Agrawal: entrepreneurship needs social conscience, ethics
“What sucks in my world?”
“Does it suck for a lot of people?”
“Can I be passionate about this for a very long time?”
According to self-described “serial entrepreneur” Miki Agrawal, those three questions are the beginning of the path to becoming a successful, socially-conscious entrepreneur in today’s business world. However, she stressed during a wide-ranging hour, the journey to becoming an overnight success still requires lots of time, hard-work and passion.
Agrawal’s presentation, part of the Alfred and Shirley Wampler Caudill Lecture in Entrepreneurship Series, drew an audience of more than 150 from the college community and public at the Slemp Student Center’s Rhododendron Room Wednesday. She described an academic and professional journey which took an abrupt turn when she overslept and was late for her investment banking job at 2 World Trade Center on September 11, 2001.
Describing how 9/11 changed her life outlook, Agrawal described a fifteen-year journey of learning innovative business methods and the five essential tips she wish she had known before becoming an investment banker, American soccer player, advertising and music video producer, owner of multiple successful businesses and author of her best-selling book, “Do Cool Sh*T”.
Agrawal quickly established a rapport with the audience through her humor and down-to-earth personality as she felt should be addressed more often, and because the issues regarding period hygiene and sanitation are taboo in most conversations, Agrawal aimed to find a way to break that barrier.
Because many individuals still face issues with the traditional method of menstrual sanitation, Agrawal created THINX, an underwear company committed to breaking down that taboo.
Agrawal stressed the importance of innovation throughout her business ventures.
“It is so important to put something out there and keep improving it,” Agrawal said. Shifting culture through innovation is a vital practice in Agrawal’s personal philosophy. Along with bettering the environment by creating products that eliminate the use of paper and water, her company teamed up with an organization that provides schoolgirls in Africa reusable cloth pads. Agrawal explained that many girls are not able to attend school while on a period due to lack of resources.
As of today, THINX has been valued as a $300 million company and has helped more than 45,000 girls return to school.
Following this trend of integrating business with philanthropy, Agrawal’s company recently released the same form of underwear for members of the transgender community. She said that when a female-to-male transition happens, they should not be excluded from the benefits of product innovation and marketing.
With her success, Agrawal had plenty of practical advice to share.
“As an entrepreneur, I am constantly hustling every single day and deal with so many people,” Agrawal said. “It’s hard and a lot of hard work, and that is why your purpose should be your motivation. What keeps me motivated is that with every pair of underwear sold, we’re helping a girl go back to school.”
“In order to be an overnight success, it will take ten years in the making. Partners should be in mutual awe of each other, so choose your partner wisely. You should complement each other, not step on each other.” As for marketing a business, Agrawal confided that ads have to feel like art.
“If you would put your ad on your fridge,” Agrawal reasoned, “it is art.”
Agrawal’s talk sparked several audience questions, and her answers encouraged the importance of being completely authentic when starting a business, as well as advice on what type of business to start and how one can sell the business.
Agrawal, when asked about starting non-profit advocacy ventures, said that the traditional model of depending on the for-profit business world for financial support has become more tenuous. People wanting to engage in social chance need to consider starting business ventures that generate the revenue to support that goal.
And in any venture, Agrawal said that the successful entrepreneur needs to demonstrate integrity and how their product or service meets a need that other businesses are not fulfilling.