Category Archives: Inspiration

Lessons Learned from TOMS Shoes’s Blake Mycoskie

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?


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Overheard in Austin

” Don’t be intimidated. The faculty are generally dumber than you are — they just do a better job of hiding it. “

– Bob Jenson, Professor in the UT Department of Journalism & Direction of Senior Fellows Honors Program on the faculty of the Senior Fellows Program

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I’m not quite the Mona Lisa

I didn’t have a driver’s license during Christmas break of my sophomore year in high school. But I did have an old PC, Internet access, and a StumbleUpon toolbar. When the addictive persistent clicking of that irresistible blue and green button lead me to a web comic with mischievous anthromorphic PCs, thick girls wearing thicker rimmed glasses, and coffee baristas serving espresso with a side of sarcasm, I was in love. I’ve been reading Jeph Jacques’ narrative web comic “Questionable Content” since that day, and have enjoyed seeing the art style and characters develop through the years.

So naturally, I was psyched when Jacques posted on the news section that he’d be in Austin the weekend of the 12th and 13th for a web comic convention at Dragon’s Lair. My fellow web comic fiend, Alejandra, and I arrived at the comic book store Sunday around noon and saw a queue of fellow nerds snaking its way around the building.When the doors were opened the crowd made its way to the back room of the store, where a table was set up with a panel of web comic artists including Scott Kurtz, Danielle Corsetto, and Randy Millholland, among others.

The panel discussion lasted about 2 hours, and even then, only ended because the event moderator asked the panelists to stop taking questions. It was a captive and curious audience, to say the least. The artists discussed their work process, and the amount of time and effort that goes into running a web comic as a livelihood and not just a hobby. Kurtz and Millholland, who were the first to interject with an answer to an audience member’s question with zest and sarcasm, mostly dominated the conversation.

I was never interested in becoming a web comic artist before this panel – convinced I lacked the artistic chops to do so. However, in memorable quotes from Jacques “anyone can learn to draw, it just takes practice” and Kurtz “what’s more important is to have a unique perspective and something to say”. I was inspired to maybe try my hand at that one day.

More importantly, however, was that although the panel was specifically focused on the life and work of web comic artists, I found the advice and the experience they shared to be universal to any form of creative work. The artists preached the value of perseverance and intrinsic versus monetary motivation. Many of the artists didn’t even study art in college or attend college at all. They faced the same sort of demeaning skepticism that anyone with unconventional aspirations often does, but continued to craft their stories, their humor, and their art despite the challenges.

After the panel, I waited more than an hour in a signing line to meet Jeph Jacques. When I got to the front of the line, our time together was brief but I was really happy to have met the guy behind the snark since sophomore year. I believe I’m drawn to Questionable Content for the same reason I’m drawn to any piece of art. I love art that tells a story, especially one that’s relatable and has heart without taking itself too seriously.

I left the convention with a new appreciation for web comics, new electricity in my creative veins, and a snazzy portrait of me by the rockin’ Mr. Jacques.

Dragon’s Lair in Austin is located at 6111 Burnet Road, just north of 2222.

For more info: Dragon’s LairQuestionable ContentJeph Jacques

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He solicits secrets like a Catholic priest in a confessional booth.

Frank Warren had little to hide as he shared stories of his troublesome childhood, obstacles, and inspiration for creating the Post Secret collective during his appearance on Saturday, December 12th at Austin’s BookPeople to promote his new book “Confessions of Life, Death, and God”.

Warren began with a humorous anecdote about his disapproving mother and how she believed her son was crazy and corrupt in his pursuit of personal post card secrets. She even went as far to leave a bitter voicemail adamantly refusing his wife’s offer to send her a free copy of Warren’s first Post Secret book upon its publishing. Warren shared the recording with the crowd who occupied the entirety of the BookPeople loft sitting Indian-style on the floor by putting his iPhone to the humble microphone set-up. The crowd laughed at first at the biting voicemail that inspired memories of comically critical television mothers a la Marie on “Everybody Loves Raymond”. But as Warren continued to explain his relationship with his mother, he revealed a haunting childhood of abuse, alienation, and loneliness that prompted the birth of the Post Secret project.

Searching for a way to provide catharsis for others, to find connection in an increasingly isolated world, and to explore the silent stories that pride or fear leaves untold, Warren began distributing self-addressed stamped post cards in the streets of Washington D.C. and was pleased with the amount that made their way back to his mailbox. He collected the cards and presented them in a small gallery; content with the project he had collected. However, although Warren was finished with the secrets, the secrets were not finished with him. Through word of mouth, the Post Secret craze spread like swine flu and Warren has been receiving hundreds of postcards in his mailbox every week.

It takes Warren several hours every Saturday to rummage through the piles of post in his basement as he selects the lucky few to be a part of the narrative he will create for the weekly “Sunday’s Secrets”. Prompted by questions from the audience, Warren explained his process to select the post cards, choosing the ones that really stand out to him or one’s that can contribute with the storyline or theme he is trying to create for that week’s post.

University of Texas at Austin psychology student, Becky Scaduto says of Warren’s appearance at BookPeople: “It was really motivating to meet someone in person who had brought the thoughts of so many people together in such an amazing way.”

I found Frank Warren’s appearance at Book People incredibly inspiring. The use of art to provide catharsis for one’s self and others is very admirable. I like how the medium of postcards is so accessible, and the idea to collect secrets on these post cards is so simple but amazingly innovative. Definitely a case of “Why didn’t I think of that first” envy. I love his example of using art as an interactive form of communication, and was pleased when he revealed that he ties the secrets together purposefully to create a distinct narrative. Storytelling is one of the oldest human art and entertainment forms, and it is invigorating to see that old model of storytelling revised in a modern context.

Warren last visited Austin in 2006, at BookPeople then as well. He commented on his love for the people, feeling, and city of Austin and was glad to make it the finalé on his 2009 tour.

BookPeople is located on the corner of 6th and Lamar.

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