“Have you ever seen 21 Jump Street?” This is decidedly NOT the response I was expecting when I asked writer and social entrepreneur Miki Agrawal about the thought process behind her book, Do Cool Sh*t.
But stay with us for a minute. For those of you out there who, like me, haven’t seen the movie, here’s the basic plotline. Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill play undercover cops who are sent back to high school to infiltrate a drug ring. In high school the first time around, Channing Tatum’s character, Jenko, was the cool kid, while Jonah Hill’s character, Schmidt, was a dweeb.
When they go back to school as undercover cops, however, the zeitgeist of cool has changed. It’s no longer “cool” to beat people up, and instead it’s “cool” to be intelligent and sensitive.
Miki takes this a step further, because she believes that it is cool to design a life and business that you feel passionately about, and one that ties in with a higher purpose. We catch up with Miki to discuss what she learned in her twenties and what kind of cool sh*t she’s working on at the moment.
What were your years right after college like?
I went to Cornell and my senior year I had this moment where I was like, “Holy shit. What am I going to do when I graduate?” I’d been a soccer player my whole life, but I kind of felt like I didn’t have a true calling, so I decided to find a job that paid the most.
I got a job investment banking with Deutsche Bank. I was one of the few people from a non-finance background—I was a Communications major with a minor in Business, or what my dad called “fluff.” I think I basically got the offer because I passed the airplane test; I was smart, likable, someone that they wouldn’t mind sitting next to on an airplane for several hours.
I began my basic training in July/August 2001. And then once I started work, I would go to the World Trade Center, which was across the street from my office, to meet with my friend Laura to have tea. And 11 days later 9/11 happened. It was the first time in my life that I’ve ever slept through my alarm clock, and it’s crazy to think what could have happened if I had gone to work as usual that day.
9/11 was my wake-up call. Two people from my office died, and I realized that the mystery of life is that you never know when it’s going to end. I felt like life is short and you can’t just go to work every day with a sad face all the time.
I decided to write down a few things that I wanted to do with my life, and at the top of that list was “play soccer professionally,” so I trained really hard and made the New York Magic. The first season, I kept my day job, and I was planning on quitting later, but I tore my ACL. Then the next season I went back, tried out, made the team again… and tore my other ACL.
So at that stage I decided that soccer wasn’t really going to work. The second thing on my list was to make movies. I had spent a few summers working in production, so I decided to go back into that field, and in four months I was able to move my way up to working in production managing, producing. While I was doing that, I had something occur to me—I was always getting stomach aches, and I was able to figure out that it was because I’m lactose intolerant. And that’s how I got the idea for my healthy pizza restaurant, Wild. [Editor’s note: You can learn a lot more about the process of starting Wild in Miki’s book, Do Cool Sh*t. Read our review of the Do Cool Sh*t book here.]
What were some of the biggest lessons you learned in your twenties?
- You are as good as the five closest friends you keep.
When I turned 25, I literally sat down and reviewed all the people in my life and asked myself two questions. Do they inspire me? And do they support me? If they just wanted to get drunk or talk trash about other people, then they were no longer part of my life.
I spent my twenties looking for people who were conscientious, thoughtful, inspiring, creative, and re-energizing.
And when I made that choice, it changed everything in my life.
- Master a skill
If you’re in a job that’s not exactly what you want, while you’re doing what you’re doing, truly master it. Don’t half-ass what you’re doing—suck as much as you can out of that experience, and don’t feel above it.
If you’re in a job that’s not exactly your dream job, master what you’re there to do.
The millennial mentality can sometimes be, “I’m going to be a CEO right away.” That’s not how it works. You should really do everything you can to learn, grow, and make a difference—without being lazy.
- Have a purpose
If you’re going to start a business, if there’s a purpose attached to it, you’ll be so much more motivated. That’s definitely how I feel about my current company, Thinx, because for every pair of underwear someone buys, we’re able to donate seven washable, reusable pads for one girl in the developing world. Think about what you can do that will also give back to others.
