Yesterday I was privileged enough to see Blake Mycoskie
, founder of TOMS shoes
, speak at the AT&T conference center as part of the RISE
philanthropic entrepreneurial convention. For those of youn unfamiliar with TOMS shoes, the concept is simple. One for one. For every pair of shoes you buy, a child in need gets one too. Shoes might not seem like a big deal compared to drinking water or shelter, but in many areas around the globe children without shoes can not attend school or will often acquire intestinal parasites that enter under toenails or gangrene because of bare feet exposed to silica-rich soil.
The event was really classy, there was complimentary soda, water and Sweet Leaf tea (how very Austin) as well as two different kinds of hummus and artichoke dip with the most amazing pita chips in the world. (Truly! Don’t you hate when they’re so hard you feel like you’ll break a tooth?)
Seeing as 80% of the audience who were not convention attendees were UT students, 80% of the audience was also severely under dressed. However, in jeans, a tie dye t-shirt, and my TOMS, I pretty well matched Blake’s chosen attire for the evening as well.
“Sorry guys — I’m about as close as you’re gonna get to meeting the Tom behind “TOMS”.”
Blake talked for about 45 minutes about the objective and origin of TOMS shoes, as well as his own background. (I hadn’t realized that Blake was a contestant on The Amazing Race. I love that show!) Mycowskie was a great presenter. telling his story with rapport, passion, and wit. Here are the lessons I learned from Blake Mycoskie:
Sustainability means more than being green.
The TOMS project is a sustainable one. Children will grow — and so will their feet. The TOMS business model allows for this, by ensuring a steady supply of replacement shoes because of the crazy amount of shoes sold each day. We all should strive to create something sustainable, no matter if your passion is feeding the hungry, saving the whales, starting a riot grrrrrl band, or running a body image blog! Instead of spending all our resources on one grand act of charity, expression, or experience, we can better serve ourselves and others by creating something lasting that will benefit ourselves and others for a long time to come.
You can do good and do well at the same time.
When TOMS began, critics were skeptical of Blake’s approach to philanthropy through capitalism. “If you really want to help, then why did you make a for profit business?” However, by making TOMS a capitalism motivated project, Blake could ensure a steady stream of money coming in to the project — which meant a steady stream of shoes. During times of economic recession and greater global problems (such as the recent Haiti and Chile crises) the donators that non-profits rely on often can not keep making their same donation because of lack of funds or redirected charity at more pressing needs. But people will always want to buy shoes. Don’t feel guilty for profiting off altruism. By helping yourself, you can help others a the same time and at a greater capacity.
The world has a lot of room for failure, and even more for success.
TOMS shoes was the FIFTH of Blake’s entrepreneurial efforts. He had mild success with media firms and an internet drivers ed company, but nothing was quite so popular until TOMS. Blake didn’t speak of his past ventures as failures, but as means to finding his success. The best part about life is there’s no limit to the amount of times at bat we get. So what if you strike out the first few times?
Passion is key.
Passionate word-of-mouth marketing is the best advertising for TOMS shoes; People love to share the story of how the “Shoes for Tomorrow” project began, encouraging friends, family, and strangers to visit the website and buy soem shoes. But more importantly, passion is key because without it — TOMS shoes would likely have never happened. This business wasn’t created out of a financial need, but out of the passion for global aid that Blake discovered during an Argentine holiday encounter with an NGO that selflessly brought shoes to children. This passion inspired Blake to persevere even when the business was only 3 interns and a shaggy haired dude in an LA apartment. Find your own passion and use it to motivate you career and life choices in a way that best blends your avocation with your vocation.
Blake Mycoskie’s key note speech left me feeling super inspired. I’m still on my own road of self-discovery and figuring out exactly what the hell I’m doing with my life, but I know that no matter what I do I want to pursue it with these lessons in mind. If I could have a career that combined global aid/awareness, art, media, and people I would be a pretty happy duck.
What or who inspires you? What lessons have you learned that have helped on your path of discovery? What are your goals?