In his business advice book, Start Something That Matters, Blake Mycoskie, the founder of TOMS, advocates a business model that combines capitalism and charity.
Blake begins by telling TOMS’s origin story. He explains how the idea for TOMS originated in Argentina, where he saw many barefoot children. Blake learned that a lack of shoes can cause severe health problems for children and prevent them from getting an education. Deeply affected by this situation, Blake decided to start a business that would help the children. Thus, TOMS’s “One for One” model was created — for every pair of shoes TOMS sells, the company donates a pair to a child in need.
While I knew about the “One for One” model, I did not know that TOMS’s shoes share the design of a traditional Argentinian shoe. This is a clever business decision, as it makes consumers feel even more connected to the cause, and it means that TOMS will be familiar and comfortable for the children who receive them. Another fact I learned is that TOMS employees, including Blake, actually go on the “shoe drops” to deliver shoes to the children. I thought this showed great integrity and commitment to TOMS’s mission.
As for the rest of the book, Blake scatters it with other stories of businesses with a charitable component. Blake describes how having a charitable aspect to your business can be great for for-profit companies, because consumers love to get behind great causes and stories and other companies are always looking to partner with charitable causes. In other words, helping a charity helps business, because charity is a great marketing tool and increases buying incentive.
The overall tone of Start Something That Matters is inspirational. Blake spends a lot of time discussing how new or would-be entrepreneurs can overcome their fears of creating a business and taking personal risks. He also challenges entrepreneurs to find a cause they truly care about, so that they can feel rewarded by their work and be more authentic advocates for their charitable work.
Blake’s other business advice is simplistic, but practical. Again, he discusses how doing good is a great marketing tool and helps push customers over the fence to buy. Blake’s other three big business tips are as follows:
Keep it simple. Focus on one charitable mission and one type of product. By keeping processes streamlined and messages clear, your business can get really good at what it knows and be easy for consumers to follow.
Be resourceful without resources. Essentially, cut or reduce costs whenever possible, and then keep operating that way.
Build trust. Create a brand that consumers know and can believe in. Show consumers exactly how their purchase contributes to the charitable cause.
In the end, Start Something That Matters is an enjoyable read. It is part motivational and part practical, and I think if more companies implemented similar practices, capitalism would be a whole lot easier to swallow for all of us. While this book did not specifically apply to my intended entrepreneurial venture (starting my own LLC for my publications), there are certain aspects that I could incorporate; such as donating a portion of my sales to charity, partnering with charitable organizations to raise awareness, and being an advocate for causes I care about in my writing.
While I do think Blake is a bit simplistic and dreamy at times, overall, he exhibits enthusiasm and has a lot of great ideas. I am not sure that his business practices could work for every industry or company (and I’m less certain that most companies would even want to attempt them), but I give him credit for setting an example and trying to reach others.
I recommend this book to those who want to work for or start a nonprofit organization but are worried about the financial ramifications. Start Something That Matters just may be the solution you’re looking for with models to help you do good and pay the bills.
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