When I saw the speaker lineup for this year’s Leadership Summit, I was most excited to hear Blake Mycoskie speak. I’d known the story of his company, TOMS Shoes, and had actually supported one of their initiatives. (click here to read blog post about One Day Without Shoes)
Blake was interviewed by Willow Creek Teaching Pastor Darren Whitehead. Here’s my recap of their interview.
Q: Why get into shoe business?
A: I was on vacation in Argentina and met people doing volunteer work doing shoe drive getting used shoes to people in need. Not sustainable model since you’re relying on donations. Wanted to do something, a business. Didn’t want to start charity, though. Thought what if I did for-profit business where I’d give one pair away for one pair bought.
Q: The word “give” is on every wall at TOMS offices. How important is giving to TOMS?
A: TOMS was spontaneous response to give kids shoes. It feels really good to give. It doesn’t just feel good, it’s also a good business strategy. First time I see someone wearing TOMS was four months after its start. I see a stranger wearing them at the airport. I asked her about the shoes. Tried to play it cool in not letting her know who I was, but she was passionate in telling me about the story of TOMS. Told with more passion than my mom would tell. She was invested. She’d seen the YouTube videos. She thought she was talking to a stranger and had passion with it. Who else had she told? How many shoes were sold because of her? Customers do the marketing for us.
Q: Corporate culture. No offices, tiny cubicles. What other distinctives about TOMS?
A: We allow employees to be part of giving. Lot of people come to TOMS from other amazing companies because they want to incorporate giving into their work life. If you’re an employee at TOMS for two years you are paid to go on a shoe drop. It happens regularly and brings energy in the office. Spoken to a lot of Fortune 500 companies about giving. Not everyone can do 1-to-1 giving, but you can incorporate giving or service into your work culture. CEOs say when people start serving, the stress and office politics dissipate. It can be at core of all organizations.
Q: Staff members get connected to the core again when on shoe drops. Seem to have non-profit culture that is profit company.
A: Someone asked, “Why not start non-profit? Couldn’t you give more then?” Basically, eight months into TOMS I was a part of educational company. Sold it and invested into TOMS. With that money I could’ve bought 40,000 shoes, which would’ve been great. First two years gave away 50,000 shoes. However, resources would’ve been depleted. Instead, invested into for-profit business. Since then I have not had other investment in company. But, 600,000 kids have shoes now. 20x more investment. As for-profit company. We’ve helped 680,000 versus 40,000 and we are more sustainable.
Q: One day without shoes. How did you pull it off?
A: That many thousands of people in solidarity to not wear shoes was amazing to watch. Law firms, churches and youth groups did it. “Why are your shoes off?” Generated conversations. People had passion for it.
Q: Spent no money on advertising for it. How?
A: We didn’t, but some partners helped us. Used social media and other stuff. Went to media companies like Microsoft and asked for help. Gave us millions of free advertising. Other partners came together to help.
Q: Idea is powerful. Was it serendipitous idea when you had it?
A: It was just an idea when I had it. Sell a pair and give one away. It changed when I went on that first shoe drop. Took family, friends and interns. Sixteen people who didn’t know each other but were putting shoes on people. Unbelieveable experience. Six months before it was just an idea. Now I was giving away 10,000 pair of shoes. On first shoe drop, Argentine woman told story of her three sons that had been sharing single pair of shoes for a year. Only one could go to school on any given day during a week because of shoes. Now they all could go to school. Impacted me.
Q: TOMS has attention amongst young people. How has it captured young people?
A: Young people want to have a voice and do something that matters. They have the passion, but they all can’t go on a missions trip. Can’t make a big donation. It’s a simple thing to do, buying a pair of shoes and they know another child will get a pair. It’s a way to act in a simple way. They can then show the world their values and identity by wearing shoes. People ask them about shoes and then they share about the TOMS story.
Q: Last four years TOMS has had meteoric rise and attribute to strategic partnerships. What have you learned about strategic partners.
A: We’ve been blessed and wouldn’t be able to do it without corporate and church partners. We’ve had amazing support. Churches make sense, but what about AT&T? It worked because we gave them an authentic story. I use my blackberry all over the world and am rarely in the office. I have to stay connected. It’s AT&T technology helping the world through TOMS. It resonates because it is authentic.
Q: I think about how you asked people for things. How important is asking people to do audacious things?
A: I had no experience in shoe business, no money, so I had to ask a lot of people for things. But you have to do it. If you want it, if you want to create change, you have to ask people to join you. People really enjoy it though because they can be a part of your vision and journey. Tons of business people that want to get involved in church, but you need to ask them.
Q: How has your faith influenced TOMS?
A: TOMS represents a lot of different Biblical principles. Give your firstfruits and your vats wil be full. (Proverbs 3:9-10
) Day one we started to give away shoes. Early on we were not profitable but we still gave away shoes. We stayed true to what we were going to do. It’s a principle that is a part of TOMS.
Q: What would you say to other young leaders?
A: Come work with us! We need fantastic people to get us from here to there! Seriously, we do need people. Remember sitting in church in college thinking that I’ll work hard as entrepreneur and then in my 60’s and 70’s I can give away time and money. That is life for many. But I would have had to wait until 60’s to reap blessings of givings. It’s never too early to start giving and serving. Better to start now than postpone it.
Q: How can church and business leaders get involved?
A: April 5, 2011 I want to see everyone barefoot. It doesn’t cost anything, but the difference you can make is vast. Conversations that it starts are great. Make the commitment to get your church, school, business to take off your shoes on April 5. I want to see millions and millions do it next year. (Had 250,000 do it this past year.)
Darren Whitehead: Go out and buy a pair of TOMS and know someone is getting a pair of shoes somewhere in the world.