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.
SM: I’m here with Blake Mycoskie, who is the founder of TOMS Shoes, a wonderful business that made a name for itself by creating the ‘One for One’ pair of shoes to a child in need program and has now but has now expanded that program to eyewear. Blake, what keeps inspiring you to take this approach to business? Is it the effect you’re seeing on the ground, or is it the prospect of encouraging other companies to do the same?
BM: I think it’s actually both of those things. I get the good fortune of spending time on the ground with our partners and giving shoes to children in need, or now most recently with our sight partners, seeing people get their sight back. These are amazing, intimate experiences that really touch you. It’s not like they touch you once, it’s over and over again. Every trip is different, every encounter is different and that encourages me to keep moving because I actually see that the work we’re doing is having an impact. It’s not that we’re just giving shoes or restoring sight, it’s the impact on those lives after we have been with them. Also, seeing a lot of businesses that are taking notice and changing their ways and the way they incorporate giving into their models. And there are new companies starting all the time, inspired by TOMS. So all that keeps me going.
SM: You mentioned briefly the exciting launch last week. To those who haven’t heard the news, you’ve expanded TOMS business model to include eyewear.
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BM: We took the one-for-one model and asked ourselves how we could have an even greater impact in the world besides just shoes. One of the social injustices, and actually the seventh largest health-issue out there is people either losing their sight or who are already blind. The amazing thing about this is that you can either save or restore someone’s sight relatively simply. There are three ways that we are working with. One of them is medical treatment, one is prescription glasses and the third is with eye surgery. We are doing all this through a non-profit partner that has over 30 years of experience in this area. The way that we took this relatively complex thing and turned it into a one-form model is that when one person purchases a pair of TOMS eyewear, one person is helped. It doesn’t matter if they need surgery, prescription glasses or medical treatment. Our guarantee to the customer is that if you buy a pair of TOMS eyewear, you will help give someone sight. We launched this week and most of the glasses are already sold out. We’re super excited that people are ready to take this next step with us.
SM: That’s such an exciting extension of your business model. When you consider how you inspire other companies to get involved, they’re necessarily concerned about the bottom-line benefits to themselves. So putting aside the wonderful social impact, can you describe the impact on your customer community and how it inspires them to talk about your brand.
BM: The thing is that giving really has proven to be good for business, and a lot of people only look at the social impact aspect, but the truth is that when you incorporate giving into your model, your customers become your marketers, your employees give better retention, greater moral, the people in your office work harder because they’re a part of something. What we’ve proven with TOMS is that giving doesn’t only feel good, it’s great for business in a lot of traditional ways.
SM: In your wildest dreams, how far do you think this approach can scale in terms of the entire private sector waking up to the bottom line and social benefits of giving as part of their for-profit models?
BM: Transforming it may take decades, if not centuries. However, I do think that certain areas of business are more likely to be transformed like this. Fashion is a great example. A lot of consumer goods, whether it be cleaning soap for your house and being transformed by the chemicals used being more environmentally friendly, or other businesses where the customer has a choice. It really works well for business that are competing for the loyalty of the customer, and by giving the customer an opportunity to choose their brand and make a difference is a really powerful thing and can transform a lot of sectors of business.
SM: I couldn’t agree more. But as you know, I launched my book ‘We First’ last week, which is all about taking a look at those companies and non-profits that are making a contribution beyond their own self-interest, but I have encountered variations of cynicism or disbelief. As one of the rare people who have had direct experience with embracing this strategy and taking it to market, what would you say to the naysayers out there?
BM: I think you have to look at the facts of what makes a business successful. You need to have a differentiating aspect of your product, you need customer loyalty, you need employees that feel more attracted to their job than just getting a paycheck, you need a story that will spread with social media, and all of these things are impacted very positively when a company incorporates giving into their model. I think that the cynics really don’t understand the power and impact in the traditional business sense. They’re just looking at the ‘feel good’ aspect (which is an important reason for doing it as well) but when you really look at the nuts and bolts of it, it proves that it really is good business.
Do you agree that doing good is important to customers now and good for business? Do you think we’ll see a shift across the entire private sector?