Blake Mycoskie on What ‘Matters’

In 2006, Blake Mycoskie created TOMS Shoes and simultaneously revolutionized the world of capitalism through the “One for One” model of giving. TOMS Shoes gives a pair of shoes to a child in need in places like South America and Africa for every pair they sell. “Start Something That Matters” is Blake’s book, which proves to be both a limited autobiography surrounded by the TOMS story and a guide on how to create a successful business similar to his.

TOMS, like many other successful businesses today, had its beginnings as a sort of “let’s-make-stuff-in-a-garage” approach, reminiscent of many other stories – Apple’s co-founder and former CEO, Steve Jobs, to name one. Mycoskie also cites other now-famous and successful entrepreneurs Kenneth Cole (who originally sold shoes out of the trunk of his car) and Mark Zuckerberg (who co-created Facebook in his Harvard dorm) as men who started off humble and rather unpromising.

With perseverance and a strong conviction, Mycoskie uses these stories to give hope to the readers that their ideas for something similar don’t have to be successful from the start – in fact, he even discourages the idea of starting with a huge budget. He states, in his own words, “Everyone who succeeds battles through adversity.”

It is then that Mycoskie’s book shifts away from the personal story side of things and more towards business advice. With TOMS being the success that it has been, especially with the socially and fashion-conscious youth of today, his words are enlightening and inspiring, to say the least. Instead of choosing to focus entirely on the story of TOMS and his own successes, he also highlights other charities and for-profit organizations similar to his own that have also seen successes despite the dismal economic climate of today. Their secret? Giving. Simple as that.

As counterintuitive as such an idea may seem, Mycoskie provides a great argument (and the evidence to back it up) for following such a business model. He writes, “In this fast-paced and constantly mutating world, it is easier than ever to seize the day, but in order to do so, you must play by a new set of rules – because, increasingly, the tried-and-true tenets of success are just tried, not true.” Throughout his book, he mentions the importance of giving in a way that satisfies both the giver and the customer who is making the giving possible. For TOMS, this comes in the form of “shoe drops,” where TOMS visits a nation or area in need of shoes for children.

Mycoskie directly cites “charity: water” as a perfect example of this philosophy. This particular organization has taken this idea to the next level and created a map of every water well they ever built with the donations of their patrons via Google Maps. This idea of making a mission clear and easily accessible is another essential part of the giving model that he so passionately advocates for. He writes, “The easier it is for someone to understand who you are and what you stand for, the easier it will be for that person to spread the word to others.”

As someone who owns three pairs of TOMS, I can say that I have personally told the story of TOMS Shoes to many people who have stopped to ask what kind of shoes I was wearing (usually after a compliment regarding them, I might add). Each time, I explain – in the simplest terms I can – the mission of the company and their message. It never struck me until I read Mycoskie’s book that such a thing played an integral role in the success of a business. To some, it might seem obvious, but it’s truly amazing that simple word-of-mouth transmission of a story and an idea can be so powerful and evoke so much change that has touched many children and people in general for the better.

Another integral part of the “business model of giving” is the idea of trust and how important such an idea is both internally and externally. Mycoskie writes of its importance between him and his employees, between TOMS Shoes and its partners, and between the company and its customers. Once again, Mycoskie refers to the external stories of Hewlett-Packard and Zappos to highlight his point without beating the TOMS story down the throats of his readers, making his book more engaging and powerful in its message.

In the end, “Start Something That Matters” is a fun read that is both inspiring and extremely informative with its wealth of advice for people with visions of grandeur in the world of giving and philanthropy. While he drives home the point of giving as a successful business model and the idea of a story to go along with one’s product, the underlying message of TOMS Shoes is clear throughout: don’t be afraid to take a chance for something you care about. As the title suggests, start something that matters.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5