— Stephen Roughley (@SteBobRoughley) <a href="https://twitter.com/SteBobRoughley/status/1085529239556968448?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">January 16, 2019</a></blockquote> <script async src="https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script>
Hypnic jerk as you fall asleep<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-conversation="none" data-lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">What about when you “jump” just as you’re drifting off to sleep, I heard that was a reflex to prevent falling from heights.</p>— Bann face (@thebanns) <a href="https://twitter.com/thebanns/status/1085554171879788545?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">January 16, 2019</a></blockquote> <script async src="https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script> <p> This thing, often called the "alpha jerk" as you drop into alpha sleep, is properly called the hypnic jerk,. It may actually be a carryover from our arboreal days. The <a href="https://www.livescience.com/39225-why-people-twitch-falling-asleep.html" target="_blank" data-vivaldi-spatnav-clickable="1">hypothesis</a> is that you suddenly jerk awake to avoid falling out of your tree.</p>
Nails screeching on a blackboard response?<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-conversation="none" data-lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">Everyone hate the sound of fingernails on a blackboard. It's _speculated_ that this is a vestigial wiring in our head, because the sound is similar to the shrill warning call of a chimp. <a href="https://t.co/ReyZBy6XNN">https://t.co/ReyZBy6XNN</a></p>— Pet Rock (@eclogiter) <a href="https://twitter.com/eclogiter/status/1085587006258888706?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">January 16, 2019</a></blockquote> <script async src="https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script>
Ear hair<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-conversation="none" data-lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">Ok what is Hair in the ears for? I think cuz as we get older it filters out the BS.</p>— Sarah21 (@mimix3) <a href="https://twitter.com/mimix3/status/1085684393593561088?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">January 16, 2019</a></blockquote> <script async src="https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script>
Nervous laughter<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">You may be onto something. Tooth-bearing with the jaw clenched is generally recognized as a signal of submission or non-threatening in primates. Involuntary smiling or laughing in tense situations might have signaled that you weren’t a threat.</p>— Jager Tusk (@JagerTusk) <a href="https://twitter.com/JagerTusk/status/1085316201104912384?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">January 15, 2019</a></blockquote> <script async src="https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script>
Um, yipes.<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-conversation="none" data-lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">Sometimes it feels like my big toe should be on the side of my foot, was that ever a thing?</p>— B033? K@($ (@whimbrel17) <a href="https://twitter.com/whimbrel17/status/1085559016011563009?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">January 16, 2019</a></blockquote> <script async src="https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script>
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