Hosted by Alex Leiberman, the Morning Brew podcast welcomes entrepreneurs, taste makers, and innovators to discuss their entrepreneurial journeys. Alex Leiberman regularly chats with industry disruptors, and gets to the nitty gritty of their mindsets, motivations, and innermost thoughts. Recently, serial entrepreneur Miki Agrawal stopped by the podcast, and spoke with Leiberman about the three-prong thesis, meeting people where they are, and her biggest lessons thus far. Read excerpts from their chat below:
Miki Agrawal On Compromise in Business
Miki Agrawal: So, basically, I share the story of John Mackey from Whole Foods, who’s my son’s godfather, who’s literally the best high integrity person ever. He’s been such an incredible mentor and dear friend of mine. He talked a lot about how, when he started Whole Foods, it was a vegan, no coffee, no sugar, no meat, like it was so hardcore. Within a year, he almost shuttered his business, his business almost failed. So, he had to make a decision. He could either get offended that people were eating meat and sugar and coffee and ingesting all these bad things for the world and for you. Or, he can meet people where they are and offer the best-in-class version of those foods. And slowly, over time teach, you on the way of the plant-based diet.
He chose to meet people where they are. And guess what happened? Millions of people now have adopted a plant-based diet or much more of a plant-based diet. Thanks to that decision of meeting people where they are. And so, I think one of the things that I learned in introducing something taboo to society is to meet people where they are. And what do people love? They love art. What do they love? They love cool beautiful gadgets. What do they love? They love talking to their best friends. And so, when I sort of developed a thesis first in my restaurants, this thesis really rang through to my next company.
Miki Agrawal On the Three-Prong Thesis
Miki Agrawal: So, the thesis really is a three-prong thesis on how to shift culture in this world, where people are pretty set in their ways. They don’t want to be told what to do and if you’re not on their side and they’re against you. It’s like I’m sorry no. So, how do you meet people where they are wherever they are. So, like say gluten-free farm table pizza, people were like, probably taste like cardboard. So, I remember standing outside of my restaurant for two years every single day for hours, just cutting up pieces of pizza and just handing out pizza to customers every single day. And they would walk by and I would test different headlines, like AB test. I would be like organic pizza and people walk by. I taste like gluten-free pizza, no one would stop. Then finally at Farm Table Pizza or good like pizza that’s delicious and then they would come and try.
Then I would be like, ‘And by the way, do you know it’s made out of these ingredients and it’s gluten free’ And they’re like, ‘Really? Oh my God.’ So, I was like the more I was just like, ’Yummy pizza’, the more it actually worked in practice. Because that was like that met people where they are and they came. Then I got to educate them and they took the menu and then they called and became customers. For things, it was really about like creating an artful campaign that looked like art in the subway. It looked like you’re walking inside a gallery art exhibit in a subway. It felt like this and people were like, what is this? And they would lean in and they’re like, oh my god, they’re talking about periods, but their first thing they did was lean in. So, what happened was their heart cracked open just enough to be like, what is this?
I mean, curiosity is now peaked. And so, that’s all we need is a just a jam of heart open to like get in there to kind of share the knowledge. And then with Tushy, it was the right accessible language. It’s using humor to get people to be like, oh my God, this is so fun. Like what a fun brand that they’re talking about poop but cleaning your poop and they’re saving trees but it’s doing it in a really fun engaging way. So, the three-prong thesis that they kind of like learn over time sounds pretty simple but often times they do get overlooked. The first is best in class product. My pizza had to be the tastiest. Our underwear had to be product that people really wanted to wear. I wear mine every single month without fail. I love wearing. I wear it sometimes not on my period, because it looks hot.
With Tushy, it’s a product. It washes my butt clean. It’s a precise stream. It looks cool like it feels cool. Okay, so best-in-class product. Second prong is aesthetically beautiful across every touch point of your brand. Considered artful design across every touch point of my brand. And then the third prong is accessible relatable language and so like really writing like a texture best friend. I mean, you at Morning Brew know it better than anybody. I mean, you guys, the ideas of can we take something that’s complex and like, ugh, I don’t want to talk about it into something fun relatable. Can we take something like finance and make it fun and make me laugh as I’m reading this shit. It’s like that is smart, that’s cool, and that’s fun. And guess what? Now, you guys are a super successful business, because you met people where they are. You basically were relatable and accessible and it was disruptive. So, it’s the same thing across the board. It works on every level.
Alex Lieberman: Miki’s creativity and marketing genius are qualities that I have long admired in her. It’s impressive to hear her talk about how she found a way into people’s hearts when it came to talking about periods and cleaning their own butts in order to get these businesses off the ground. But it wasn’t a smooth process at all. Here for example, how she initially wasn’t even allowed to post her company’s ads in New York City subway stations.
Miki Agrawal On Creative Marketing
Miki Agrawal: So, with Thinx, it was they ban our ads in the subway, because they said, they couldn’t say the word period because what would 9-year-old boys think. And we’re like, ‘Yeah, that’s where they came. That blood was used to make them.’ But that was one of the things the MTA people said to us, and we were like, ‘Okay, well let’s go. Like if you don’t put these in the ads we’re going to go to press.’ And they called our bluff and it was a whole thing and luckily, I had like one friend who worked at like a couple of publications. An article was published and that article went viral internationally and it’s really what put us on the map.
And it was such a powerful showing of taking something that could have been like lemon and actually squeezing the juice out of it and creating lemonade with it. And that was like an example of that, and that actually is the case in every hardship in life. That was such a visible and visceral example of that. A rejection, something that we would work so hard to do and was rejected from putting it on display and turn it into some a campaign that truly changed the game for our business, and same thing with Tushy.
They ban our ads still to this day in the subways, because they said, you can’t bidets are like a sexual product. And we’re like no it’s like toilet paper. It’s literally washing your butt clean after you poop. But they’re like, no, you can’t say it’s a phallic product.’ And so, we basically went to New York Daily News. They published an article. This one didn’t really go too viral but it turns out that Saturday Night Live every single day goes to the New York Dailies. All the different AM New York, New York Post, New York Times, New York Magazine, New York Daily News, all the different publications to find funny stories.
And Michael Shea the head writer for SNL found this article in the New York Daily News saying that Tushy was banned from the subways. Took this article and he did a three-minute rant and it’s the funniest thing on why Tushy should have not been banned in the subways, that had bidet should be ubiquitous everywhere. And it was the best thing that’s ever happened for a company. And we couldn’t pay for that we couldn’t buy that. Like you couldn’t make it up, like it was the universe like throwing us a huge loaf of bread being like you were on the right track, keep going
Check out the Miki Agrawal Medium page for more musings from the entrepreneur.