Why giving is good for business: TOMS founder Blake Mycoskie shares six steps for building a global social enterprise

For entrepreneur Blake Mycoskie, the act of giving is fundamental to business success.

Mycoskie is the founder of popular ethical shoe brand TOMS and during a visit to Melbourne this month, he advocated for continuing cohesion between business and philanthropy.

The 39-year-old is attributed with pioneering the one-for-one business model: for each pair of TOMS shoes purchased, a pair is given to a child in need.

“Giving doesn’t just feel good it’s good for business and there’s nothing wrong with that,” Mycoskie says.

This year marks the 10th anniversary of the TOMS brand, which Mycoskie founded in 2006 after rising to notoriety on US television show The Amazing Race as the contestant who caused his team to lose the million-dollar prize by just four minutes.

TOMS now gives away shoes in 60 countries and according to The Guardian, the company was valued at $US625 million ($890 million) when private equity group Bain Capital purchased a 50% stake in 2014.

Speaking at an event to launch a partnership with Australian NGO Save the Children and the Australian Olympic Committee, Mycoskie shared the story of how TOMS started and his top tips for an ethical business.


1. Use entrepreneurship and business to solve the problem

TOMS began when Mycoskie took a month off to visit Argentina, after spending between 80 and 100 hours a week launching an online driving education company. While on holiday, Mycoskie spent a day donating used shoes to children in Argentina.

The day felt initially heart-warming but Mycoskie says it led to pangs of guilt.

“What happens when people stop making donations? When there’s a hurricane or a tsunami and people are putting their efforts for that?” Mycoskie says.

For these children, who would need new shoes almost every five months from growth spurts, one random donation would not suffice.

Mycoskie used his business background to consider the shoe business, the basic maths involved and the significant mark-up that would allow consumers to buy a pair of shoes for themselves and fund a donated pair.

This sparked the TOMS philosophy: shoes today shoes tomorrow.


2. One-for-one is a human idea

The concept behind TOMS shoes, of being able to buy something and help someone at the same time, is a very human idea that transcends geographical boundaries, according to Mycoskie.

“It’s not a Californian idea, it’s not an American idea, it’s not an Australian idea it’s a human idea,” he says.

Just a year after starting the venture, 10,000 pairs of TOMS had been sold.

“Today we’ve been able to give 50 million pairs of shoes,” Mycoskie says.

“The reason we’ve been able to grow and evolve is because I believe humans truly want to help one another.

“I believe that given the choice between purchasing something where there’s going to be profit on the bottom line versus one that can be caring for the planet and its people they will make that choice.”


3. It doesn’t have to be a big idea

Mycoskie is often asked for his “epiphany moment” for when the notion for TOMS struck him but he says a winning idea doesn’t have to be particularly big.

“Often times when a business has success things get kind of mythical and the truth is it wasn’t a big idea,” he says.

“It was a very small idea: wanting to help 250 kids. And had it only stayed that way and had it only helped those 250 kids, it still would’ve been awesome.”

“The truth is had it not worked it still would’ve been an idea worth creating.

“When I think back to the life-changing moment that everyone wants to talk about, it wasn’t the idea, it was actually when we first went to deliver the shoes to the village.”

4. Your personal brand matters

“Giving feels good…and that in itself is a reason to do it,” Mycoskie says.

“Giving incorporated in an authentic can have a positive impact on your business and your personal brand.”

Mycoskie believes spending on traditional advertising is not necessary: if your story is important, your supporters will tell your story.

“What we found is our customers became our marketers, no one who wore a pair of TOMS in that first year or two didn’t tell our story,” he says.

“We didn’t ask them to but they were proud to tell the story.”

5. Have a purpose

“Business is all about people and how you can track, retain and motivate and what I’ve found is the best way to keep people motivated is to give them a purpose and not just a pay check,” Mycoskie says.

By having a vision to be a for-profit social enterprise business, TOMS is able to keep consumers invested in the TOMS mission.

“We have a purpose beyond profit,” Mycoskie says.

6. One-for-one becomes one-for-something

The future of TOMS is now in not only donating pairs of shoes, but offering other services, such as vaccinations or eye surgery.

TOMS are now manufacturing in many of the countries where the giving takes place, thereby adding an additional aspect of supporting social enterprises, something Mycoskie hopes other businesses will adapt.

“When you make your life about something that is more than your own personal gain then people want to partner with you, they want to see you be successful,” he says.


Originally published on SmartCompany on January 27, 2016.

STEM professionals over the age of 45 stereotyped at work: Survey

Half of all professionals in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics professions are stereotyped as “resistant to change” based on their age.

The Wasted Potential survey, conducted by Professionals Australia, reviewed the workplace experience of STEM professionals over the age of 45 and found 16.6% of respondents received “less favourable” treatment on the basis of their age.

Almost a fifth of professionals reported they had been sidelined for promotions due at least partially to their age, with close to a quarter stating their employer was less likely to invest in development for older staff compared to younger staff.

Of the 1671 STEM professionals surveyed, 18.1% worked in companies with less than 100 employees, 19.97% worked in companies with 101-500 employees and 61.93% worked in organisations with more than 501 employees.

