Friday, August 06, 2010

Session 7: Making Conscious Capitalism Work: The Toms Shoes Story (Blake Mycoskie)

Session 7: Making Conscious Capitalism Work: The Toms Shoes Story (Blake Mycoskie)

(note: for other notes from the Leadership Summit, please see my other posts on my blog at or see my posts on twitter at - You will also find some great notes from the Leadership Summit at or follow Tim on twitter at

His business started from a trip Blake took in 2006 when he saw children without shoes in Argentina. He is 33 years old and lives on a sailboat in Los Angeles California.

For every pair of shoes purchased, one pair of new shoes is given to a child in need. It's about putting others ahead of you. Toms Shoes has already given 600,000 pairs of shoes to children around the world through giving partners.

Blake may be recognize him from cell phone commercials and how he came within 4 minutes of winning the Amazing Race with his sister. He was visiting Argentina and saw a Shoe Give-away where they took shoes from more well-to-do famlies in Buenos Aires and give to needy children outside the city.
They started 4 years ago in Santa Monica California.
He realized the model wasn't sustainable because it depended on contributions. Being an entrepaneaur he decided to start a business that worked on giving away shoes.

In his business office, the word “Give” was all over. People feel good about giving , but also it's a good business model.
The first time he saw someone outside his family wearing a pair of Tom's shoes outside his family was in New York at the airport. The girl told him all about his life and how great a company it was. Clearly she watched the video of them giving away shoes on youtube. She had that much passion to tell a stranger at the airport. If we focus on giving, then it's a good business model because people will do the marketing for us.

The distinctive of his company culture are things like having no offices. Also, another aspect of being an employee is if you are an employee for 2 years, you can go and give the shoes away.

Not every company can incorporate giving, but they can incorporate serving. It can be at the core of every organization.

Question: Why didn't you just start a non-profit?
Answer: Someone asked me “if you were really concentrated on these children, why didn't you start a non-profit?” His answer then was that if he would have taken the money from the sale of his other company and given 40,000 shoes, but he would have then depleted his capital. He would need to then go to donors. Instead he invested that money into the for-profit and he's now helped 680,000 children. So, he's been able to multiply his investment.

He started a new initiative called “One day without shoes” on April 8, 2010. Over 1600 events were held. More than 600,000 people went without shoes. Law firms and Churches participated as well. Then people talked about it and the diseases that children can get from being barefoot.

Tom's Shoes didn't spend any money on advertising. Partners, like Microsoft for example, they helped with 10's of millions of dollars in free online advertising.

People ask if his life changed when he started the company. It just an idea. But, it was life changing when they went on the first shoe drop. His family came. It was life changing when they started putting the shoes on children's feet. It was the first 10,000 shoes given away. He was leaving a village in Argentina. A woman was following him speaking in Spanish. She was crying because she was happy. She explained that her 3 sons were sharing a single pair of shoes. Because they couldn't go to school without shoes, so they had to take turns sharing the shoes so they could take turns going to school on different days. It made them all cry.

Q: What do you think has captured the hearts of young people with this shoe company?
A: Youth have this passion. They can't always make a big donation or go on a missions trip. But, they need to buy shoes and this allows them the opportunity to give to someone else in an easy way. Twelve or Fourteen year olds tell him all the time about how they wear the shoes to school every day and tell others about it.

Q: You've had a meteoric rise in the past few years, what have you learned about strategic partnerships (with corporate sponsors)
A: Yes, it's been amazing! Not just the corporate partnerships, but the churches. So, thank you to the churches. The reason the AT&T think worked is because he's never in the office, he's always moving around. So, he has to stay connected with technology. Some person in AT&T realized that this was a great story about how their technology helps children to get shoes.

Q: You've had to ask people to do audacious things.
A: Well, when you start a shoe company with no experience in shoes, you have to ask lots of people. I owe people more favors than probably anyone in this room. There are probably tons of business leaders in your church who want to be involved and make a difference.

Q: How has your faith influenced
A: Proverbs says “give your first fruits and your vats will be full”
Day 1 we started a business so we can give away shoes. In the beginning we were not profitable and we were giving away shoes. We've been incredibly blessed because we stayed true to our core value of giving away one pair for every one purchased. I remember sitting in church in my freshman year in college thinking I would work real hard in my young life so when I was older I could give back and be blessed in my 60s or 70s. But, I would say to young people that there is no better time to start giving than now.

Q: How can we help?
A: April 5 2011, I want to see everyone barefoot. It doesn't cost anything, not only from children who will benefit from shoes, but also to tell people about this. Learn more at about One Day Without Shoes.”

Bill Hybels: Blake was at my home last night. He said he wanted to talk to Bill about something personal. Since Blake lives on a sailboat (and Bill is a sailor), Bill thought that that Blake wanted to talk about sailing. But, Blake actually said he's looking for a girlfriend. His eharmony email was posted on the screen!

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