- Make progress every day.
Just put one foot in front of the other and you’ll see so much has happened in a week, a month, a year.
What’s something you accomplished in your twenties that you’re particularly proud of?
Building a business, raising money, building community, figuring out how to start, not being afraid to just jump in without any experience, and attracting really good people.
Let’s talk about your book, Do Cool Sh*t. How did you go from entrepreneur to author?
I decided to write it because when I was coming out of college, I think a lot of people didn’t realize that entrepreneurship was an option. I was reading a lot books about entrepreneurship, like Richard Branson’s Losing My Virginity, which I loved, but he didn’t talk about specific steps like how he raised his first $25,000 or got his first piece of press. And other business books I read were really dry and just full of boring forms and I couldn’t get through the first three pages.
So my idea was to marry great storytelling with key takeaways. The book drops you in at the beginning of a story and then illustrates it with the “Do Cool Sh*t Takeaways” on things like eliminating negative relationships, getting press, raising funding—basically everything you need to know to go from 0 to step 1 in business and life.
What was the process like to get the book deal?
Originally the book was going to be about the history of pizza, but I decided that it wasn’t my passion. My real passion was lifestyle design, building a business, so I put my own proposal together. My contact in the publishing industry sent it out and a day later she sent a text that said HarperCollins wanted to meet me.
I went to HarperCollins the following week and they were like “What do you want the book to be about?”
The basic essence is that what’s cool—the zeitgeist of the word “cool”—has totally changed, and this book really redefines what “cool” means. Entrepreneurship is one of the only viable and vibrant options for recent grads.
Basically from the idea to the book deal took two weeks, and then I had a hard deadline of December, so I treated it like a total training, just the way I’d train for soccer. I wrote for four hours every day for four months.
What age group did you have in mind for the book?
People who are 22 to 40 or so; people who are coming out of college and people who want to make a change in their life.
What parts of the book do you think are most applicable to college students/recent grads?
The whole thing—everything from finding your passion to thinking about business, building your tribe, every part of it is value-add for college grads.
What is a typical day like for you at the moment?
I wake up, do Japanese total body calisthenics called rajio taiso, shower, drink a juice, ride my bicycle 40 minutes from Brooklyn to Chelsea (where we work out of a coworking space for social entrepreneurs), have meetings, work on sales, partnerships, and ride my bike to meet a friend or go to the gym.
What is something you wish you’d known about entrepreneurship when you first started?
Hire slow and fire fast. If someone is excited about your idea, you shouldn’t just make them a partner right away. You need to massage the relationship, do a 30- or 60-day trial or really wait a year until you give someone full reign. People need to earn their stripes, and if it’s not right, then you really screwed yourself.
What advice do you have for twentysomethings about career, entrepreneurship, or life in general?
- Be humble at the beginning and open to learning as much as possible.
- Don’t be too big for your britches.
- Become value-add and you’ll have an incredible future.
- Talking shit is easy to do, but it’s not a value-add endeavor. If you find yourself doing that, just stop. You’ll become brighter and happier.
What cool sh*t are you working on now?
Right now I’m focused on Thinx (stain and leak resistant underwear that also benefit women in developing countries). I’m building partnerships, raising money, selling the product, getting people to write about it, building awareness.
I’m also working on the Do Cool Sh*t Bootcamp—which is open to 50 people this December. Participants will have the opportunity to meet venture capitalists, learn how to create the best possible campaign on Kickstarter, and basically get their business off the ground.
Want to learn more about Miki’s various projects? Check out our review of Do Cool Sh*t here. Stop by shethinx.com to see the line of stain and leak resistant underwear Miki and her sisters have been developing. (Bonus! Use the code “Miki5” for $5 off your order.) And learn more about the Do Cool Sh*t Bootcamp on docoolshit.org.