A females monthly period can be one of the most painful things to deal with. Aside from the pain, it’s no secret that this episode can be incredibly annoying for the everyday woman. The truth is, Tampons and pads do leak and can not only interrupt what you’re doing, but stain and ruin your underwear. Because of this, twin sisters Miki and Radha Agrawal, along with their friend Antonia Dunbar created THINX.
Thinx is a startup that aims to sell underwear that looks good, is durable, and is designed to counter the typical problems with underwear women deal with during their period. On top of that, THINX has secured a partnership with AFRIpads, a Uganda-based organization that creates washable, re-usable pads for women in developing countries. For every pair of THINX underwear you buy, AFRIpads creates seven washable and reusable pads for those in need.
Recently, we had a chance to catch up with THINX Co-founders Radha and Miki over email. Here, we discuss their startups goals, whether you should date while building a company, and the challenges they’ve faced as female entrepreneurs.
So tell us how you came up with the idea. What were your core goals with THINX?
Miki: “As a busy girls running around, Antonia, Radha and I constantly had monthly accidents, where we leaked through our underwear, stained them, and many times, ruined them. It was so frustrating dealing with it every month. We did the math and realized that over the last many years, we threw out thousands of dollars of ruined underwear and had embarrassing moments with it. We realized that almost every girl we talked to has dealt with this too!
This is one of two reasons for creating THINX – we wanted thoughtful underwear! We spent over three years creating and patenting this new kind of underwear with hidden powers. THINX underwear is beautiful, breathable and washable and looks and feels like a regular pair of underwear – and it’s also moisture-wicking (keeping you feeling fresh and dry at all times), antimicrobial, absorbent (absorbs between 3-6 teaspoons of liquid depending on the pair), and, most importantly, you won’t stain or leak through them!
The other goal for THINX is to break the taboo around menstruation management around the world. While we may have issues with embarrassing moments or ruined clothes, what are women and girls using in the developing world during their “time of the month”? Can they easily run to their local drugstore to find the supplies they need? Overwhelmingly, the answer is no.
On our trip to Africa, we discovered that many women and girls in the developing world – 67 million in Africa alone and millions more around the world – use unimaginable things such as twigs, leaves, mud, dirty rags, pieces of plastic or newspaper. This can lead to many complications such as health issues, discomfort and missed school or work which can severely limit their ability to become productive members of society. To help solve this, we partnered with AFRIpads, an organization based in Uganda that creates washable, reusable cloth pads for women in developing world so that they can go back to school or work without worry and discomfort. For every pair of THINX underwear purchased, we found 7 washable reusable cloth pads that go back to a girl in the developing world. Buy 1 Pair = Fund 1 Girl.”
What have you ladies been up to since your Kickstarter campaign ended? How have you grown?
Miki: “Wow, so much has happened since we launched the campaign! We won the Tribeca Film Festival’s Disruptive Innovation Award, we won the Grommet Challenge beating out 150+ teams, we won the CrowdFundx Challenge beating out 300 startups, we won the ability to be part of the Mass Challenge Startup Incubator (top 120 teams out of 1000 teams), we received our first shipment of 11,000 pairs and delivered the first 3000 pairs to our customers who were THRILLED with the product. We launched on our first partner website TheGrommet.com and sold out in 6 hours which is a great sign! We shipped underwear to Toms.com and they will be launching it on their marketplace in a month. We are launching our new and improved website in 3 weeks and we are entering our first fashion intimates trade show at the end of February! We have a lot going on and so much to look forward to!”
You are a three person team, do you guys ever have disagreements or fight? Tell us a story!
Miki: “We all have different strengths and try really hard to stay in our lane. It’s hard to do often times because we are still a startup and every decision matters but we all know what we do best and try and respect each other’s specialties.”
Miki, you are known for writing a book called “Do Cool Sh*t: Quit Your Day Job, Start Your Own Business, and Live Happily Ever After.” What is the greatest lesson that you give to your readers that you connect with the most?
“In my book
, I write ‘Deplete = Delete.’ Eliminating negative relationships creates room for inspiring ones. It’s true, you are as good as the 5 closest friends you keep. I know it’s hard to think about “eliminating friends and people who you’ve known for your whole life” but I challenge you to notice how you feel after you spend time with your current people. Are you drunk? Did you watch football all weekend and have nothing to show for? Are you tired from talking shit about people or complaining? Or, are you excited to do something/start something? Are you buzzing with ideas? Are you inspired to help others and make a difference in the world? Do you feel supported if you introduce an idea that you have or a change you want to make in your life? If you realize that you don’t have any inspiring friends, that ok! Now it’s time to seek them out! Go to conferences, go to events, go to meetups, join groups, go to the places where you will find the people you want to meet and the people you are inspired by. Trust me when I say they will greet you with open arms as you will “find your people”. You will be so glad you decided to actively pursue like-minded people! I realized how important it is to cultivate and nurture a great community and support system and it has made all of the difference in my life. I have never been happier! Nurturing and cultivating relationships require listening, sharing, helping each other, opening up your contact book and sharing your networks, the more you give, the more you receive!”
As I understand, some of you are still juggling other ventures while running Thinx. This kind of goes against the whole “you should be 100% focused and invested in your startup” mentality. Do you ever think that spreading your time like this will hinder Thinx’s growth?
