Session 11: Blake Mycoskie

Acknowledged as one of today’s most dynamic serial entrepreneurs, Blake Mycoskie launched five successful companies before the age of 30. He is best known as the founder and “chief shoe giver” of TOMS shoes, a for-profit company with a unique social enterprise model that has drawn tremendous media attention. Providing a new pair of shoes to a child in need for every pair sold, they have distributed more than 400,000 pairs of shoes to children around the world to date. Darren Whitehead, teaching pastor at Willow Creek Community Church in South Barrington, Illinois, will interview Mycoskie on leading organizations with a cause and navigating the start-up phase of an organization.

Making Conscious Capitalism Work: The TOMS Shoes Story (Interview with Darren Whitehead)

  • Anybody who has an idea, or is starting a company, incorporate giving into what you do.
  • Why did you get into the shoe business?
    • I wasn’t trying to get into the shoe business in Argentina. Some people there were doing a shoe drive. I was really touched by this, but there wasn’t a very sustainable model, but my background was entrepreneurial.
    • What if I started a for-profit company, selling a pair of shoes and give away a pair of shoes. 1 for 1.
  • The word “give” was depicted on almost every wall at your headquarters in Cali.
    • How important is the word “give” to Toms.
    • My initial objective was to give.
    • Giving feels amazing.
    • Giving not only feels good, but it is also a good business strategy. And that is okay.
    • People don’t just buy the shoes, they are invested in them. They watch our videos on youtube.
    • If we focus on giving, then our customers are going to do the marketing for us.
  • At your headquarters, you don’t have any offices, you have a tiny cube, what other distinctives do you have in your culture?
    • We encourage our employees to be a part of our giving.
    • If you’re an employee at TOMS for 2 years then we pay for you to go and personally deliver those shoes to the kids.
    • Not every business can incorporate 1for1 but you can incorporate giving.
    • When people start serving they forget about their worries.
  • You seem to have a non-profit culture, but you’re a for-profit company, why not just start a non-profit?
    • I could’ve bought 40,000 shoes from day one from the money I got from my other company, but I took that money and invested in a for-profit company, and now we have given 680,000 shoes. If I would’ve used that initial money to buy shoes then my money would’ve been depleted, but instead today we are a sustainable company.
  • Showed a video “One Day Without Shoes”
  • 250,000 people participated in this day. How did you pull this off?
    • This started the most amazing conversations. “Why are your shoes off?” And the conversation is started.
    • We didn’t spend a dollar on advertising, but we had some great partners. We went to Microsoft, and said this is an opportunity to make a difference, and they gave us millions of dollars of free online advertising.
  • When you first came up with the idea for TOMS was it a big serendipitous thing for you?
    • No my life did not change when I had the idea. I had my other business at the time.
    • It became more than an idea when I went on the first shoe drive.
    • We just started putting shoes on the kids feet. It was an unbelievable experience to see that just six months earlier it was just an idea, but we had gotten enough people to buy shoes so we could give them away.
  • What is it that has really grabbed the attention of so many people around the world, of a for-profit company?
    • People, especially young people want to have a voice, they want to make a difference. We give them a very simple thing to do, to buy a pair of shoes, and they know that a kid somewhere else in the world is going to get a pair of shoes.
    • We also give them an opportunity to realize what their own value system is, and the value system of other people around the world.
  • You have partnered with so many large companies. What have you learned about strategic partnerships?
    • Corporate partnerships are a little different. The reason AT&T works, is we gave them an authentic story. I’m very rarely in the office, so I always have to stay connected, so someone at AT&T saw this and realized it would be a great story. That is the reason I said yes to them because it was authentic.
  • How important is the part of asking people to do audacious things?
    • When you have no money, and no staff, you do a lot of asking.
    • The truth is though, you have to do it.
    • If you want to create change, you have to ask people to help you.
    • There are probably tons of people who want to get involved in your organization, you just need to ask them.
  • How has your faith been involved in the overall strategy of TOMS?
    • There are a lot of biblical principles in TOMS.
    • Because we have stayed true to our original model, we have been blessed. We gave our firstfruits.
  • What would you say to other young leaders out there?
    • Come work with us.
    • We need fantastic people to get from here to there. (haha) Read notes from Bill Hybels session.
    • I’ve been given entrepreneurial gifts. I would say to young leaders that its never too early to start giving, and start leading. It is better to start now, than to postpone it to later in your life.
  • How can people, and church leaders get involved?
    • April 5th, 2011 I want to see everyone barefoot.
    • Make the commitment now to get your church, business, school, to take off your shoes on that day.

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