Blake Mycoskie spoke to a packed house of JWU students. He also has over 500,000 followers on Twitter, and just celebrated his company’s one millionth sale.
All for good reason; Blake's changing the world. For every pair of high end shoes his company, Tom Shoes, sells, it donates a pair to a child in need.
Blake, a speaker for JWU’s Cultural Life Series, believes you can change the world, too. And you'll do it not through philanthropy, or volunteerism, but through business.
“I’m speaking to you because this business model has to be there in the beginning,” Blake says. “It has to be baked into your DNA.”
Let Customers Tell Your Story Once, at an airport, Blake complimented a girl on her Tom Shoes. “You don’t understand,” she cried, grabbing him by the shoulders. “This is the greatest company in the world!” “She started telling me my life story, word for word. With more passion than my mom tells it!,” Blake said. “If she had that much passion to tell a stranger about it, how many other people had she told?” “All we need to do as a business is focus on giving,” Blake said. “And let our customers tell the story.” See the Need, Even on Vacation The Tom Shoes story began in Argentina. Blake had traveled there as a contestant on The Amazing Race. He returned for vacation and joined friends at a non-profit, delivering shoes to local children who often go barefoot. “The kids acted like it was Christmas day,” Blake said. ”I remember feeling so filled up in my spirit, in my mind.” The need was overwhelming, though. Blake saw children with horrific foot diseases. He met three brothers sharing a single pair; each went to school one day, then passed the shoes on and waited their turn to go to school again. What happened, he wondered, when these kids grew out of their donated shoes? One for One Business Plan “I want to give you guys my definition of sustainability,” Blake said. “You have to create business models that will sustain the good work you do, so you’re not dependent on a handout.” That’s the idea that dawned on Blake, sipping coffee in a hut in Argentina. Within weeks, he’d come up with Tom Shoes. Originally his tag line was “one pair today, one pair tomorrow," but Blake cut “tomorrow” to “Tom” so it would fit on the shoe tag. He met an Argentinean who agreed to make shoe samples. “He stills works for the company,” Blake assured students. Focus Groups Work, Even in Your Kitchen Unfortunately, Blake didn’t know much about fashion. “But every girl I ever met spends a lot of time, and money, on shoes,” he said. He invited some female friends over; they found his kitchen table strewn with shoe samples. The ladies picked their favorites, while Blake took notes. Once he had their gut reactions, he shared his mission, and showed pictures of the kids. "They cried," he admitted. “It got pretty emotional in my kitchen.” Pretty Women Moments Happen Don't take "No" for an answer, Blake told students. He contacted LA’s fashion boutiques, but didn’t hear back. So he shaved, loaded up a duffel bag with shoe samples and headed to Rodeo Drive. He was immediately escorted from the first store. “I felt like Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman,” Blake admitted. On his third store, he told the clerk “I’m here to see the shoe buyer.” By that time she figured out he was just a kid with a bag of shoes, she’d agreed to buy 80 pairs. Celebrities Help Out if They Believe in Your CauseTom Shoes took off. Fashion writer Booth Moore covered Tom Shoes in the LA Times. By 2pm that day, the company had sold over 2,000 pairs. Scarlett Johansson, Keira Knightley, Joe Jonas, Jack Johnson and a host of other celebrities have since sported Tom shoes. Ralph Lauren even designed for them. Taylor Hansen even told him promote Tom Shoes by having his audience to take off their shoes. Blake was dubious; the concert was in Chicago, in the winter. But he went to Hansen’s concert. “I realized that this guy could ask them to do anything, and they would!” he recalled. Giving: A Good Business Strategy “Giving feels good,” Blake concluded. “But it turns out to be a good business strategy.” In four years, Tom Shoes has sold over a million pairs of shoes, and helped a million children. And Blake has made a 25-time return on his original investment in the company. Which means, Blake emphasizes, that Tom Shoes is here to stay. He can continue to do the work that inspires him. Celebrity support and designer cred aside, Tom Shoes is about kids in need. And Blake is in it for life. He still remembers taking his parents down to Argentina to deliver the first round of shoes. Watching his mother kneel down and place shoes on delighted kid, he finally felt the full impact of what Tom Shoes could do. “I started crying so hard I scared the kids away,” he admitted.