Miki Agrawal's fall from startup grace came swiftly and painfully. Now, she's aiming to move past the scandal and reclaim her taboo-breaker reputation with the help of a new self-help book.
The 40-year-old entrepreneur's second book, Disrupt-Her: A Manifesto for the Modern Woman, hit shelves January 29. It is Agrawal's first new project since allegations of sexual misconduct drove her out of the CEO role at her New York City-based "period-proof" underwear startup Thinx in March 2017. Agrawal continues to deny any wrongdoing--and a subsequent investigation commissioned by Thinx found the allegations had "no legal merit." She ended up settling the dispute and a complaint filed with the New York Commission on Human Rights was withdrawn, Jezebel reported in July 2017.
The scandal blindsided her, Agrawal admitted at a press dinner in her home last week. In her mind, she was building Thinx as a body-positive, no-holds-barred company staffed with forward-thinking, liberated women who were comfortable talking openly about sex and showing their pierced nipples to co-workers on command. The backlash and criticism that ensued--described in her book as "getting taken down ruthlessly by the media for an inflamed allegation"--prompted her to wonder if it wasn't society that needed to catch up. That's the main question she wants her audience to consider in Disrupt-Her, which is published by Hay House.
For the most part, the nearly 300-page book, which she wrote in three months after the birth of her son in 2017, encapsulates Agrawal's belief system. In each of its 13 chapters, Agrawal tackles a "common [societal] belief" and suggests an alternative viewpoint to the reader. The topics range from career advice and how to think about money to building a "conscious business" and finding a romantic partner. It is brimming with whimsical jargon, including the title's "Disrupt-Her," which refers to someone who questions the status quo and isn't afraid to change it. There's also a "lit path" (a non-linear career experience guided by that which "sparks your creativity"), as well as "love-hers" and "hate-hers," terms used to describe either a positive or a negative person.
To be sure, even before her ouster Agrawal was no stranger to controversy. In 2015, she won a public battle against New York City's Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which at the time wanted to ban Thinx's ads featuring halved grapefruits and references to menstruation, among other things. Naturally, media attention followed.
When it comes to arguably the worst episode in her career so far, Agrawal barely acknowledges it. Disrupt-Her is not about penance; the book is a love letter to Agrawal's own worldview. A cathartic exercise for her that invites the reader to swap society's long-standing beliefs for her own "disruptive" ideas. An example: In chapter four, she proposes thinking about money as a "made-up energy exchange in a physical form" between humans. The goal is to break the taboo surrounding this topic and encourage women to invest more of their money rather than keeping it "collecting dust" in a savings account.
She also writes about men in Disrupt-Her ("he" is within "her," she points out). As she declares in chapter nine, Agrawal believes in equal rights for both men and women but hopes the world can "move beyond just female outrage and come together with all oppressed groups" to change the "patriarchal system." Men, she adds, are also victims of the patriarchy that teaches them to bottle up their feelings and hide behind the "mask of masculinity."
And since Disrupt-Her is a business book as much as it is a manifesto, in chapter 10, she describes the unorthodox management structure of Tushy, the bidet company she co-founded in 2015. Rather than a top-down hierarchy, Tushy operates within "zones of genius." She writes that this organizational model "basically means that each person is the leader within their own expertise." She adds that the approach makes hiring "the absolute best people for each role" key, and under this model, "no one person is seen as 'higher up' than another; everyone owns what they're great at and gets recognized for it." However, she doesn't describe who makes these hiring decisions or how each team member holds others accountable, if at all. It's also not clear how Jason Ojalvo, Tushy's CEO, fits within this structure.
If nothing else, Disrupt-Her is an ambling and provocative read. And for those looking for a glimpse inside Agrawal's mind, you will not be disappointed.