“One of the most memorable moments was hearing her side of what happened when she was asked to step down from her own company, THINX.” - Ashley Sumner, Quilt Co-Founder
Sometimes in the mess of it all--through the media and the inflated stories we hear, we lose sight that we’re all human. What I appreciate most about Miki is how real she is--how she shows up, her willingness to share, and her commitment to moving the needle.
The night I interviewed Miki in her home, I was able to ask her some of the questions that regularly run through my mind…
Does ‘work-life’ balance exist in real life?
Or is it something we all strive towards with no hope of attaining?
As a founder of a company, when do you know that it’s time to step down and hire someone better for the job? Or do you never step down and continue to evolve?”
My team and I thought it was important to transcribe some of our conversation, because there was too much richness not to.
Also take a look to the right of the screen. We’re gathering in living rooms across the US to talk about Miki’s new book, DISRUPT-HER. Click your neighborhood to chat with women in a home near you.
If you know another woman you’d like to sit next to during this conversation, share, share, share. There’s something deeply empowering about gathering a unique set of perspectives in one room.
Ask + Tell with Miki Agrawal
Q. You are so family oriented, you have community around you all the time, you’ve launched multiple companies, written several books, how have you managed to have all of it? Do you ever have to make sacrifices?
A. It’s interesting. During my THINX days, as a CEO, I was….I had to..my pee breaks were scheduled, literally. But since I...since that whole thing happened, and now with TUSHY, I really set up a system for myself that really works where you can have it all. You actually can. There’s no giving up on anything. I have a year and a half year old. Since I had the baby, I wanted to really focus on how I can be both a mom and a business leader. Someone who builds things. And what I came up with is… Slack is amazing. I work from home most days. I have my team come to me at my home a few times a week. And I go to meetings for press and all hands on monday with the team. I have a CEO in place for TUSHY now and all senior management with a lot of experience. And I was definitely exposed in my previous experience. And I realized I don’t need to be in the office all the time. I can do everything I want in my home.
Q. As an early stage co-founder of a company going through my own experiences of being a creative and creator, I am precocious, and sometimes provocative. And as we’re growing and hiring and scaling and putting in structures in place, I have my own feelings come up about capacity and am I right for this or that, or should I just be over here creating ideas and what that looks like. And I’ve resonated with the saying, “what got you here won’t get you there.” And the parallel to that is the person who starts the company and creates the idea and then when it scales, the person who runs the company… how do you know when to extract yourself?
A. Well, I was extracted. In a different way. Ya…. there is a limit for a startup entrepreneur. There are only a few that go from inception all the way through. If you have a lot of corporate experience, you can probably handle the corporate structure, but for me I just wanted to create a radical culture where women can shine and really be themselves and support themselves. So when you oftentimes have to restructure and you realize certain people aren’t good for the culture or good for the business… which is what happens when you hire so many people and you let a few people go things change. The tune changes I was just naive in that. I was like, “Yeah, we’re all in it. We’re changing the culture, we’re doing it.” We’re talking about all of these things that women have been suppressed talking about and instead over sexualizing all of the body parts we always talk about. We talk about breasts and how we literally feed our babies with them and where we release the things we don’t need from our bodies or birth babies out of our vaginas. And for me to be like, “Yeah of course, you want to be topless at a company team retreat, go for it. And then after the fact it’s like, “Oh my god, we were topless at our company retreat.” It’s like, what?? So I really learned that lesson the hard way. For me it was really all about understanding that I want to be a friend and a champion and supporter of everyone and it’s that boundary that’s hard for me, because I just want to be everyone’s friend. And then when it comes time to discipline, that’s really hard...it’s a hard whiplash.
When you are a female leader, you are held to different standards. You’re too nice, you’re not strong enough, she’s too strong, she’s such a bitch. You know there really is that rivaling hypocrisy of female leadership that women also hold other women to. It’s really hard to rise as women collectively when women are holding other women down. I talk about that a lot in my book. About where this girl on girl hate comes from. The jealousy, the territorialism, the envy, there’s so much there. And there are great women out there doing amazing things. Championing women. For myself, I learned a really hard lesson. I thought we had created this really safe open culture. For my next business I put leadership in place and I’m giving myself some space to heal and work from home, be with my baby and I’ve created a situation for myself where I am truly happy. And I can create from a place of not worrying. It’s unfortunate to go through things, but it’s also these tough experiences that actually reveal where you should actually be. And what came up for me through that experience was actually gratitude and deep empathy. It was crazy how things went down. And I talk about this experience that happened to me in my book… I was upstairs crying, “Why is this happening to me. And is this real life? And no one is fact checking? This is bullshit.” And I was so upset and then I had this moment where I became a fly observing myself crying and I was like wow...I get to feel the depths of betrayal, sadness, pain, anger. And now I get to expand my emotional capacity and feel those things. I needed to go through that so I could feel all of those things and the highs can be higher and the depths can be deeper and have a deepend sense of empathy for others when they go through things.
Q. Tell us about your new book, DISRUPT-HER. Who is the “her” you’re aiming to disrupt?
A. I dive deep into 13 areas of our lives and the first one is the most important. How it’s broken down--it’s a common belief, like a common belief that we’ve agreed to, how it’s supposed to be in society. And then a disruption--a disruption of that common belief. And throughout the chapter, I basically share the historical context of that common belief and then we disrupt it. We disrupt them one by one. The first common belief is that we have to get serious as we grow up.
We’re told, “Get your head out of the clouds, sit down and be quiet. If you want to go to college then shut up and listen. If you want a job, then shut up and listen.”
You know, it’s a real thing. There’s a story I talk about in this first disruption. There’s a guy named Jordan McKenzie, one of the top creative directors at Hallmark and he would talk about how he would go into elementary schools to talk to children to get creative ideas, because children are the most open vessels of creativity. And he would go into these pre-schools and say, “Who here’s an artist?” And all of the kids raise their hands. Then he went into a first grade class and ask the question and maybe ¾ of the class raise their hands. And by the time he got to the 6th grade only 1 kid raised their hand. And that is such a devastating story to read, because it just shows how much society crushes our creativity and our excitement for life. And the disruption is no, you can still maintain childlike state of curiosity and awe for life and be a responsible adult at the same time. You can be both. You don’t have to be one or the other. It’s a yes, and… And so I talk a lot about how to put yourself in places of playfulness.
THINX exists because we were in a container of playing. My sister and I were defending our three-legged race championship title at our family barbeque, and in the middle of the race my sister started her period. And we kept going because we were 10 year champions, and we went to the finish line (1st place!) and together we sprinted up the stairs up to the bathroom so she could change out of her bathing suit bottoms. And it was there when I was watching her rinse the blood out of her bathing suit bottoms that the idea for THINX hit. Wouldn’t it be amazing if there was underwear that would never leak and could support women every day of the month? And it spiraled from there. And the whole notion there is that when you put yourself in a container of playfulness, these huge businesses can come from that. If we give ourselves permission to play and be joyful and just...look around like you’re looking at it for the first time...it reminds you to celebrate that.
I loved every part of interviewing Miki. I appreciate her willingness to dive in with me, and share openly. It’s so easy to have a perception of someone else, until you sit in their home with them and see who they are. I appreciate the conversation she’s starting and I think it’s our responsibility to show up in the controversy and share. That’s what participation looks like.