GUEST BLOG: Overheard in the Greene Room by Kerima V. Greene
Call him a shoe CEO with a sole. And a soul.
Blake Mycoskie is the brains behind TOMS, a for-profit company with a feel-good twist, that aims to make philanthropy fashionable, while growing a global brand.
Before launching TOMS Shoes, thirty-four year old Mycoskie already had five other startups under his belt, including a laundry and dry cleaning service, an outdoor billboard company, a 24/7 cable TV network and an online drivers education firm.
Fun fact: Between business ventures, Mycoskie competed in the CBS primetime show, "The Amazing Race" with his sister, and came within four minutes of winning the $1M grand prize.
It was during his globe trekking adventures, in Argentina, that he first stumbled across the idea for his next venture, a farmers shoe called the alpargata. He figured the American fashion market would clamor for this sturdy, yet simple shoe.
While developing the brand and securing his manufacturing partners he had the revelation of a business concept he calls "One for One" - for every pair of shoes purchased, a new pair would be donated to a child in need around the world.
And so with less than $5,000 startup money, and a small Venice, California apartment turned office, he sourced and sold 10,000 pair of shoes, and gave away an equal amount, over the course of just one summer.
Fast forward to the present, TOMS has over 185 fulltime employees and sells shoes in more than 20 countries worldwide, through retail channels including Nordstrom's , Neiman Marcus, Whole Foods and Urban Outfitters . To date, he's given away two million pairs of shoes, and sold countless millions more. TOMS recently expanded into eyewear, sold under the same One For One principle, and Mycoskie tells CNBC he plans to branch out into other products as well.
His new book "Start Something That Matters" (Spiegel & Grau, September 6, 2011) says "Conscious Capitalism" is not just good for society, its good for business, good for customers.
"Giving builds loyal customers and turns those customers into supporters...You can find passion and profit and meaning all at once, right now. " Most people yearn to contribute, make the world a better place and have success....all at the same time...Make sure to give your business a background, a mission and a story. That might be the most important step part of any venture. And remember, giving may be the best investment you ever make."
"Conscious Capitalism is about more than simply making money. Although it is about that, too. Mycoskie adds that, "Supporters, more than customers, have bought into your story because it taps into something real, and they want to be part of that."
“At TOMS, I truly believe we’ve started something that matters.”
Another key to a successful startup is think local but act global. Don't bite off more than you can chew. Start your idea small scale, make sure it works in your local community, then take it to the next level. Not only does it take away some of the anxiety and fear of going too big, too soon, it also allows you to test the waters and try your product or idea out on a manageable community. If it doesn't take off down your block, it will never work in 20 countries either.
What about plans to go public? “One thing I’m so grateful for is sidestepping the usual venture capital, private equity route. My friends who have gone that way are many times beholden to their boards of directors, to ‘sell’ ideas to a team.” So far, we are much more flexible and free to do what we want to do, and give where we want to give.” That said, Mycoskie adds, the more successful your company, the easier it is sometimes to give back and be a change agent for good.”
“My goal is to grow my brand globally. This is a new model for success, to share with your children, students, coworkers, and members of your community.”