Fast Company

Toms Shoes CEO Blake Mycoskie On Social Entrepreneurship, Telling Stories, And His New Book

After achieving meteoric success with his buy-one-give-one model of shoe retailing, the Toms founder is reflecting on what other businesses can do to give back--and even giving back a little more himself.

Blake Mycoskie

Toms Shoes has only been around for five years. In that time, the company has sold over 1 million pairs of shoes (and given away just as many as part of its one-for-one model) and even launched a second one-for-one product line with Toms Glasses. This week, Toms founder and CEO Blake Mycoskie is releasing Start Something That Matters, a book detailing the Toms story as well as the stories of other social entrepreneurs who have inspired Mycoskie over the years. We had the chance to talk to him about the book, and how it might just help readers to get their social ventures off the ground.

Why did you decide to write this book now?

After creating the journey we've gone on with Toms for the past five years, I've learned so much not only from a business perspective, but the great joy you get from making giving a huge component of your business, and also how giving is good for business. More people are giving in business. It's not as mutually exclusive as it was in the past. The thing that I started realizing is, because of Toms I've met these amazing social entrepreneurs. I wanted to use the lessons and their stories along with the Toms story to create a handbook, if you will, for people who want to start something.

How did you choose these specific people (Zappos founder Tony Hseih, FEED Projects founder Lauren Bush, method cofounder Eric Ryan, charity: water founder Scott Harrison, and 4-Hour Workweek author Tim Ferris)?

I looked at 20 to 30 people that I knew. By understanding their stories and their business models, I tried to plug them into chapters that made sense. So if one chapter was about building trust, I looked at someone like Tony Hseih of Zappos and the transparency that Tony has and how that builds so much trust among the staff. The nice thing about writing it this way was that these were people I had met on the Toms journey.

Do you have any favorite anecdotes from the book?

I tell the story where I realized the importance of shoes in this woman's life--she had three children and they were all sharing one pair of shoes. She explained to me that because of the shoes that we gave her, all three kids could go to school every day. That was more of a really personal anecdote for me. From a purely business standpoint, there was a time I was in the airport and I saw a girl wearing Toms shoes. I asked her about her shoes, and she went on to tell me this amazing story about Toms and the model that it uses and my personal story. I realized the importance of having a story today is what really separates companies. People don't just wear our shoes, they tell our story. That's one of my favorite lessons that I learned early on.

Would you say that has been true with the other entrepreneurs you write about?

Yes, more so with some. With the two guys who started Method soap, they were actually really dirty. They lived in San Francisco, and their girlfriends always complained that the apartment was a pigsty. So they looked at the cleaning products they had, and they had all these chemicals that weren't good for your health. The irony of their story got them a lot of media attention in early days, and it set them apart from the P&G's in the world.

And you're doing a one-for-one program with the book, right?

We had 12 publishers interested in the book, and Random House as part of their proposal offered to keep the one-for-one model. For every book we sell, we will be giving a child in need a book as well. I also wanted to find a way to help give back to the entrepreneur community. So I've looked at two ways that I can help people: I can share the knowledge I've gained, and the other thing is I can help financially. I told the publisher that I would take 50% of the proceeds from the book and it give back to readers. At Start Something That Matters, we have applications for grants, and we will be giving grants away once the book is on sale.

What kind of grants are you offering?

We're looking for people who want to start something that has a social component to it, whether it's a small one-day community project or a new business idea, or something they want to incorporate into an existing business. It could be anything from a $10,000 to a $100,000 grant. A lot of it just depends on how many books we sell.

[Image: Flickr user Liang Shi]

Reach Ariel Schwartz via Twitter or email.

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2 Comments

  • ian Vadas

    Blake and TOMS success have done a lot to inspire other social entrepreneurs to start their own business with a giving model. 

    I write the blog Giving Brands (www.givingbrands.com) and nearly all of the brands featured on the blog cite TOMS as an inspiration for starting their business. 

    Am looking forward to getting a copy of the book.

  • Geri Stengel

    What’s really remarkable is the consistency of Tom’s. One-for-one in shoes, glasses, books, and even profits. Truly admirable. That’s mission focus. It also seems to be doing quite well as a business focus.