I recently had the great pleasure of chatting with Blake Mycoskie, founder of TOMS shoes about the expansion of his wonderful One for One concept to eyewear that has an equally inspiring and meaningful impact on the lives of others as TOMS shoes. Here’s what he shared about branding, giving and the personal satisfaction that comes from building something that matters. Here’s a link to part 1 of the interview and Part 2 below.
SM: Blake, do you see your approach, where business helps improve the lives of others, as a necessity or more as a sound business strategy in the social business marketplace, or both?
BM: I think it’s a little bit of both. There are certain businesses in the private sector that lend themselves well to incorporate giving into the model. Some of them might not as well. I think those will largely shake themselves out in the years to come, but yes, I would say both.
SM: Do you see the private sector as a stand-alone solution, or is your view more one of partnership between the private sector, government and philanthropies?
BM: It has to be a partnership. First off, the government, even with the debt that they have, their budget and their ability to move the needle in many of these very important issues will far outweigh what the private sector can do. As much as I am an advocate for the private sector taking responsibility and doing their part in areas they haven’t in the past, the government is still the strongest, most powerful force in this. I hope that the private sector puts more pressure on the government to use their resources in a more responsible way, but we definitely ignore the impact the government can have.
SM: I couldn’t agree more. One of the challenges I faced with the ‘We First’ vision is that really, nothing will change unless we inspire companies to change. Companies, to date, have often used the excuse that they are only beholden to their shareholders, but we need shareholders to think of themselves as stakeholders in the well being of society as well. We can only impact shareholders and CEOs if we as consumers impact their bottom line. You’re one of the few companies that have motivated consumers to spend their dollars with a social conscience as well. Do you see that it is possible to engage consumers about what they care about? To get them over this complacency, this convenience mentality that has run the marketplace for so long?
BM: I think that the complacency is largely due to the fact that people don’t think that their contributions actually make a difference. I think it’s great that now, we have organizations like Charity: Water, where every single dollar that you donate, you can see exactly the well project it is going to. With TOMS, when you buy a pair of shoes, you know a child is getting a pair of shoes. It’s very clear, it’s very simple. You get rid of the complacency when you give a specific effect for people’s donations or participation. That encourages more community and, from a social media standpoint, more sharing of the experience they had.
SM: It’s so true. I think that this transparency and accountability is what people are crying out for more, especially in the spirit of distrust that’s been out there since 2008, so it’s often in a company’s advantage not just to do good, but to be clear about how it’s having a positive impact. So, Blake, if you were to have your wish for the future, what is your hope not only just for TOMS, but how would you like to see the private sector?
BM: I would love that every company looks at a triple bottom line. I want to see that become standard practice both in private and public companies, that we aren’t just responsible for generating profits, but for our impact in society and community. I would like to see that be a way in which companies are measured and a way for how consumers decide who they will support. That is my dream, how that gets monitored and regulated. I would love to see that all companies are held accountable to that triple bottom line.
SM: That is an inspiring vision. I think we all recognize that this technology is in its infancy in that we have Good Guide, a mobile app that can be a barcode scanner in the shopping aisle, we’ve got BrandKarma.com, we’ve got new GPS technology being used by companies like Charity: Water to show exactly the impact on the ground. But it will take some time and we do need to encourage the development and integration of that technology. But getting back to your personal story: at the end of the day, I think a lot of people in business spend their entire lives chasing some idea of success and often, in the end, what eludes them is fulfillment. Would you be able to speak something to the personal fulfillment, the intangible benefits to taking this approach to business? What have you discovered for yourself and what would you encourage others to do?
BM: The intangible aspect is just that having the opportunity to wake up every day and come to work knowing that I’m not just working to make money for myself and my employees, but to truly serve others and help other people have a better life. You can’t put a price tag on that benefit because the truth is that it permeates all aspects of my being and all experiences of my life because I have that day in, day out experience of serving others and being able to do it through my daily work. It’s invaluable and now, having experienced it, I could never work at another company or start another company unless that was part of it because it’s part of the way I go about my day.
SM: I characterize this shift both personally and at large, as a shift from ‘me first’ to ‘we first’ thinking, and that was really based on the fact that we now live in an intimately connected global community and through all your travels with this and all your plans to expand this business model, what would you say to this awareness that we are all connected now?
BM: That transformation has really happened in looking at the environment and global warming. There is no better example of the necessity of ‘we thinking’ instead of ‘me thinking’ than our environment because what we do here effects people in China and what people in China do effects people here or in Africa. We must think as a global community in order to attack these environmental issues, which is critical to future generations.
SM: Moving back to your greater announcement last week, what should people do if they want to have a look at the new TOMS eyewear? Tell us about that so we can do some homework for ourselves.
BM: Just go to TOMS.com and we have our shoes and eyewear there. On the eyewear section of the website we have some great videos and pictures (above) from a giving trip in Nepal, as well as explanations of exactly how we are helping to save and restore sight for people all over the world. The cool thing is that we also have a virtual try-on, where you can upload a picture of yourself and test out what the glasses look like on your face. You can even upload it to facebook and have your friends tell you what they like you in more. We’ve tried to make the shopping experience for our eyewear interactive and, because we have limited retailers at this time, make it open to everyone who wants to participate.
SM: Congratulations on the launch last week. It was both an enormous success and truly inspiring. You continue to motivate the private sector to shift its thinking and behavior. Congratulations to everyone at the company, it truly is amazing work.
Please support TOMS wonderful work by buying the glasses you need to restore the sight of someone else.