The rise and fall of Miki Agrawal, the founder and CEO of the women-founded, feminist-branded company Thinx, is causing a stir in the business world, but for all the wrong reasons. In “What A Start-Up’s Scandal Says About Your Workplace,” (March 23, New York Times) Miya Tokumitsu describes Agrawal’s fall as all but inevitable because it exposes what she calls the “myth” that making a profit can be compatible with social justice. But the story of Thinx has nothing do with being a socially conscious start-up and everything to do with how you treat your employees, vendors, and other partners. In other words, it’s not Agrawal’s start-up status or social justice mission that caused her downfall: it was just bad business.
Start-ups differ from traditional companies for how they shift culture and solve problems through disruptive innovation, but they still require the same best practices of any business to be sustainable. As the feminist CEO and co-founder of another women-founded, women-owned and run category creating start-up, Mamava, I know first hand that a business needs a strong mission, a clear vision, and a comprehensive strategy to succeed. Here are four essential things every start-up needs:
1) An employee manual and mission-aligned benefits
Before my co-founder and I hired our first employees in 2015 we wrote an employee manual and put our benefits package in place. As a company committed to ensuring that breastfeeding/ pumping women have a dignified place to pump whether at work or out in the world, we deliberately aligned our policies with our mission to include health insurance and 12-week maternity leave at full pay. With two of our ten full-time employees expecting babies in May, this was not a hypothetical gesture.
2) A creative and flexible work culture
We value a flexible family-friendly schedule, including “Thoughtful Thursdays” where employees work from home on projects that require deep thinking. And we do get a lot of work done from home, but it also gives employees time to take care of appointments, attend a parent teacher conference, or just not have to commute one day a week.
3) Employee stock options
Every full time employee participates in our incentive stock option program. As a result, our employees have ownership in our company and are invested in both our mission and our success.
We became a certified B Corp because we value the highest standards of transparency, sustainability, and accountability. Like the best mission driven companies our brand values do not stop at the office. We worked hard to bring our manufacturing back to Vermont (from Rhode Island). This means that our lactation suites are not only made in America, but they also support our local state economy. And because we value a close and collaborative relationship with all our vendors, we spend a couple of days every quarter working in the factory so that we can see first hand how (and by whom) the suites are made, packaged, and shipped.
We’ve learned a lot in the last year and a half about the challenges of being a start-up company. But our success is a testament to our unwavering belief that it is possible to do well by doing good. Your company will succeed when you do what’s right for your employees… and if you can’t afford to do the right thing, then your business isn’t truly viable or sustainable.