Miki Agrawal is disrupting not just one but three taboo industries. Pee, periods, and poop are uncomfortable topics for some, but these billion dollar industries are ripe for change. Miki, an entrepreneur who thinks big, is the CEO and co-founder of THINX, a high-tech, beautiful underwear solution for women to wear during their periods. Listen to how Miki developed THINX, crowdfunded the first prototype, and discovered that her path to becoming a social entrepreneur – doing good while making money – became the ultimate win/win.
Companies that Practice “Conscious Capitalism” Perform 10x Better by Tony Schwartz, Harvard Business Review
Conscious Capitalism by John Mackey & Rajendra Sisodi, iBooks
The Girl Effect: A Whole New Way To Invest by Manisha Thakor, Forbes
The Power of Shakti by Padma Aon Prakasha, iBooks
Radio Taison by hoodboon, YouTube
Behind Toms Founder Blake Mycoskie’s Plan To Build An Army Of Social Entrepreneurs by Rick Tetzeli, Fast Company
Do Cool Sh*t by Miki Agrawal, iBooks
Will the New York City Subway Ban These Ads for Using the Word “Period”? by Jenny Kutner, Mic
THINX Underwear Ads On NYC Subway Are Up — But The Company Has Another Big Announcement by Rachel Krantz, Bustle
How Menstruation Created the World by Judith Rae Grahn
Two Keys to Sustainable Social Enterprise by Sally R. Osberg and Roger L. Martin, Harvard Business Review
5 Keys to Successful Sibling Partnerships by Matthew Toren, Entrepreneur
Hire Slow, Fire Fast by Greg McKeown, Harvard Business Review
Hire Slow, Fire Fast’ – Possibly The Worst Advice Ever Given by Liz Ryan, Forbes
Fast Facts & FAQ Fistula Foundation
Why Aren’t Bidets Common in the U.S.? by Karina Martinez-Carter, mental_floss
Guest bios & transcripts are available on www.broadmic.com.
MIKI AGRAWAL -“Miki Agrawal is a force of nature.” She was named 2015 Social Entrepreneur of the Year at the World Technology Awards and her Company THINX was named Time Magazine’s 25 Best New Inventions of 2015. Miki was also the recipient of the TriBeCa Film Festival’s Disruptive Innovation Award and was named one of the “Top 20 Millenials on a Mission” by Forbes.
She is the CEO and Co-Founder of THINX, a high-tech, beautiful underwear solution for women to wear during their periods. She teamed up with AFRIpads in Uganda to fund a pack of reusable cloth pads for every underwear sold to get millions of girls back in school. To date, Miki and THINX have helped over 30,000 girls go back to school. THINX has gone viral 5 times since launching the company in 2014. Here is THINX’s 13-minute documentary breaking down the menstrual taboo.
Her next big focus is solving the light bladder leakage problem that women are facing today and giving women who leak the ability to feel like themselves again. 1 in 3 women pee a little when they laugh, jump, jog, sneeze or cough. So she and her team created a special gorgeous patented underwear called ICON to remind these women that they’re powerful women first and mothers second. For every Icon sold, they are funding Fistula Foundation to fight the fistula crisis in Africa and other developing countries.
Her most recent side project is called TUSHY: For People Who Poop aiming to upgrade the American bathroom experience (alleviating U.T.I.s, hemorrhoids, yeast infections and gross butt syndrome) while helping fight the global sanitation crisis that is affecting 40% of the world.
Miki is also the Founder of the acclaimed farm-to-table gluten-free pizza concept WILD and 2015 will mark her 10 year anniversary of having her restaurants open (a feat in and of itself!).
HarperCollins published her book entitled “DO COOL SH*T” on entrepreneurship and lifestyle design. The book hit #1 on Amazon Bestsellers list in entrepreneurship. Miki is an identical twin, half-Japanese, half-Indian French Canadian, former professional soccer player and graduate of Cornell University.”
Miki: I don't think any entrepreneur is an expert in anything. I don't think Richard Branson knew what he was doing before he started an airline. I don't think Blake Mycoskie knew what he was doing before he started Tom's. I don't think Tony Hsieh really knew what he was doing before he took over Zappos.
Kelly: I'm Kelly Hoey, host of BroadMic. I speak with the most accomplished entrepreneurs, investors, and thought leaders about the issues that matter in building a business. You will get the inspiration, as well as the picks and shovels you need to become a better entrepreneur. Be inspired. Take action. Think broad.
