SXSW: Blake Mycoskie on the Power of “One For One”

TOMS Shoes founder Blake Mykoskie offered up the final keynote at SXSW today. Mycoskie founded the company after an inspirational trip to Argentina where he ran into a group of people donating used shoes to kids without them. After returning to the US he asked himself the question – why must such services be addressed only by charity? Why not start a for-profit company to address the same thing?

The concept is simple: Buy a pair of shoes, and a second pair is donated to needy child somewhere in the world – in other words “one for one.” The popularity of the ‘one for one’ concept exploded – from a small Los Angeles boutique to nationwide distribution the company has received massive media attention and experienced massive growth. To date, over a million shoes have been donated so far.

More on TOMS history and details can be read about here, but Mycoskie offers key take-a-ways’ for other business and some exciting news on the future of his one for one model.

Essentially, giving doesn’t just feel good, it’s a great business strategy in three key ways:

1) When you incorporate giving in a real, authentic way – your customers become your best marketers. It may even mean spending less money, or even no money on advertising as customers and social media take care of it for you.

2) Additionally, you attract and retain fantastic employees who care. The greatest competitive advantage, Mycoskie says, is committed employees. Even by small scale events – like offering a day off to volunteer, you build a team cohesiveness that just can’t be replicated in other ways.

3) Finally, you attract fantastic partners – Two of TOMS most rewarding partners, Ralph Lauren, who designed shoes for TOMS radically changed the outlook of other major designers, and AT&T wouldn’t have been seen value in TOMS had it not been for the giving component of how the company operates.

What’s the next of “one-for-one?”

Standing next to a 6 foot tall “mystery box” on stage, Mycoskie boldly decalred that TOMS is no longer a shoe company. In June, TOMS will unveil a new concept (literally hidden the box) that will make them the “one for one” company.

Exactly what was in the box is unknown, but the presumption is that TOMS will give it away when a similar product is purchased.

There’s no question that TOMS has hit upon a phenomenal new way to raise funds for projects in needy areas and it’s likely to inspire other companies to make this kind of giving a key aspect of how they do business. Fantastic and inspired.

Nick Aster is a new media architect and the founder of has grown to become one of the web's leading sources of news and ideas on how business can be used to make the world a better place.

Prior to TriplePundit Nick worked for Mother Jones magazine, successfully re-launching the magazine's online presence. He worked for, managing the technical side of the publication for 3 years and has also been an active consultant for individuals and companies entering the world of micro-publishing. He earned his stripes working for Gawker Media and Moreover Technologies in the early days of blogging.

Nick holds an MBA in sustainable management from the Presidio School of Management and graduated with a BA in History from Washington University in St. Louis.

4 responses

  1. I was inspired by Tom’s Shoes and started a Buy One Give One company last year and I will agree that it feels good every day doing what I do. I’m very much looking forward to learning more about this next step for Blake and Tom’s Shoes!

    1. Thanks MIchael. You know, I was going to add an addendum to the post, but thought I’d let stand as Mycoskie laid it out – definitely a feel good story one wants to embrace.

      Even though there are other ways one could donate money, the reality is that most people won’t donate anything unless encouraged to by something enticing. Somehow the TOMS model accomplishes this. There be a lot of silly glam to it, but you have to give them some credit for simplicity. It’s a small company growing really fast with the troubles that contains. Whatever their next move is, I would suspect they’re trying to think more deeply than just giving a way shoes.

      If I really wanted to get nit-picky, I’d suggest looking at the culture of dependency that donations of any kind can produce. But I want to give TOMS the benefit of the doubt that they’re moving somewhere bigger than just handing out shoes.

      Time will tell!

    2. From the article ‘It’s too convenient to hand our credit cards to businesses that promise to do good’

      Rubbish. ANY organisation that donates in any way shape or form can be crticised. We can never make it too easy for people to become enagaged. Tom’s does a good thing… separates people from their money to benefit others. Period.

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