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‘Modern living is tough’: Toms founder launches a wellness kit inspired by his own struggles

Burnt out from building a $600 million business, Blake Mycoskie is ready to share what he learned on the path back to health. But is the self-care industrial complex ready to turn off its smartphone?

‘Modern living is tough’: Toms founder launches a wellness kit inspired by his own struggles
Blake Mycoskie (left), founder of TOMS and Pat Dossett (right), former Navy SEAL. [Photo: courtesy of Madefor]
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If you’ve ever downloaded an app to keep track of your well-being, welcome to the club. There are more than 250,000 mobile health and fitness apps on the market. Unfortunately, according to a recent survey out of Bond University, there’s not much evidence that they get results. Past research has found that about one-third of people give up on fitness trackers within six months.

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That’s one of the reasons Blake Mycoskie and Pat Dossett went the low-tech route with their new subscription box service, Madefor. You still need to go online to sign up for the 10-month program, which is aimed at building healthier habits. But while Madefor feels Silicon Valley inspired, there’s no complementary app or device that documents your progress.

Mycoskie, better known as the founder of Toms Shoes, says that’s by design. “It is hard to learn something new with the constant distraction of notifications on your phone,” the affable 43-year-old told me during a phone interview. Dossett, a former Navy SEAL, is more blunt: “If someone needs to figure out how they’re feeling, if they need to look at something outside themselves like a device or gadget, they missed a critical step on how to create intention and awareness to generate those benefits.”

Madefor books [Photo: courtesy of Madefor]
The kits themselves are organized thematically, with each box containing a short scientific book on a different topic (such as sleep or hydration). The latest literature is accompanied by a physical tool (such as an hourglass or calibrated water bottle) and instructions for a 21-day challenge. Riding the line between digital and analog, Madefor subscribers also have access to a private community of other participants so they can swap experiences and stay accountable. All told, the service costs $750 for the year (or 10 monthly payments of $95).

Madefor is a niche contender in the $4.5 trillion global wellness market, but for Mycoskie the stakes were deeply personal. With Toms, Mycoskie built an apparel company worth more than $600 million before the U.S. retail market collapsed. He had expanded into eyewear, coffee, bags, and even Apple Watch bands—all the while pouring money into philanthropic causes, bringing clean water, safer births, and better vision to hundreds of thousands of people across the globe.

Still, these initiatives led Mycoskie to push himself to “checking boxes” he felt society dictated to designate success. Eventually exhausted and burned out, Mycoskie says he used his considerable resources to scope out the best health professionals to guide him back to wellness.

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Along the way, he discovered that certain basic principles—such as drinking enough water and proper breathing—were foundational to becoming his best self. And if you’re your best self, Mycoskie contends, you contribute to making the world a better place. In other words, “You discover what you are made for.”

Naturally, both Mycoskie and Dossett have put themselves through the paces of their own self-care regimen. For his part, Dossett says that the month that focused on social connections was a particular favorite. He admits that his military training taught him to value his teammates, often to the exclusion of others. Through the challenge of consciously engaging with everyone he came in contact with, Dossett says he learned “every connection can be a source of benefit.”

If it sounds like standard-issue mindfulness, Mycoskie agrees. The goal isn’t to reinvent the wheel, he maintains, but rather to make these practices easy to incorporate into people’s busy lives. The critical difference is the kind of consumer, and style of mindfulness, that he is targeting. Instead of forcing you to engage with your smartphone—a source of stress for many of us—Madefor aims to provide the same consumers who spent $32 million on self-care mobile apps in the first quarter of 2018 alone with an IRL alternative that offers real results.

Committing to the work

Madefor launched in beta last June with 1,317 participants. Of that number, 95% are still in the program at various points with 200 expected to graduate at the end of this month. According to Mycoskie, “98% are opted in to receive weekly texts messages, which are gentle nudges of encouragement from our team.” He says that the majority are self-reporting that they feel good about the program, but notes that success looks different for everyone.

“Members have connected the dots in ways we never could have imagined, but we gather quantitative and qualitative data to better understand and serve our members along their 10-month journey,” Mycoskie says. For example, several subscribers have reported weight loss even though there is no part of the program targeted toward losing weight. He believes that the healthier habits promoted in the kits contribute to overall better health.

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And although Madefor isn’t going to follow the original Toms philanthropic model of buy one, give one, Mycoskie says that he doesn’t want the $750 cost to be prohibitive. “Scholarships” will be available to applicants based on need. However, the founders do feel strongly that participants have “some skin in the game” to keep them accountable. If selected, scholarship recipients can choose to pay for the program at cost, or choose to pay for shipping the kits. If their need is too great, they can get it for free. “As a startup and new business, we also need to be smart about who we offer scholarships to,” Mycoskie says. “We don’t want to give it to someone who is not committed to do the work.”

And doing the work is the end game, according to Mycoskie. There is no grand plan to keep people paying for new things. In fact, he confessed that there are only 10 kits because they couldn’t come up with a full year’s worth of practices they felt would be truly life-changing.

“If we were trying to get investors, they would have a fit,” says Mycoskie, who adds that Madefor is self-funded. “Our hope is transformation,” he says, and that those who complete the program will “become evangelical” and get others to sign up.

“What gets me excited,” Mycoskie muses, “is creating something that helps shift the culture in a positive way.” He cites the record numbers of people on antidepressants, those suffering from loneliness, or taking sleep aids. All of these markers indicate that we as humans are suffering. The antidote, he says, is teaching and training the simple habits Madefor is promoting. “Modern living is tough,” he adds. Madefor “is an opportunity to [help] people feel better and live better.”

About the author

Lydia Dishman is a reporter writing about the intersection of tech, leadership, and innovation. She is a regular contributor to Fast Company and has written for CBS Moneywatch, Fortune, The Guardian, Popular Science, and the New York Times, among others.

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