This semester at Hiram I am taking a Sociology class centered around the topic of social inequality, which is a big deal...well, everywhere. One of our assigned readings is a book by Blake Mycoskie, the founder and (as he titles it) Chief Shoe Giver of TOMS, a popular shoe brand that many of you have heard of and perhaps even own (and, yeah, it surprised me that his name wasn't Tom, too). The book is called "Start Something That Matters," and it chronicles the birth of the company and also offers advice for other young entrepreneurs looking to start a business that also helps less-fortunate people. Here are some of my thoughts.
To start, I enjoyed reading about the success of TOMS and how he helped pave the way for an entirely new business model, social enterprise, which allows people to be philanthropic while also making a profit. The book showcases all of the nitty-gritty details that go into making not just a business, but a business that is successful. In entrepreneurship you have to take things step by step, no matter how much you want to launch into the big picture. And you have to deal with little failures that will inevitably happen along the way.
Still, even though Mycoskie sometimes talks about rough patches he went through (such as not having a proper office space and being way, way short on shoe orders a couple of times), I think his business, TOMS, was the pinnacle of things going right. In the book, the guy talks about how he just walked into a store wanting to showcase his product and the store’s buyer was in the building and willing to meet with him on the spot! Meanwhile, if I or my friends are simply inquiring about a job at a fast-food restaurant, all we hear is that the manager “isn’t in the store at the moment” (which is a hunk of bologna, in my opinion).
Mycoskie also seems to have no issues with taking out loans and, in his pros and cons list, mentions nonchalantly that if TOMS failed, he’d be out $5,000. I’m fairly certain that $5,000 is more than I make in an entire year of working 20+ hours a week at my minimum wage jobs. Yet, to someone from an affluent background, like Mycoskie, $5,000 isn’t all that big a deal. This floors me.
This is also something that bothers me about how Mycoskie talks about his business. In our reading for last Friday, he talks about how he tried to be as frugal as possible and went as far as to use a local coffee shop’s address as his own and to scratch the names off of other people’s business cards, putting his own name in their place. It seems paradoxical that someone who can brush off a loss of $5,000 can turn around and be stingy about spending $10-30 on some nice, personalized business cards. So, while I do agree with him that new startup businesses should be careful and thoughtful about their spending habits, I am also annoyed that people like Mycoskie, who have resources out the wazoo, refuse to use them for something as simple as a business card.
Overall, I have some conflicted feelings about this book. On the one hand, I’m happy that Mycoskie’s business was a success and paved the way for other social enterprises, showing that you can make a profit while also helping others. On the other hand, he was able gain his success because of privileges that he doesn’t often acknowledge, which is (clearly) problematic to me.