One of my favorite sessions at SXSW Interactive last week was the final keynote by Blake Mycoskie, founder of TOMS Shoes. I was inspired. I was entertained. I was motivated.
If you’re not familiar, Blake founded the for-profit TOMS Shoes in 2006 with a goal of donating a pair of shoes to a child in need every time a pair was purchased. Since then 1,000,000 pairs have been given to children in over 20 countries worldwide, including the U.S., Argentina, Ethiopia, Rwanda, Guatemala, Haiti and South Africa.
I had always believed that TOM must have been the first child who received a pair of shoes via the one-for-one business model, or maybe a friend or family member of Blake’s. It turns out, there is no TOM. It’s actually short for tomorrow…as in, “if we sell a pair of shoes today, we can give one to a child in need tomorrow.” An aspirational concept. It’s too bad “Shoes for Tomorrow” was too lengthy for the company name. That would’ve avoided some confusion, but it does make for a good story.
The key theme of Blake’s keynote: Giving doesn’t just feel good; it’s good for business and your personal brand. Basically, giving makes good business sense.
A few reasons of support for his thesis…
When you give, your customers become your greatest marketers. Blake shared a great story about a woman that he met at an airport a few years ago who noticed his TOMS Shoes and didn’t recognize him as the company’s founder. The woman described TOMS as “the most amazing company in the world” with more passion than his mom tells it. When Blake told her who he was, she responded “you cut your hair.” She was so familiar with TOMS, but didn’t recognize him with shorter hair.
When you focus on giving you get the most amazing staff. Blake passionately talked about how his employees want to be a part of something big so they work hard, often choosing TOMS over higher salaries offered from other companies. When you’re serving your community together, you forget about the stress of the day and it’s “magical.” You don’t have to start a company like TOMS, you can integrate giving in small ways, like giving your staff a day off to volunteer.
When you incorporate giving into your business, you attract great partners. Blake talked about how partnering with Ralph Lauren was a “gamechanger” for TOMS. It was the first time the designer had ever collaborated. He also noted AT&T’s support.
When your focus is on giving, you have inspiring stories to share with your consumers illustrating the impact of their contributions. My favorite part of the speech was when Blake told a story about a woman that he met during his travels who wept tears of thanks because her three boys had been sharing a single pair of shoes. Her children had to skip school every three days because they had nothing to wear on their feet to prevent infection. When he approached the woman, Blake assumed that she her tears were sadness, but they were heartfelt appreciation.
The keynote ended with a preview of what’s next for TOMS. Blake told the crowd of techies—if something this powerful can happen with shoes, what else can we do? From this day on, TOMS is not going to be just a shoe company – it’s the one-for-one company and the first stop in “meeting the needs of the world.”The next chapter for TOMS will be unveiled on June 7. Finally, what Blake calls the “mystery box” will open. Here’s a video of the preview from SXSW:
Another noteworthy date — April 5th is the annual one day without shoes where TOMS is encouraging everyone to go without shoes to support the millions of kids who grow up without shoes and at risk for infection and disease.
In the meantime, I’m going out to get my first pair of TOMS.