My guest today is Miki Agrawal. She is the CEO and co-founder of THINX, a high-tech underwear solution for women to wear during their periods. Miki is here to talk about the development of THINX, the three P's, and how she was able to turn a public dust-up with the MTA into PR gold. Welcome, Miki.
Miki: Thank you.
Kelly: So, let's start back. What, you know...becoming an entrepreneur and, I want to get to THINX, but what caused you, what was the impetus to become an entrepreneur?
Miki: I think necessity is the mother of invention, and that saying rings so true when ideas pop up. And I think we look across the businesses that I started, they all were borne out of some form of necessity for myself first. And then realizing that there is a need in the market for it, and then capitalizing on that opportunity and then going from there.
Kelly: Do you refer to yourself as a social entrepreneur?
Miki: Social entrepreneur, conscious capitalist, either one. Interchangeable.
Kelly: And to you what does that mean?
Miki: It means being able to do good and do well at the same time. You know, build a real business, but also have great impact. I think the concept of conscious capitalism is the concept of it's conscious businesses that elevate humanity. Not non-profit, not government, not philanthropy, but really conscious businesses.
And when you think about conscious business, you think about all the touch points of what a conscious business has to think through. Employees, customers, suppliers, environment, shareholders. All of those stakeholders are equally important to creating and growing a conscious business.
Kelly: Thank you. It was helpful to have that background and that understanding. Because I think sometimes I get the impression that people think that social entrepreneurs are some sort of warm fuzzy category that can't really make it as real entrepreneurs. And I think it's really to say, "No, this is a much bigger vision that we can create a company and leave the planet and treat our employees well and do all these kind of good things, and make a profit at the same time."
Miki: Absolutely. And it's possible. And in fact, conscious businesses outperform major industries by over 10x in profits. So it actually behooves most companies to think consciously, because they create loyal employees, loyal suppliers, loyal customers, and it works in the long term. I think the short term next quarterly number game is going to end when the consumer stops to support those.
Kelly: Let's hope that's soon. So let's talk about your current venture. Let's talk about THINX. What was...how did that start? Where does that story, where does the THINX story start?
Miki: So it actually started 11 years ago, the idea for THINX. I mean, obviously as a busy woman, prior to having the big aha moment, kept having monthly period accidents. Forgetting to change my tampon and pad, and interrupting my day, having the whole "sweater around my waist" move where I had to run home and change. And have these unfortunate accidents that were very uncomfortable and very embarrassing. And I think every woman who's listening could nod their heads and say, "Oh, I've been through that at least one time in my life."
Kelly: Or the fear of it.
Miki: Or the fear of it, for sure. So to really think about, "Wait a minute, why does it have to be this way" is something that I think so many women haven't really thought about. They've just learned to cope. And one of the reasons why is because the subject of menstruation is taboo. And people don't want to talk about it, people are very uncomfortable.
It's not meant to be talked about. And in fact the word "taboo" stems from the Polynesian root word "tapwa." And do you know what tapwa means?
Kelly: You're going to tell me.
Miki: It means menstruation. Taboo means menstruation. Can you believe that? And so the most uncomfortable thing you can possibly talk about is the thing that creates human life. Is that for real? So that was really the big realization that, "Wow, there really is a stigma here." And which is why there's only been three major innovations in the entire 20th century in a $15 billion feminine hygiene category. In a $14 billion underwear category, they're only making them more see-through, more flimsy, more lacy and not actually functional for women.
And so the thought was "Actually, we can fix this. We can change this." I mean, a nine year old girl has more access to information today than the President did less than 10 years ago. How are we still coping? How are we still dealing?
So in 2011, in 2005, had the big aha moment. I was at my family barbecue. My last name is Agrawal, and our family barbecue is called Agrapalooza. And in...my twin sister Radha and I were defending our three-legged race championship title. And when you're an identical twin it's kind of like cheating, a little bit, because you're like the same person running together. But whatever, we're competitive. And we, in the middle of the championship final, my sister started her period.
And so we had to sprint to the bathroom still tied to each other so that she can change out her bathing suit bottoms. And as the blood was coming out of her bathing suit bottoms, that's when we had the idea. Wouldn't it be amazing if we could create a pair of underwear that never leaked, that never stained, that absorbed blood, that supported women during any time like this? Any important times like the three-legged race.
