Blake Mycoskie had earned a partial scholarship to play tennis for Southern Methodist University (SMU) in Dallas, Texas. There, he double majored in Philosophy and Business. After leaving school, he started his first business – EZ Laundry – providing the first on-campus dry cleaning at SMU. He sold out to his partner after the business expanded to three universities and was generating over $1 million in revenue. His next venture was in Nashville, Tennessee, where he founded Mycoskie Media which used outdoor advertising to market Country music. He sold that business to Clear Channel.
Soon after, he and his sister teamed up to compete in the CBS network’s reality show, The Amazing Race. The race pitted several teams of two in a literal race around the world with a first place price of $1 million. Blake and his sister finished third – by four minutes. He then moved to Los Angeles where the number of successful businesses which he had started rose to five.
In 2006, Blake decided to revisit Argentina, one of the countries he had greatly enjoyed during the race competition. During that journey, he became acutely aware of the poverty that was the norm for so many. In particular, he took note of how many people didn’t even have shoes – especially children. He became aware of the health issues which resulted from living barefooted – cuts, sores, infections. He wanted to help.
What he didn’t want to do was start a charity. While such an organization could do good work, it would require constant fund-raising – something which had no appeal to Blake. What did have appeal was building businesses – after all, he was an entrepreneur – one who had already built five companies. He determined that he could combine his philanthropic passion with his business skill.
Blake’s vision was simple. Create a quality shoe, modeled on the Argentinian alpargatas, or espadrilles, canvas shoes whose roots were founded in the Pyrenees Mountains of Europe. He would design shoes which would appeal to fashion minded men and women – and for every pair purchased, he would donate a pair to the needy in Argentina.
He set out to do just that, promising the Argentinian people that he would return, bringing with him 200 pairs of new shoes.
Blake’s concept became Shoes for a Better Tomorrow – the business model became known as One for One – buy one, give one. The concept was so overwhelmingly popular that when Blake’s first returned to Argentina, he brought with him 10,000 pairs of shoes.
What has resulted from the simple idea of starting a for-profit business built on the primary premise of providing good to the world, is nothing short of exceptional. Has the company fulfilled its mission to do good? Since 2006, more than 50,000,000 pairs of shoes have been donated to the needy around the world. Has the company been successful as a for-profit entity? By 2014, the company was valued at $625 million. These types of results are achieved from building a fearless brand.
Shoes for a Better Tomorrow became known simply as TOMS…and TOMS is a fearless brand. Why? Because that’s exactly what Blake Mycoskie set out to accomplish.
Fearless Brands combine purpose with skills to achieve greatness
The TOMS brand and Mycoskie’s One for One® concept didn’t stop at footwear. The concept was so successful at achieving both the desired social impact and business success, it was expanded to address other needs. TOMS Eyewear was launched in 2011 with the purpose of helping to restore sight to those in needs based on each purchase of eyewear. TOMS Roasting offers six premium coffee varieties with beans sourced through direct trade efforts in Rwanda, Honduras, Peru, Guatemala and Malaw. For each bag of coffee purchased, TOMS donates a week’s worth of water to a person in need.
Not only has the product line now expanded to include bags and apparel, Mycoskie started TOMS Marketplace. Mycoskie invited other social entrepreneurs whose businesses had started with giving at its core – to sell their products on the TOMS website. This might seem counter-intuitive to most business owners, but Mycoskie and TOMS know that it will take several successful enterprises to validate the concept.
Blake Mycoskie and his team, are the very heart and soul of TOMS – they are the ones that make TOMS a fearless brand. There’s a great deal that you can learn from TOMS about building your fearless brand be it your company or your personal brand:
Find your purpose – Mycoskie’s first company’s purpose was to fill the dry cleaners void at SMU. TOMS however, has a purpose which is fueled by passion – doing good for others. Blake discovered a purpose in which he believed. It was that purpose which led him to create the concept of leveraging his business expertise with his philanthropic drive.
Place others’ interests first – Mycoskie and TOMS have proven that a business built with the core purpose of giving can be financially profitable. This is the basic tenet upon which Bob Burg and John David Mann created The Go-Giver. When you put others’ interests first, you focus on creating value for them. You focus on being relevant. Creating value is the essence of why branding matters – because providing value is what creates the results you desire. To learn more about TOM’S success, check out Mycoskie’s book – Start Something That Matters.
Have a compelling story – Consumers find TOMS’ story, a fashion company giving away its product to help others, to be fascinating. An added component of the story is that the giving is tangible – a pair of shoes, eyewear, water. People love a good story, an inspirational story. Inspiration leads to action – in branding, that action is doing business with you.
I don’t expect you to replicate the TOMS brand – or any of my Friday’s Fearless Brands for that matter. That concept is contrary to the foundation of a fearless brand, which is authenticity. You can, however, learn from each of these brands. Be inspired. Incorporate the successful strategies of these brands into your own brand strategy. Build your fearless brand.