TOMS Shoes Founder Shares Story Behind Company's Mission
LAKELAND -- (Feb. 18, 2010) Blake Mycoskie wears his heart on his soles.
The founder and "chief shoe giver" of TOMS Shoes shared some of the philosophy behind his company's shoe sales and his passion for donating shoes to needy children with the Florida Southern community Wednesday at Convocation, a luncheon with business faculty and students, and a marketing class. In the afternoon, he joined FSC students and members of the Florida Public Relations Association (FPRA) at Lighthouse Ministries to do what he loves best: give away shoes.
Mycoskie, 33, created a revolutionary one-for-one business model in TOMS: For every pair sold, a pair of shoes would be given away. Less than four years after he founded TOMS, the company has given away more than 400,000 pairs of shoes in places such as Argentina, Ethiopia, South Africa, New Orleans, and Mississippi.
"I realized as a business, we just needed to focus on giving and our customers would take care of the marketing for us," he said at Convo. "When you're doing stuff with a higher purpose, other people and other businesses will want to help you."
Mycoskie, an entrepreneur who had started five successful businesses before turning 30, had what he calls an epiphany while on vacation in Argentina in 2006. During his trip, he watched local children walk barefoot for long distances to get food and water and attend school because they could not afford shoes. Inspired, he came home and started TOMS in his Los Angeles loft with the intention of selling 250 shoes so he could return and give shoes to the 250 children in the village he had visited. He sold 10,000 pairs the first summer.
Meeting with students and faculty from the School of Business, the unassuming Mycoskie told students about the ins and outs of running his business while traveling to shoe drops, factories in three countries, and this week, to London for Fashion Week. I have an MBA philosophy, management by absence," he joked. He said that he had a talented team that he trusted to make good decisions while he was traveling for business.
Mycoskie also told the students that this is the year TOMS anticipates making a profit for the first time. "The first three years, we were doing the one-for-one thing and I was still writing checks to cover losses. But sometimes, when things are the most difficult, they also are the most rewarding. That makes this year, turning that corner, even sweeter."
His biggest advice to students: "Do not, do not, do not take a job for the money. If you're doing a job you love, you will be so much happier, and the money will come. It always does."
Mycoskie ended his visit with a local shoe drop: He helped deliver shoes to children at Lighthouse Ministries. The FPRA raised $5,500 to purchase shoes for children served by Lighthouse Ministries, the Salvation Army, and Lake Wales Care Center. About 30 FSC students helped the children personalize them with paint and glitter.