Kelly: Did you win the race? I just have to pause the story.
Miki: Of course. Hello. When you're a competitor, always a competitor. And so, yeah, that was a big aha moment. But in 2005, I had just opened my restaurants. My first restaurant, called Wild.
I still have two locations in New York City. And they're gluten free, farm to table pizza places. And by the way, back then nobody was talking about gluten free, farm to table. And so that was also a big education to teach people that gluten free, organic, farm to table pizza actually didn't taste like cardboard but tasted delicious.
Kelly: So you're absolutely fearless about entering into new categories and educating the population and consumer base of this product?
Miki: I think definitely working in the restaurant business taught me a lot of...gave me calloused hands. I was really able to really deal with so much adversity and bounce back continuously. And I think when your whole body is calloused, you can do anything at this point.
And so, yeah, I kind of tabled the idea of THINX for a number of years. And then cut to 2010 when I was traveling to South Africa for the World Cup. You know, I've traveled to India six times. My father's from India, my mother's from Japan. And I...the first time I ever saw poverty I was 11 years old and it really impacted me.
And the notion of what are girls using to manage their periods in the developing world never occurred to me. You don't go travelling and you ask any girl, "Hey, what are you doing to manage your period?" It just doesn't come up.
So in 2010, when I was traveling to South Africa for the World Cup was when I really discovered the plight of girls. You know, I met a young girl, asked her, "Why aren't you in school?" And she's like 12 years old. And she said, "It's my week of shame." And I said, "What are you talking about?" And she said, "Well, when I have my period I stay at home." And I said, "Why?" And she said, "Well, I tried using old leaves, and rags, and mud, and bark, and plastic bags, and whatever I can find. And none of it worked, so eventually I stopped going to school."
And I just couldn't believe it. I couldn't believe in 2010 that she was still missing a week of school on her period. And I came back to New York really upset about it, and discovered that over 100 million girls were missing a week of school, and millions of those girls were dropping out of school because of something as natural as our periods.
Kelly: So while the rest of us can go into a Duane Reade or Walgreens or whatever, we have endless supplies in all sorts of fancy packages, and public bathrooms, and all the rest of it. And we can just say, "God, I don't want to talk about this topic." This is like a God...this has, the issue of menstruation has a socioeconomic impact. And a mammoth one, economically and globally.
Miki: And not just on women having access to menstrual products. What that means and what the implications are for communities as a whole is very real. So I'm going to teach you a new study called the Girl Effect. The Girl Effect says that if I'm to give you $100 as a woman, right? I give you $100 and you live in Uganda, okay? And I give a man the same $100 in the same community. Ninety of your $100 will go back into your family and your community. Guess how many of the man's dollars will go back into his family and the community?
Not zero. You give them a little credit. But $20-35 of the man will go back into the family and the community. So who is more likely to elevate the entire community faster out of extreme poverty?
Miki: Yeah, a productive woman. And if a woman, if millions, hundred of millions of girls are missing a week of school and millions of those girls are dropping out of school because of their periods, that's billions of dollars of lost income potential that these communities as a whole can be receiving to elevate the entire community out of extreme poverty.
And so with that realization, it became so clear that there was a very real period problem, not just for us where we leak and stain, but for girls and women as a whole. So when I came back from the World Cup, I started working on the product with my twin sister and my co-founder Antonia. And the three of us spent the next three plus years working on the technology, developing the underwear product that solved our needs, and just kind of to break down what our product is and what our product does, our underwear product, what took three and a half years was really thinking through the fact that the underwear has to look and feel like a regular pair of underwear. When you put it on it has to just literally feel like you're not adding anything bulky on. It doesn't feel like a pad.
Kelly: Like a Depends.
Miki: Like a pad inside underwear. They have to look and feel like sexy, black, lace underwear. Or beige underwear that look totally normal and feel normal. But then it had to have super hidden functional technology built within the product. And so the innermost layer had to wick away moisture, so when you bleed into it, it has to wick through. So it's going to pull the blood through the fabric into the micro-thin second layer, which is an absorption layer.
It has to absorb at least two full tampons worth of blood, because you don't want to be changing the underwear every few hours. You want it to be able to last a full day. It has to be also leak proof and breathable. And it also has to be antimicrobial, so you don't feel like you're sitting on germs all day long. And so, and again, you couldn't feel it. It had to feel regular and normal. And so that was the nuanced product that we had to create.