Chris Walton, chief executive of Professionals Australia, told SmartCompany this is the first time his organisation has conducted research about mature workers in STEM fields and the report highlights a culture of stereotyping.

“Essentially you’ve got incredibly skilled staff that are both critical for the business – particularly who we surveyed with STEM skills – which are clearly essential to business with digital disruption and yet these very people who are surveyed are not having an opportunity to develop the next generation and are leaving early,” he says.

“The Prime Minister has described the importance of Australia’s future relying on an ideas boom to drive productivity and innovation… critical to that innovative future will be STEM staff and yet this report shows we are not developing the next generation of STEM professionals.”

The report shows 41% of respondents report their employer does not currently offer development or training for mature-age professionals.

Eve Ash, psychologist and chief executive of Seven Dimensions, told SmartCompany businesses shouldn’t assume that age is an issue when it comes to training and career advancement.

“Everything needs to change because people bring different qualities and experience to work and we can no longer assume that because someone is older they are incompetent…  in fact it’s often the opposite,” she says.

“I think there is an issue that people who at any age need to be really open to learning and open to change otherwise they will be left behind because you’ve got to keep up and you’ve got to be really enthusiastic about what’s changing….and that’s why especially in those professions there are competency professional development points to maintain.”

Ash says businesses shouldn’t rush to enforce policies but instead run discussions that encourage openness to diversity and to appreciate experience.

She says performance reviews or appraisals are one way to review performance standards or deliverables.

“People’s performance should be managed no matter what age 20 or 80,” she says.

“Some people have limitations and some people have amazing strength and the really good [business] leaders know how to best put them.”

For Walton, what businesses have to do is simple.

“What can employers do? They can support mentoring programs, they can have better transition to retirement planning including flexible working arrangements,” he says.

“I don’t think we need to tell business the basics of developing a younger professional they know they’re not work-ready out of university.

“It’s this older generation of professional that are critical of developing that generation before it’s too late.”


Originally published on SmartCompany on January 25, 2016.

Etsy a full-time job for a quarter of the online marketplace’s sellers


Selling homemade wares on Etsy is no longer a hobby or just an extra stream of income for many creative people, with more than a quarter of Australian sellers turning the platform into their sole occupation.

Two thirds of this group consider their Etsy store to be a business, even though in Australia Etsy sellers have an average weekly income under $800.

These findings form part of a new report released by Etsy Australia dubbed “the new face of creative entrepreneurship”, which surveyed a sample 770 Australian Etsy sellers from December 4 to January 5.

According to the survey, 94% of Etsy sellers in Australia are female and they are twice as likely to be under 35 compared to other Australian business owners. Many sellers are also parents with children at home.

The majority of sellers are city based (73%) and 67% are university educated.

Sellers are self-starters and majority run their businesses without additional financial help, with less than 1% of sellers taking out a business loan.

Helen Souness, managing director for Etsy in Australia and Asia, said in a statement the report is the first of its kind for the Australian branch of Etsy.

“What’s clear from this report is our sellers’ desire to run businesses on their own terms and in ways that support their creative and professional goals,” she said.

Since arriving onto the scene in 2005, Etsy has grown to host more than 1.5 million active Etsy sellers globally.

Etsy is appealing for many sellers for its quick and affordable listings, with prices starting from 20c a piece, and success stories like the husband and wife who turned 30c into $5000 in four months.

Sellers also are very collaborative in building their business with networking, offering advice and being part of online support groups or Etsy teams.

Melbourne Etsy seller Petina Walker is the leader of one such support network, The Australian Press and PR team, which offers help and advice to help Australian and New Zealand Etsy sellers get more press.

She supports herself working full-time running her two Etsy shops Pepper Ink and Geek Ink, both of which produce niche custom temporary tattoos for grownups.

Pepper Ink was launched in 2012 and focuses on artistic vintage and custom designs, whilst Geek Ink allows shoppers to embrace their fandom with Doctor Who, Harry Potter and Star Wars tattoos.

Her co-founder Francesco Fazzini told Women’s Agenda’s sister site, SmartCompany, Etsy helps sellers of handcrafted items find their customers.

“Customers go to Etsy to find unique and beautifully designed products so our kind of customer is already shopping there,” he says.

Working relentlessly out of their Fitzroy studio has seen these creative entrepreneurs turn over more than $110k last year from their Etsy businesses.

“I love all things handmade and community and have always wanted to work for myself. Etsy was the obvious answer for a unique business like ours as it already brings buyers from all over the world,” he says.

“The majority of our customers are international and they would never have found us with a bricks-and-mortar store in Melbourne.”

The report proposes an “Etsy economy” that offers an alternative approach to traditional retail models.

Sellers reported being focused on keeping their businesses at a manageable scale, with close to three quarters of sellers not looking to employ any more people and not considering taking out a loan to expand.

Fazzini says the storytelling and community feel of Etsy, combined with its ease of use, make it a winner for Pepper Ink.

“(Customers) want personal touches and to know the stories of our business,” he says.

“Not being techy at all – it’s also easy to set up shop compared to building your own website. You also have a great community with other sellers supporting and cheering each other on.”


Originally published on Women’s Agenda and SmartCompany on January 19, 2016.