Keynote: Blake Mycoskie of Tom’s Shoes

Loose notes from the SXSW 20011 Keynote: Blake Mycoskie

In this visionary talk, Blake Mycoskie shows you how to succeed in a new era of relentless competition and heightened social awareness. Why is philanthropy your best competitive advantage? How do you make money and do good simultaneously? How are the two acts intertwined? At TOMS — a self-sustaining, for-profit company — the act of giving is the cornerstone of its business model, integral to its financial success. In a behind-the-scenes look at how it all works, Mycoskie shares counterintuitive ideas (“In tough times, give more!”) that you can apply to your own business. His bold, winning strategies are proven, and have been talked about by Bill Clinton, the Obama administration, and the hundreds of thousands of customers that have joined the TOMS Movement by buying a pair of shoes. Inspired, inspiring and most of all practical, Mycoskie presents a new direction for business, offering TOMS as his prime case study. After hearing him speak, you too will know why giving just makes sense.

Blake Mycoskie
TOMS Shoes

People laughed when Blake said he wanted to start a shoe company based on giving away shoes.

As a competitor on The Amazing Race nine years ago he had been through Argentina. Met a couple who were collecting shoes from wealthy families in Buenos Aires and bringing them to the poor children in the rural areas. They invited him along, and there he saw children as excited as if it were Christmas day. Just to get ill-fitting used shoes. Totally inspired, started thinking about what happened when the kids grew out of the shoes. Started thinking “Why does charity have to be responsible for this? Why not entrepreneurship? Make it easy: Buy a pair, give a pair – we give away a pair for every pair they sell.”

Went back to Argentina and had 250 pairs made. But realized he knew nothing about shoes – nothing. So he put out the shoes and had women friends try them on, just to get their reactions. The women threw their money at him and gave him tips on the cool shoe stores in L.A.

A shoe store said “What will sell these is the story” and asked for a picture of him with the kids. Then Booth Moore, the fashion writer for the L.A. Times couldn’t believe the 1-1 model. The column ran on the cover of the Calendar section of the L.A. Times. They sold 2200 pairs of shoes before 2:00 that afternoon. But they only had 150 pairs in inventory.

Put ads for lots of interns in newspapers. Next phone call was from Vogue magazine, so he went to New York. Then all the big retailers started calling – Bloomingdale’s, Macy’s, etc. Then Nordstrom’s. Within a month, sold 10,000 pairs (original goal was 250). Decided it was time to start putting shoes on children’s feet (each pair, by hand).

An Argentine woman, three boys had to share one pair of shoes between them, which meant none of them could go to school every day. So Tom’s was helping not just getting shoes on feet, but helping their education.

When you incorporate giving into your business in an authentic and transparent way, your customers become your best marketers. By focusing on giving, you don’t have to focus on advertising, because your customers become your marketers.

By focusing on giving, you attract and retain the best employees on earth. He doesn’t pay his employees more. His warehouse doesn’t have A/C or heat. But passionate people want to work there, and they stay on long-term.

There is no Tom – Tom is short for “tomorrow.”

Coming next: Tom’s is no longer a shoe company – it’s a 1-for-1 company. They’re going to do much, much more.

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