Kelly: And how do you even go about...I mean, okay, you're coming from the restaurant background. Your sister, your co-founder, do they have the background? How did you become experts on everything you've just described to me?
Miki: I don't think any entrepreneur is an expert in anything. And I think that's...when they come into it, it's the passion, it's the emotional gumption to make it happen that carries someone forward. I don't think Richard Branson knew what he was doing before he started an airline. I don't think Blake Mycoskie knew what he was doing before he started Tom's. I don't think anybody, Tony Hsieh really knew what he was doing before he took over Zappos.
So we...I think again, the one unifying thing amongst all entrepreneurs is the conviction to keep putting one foot in front of the other.
Kelly: And you just were like, "We'll figure it out."
Miki: We'll figure it out. It might take years and I'm not going to quit.
Kelly: Yeah, I'm saying and I know you're familiar with Sara Blakely and Spanx and manufacturers going, "Yeah, what is this? No one will buy it. What is this?"
Miki: For sure. "Bleed into period underwear." Do you think that people were like, "Oh, wow. Great idea, the masses will love it." It was very weird to think through and talk about. Especially to investors and to really a lot of people. I mean, obviously so many women got it. But most investors are men. And that was a challenge, too.
And I remember one investor, I actually made him put a pad underneath his balls and walk around and say, "Walk around and tell me how you feel. Sit down. Stand up. Walk around. And wear a pad." And he was just like, "This is ridiculous. I can't even think right now. I can just feel it the whole time." And I said, "Exactly. This is what we have to deal with every single month."
Kelly: How did you get an investor to do that?
Miki: Well, you have to have a level of I guess confidence in your tone, right? And if you come at anything tentatively, they'll approach it tentatively. If you approach anything with confidence and gumption and passion, then people can't really fight that. People are actually attracted to that. You know, I talk about passion breeds believers. I talk about that in my book all the time, actually.
Kelly: I would have paid to see you hand a pad over to a male VC and say, "Now go to the bathroom and put that in your underwear, put that under your balls, and then tell me what you think."
Miki: I'm actually working on a commercial, potentially, with guys wearing pads. And just walking into a room and surprising them by saying, "Wear this pad, walk around, tell me what you feel." And we're going to do just a whole spot around that.
Kelly: Either that or you gotta do it with Buzzfeed. Because you know they'll do it really well.
Kelly: Let's go back to your co-founding relationship. Your sister, your other co-founder. Okay, obviously I know your relationship with your sister, but tell about all right, why going into business with your sister? How'd you find your third co-founder? What's that dynamic like? And what's your advice for other entrepreneurs? Because of course we both know you can't ever go at it alone. You need a team.
Miki: Yes and no. Both my co-founders are silent co-founders right now. I think the first three years to develop the product I think it really required a lot of firepower on all of our ends. I think having...when you're not making money, when you're just building something, when it's quite bleak in the beginning, to have that comfort in numbers was really important.
I think what's super critical in thinking about business partnerships is that it's so important to find the yin to your yang or yang to your yin, in that you can't necessarily choose somebody who's like you or who wants to be like you. Or who has a marketing background like you or who has...who wants to be a designer, or a creative. You have to...like, I'm a designer, I'm creative, I'm a marketing person, I'm a...that sort of...
Kelly: You got it.
Miki: What I love. I love. And to bring in a person who's operationally sound, who's financially sound, who understands the nuances of finance operations and manufacturing and the things that you're not so great at. I think that makes an excellent partnership where you're in mutual awe of one another. And I think that it tends to be a pretty good mistake that a lot of initial founders make.
They choose people who are like them who are friends. They're like, "We'll do this together" and realize that they're stepping on each other's toes and they're not dividing and conquering but they're trying to do the same thing. And it inevitably will create problems over time.
Kelly: [inaudible 00:16:21] knowing yourself and then knowing what your company needs.
Miki: For sure.
Kelly: And what about board of advisers? Do you have a board of advisers for it?
Miki: I do.
Kelly: Okay, and how did you go about selecting the board of advisers?
Miki: Just our investors. And then one of our initial THINX investors who knows me very well and understands my output as a leader and my potential, and I think he really has my back in a lot of ways. And I think the other two do as well. But the others are investors, are classic, more old school investors.
Kelly: And how many employees do you have now?
Miki: So we've surpassed 30.
Kelly: Wow, congratulations. That's like getting some serious scaling going.
