When looking at success in the realm of socially conscience start-ups, there aren't as many places to look for influence and experience. Any good business mentor who's world their weight in gold, will tell you that start-up founders should do their research into the success and failures of like-minded companies. However in social start-ups there just really aren't a lot of successful companies to research. Many start-ups that we see come in to the business world just can't seem to get past the mission to keep a healthy bottom line.
The first big name social start-up that we see come on the scene since at the turn of the century is TOMS. Starting in May of 2006 as "TOMorrows Shoes" this now developed company has quite humble beginnings. If you haven't read the book "Start Something That Matters" by TOMS Founder Blake Mycoskie, it's definitely worth the read. He chronicles the early victories and blunders with amazing transparency. Each step along the way provides insight into the historic beginnings of the now larger than life company that's changing the world one step at a time. TOMS has since grown from a small store that was distributing from his garage and held board meetings in his kitchen to the foremost name when discussing Socially Responsible Companies, especially ones supporting the One For One model.
So what has grown TOMS to become such a successful world-changing company?
More than anything a brand needs a strong, simple and authentic story. This struck Mycoskie when he first started trying to spread the word about TOMS. He had only 3 stores and was trying to get into more but was feeling a bit discouraged. After an unsuccessful meeting, Mycoskie was checking into a flight and looked down and saw a woman wearing a pair of familiar red shoes. This was the first time he had ever seen a stranger wearing a pair of TOMS.
When he asked the woman about the shoes, she grabbed him and said TOMS was the most amazing company in the world. She then preceded to tell him his own story. When Mycoskie finally interrupted her to tell her who he was, her first question was "Why did you cut your hair?" She had watched all of the videos TOMS posted on YouTube.
So this woman wasn't just a customer, she was an evangelist. Mycoskie then wondered how many people had she told about TOMS if she told the story so enthusiastically to a stranger in an airport. It was at this point Mycoskie realized if TOMS just focused on story and giving, then it didn't need to be spending millions on marketing. From that point, it relentously focused on story.
Mycoskie warned the crowd not to go back to their marketing departments and tell them to find the story. How do you make sure your story is right? It's not found in marketing, it's found in the leader of the organization.
Go on a road trip, visit your stores, take pictures, use Instagram, find the story and then you can lead your company with it. The reason companies are great is because they have a good story.
2) Management by Absence
Mycoskie was influenced by the founder of Patagonia, Yvon Chouinard, who practices an MBA philosophy: Management By Absence. This started in the early days of TOMS because Mycoskie could only get TOMS into stores if he went into them himself and told his story.
In fact, he did 82 trunk shows in 94 days. By being with customers and retailers in the field at this frequency, he couldn't physically be in the office. Because of this, the young staff at TOMS had to make decisions themselves and this made them into stronger executives who still lead to this day.
3) Giving feels good and giving is good business.
Though giving is at the core of TOMS, it's just not about product. If you embed giving into your company, then you will have a more engaged work force.
In keeping with the spirit of the company, TOMS is starting to also look into bringing manufacturing to the cities where they give away shoes. It currently has a test factory in Ethiopia and this may be the first place it can manufacture TOMS in a long term and sustainable way. It's much easier said than done but TOMS is working on getting there. This way they will not only give but they will empower these communities as well.
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