Start Something that Matters

It seemed only natural as I start to build a space that teaches people how to run a values-based business, I would go to the O.G. of the industry to learn the tricks of the trade.  I'm happy to say I was not disappointed and learned many things.

Although this book was written in 2012, and many "ground-breaking" books that are more than a few years old can feel dated and out of touch with our current landscape, the story of Blake Mycoskie (who I will now refer to as Blake like we are old friends...) and TOMS did not.  The main points of the book are concepts that remain true today and probably well into the future: find your story, face your fears, be resourceful, keep it simple, and build trust.

I would not be me if I didn't point out that one of my major takeaways was that one of the reasons Blake was able to do what he did with TOMS is that he did not need to live off the money from day 1 - and seemingly neither did his early team.  He hired interns and they all sort of learned the business together - and yes, the ones who worked hard and hung in there were rewarded with amazing roles at a super-star company, but the pool was limited to people who were able to work long hours for no pay in his apartment. 

It reminded me of how I felt in the days I worked for Planned Parenthood.  We were doing what most of us considered to be the most important and necessary work of our lives, and many of us were not able to pay our bills.  I struggled constantly and found myself resenting the women I worked with who had a husband that supported them or had family money and did not need to support themselves on a non-profit salary.  And, that feeling is one of the things that led me to embrace this idea that we can and should make money AND make the world better. I don't know how we overcome this reality, but I've also {mostly} evolved to a place where I don't think this truth outweighs the good done by these companies and organizations.

Back to Blake's story.  Blake was traveling and saw something he didn't like (kids without shoes) so he created a strategy to fix it (donate a pair of shoes every time you sell one).  One of the biggest "aha" moments for me in reading the book is that it was his entrepreneurial spirit that made TOMS happen.  Seeing a problem and figuring out how to fix it - that is the crux of what being an entrepreneur is to me.  As entrepreneurs, we have the opportunity, and I believe the responsibility, to use that ingenuity to create solutions that bring social change.  It's how I feel about creating the Space - I live in a town where we lack a sense of community among creatives, entrepreneurs, and freelancers.  We also lack programming on how to run a business (social good business or otherwise) that is current and acknowledges the changing digital and economic landscape.  So I'm going to create one!

One of the other things I liked about this book is that it is a light easy read and leaves you feeling hopeful about the world.  Blake tells the story, not only of TOMS but of other socially-good businesses.  He shares how people saw a need and created a solution that would fix it.  He talks about the importance of strong leadership and keeping your mission at the forefront of everything you do.  It's all quite inspirational and left me feeling like I am so passionate about what I am doing that there is absolutely no way it isn't going to work.

And then he says, "No matter what happens, win, lose, or draw, never forget that life goes on."  Probably not the most inspirational quote in the book, but definitely one that stuck with me.  Failed startups worldwide have taught us that the very best ideas for solutions don't always become the best companies (or even sustainable companies), and that is okay as well.  One of my favorite things to tell people is that baseball players make millions of dollars by hitting the ball only 30% of the time.  The failures teach us much about who we are, how the world works, and what to try next.  But, if you aren't operating from that place of your story - or as people say, your "WHY" - then you will not have the energy to get up and bat again (and again and again and again).  You only have to be successful 30% of the time to do as well as major league athletes (who make millions), so that should be inspirational to us all!

Blake also talks about one of my favorite subjects - how you hire and treat your employees.  He says, "If a company has the right employees, they won't take advantage of paid days off - they'll leave only when it makes the most sense for them to do so."  He is talking about a trend to offer unlimited time off (referencing specifically Netflix) - and companies who have implemented this policy.  He uses this (and many other tenents of values-based business) to remind us of and reinforce his final point: Giving is Good Business.

Blake ends the book by discussing how the best businesses are the ones that are good not only because they help people,  but also good because they make money. Incorporating giving into your business model allows you to attract the best employees, the best partners, and the best clients - which leads to a business that makes money and becomes sustainable.  We are moving away from the decades-old philosophy that says the best businesses are the ones that bring the best profits to a model where the businesses effect on and impact in the community (world?) are what matters the most.

In the final pages of the book, Blake says the following:

When we first began, the goal was to create a for-profit company that could help relieve the pain and suffering felt by children around the world who do not have shoes.  And that objective continues to be a powerful driver for me and everyone else at TOMS.  But recently my attitude has shifted. Today I would say that my goal is to influence other people to inspire others to start something that matters, whether it's a for-profit business or a nonprofit organization.  I feel a deep sense of responsibility to share everything we have learned at TOMS, so that as many others as possible can start something important. 

To this, I'd like to say, "count me in and consider me one of your success stories." I recently discovered an old blog that I wrote in 2011.  A post from November 15, 2011, says, "You know how I feel about TOMS. Why can't I start something like that?"  And now I am.

If you'd like to check the book out too, click the link above to purchase through my Amazon Affiliate account.  And once you've read the book, I'd love to read your comments below!