Miki: Yeah, we went from four to 30 in the last six months, really.
Kelly: Wow. And how do you manage that?
Miki: I mean, I think that's been an interesting challenge as well, is to really understand the importance of culture and the importance of setting a tone for culture and creating core values for your company. And so we set these core values. I can give you a couple. One of them is "The menstrual cup is half full." Having an abundance mindset versus having a scarcity mindset.
"One team, one dream," is another one. You know, thinking about working as a collaborative environment. "Share your Kind bar," which is another one. Which is the idea of just sharing in each other's successes and celebrating one another. You know, empowerment is everything. We are a women's empowerment brand and we aim to empower every human being, including ourselves.
So just really thinking through...Oh, another one is "Be unforgettably fridge-worthy." I talk about often times with my team, and they're all incredible executors and designers and creatives, the idea of when we create an advertisement or any kind of design it had to be interesting enough and artful enough and creative enough to potentially make the small real estate on your fridge.
And there's only a few things that can make it your fridge. And would this pass the test to make it on your fridge? And a lot of people put out stuff that's just not thought through. And everything that our team puts in that we put out is unbelievably thought through and we take very seriously.
Kelly: Are all of your employees here in New York?
Kelly: No remote employees?
Miki: No remote employees.
Kelly: And someone was saying, "Oh, I love this mission, I love what they're doing." What do you look for in a...at this stage with the company, what do you look for in an early stage employee?
Miki: I think at this point, talent is only 50% of it. In fact it might even be 40%. And culture and positivity is the other half. Because you can really...like I can really train people to think a certain way. I think you have to have a level of go-getter, I'm going to figure it out mentality.
You have to come in feeling...I have to know and think that you're a Swiss Army Knife, that you can do three people's jobs. If you only can do one thing, then you're not going to be hired. You have to be able to do three people's jobs, be so willing to do all three and so excited to keep learning and keep growing. So I think that's hugely important. But culture trumps strategy every day of the week, and twice on Sunday at this point.
And to create a sound culture, a family environment, an atmosphere where our employees can feel super safe to let their freak flags fly, which is another one of our core values. "Let your freak flag fly" is one of my favorite statements. And as soon as there's a little hole in that, when there's a feeling of negativity or of frustration or of glass half empty mentality then that can sever an entire culture very quickly. So you have to eliminate those quickly.
And so one of my sayings that I talk about in my book is "Hire slow, fire fast." So take your time hiring people and then when they're really not working out, don't dilly-dally. Just cut the cancer right away.
Kelly: Yeah, if your gut's telling you...
Miki: And sometimes it's hard.
Kelly: Oh, it's a human being. And I think it always should be hard because it's a human being. Even if you're not working out, it should be hard. But, you know, it's painful.
Miki: But delaying will only make it more painful. Just cut, rip the band-aid off now and you'll be able to rebuild within a week or two. And you'll be like, "Why did I put up with that for so long?"
Kelly: Right. You know, they probably realize they're not being successful. Let them go off.
Miki: For sure.
Kelly: You raised before that you had raised and you have VCs and investors. But what was your, in those dark, bleak, early three and a half years, how were you funding your company, and what was your initial source of funding?
Miki: Our initial source of funding, we actually did a Kickstarter campaign. We self-funded the first few years just to get the prototypes done and to get the fabrics. It wasn't that expensive to...three of us put in some money to get the first prototypes done. But really it was the initial Kickstarter campaign was what really helped us fund the first production run. And so we did a $50,000 Kickstarter campaign.
I think Kickstarter's really great, because it really helped prove the concept today. So we launched the Kickstarter campaign. We actually surpassed our goal. We hit $65,000 on Kickstarter. We then realized that Kickstarter doesn't let you tell your mission side of your story, they only want to talk about the product.
So we launched a followup following Indiegogo campaign to talk more about our mission and raise another $20,000 on Indiegogo. We then entered a competition, beating out 150 teams and winning $25,000 cash prize. And then we launched a very crappy 1.0 website and raised another $20,000 and pre-sold another $20,000. All together we had about $130,000, which went towards developing our first 3,000 units. And ordering and receiving our first 3,000 units to deliver to our first customers.
Kelly: Would you recommend other entrepreneurs who have a product to crowdfund first before seeking outside investment?
