Blake Mycoskie

TOM’S Founder and Chief Shoe Giver, Blake Mycoskie, lectured about his experiences as a social entrepreneur and his ONE for ONE movement at Hogg Auditorium on Wednesday night. After the lecture, The Daily Texan sat down with Mycoskie to discuss his journey and his latest business venture, TOMs Roasting Co., a new coffee brand, which first debuted during this year’s South by Southwest. 

The Daily Texan: How do you balance associating TOMS with the story versus selling it as a product?

Blake Mycoskie: Our story, especially seven yeas ago, was so radical and no one ever heard of it and so then over time our story has become very popular and one that has been shared in many forms of media and me speaking and what not, and so the story has really kind of helped carry the growth of the brand but as we grow. What’s really important for the sustainability of our model is that if you wear a pair of the classics, that you’re going to also maybe try the wedges or the ballet flats. We really had to invest in the product and look at ourselves more, not just as a story telling company but as a product company, and that’s shifted with some of the hires that we’ve done and the way that our executive structure is set. So, we brought in some really amazing product people that care about our story and are also obsessed with the product. You got to have a good product.

DT: From the two years you did spend at SMU, what aspects of college life do you attribute to the person you are today? 

BM: So, my first business was this laundry business and one of the ways we had customers was I would go to sorority houses on Monday nights when they had their meetings, after they had dinner, and it was super embarrassing, right? Like, I was trying to date some of those girls, you know? I would stand up there and I would speak about our laundry service and I remember I used to feel like I was going to throw up every time I did it. And so, because I did that so much in the laundry business, that began my comfort level with talking in front of lots of people. I think that a big part of what has helped TOMS grow is my ability to communicate it to large groups of people who then hopefully communicate it to others. Just in general, I think having to do that — because that was the only way we could build our business — it was a necessity and that necessity taught me how to not have stage fright and tell stories.

DT: What’s your biggest piece of advice for college students today?

BM: It’s a very easy piece of advice and it’s something I realized a couple years ago when I started speaking a lot. The most important thing when you leave college, especially from a job standpoint, is to take a job that you’re deeply interested and passionate about. Do not take the job for money, because the truth is, the delta between your peers that get the highest paying job and the lowest paying job is really not that much money in the scheme of your life. Instead of taking a job that you really aren’t that excited about, but you’re going to make ten thousand more dollars a year, you’re still going to have roommates and all the stuff you have when you’re starting out, right? So what I say is even if you’re working for basically free and having to live with three other people and eating ramen noodles, it’s better to do that because you’re going to learn more and you’re going to get more passionate. People who get good at something end up making a lot more money down the road. What’s really important, for the first five to ten years of your career, is to focus on what you’re passionate about and not what’s going to pay you the most.

DT: What is the most challenging part of your job? 

BM: The travel, I mean I enjoy it when I’m doing it, but it does put stress on my relationships and what not because I do travel about 200 days out of the year.

DT: Why did you choose to debut the first TOMs coffee shop in Austin?

BM: I was actually living here off and on for the past two years with my wife, and so when I decided that we were going to get into the coffee business, I wanted the first one to be in my backyard. I love Austin, I was always going to have a place here, it’s just part of my DNA and I also thought that the location on South Congress... We discovered that and no one even knew that was even for rent cause it was all covered in trees and bushes so I realized that it was a one of a kind location and it really could be an outpost for people to go and hang out and have a commune.

DT: How do you like your coffee? 

BM: I take a single espresso shot in the morning usually around 6 a.m. We have an espresso blend called carpe diem which is always how I sign my name and then I usually have another one at three or four if I have a late night of work.

DT: You’re known as an entrepreneur, an author and a philanthropist. Is there anything else we should know about you?

BM: I love fly-fishing. But I think those are all nice things. I mean, I have lots of hobbies, but those, those are good. 

Blake Mycoskie, founder of TOMS, said he attributes his company’s success to its commitment to giving back as part of the Texas Cowboys’ Annual Lectureship on Wednesday.