Radha: “Fortunately we’re twins so there are two of us! That said, I absolutely believe that one should be laser focused on one project at a time but there are also different gestation periods in companies. I am running my other company Super Sprowtz, a children’s media brand focused on nutrition and wellness education, and that is a more than full time endeavor as we just raised another round and have hired many new team members to scale the company. I’m collaborating on THINX where I can and for now, Miki and Antonia are taking the lead there until I can get Super Sprowtz to a place where I can add more time and value to THINX. I do think though, that there are 24 hours in a day, and the three of us gave up our TVs and passive “hobbies” to take on more projects in our “down time.” Because we love what we do, none of this feels like “work” and I would much rather brainstorm and work on THINX on my nights and weekends than watch TV or get drunk at a bar!”
Women are only beginning step into the spotlight of entrepreneurship. What are your thought’s on women entrepreneurs? Did you get lots of support from other women and organizations?
Radha: “I fortunately have several incredible female role models one of which just became my business partner in Super Sprowtz. Her name is Elyse Kroll and pioneered the Fashion Trade Show business 25 years ago when it was MUCH harder to be a female entrepreneur. I am so excited to have the honor to learn from her every day. I have the utmost respect for women entrepreneurs because we have it so much harder than men. Look what happened to Christine Quinn and Hillary Clinton? Either they were too “soft” or too “bitchy” instead of “compassionate” and “resolved”. We are so thankful to have so many incredibly supportive female friends and a robust female entrepreneur community that we block out the haters. It’s AMAZING to us when women aren’t supportive of women and are jealous or talk shit. There’s a saying, “There’s a special place in hell for women who don’t support women.” Our raison d’etre is to support not only women here in the United States but also around the world in places where they don’t even have the ability to manage their menstruation and go to school let alone have a voice in their communities. The Dalai Lama said something that really resonated with the three of us: “The world will be saved by the Western woman.” Miki, Antonia and I are working hard to be part of the change.”
Have you ladies encountered any obstacles or had moments where people didn’t take you seriously because of your gender?
Radha: “Yes, I can think of many instances and it felt like an incredible injustice. In some of my travels overseas as a documentary filmmaker, because of religious beliefs (can you believe a religion would mandate this?!) men wouldn’t shake my hand just because I was a woman. However, net net, in this country, especially New York City and the coastal cities, for the most part, we can fortunately say that we live in a city where the gender equality gap is closing.”
Miki: “Thankfully not really. I think since I am a twin, I think we’ve always been a pair so nobody really ever ganged up on us or made us feel lesser than them, male or female. Otherwise they’d have two creatures biting at their ankles and nobody wants that!”
Entrepreneurs are an interesting breed where they are constantly busy and have their mind on different ideas. Do you guys think that dating while building a company is a good or bad thing?
Radha: “When I closed this last round, my investor said to me, “Radha, put love on hold for now. Focus on work.” I immediately wrote my investor back and said, “I will never ever put love on hold and put personal happiness ahead of work no matter how noble or important the work is. If I’m not floating to work every day, I can’t do my job properly. I am on a quest to find true love and be the best partner I can be. As a result, I will be the most effective and compassionate CEO and reach my highest potential.” What was amazing was that my investor respected my response and has since put love as a priority too! That said, I put in 100 hours at the office this week with my team after a 10-day vacation to Nicaragua for New Years where I was off the grid and my auto-responder was on. Life is a balancing act right?”
Miki: “My boyfriend Andrew Horn (www.itsandrewhorn.com) is also an entrepreneur. Radha’s boyfriend is an entrepreneur as well, we LOVE talking about different ideas and coming up with random zany things! It keeps our minds engaged and gives us new perspectives on our businesses when brainstorming other ideas! We also love taking total down time. We work in hard sprints and total downtime where phones and laptops are not brought out at all for an entire weekend (and during Burning Man, the whole week!).”
Who are your role models in the business world?
Radha: “Wow, this is a tough question. I’m so fortunate to have my business partners as my role models. Isaac Gindi, the owner of Century 21 Department stores, is also my business partner in Super Sprowtz. He has built a billion dollar enterprise with his family and still manages to bring energy and light every single day to this project when he clearly doesn’t need to work ever again. It’s inspiring to work with someone with such a rich life and business experience who is also humble after all of his success,and willing to jump into a whole new venture in an area where he is also learning every day. I want to be that curious and inspired for the rest of my life. My other parter Elyse Kroll, who is also a self-made success and built her company to the top 1%, ENK International, has also jumped into Super Sprowtz guns blazing and sleeves rolled up to make this a success. To have two incredibly successful partners guiding me every day with such energy and experience has been my biggest blessing to date in this tough (and exciting!) entrepreneurial road.
Miki: “We just visited the Tom’s Headquarters and were blown away by what they’re up to. So I would say that right now, Blake Mycoskie is my role model, he created the “1 for 1 model” which was the foundation for social entrepreneurship in the retail sense. We are modifying the model for THINX to “Buy 1 = Fund 1” but I applaud Blake so much for starting this movement altogether.”
What are your future plans? Any new product ideas?
Miki: “Oh yes. Lots of new products in our minds and patents to file. More to come and can’t disclose at the moment.“