Miki: I think it's possible to pre-sell so much right now on things like crowdfunding channels. But I think you have to put in a lot of work to do that. Just because you put something on Kickstarter doesn't mean it's just going to go viral and people are going to buy your stuff. You still have to put in day in day out, hitting up everyone you know on Facebook, on email, following up with them. Being kind of car saleman-y about it. And following up three times, "Did you check out my thing yet? Can you check it out, can you check it out?"
And it's painful and it's hard and it's draining and you have to put in the time. And none of the road is easy. Not a part of it is. And some companies can go viral, and lucky them. It's one in a million.
So people have to settle into knowing that it's going to be a really, really tough road for the next 10 years. There's a saying, "It takes 10 years to be an overnight success." And it's so critical for people to know that. It's not an overnight...it's not a Instagram billion dollar valuation selling to Facebook within the first two years with 10 employees. That's just, that's winning the lottery.
Kelly: [inaudible 00:23:55] People forget that Kickstarter, Indiegogo, any other crowdfunding campaign, they're facilitating payments. You've got to do the marketing. You got to...
Miki: Yeah, it's just a platform.
Kelly: Just a platform. They aren't doing this for you. I want to talk about your very public battle with the MTA over your THINX ads. So for anyone who's not familiar with it, if you would just kindly walk them through what you did. And for most companies, this would have been the death knell PR crisis. But you got through this, turned it into PR gold. Let's hear it.
Miki: Yeah, so we for the first year and a half we spent really building our company online, digitally, using Facebook advertising and online channels to grow the business. But we at one point hit a point where we can actually afford to do these out of home campaigns. And out of home campaigns stem from billboards or subway campaigns and think taxi ads and bus stop ads and things like that where initially you'd think that, "There's no way I can afford that." But it came to a point where we actually could, which was so crazy to begin with.
So how it works is the MTA, which is the New York City public transit system, they don't necessarily approve the ads themselves. They go through third-party agencies. And so we went through a third-party agency that was really comprised of all old white men for the most part on their senior sales team. And nothing wrong with that except for the fact that when we submitted the initial artwork for the ads, which was a girl wearing a turtleneck and an underwear, fully clothed, and next to it was just the words, "Underwear for women with periods."
They came back and said...and then we, anyway, the long and the short is we had a few different artwork things that we presented them. And they came back and said, "Sorry this is not going to cut it. You can't say the word period, you can't show the grapefruit." We had an image of a grapefruit, a halved grapefruit. Which, you know, if you look at it could be a representation of a female part in a very subtle way. We also had an egg yolk dropping. An egg yolk falling as an image. And then we had these girls wearing turtlenecks and underwear looking away.
And they said the egg yolk looks like male ejaculation. And we said, "Actually, the point is when a woman ovulates the egg drops. And when a woman goes through her menstrual cycle it's the egg not being fertilized by the sperm and it gets discharged out of the body and that's the whole point. It's very...it's art." And they said, "The grapefruit is suggestive and offensive."
We said, "Interesting. Well, you actually used the exact same fruit, the grapefruit, to represent augmented breasts, and that's okay. You totally are fine with showing breast augmentation ads, where a girl is holding little tiny oranges with a frowny face and a big smile on her face holding grapefruits with augmented breasts. Which is the most oppressive thing to women ever. And that is plastered all over the subway systems for young girls and young boys to see. And creating artful, abstract images of things that may or may not educate young people is not okay?"
Well, we definitely put up a stink about it. And we said, "Listen, we are well within the MTA guidelines. We are doing everything above board. And if you do not approve these ads as is, after my incredible design team slaved over for two, three weeks on these ads, sleeping underneath their desks, just getting these ads ready." You know, we said, "If you do not approve these ads we are going to go to press."
And of course, it was empty threats. I didn't really know what that meant, going to press. Because press may or may not take it. May or may not pick up the story. But they said, "Go ahead. Go to press, we don't care." And we said, "Okay."
And so I reached out to a couple of my contacts, one at Forbes and one at Mic.com and Mic.com picked it up. And we had the subject heading, "Scandal with the MTA and the word period." And Mic.com picked it up and the next day they ran the story, and then something absolutely miraculous happened. It went completely viral internationally. And over the next four days I ended up speaking with over 40 publications, hundreds of blogs covered it.
Kelly: Way better publicity than if you'd gotten the MTA.