Mycoskie said TOMS’ “one for one” business approach, which is specific to social entrepreneurship, engages customers more effectively than other business models do. TOMS, founded in 2006, began by selling canvas shoes and donating one pair for each pair purchased and has expanded this system to other products such as eye wear and coffee. 

“When I first started this, I had this spontaneous response to helping kids, and I had this amazing feeling about giving, and giving felt really good, and it still feels amazing,” Mycoskie said. “As we were developing more shoes over the last couple of years, I started to recognize that everyone was calling us a shoe business, but I always thought of TOMS as the ‘one for one’ business.”

Mycoskie said TOMS’ success comes from allowing the customer to experience giving back while buying the product.

“I always thought that the magic of what we were doing wasn’t necessarily just in the shoe,” Mycoskie said. “While I love our shoes … The [customer] gets to experience the brand or experience the idea that they buy something and help somebody at the same time, and that’s the ‘one for one’ business,” 

TOMS has donated roughly 10 million pairs of shoes to children in need since 2006, according to the company’s website.

“Giving doesn’t just feel good,” Mycoskie said. “It’s actually really good forbusiness.”

Matt Bowman, a mechanical engineering senior and committee coordinator for Texas Cowboys, said Cowboys looks to inspire students at the University in hopes of developing future entrepreneurs.

“[We are] all about giving back to the community, whether it be the University or our philanthropy,” Bowman said. “[Mycoskie] does so much to give back to his community, [through] his ‘one for one’ model, and what we really want to do is bring him to the University and spread his knowledge. … Maybe one day we’ll develop the next TOMS.”

Tom Rhea, psychology junior and Texas Cowboys Lectureship co-chair, said the Cowboys was not interested in attracting a speaker for the sole purpose of “filling seats.”

“We are meant to serve not only the University, but the entire city of Austin,” Rhea said. “We wanted to bring someone who had that mindset of service and passion to our campus.”

Barefoot, with their soles blackened by the pavement, students endured cracked sidewalks and hot asphalt Tuesday to raise awareness of global poverty.

About 30 students participated in the joint “One day without shoes” event co-hosted by TOMS shoes and ONE, an advocacy group that fights extreme poverty and preventable diseases. The students walked from the Drag to the Capitol.

The campaign defines extreme poverty as anyone living on less than $1.25 a day, said Paulina Sosa, ONE’s Austin congressional district leader and a philosophy senior at UT. She said the organization fights different roots of poverty to create a sustainable way for communities and families to get on their own two feet.

“This is going to show that Austin cares about poverty not only on the local level, but the global level,” Sosa said. “It’s a symbolic way to speak out as a community and speak out to our elected officials.“

Sosa said people donated about 100 shoes to benefit four local charities: SafePlace, Street Youth Ministries, Saint Louise House and Mobile Loaves and Fishes.

Government junior Rosa Gutierrez said the founder of TOMS shoes, Blake Mycoskie, inspired her to organize a campaign on campus. She said the first time she heard about TOMS’ donation program — each time a person buys a pair of TOMS shoes, another pair is donated to a child — was when she heard Mycoskie speak on campus last year.

“The whole world is coming together today,” Gutierrez said. “There’s over 100,000 people around the nation who went barefoot to speak for the people who can’t speak for themselves.”

Sociology junior Crystal Guevara said her mother, a native of Guatemala, did not have shoes until she was 10 years old.

“I have a sense of personal responsibility to raise awareness where children don’t have the bare essentials in this world,” Guevara said. “I feel it’s important for university students to break out of their bubble and become aware of other problems in the world, even the smallest ones.”

Terry Cole, the founder of Street Youth Ministry, a ministry for street-dependent 17- to 25-year-old transients, said every week there are 100 new homeless youth living around the edge of UT. He said many of these street youths are invisible to UT students. He said he notices that first-time volunteers with Street Youth Ministry begin to understand them better.

“It’s not ‘us’ and ‘them’ anymore,” Cole said. “It begins with getting people to think about what is the compassionate response. We’re always going to have poverty, but we don’t have to have dumb poverty. We don’t need poverty [from things] that we can fix easily.”