Blake Mycoskie, founder of TOMS, is not only philanthropic and giving and all that jazz, he is absolutely adorable. For such a successful guy, he is so down to earth, and so excited about giving, which not only “feels really good,” but is also a really great business.
In case you didn’t know, Blake Mycoskie founded TOMS after a trip to Argentina in 2006, where he saw that nearly every child was lacking shoes. Often, in less developed countries, a child needs shoes in order to go to school. Blake told the story of a woman with three sons, who would share one pair of shoes, so each could only go to school every three days. The woman was so excited by the shoes, and that her sons would all be able to get an education. Before that experience, Blake had no idea just how big of a change he was making, he was trying to make a self-sustaining business so he could continue with his software company. Every time you buy a pair or TOMS, a pair is donated to a child in need.
But today, Blake talked about the business that has skyrocketed since it’s inception in 2006. He stressed the importance of a story. The story of TOMS allows the company to differentiate from other shoe companies, and has since the beginning. He told a story of when he was at JFK, and not wearing TOMS. He saw a woman, a total stranger, wearing them, in red, so he asked her about them. Which is something I would totally do too, if I saw my product on someone. What better way to get the truth? Unless you don’t want to hear it… When he asked her, she told him, and seemed upset that he wasn’t more interested. So she apparently grabbed him and started yelling about how great they were! And why didn’t he understand?! Every time someone buys a pair they give a pair away! He told her who he was, probably to get out of her death grip, and she responded by asking why he had cut his hair. The point is, the TOMS story sticks with people, so much so, apparently, they yell about it in airports. Which is actually, pretty cool.
Blake also stressed how important it was to see your brand out there, in the stores, with the people, which makes it necessary to have employees who can fend for themselves while the chief sole giver is away on business. He once went on a road trip and made 82 stops in 94 days, so his employees were by themselves for about three months, but ‘management by absence’ is one of the most important parts of his business.
Though TOMS is extremely successful, they have a had a few things that didn’t work. Blake explained that when he first started out, he wanted to be the company that got rid of shoe boxes. He hated them. So he shipped out the first batch of shoes in canvas bags, and he “thought it was brilliant.” But then, like all strings do, they got themselves all tangled, and the TOMS were trapped. So the shoe boxes returned.
His super popular white TOMS you paint yourself were also made by accident. He accidentally ordered 15,000 pairs of white TOMS, and “who want’s white TOMS?” Umm…Me! So he convinced people that getting white TOMS and decorating them yourself was the collect thing in the world. And it was all just to get rid of them, but they have become one of the most popular sellers, especially for birthday parties.
And, just in case the shoes aren’t cool enough, TOMS recently launched eyewear, and have started distributing the shoes on Indian Reservations in North America.
A big thanks to Jack Lucas for the pictures!