Miki: And we also, because the MTA got so many negative tweets to them, they also approved our ads. And so we also got our ads in the subway on top of all the media around it. So it was probably the best thing that ever happened to our company and put our company absolutely on the map as a result. So we actually owe a lot to the third party, yeah, to the MTA.
Kelly: Owe a lot to stale, male, and pale for not...and you're describing the ads and I'm like, "This would have made Don Draper so proud, what your team did." It's like amazing.
Miki: It's so cool.
Kelly: I want to get to the new businesses you're starting. Three P's. Since I mentioned them in the introduction I better not forget to get to them.
Miki: Yeah, so the second P is pee, which is urine. So the first P is period, the second P is pee, and so, in the incontinence market, it's a $4 billion dollar market, the urinary incontinence space. There are really only a few players in the market, like Depends, which offers a diaper-like product that likely also mostly invented by men. There's Poise and other brands like that which are incredibly uncomfortable. It's like wearing a bulky pad every day for the rest of your life which is so uncomfortable.
Kelly: Well, I mean, actresses like Kate Winslet have talked about this and saying, "I have this problem."
Miki: And you pee yourself consistently and it's very...there's no great offerings out there. So, what we created is, again, a beautiful pair of underwear that has technology built into the gusset of the underwear. We have a bikini and a high waist brief. No visible panty line. And they're moisture wicking, they're absorbent, they're odorless, they're fast drying, they're leak proof. They absorb 25 milliliters of urine.
And they look and feel like sexy underwear. You can't even tell. When you have them on you feel like you're wearing a normal pair of underwear again. And it's just liberating. You'll never have to worry about it and you feel like a woman again.
I mean, the number of times women reach out to us and say, "I feel like a shell of myself when I put on diapers. And I feel so not in my power, and not sexy, and not sensual. And I feel just horrible." So we want to say for all moms out there and all women out there, it's important to be a mother first...a woman first, and a mother second. To celebrate yourself first, because your daughter or your children are going to watch you raise them. And if you're fully in your power, then your children will see you fully in your power and they'll want to be like that. Versus you feeling uncomfortable and just totally not in your body, that's not what we want to create. We want you to be a woman first and a mother second.
Kelly: The third P?
Miki: And so the product is called Icon. And the website's iconundies.com. And we, for every Icon underwear sold, we are funding fistula operations in Rwanda and other countries through the Fistula Foundation. And quickly, what a fistula is is, when a woman gives birth, they just sometimes rip a hole in their bladder. And it happens to women here and it's a very simple stitch up and you're back to normal.
But in the developing world, they don't have anything. And they end up peeing themselves forever more, every day, all night, and have zero bladder control. And then end up getting shunned from their community, shunned from their families. Again, that could have been yours or my reality. And we're so lucky to be here right this second right now. And so we want to create a product that...or support women who just picked the wrong lottery ticket.
Kelly: Right, different sperm and a different egg and they could have been you and me.
Miki: Yeah. And so for every Icon underwear sold we are funding fistula operations. And the third P, which is the newest P, which is poop. And in the poop category, sanitation is again a very taboo subject. Everyone wants to just wipe up and get out of there and be done with it and don't talk about it. Close the door and run away.
Kelly: Hope it doesn't smell.
Miki: Hope it doesn't smell, yeah.
Kelly: Or that someone will think it was somebody else, not me.
Miki: Yeah, and it's just another space where no one's tackling. And again there's two gaping problems. One in the first world where we are currently wasting 50 million trees per year to make toilet paper just for Americans. The average American uses 57 sheets of toilet paper per day. A single roll of toilet paper requires 37 gallons of water to make one roll of toilet paper. It is ridiculous the amount of waste that goes into what one calls a commodity.
Kelly: Way waste for waste.
Miki: Waste for waste. But the problem is is that the way you wipe your butt, which basically you take paper and you smear it up your butt and you sit on that all day long, causes 26 million combined cases of urinary tract infections, yeast infections, hemorrhoids, and all of these ailments down there which could be completely alleviated by simply using water to clean down there instead of using paper. Paper, our butts are the only part of our body we clean with paper. It's no wonder we're getting all these ailments.
And so what we've created is a simple bidet attachment that clips onto your toilet and turns any toilet into a bidet. For $57 you can use a gentle spray of water, either warm or cool, to wash your bum properly. Every doctor will tell you the most hygienic thing you can possibly do for yourself is get a bidet. And yet, culturally, it hasn't been a thing that's been brought to this country for a number of reasons.
