“Start Something That Matters” by Blake Mycoskie

Before reading the book, I had never heard of TOMS Shoes. All I knew was that for every book purchased, a new book will be given to a child in need; and 50% of the book’s proceeds will be donated to the Start Something That Matters Fund.

Then I was drawn into the TOMS story: Blake Mycoskie was inspired by a 2006 trip to Argentina and a woman whose organization donated shoes to children in need. Mycoskie started TOMS (“Shoes for a Better Tomorrow” which became “Tomorrow’s Shoes” and then simply “TOMS”), vowing that for every pair of alpargata they sell, a new pair of shoes will be given to a child in need.

Filled with personal narratives, inspiring stories, and photos, “Start Something That Matters” (2011) challenges us to redefine capitalism and find solutions through entrepreneurship, not charity.

To help others combine a for-profit company with a social mission, Mycoskie highlights six key elements to making a difference:

1. Find your story. Facts and products are important, but a story evokes emotion and connects with people, turning customers into supporters. Commit to telling your story, find story partners and influence makers, and know your audience.

2. Face your fears. Focus on what you can control: your actions. Surround yourself with energetic people and inspirational quotes, read biographies, think small, and ask for advice.

3. Be resourceful without resources. Improvise. Find enthusiastic interns, be frugal, use social media, forget titles, create memorable business cards – and always reward your employees.

4. Keep it simple. Simplicity of design = easy to use. Simplicity of mission = focus on value. Simplicity of work space = no distractions. Simplicity in life = peace of mind and greater creativity.

5. Build trust. “The better your employees feel about their job, the better your business performs,” Mycoskie advises. Talk openly with your staff, give away autonomy, trust that your employees will grow into their roles, treat customers as you would like to be treated, be as open as possible, and (this should be a given) use your own products.

6. Giving is good business. You can make money and make a difference too. Give more than money, think about your special skills, incorporate giving at work, give early, don’t get overwhelmed, and listen to those you give to.

As Mycoskie’s story unfolds, you can see his shift from making money to helping people to inspiring people to help others. We meet other entrepreneurs who were inspired to make a difference, like Lauren Bush and Elle Gustafson, who founded FEED Projects, which donates a year of school lunches for every bag sold; Scott Harrison, who founded charity: water, which uses 100% of all donations for water projects in developing nations, while raising administrative costs separately; and Tyler Eltringham, who founded OneShot, which donates a vaccine to the meningitis belt of Africa for every college student who receives a meningococcal meningitis vaccination.

Read inspiring stories and join the movement at www.StartSomethingThatMatters.com. As Mycoskie reminds us, “The most important step of all is the first step” (page 184).

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