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How burnout inspired Toms founder Blake Mycoskie to start his next business

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Blake Mycoskie, founder and Chief Shoe Giver of Toms Shoes
Vivien Killilea | Getty Images

Toms Shoes founder Blake Mycoskie is on a new mission to help people help themselves.

After founding the shoe company in 2006, using a "buy one, give one," model that has seen 86 million pairs of shoes donated to those in need, Mycoskie sold a 50% stake to Bain Capital for $300 million in 2014 and stepped down as CEO in 2015.

But, despite the business making him personally wealthy, as well as helping millions, he realized he wasn't happy.

"After over a decade of building Toms and building what I believe is a beautiful company and had many friends and I got married and had kids and had this wonderful life," Mycoskie told CNBC.

"I kind of checked all the boxes that I was supposed to check (but) I found myself just exhausted. Burned out, really challenged with the pressures of modern living, constantly digitally distracted and just not really present with my friends, family and workers in the way I wanted to be," he said. He was also distressed about the increasing mental health issues in the U.S.

A discussion with his friend Pat Dossett during an annual male-bonding trip, organized by Mycoskie, helped to provide the answer.

"I said: 'If you could do anything in your life for work and you did not have to worry about money, what would you do?' And that's when Pat answered with an answer that was (about) really helping people live their best lives and helping take these (good) practices and habits and getting them to as many people as possible so they could really thrive. That was exactly what I was searching for myself," he told CNBC.

Mycoskie had started the yearly excursion in an effort to maintain close friendships, after a conversation with his father some years before. "He was a very successful doctor and had a great life and still does. But … one of the things that he regretted was he spent so much time focusing on his career and his family that he did not keep strong relationships with his male friends," Mycoskie told CNBC.

Blake Mycoskie (L) pictured alongside Pat Dossett (R).

Dossett, a former Navy SEAL, met Mycoskie through a mutual friend and the two bonded over their love of surfing. Dossett's military background had made him realize that his colleagues weren't superhuman: they were ordinary people. "And coming from my time in SEAL teams and SEAL training and seeing that, you know, it's not these superhuman figures that make it to the end of training, it's actually very ordinary, average, very ordinary kind of common people that do some fundamental things really, really well. I (was) just curious: How can we help other people cultivate a similar mindset and grow what's good in their life?" he told CNBC.

Mycoskie and Dossett set about gathering experts ranging from neuroscientist Andrew Huberman to dietician Evelyn Tribole who could help create a company that encourages daily healthy mental and physical habits. The pair have spent the past year beta-testing their program, named Madefor, which launched fully on Wednesday.

It's a $95-a-month — or $750 all-in — subscription where participants are sent 10 challenges over the same number of months aiming to bake-in healthy habits. That might be tracking how hydrated they are, using a bottle that can monitor water intake, or reducing their phone use by putting in a Madefor case at each mealtime. Monthly packages are made up of a booklet that explains the importance of each step, a product such as the water-tracking bottle, and the challenge itself.

"What we've found is that by helping people, getting people into something small that they do every day and the cumulative effects on their physical mental health, it actually has a lot of knock-on effects in other areas (of) their life," Dossett said.

There's also an online community that participants can join, but the focus is on getting people to work on themselves offline, Mycoskie explained.

"You know, there's no digital app. There's no digital thing ... And so we're definitely not trying to capitalize on a (wellness) trend, but we're just trying to serve people where they are. And unfortunately, I think where people are is a modern living is really hard. I mean, it provides us incredible convenience, it provides us incredible access to information, but it's leaving us feeling very spent, very anxious, very digitally distracted," he said.

Mycoskie has bootstrapped the business himself and expects it to be profitable after the second year of operation. "A lot of that just depends on if we can control our costs as we scale. The nice thing about this business model is that we have spent two years and millions of dollars creating the program. But once we have the program in the science and everything locked in, there's not a lot more R&D we'll need to do," he said.

While Toms Shoes is currently restructuring its debt after creditors took over the business in December, Mycoskie is confident that new CEO Magnus Wedhammar can help turn it around. "He's very committed to the mission of Toms, the long term vision. I think, you know, removing the debt that was really crippling for the business was key. And that happened with this new transition. It is still ... to be seen whether I'm going to have a more active role or not."