One of the big reasons is because during World War II when American soldiers went to Europe to fight in the World War II, they would go to French brothels. And they would see bidets in French brothels. And when they came back to America they basically associated bidets with brothels. And of course they wouldn't tell anybody that they were going to brothels and so no one really brought that technology, or that learning that water is a better solvent than paper to clean your butt.
And so...and of course the Kimberly Clarks of the world and the Charmins and the Scotts Papers of the world are making billions of dollars in this paper industry that's, again, killing trees and destroying, and it's hurting our health. So I am very interested in, again, changing culture. But then also addressing the global sanitation crisis.
Right now 40% of the world don't have proper sanitation. One child dies every 17 seconds in the developing world because of poor sanitation. Fifty percent of hospital beds in Africa alone could be alleviated by simply having clean sanitation. And over a million kids under the age of five die of diarrhea every single year because of bad sanitation. I mean the numbers are ridiculous.
And so what we're doing is for every bidet sold, every Tushy sold, it's called Tushy. The website is tushy.me, do not go to tushy.com, because it is a porn site. So for every Tushy bidet sold we are funding an organization called Samagra in India that's bringing clean latrines to these developing communities. And rather than just dropping off a latrine and just saying peace out, which often times after some NGOs do, and after three months these latrines become more cesspools of infection than actually defecating outside at all.
Rather, what we're doing is with Samagra, they're basically hiring local people in those communities, training them to be the cleaners of these latrines, and then to get these communities to actually use them, they're saying, "Every three times you use them, we're going to give you a bar of soap." And so these communities over the next six months start to realize, "Wow, our children are getting less sick. We're smelling less in our communities. Our drinking water is not contaminated as much." They're starting to understand the value of using these clean latrines and "Oh, wow, we go to these latrines and it's clean." They eventually after six months become sustainable.
Rather than just us paying for forever more, each family in these communities will start paying $1.25 per month per family to use these latrines, which after six months, they'll understand the value. And most of these communities, these families, earn between $2 and $4 per day. So $1.25 per month per family is totally within their capabilities. And so then we can go from one community, make them sustainable within six months, and go to the next community and go to the next community.
And so we're super, super excited about that.
Kelly: This is amazing. All right, now we're going to do our pay it forward. So this will be fun.
Kelly: One word answers, here we go. What are your primary sources of information?
Kelly: Awesome. No blogs or podcasts? Other than this podcast in the future?
Kelly: TheSkimm, yes. Love TheSkimm. How do you discover new information?
Miki: Facebook, a lot.
Kelly: What book are you reading?
Miki: The Power of Shakti.
Kelly: Do you have any rituals or habits you swear by?
Miki: Morning meditation, at least 10 minutes. I do Japanese calisthenics every single morning. Seven minutes of Japanese calisthenics called rajio taiso.
Kelly: Rajio taiso. Okay, I'm going to look for that. I want a video. Who are the three entrepreneurs or leaders that you follow or admire?
Miki: Richard Branson, Blake Mycoskie. I'll leave it at that.
Kelly: Leave it at that? You know, I like to stick with good ones. What's the best advice you ever received?
Miki: Best advice I've ever received? Put one foot in front of the other, every single day.
Kelly: Perfect. So we've dispelled a lot of myths, but is there any other particular myths that you would like to dispel for our listeners today?
Miki: Entrepreneurial myths?
Kelly: It could be entrepreneurial, it could be menstrual. Whatever you like.
Miki: That taboo should not mean menstruation.
Kelly: I love that that's the core of the word. What words or advice would you give to listeners about taking risks and closing the confidence gap?
Miki: The more action you take the less anxious you'll be. The word anxious stems from the root word anxietas, and anxietas means not knowing. The minute you just start putting one foot in front of the other is when you start losing the anxiety.
Kelly: Start knowing. And what does "think broad" mean to you?
Miki: I think of strong women, I think of creating something big with value.
Kelly: Love it. Thank you so very much.
Miki: Thank you.
Kelly: Thank you for listening to BroadMic. We welcome your feedback. Find us on Facebook, where you will have show notes and additional references for a deeper dive into today's topic. Subscribe on iTunes so you never miss an episode. Please review our podcast on iTunes, which will help other listeners discover BroadMic and grow the BroadMic community.
BroadMic is produced by Christy Mirabal with editing by John Marshall Media. Our executive producer is Sara Weinheimer. Think broad.