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  • Writer's pictureSherry

SBCo Newsletter- August 2008

TOMS Shoes – Interview with Blake Mycoskie – “Chief Shoe Giver” On building a unique culture & business model

Imagine a company built to “do good and do well.” We have entered a period where more and more companies are creating socially responsible and eco friendly initiatives. I met an entrepreneur that has merged his passion for business with an equal passion for doing good in the world. Blake Mycoskie, entrepreneur for 14 years is the Chief Shoe Giver and leader for TOMS Shoes (shoes for tomorrow). He began the company in 2006 with a unique business model and fascinating culture.

I learned about Blake through my 22 year old son who, along with several of his friends, has donated time to fun events that support getting the word out about this unique idea and product. Blake’s concept has caught on with young and old,  continuing to grow in popularity. TOMS shoes are fashionably unique and eye- catching, but more importantly, for every pair sold, a pair is given to a child in an impoverished country. TOMS has already given away 65,000+ shoes around the world.

Millennials are joining him enthusiastically at his “warehouse” location at the Santa Monica Studios to donate time, intern for three months and in select cases, join as employees to support sales, marketing, with a separate team of folks for their new fulfillment house in Long Beach.

I was most intrigued to meet Blake and learn about the culture he was building under such a powerful and refreshing mission. Here are some highlights from our recent discussion.

How did you start this company?

“I have started, failed and succeeded in building business. It is what I do. When I began TOMS, the intent was to create a self-sustaining business model on a “buy one give one” model. I did not originally plan to lead this but that changed quickly and now I have dedicated myself to growing this team and giving back to children around the world.”

Tell me more….

“Several years ago, I traveled to Argentina seeking fun time and discovered much more that grew to be TOMS Shoes and now my dedicated effort. I found the poverty of the country eye opening and was introduced to a locally made shoe that was the genesis of my idea to start making shoes, selling them to consumers around the world and for each one sold …a child receives a free pair. We learned that 75% of the world’s children do not have shoes.”

How have you attracted talent to your organization?

“Young people have learned of us through a ‘viral’ approach – and the word has gotten out on college campuses. Doing good through purposeful work means a lot to everyone today. We have an extensive internship program that brings over 200 applications a semester resulting in 22-25 interns and often 3-4 target hires. This is quite an impressive continuous pipeline of talent. The company now has 36 employees and an additional group of on average 25 interns at any one time.”

How do you describe the culture of TOMS?

“This is an entrepreneurial company with a lot of freedom to learn and make things happen.” Employees work hard (Blake admits to some workaholic tendencies). Not unlike the high tech start-ups with long hours. There is also:

  1. Little structure – lots of freedom.

  2. Opportunity to learn – take action with limited rules or policies and now the beginning of systems.

  3. Very flat – no management layers.

  4. Learn and “fit in” (70% of the company began as interns).

What are the attributes you look for in interns that will some day be great fit employees?

  1. Optimism – not only expressing the energy but they have the energy to work hard and thrive on learning.

  2. Adaptable – things change fast in this company and people need to be able to adapt, shift and figure it out

  3. Teachable – “We give people a lot of responsibility very early, and they are smart and learn quickly.”

Blake is excited about this new business model of giving one for one and sees this is a highly successful sustainable model. “Years from now, we will see this type of model changing the way businesses are developed and thrive.” With that, I then had to ask,

What personally satisfies you about this work? Did you start out with this plan?

Blake said early on, he was more focused on building a self-sustaining business. However, as he got into it, he realized this was the path and purpose for him. He sees that work supports him in the following ways;

  1. It supports the creative side of him – getting to design cool shoes.

  2. Satisfies an intellectual curiosity.

  3. Travel to exotic and amazing places in the world (Blake came really close to winning the Amazing Race reality-show competition).

  4. Merges his love of business with doing something important in the world.

What does success look like a year from now?

“We have recently invested in select senior management. Bear Barnes, a former CEO of a highly successful moving company, Starving Students is now ‘Chief Shoe Seller’ or COO for the company. His mission is to build foundations, people and systems for growth. There is a CFO and head of Sales; we are almost fully staffed in management.”

Most recently they are in the process of designing a “Corporate Gifting Program.” This provides organizations the opportunity to give to their employees and external relationships with a great gift (TOMS Shoe) and participation in something bigger – giving to children. You will be hearing more about this. Check out their website

TOMS Shoes is making an impact in the world today. Blake Mycoskie has changed the way we look at shoes and our lives through social responsibility. Companies today face a growing population of buyers concerned with the betterment of the globe, and there is a lot we can learn from making the very foundation of our economic growth concerned with profit on a humanitarian scale.

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