Book Spotlight: Start Something That Matters

Finished reading: Start Something That Matters by Blake Mycoskie 📚

Over the years, I’ve read a lot of books on business — but none have impacted me quite like this one. Start Something That Matters is that rare chimera of a business book that encourages you to develop simple products communicated through simple stories, and it also emphatically encourages you to bake social responsibility into your business model from day one — not tacked-on later as an after-thought.

Author Blake Mycoskie was visiting the lovely country of Argentina when he couldn’t help but notice a few things:

  • Nearly everyone in Argentina wore simple and beautiful flat shoes called “alpargatas”.

  • Everyone, that is — except those that couldn’t afford shoes. Namely children. He saw children walking through the streets barefoot — and in some neighborhoods, these streets were unclean. There were shards of glass strewn about, pieces of metal and debris …. Diseases were very common in the country due to foot infections that could’ve been prevented by wearing shoes.

  • He also noticed that “shoe drives” were a “thing” over there; concerned individuals would hold shoe drives where they accepted donations of shoes, and then they did their best to distribute those shoes to children in need. There were challenges with this method, however; first off, it relied on people donating, and secondly, the shoes always came in random sizes, so they were never sure if the sizes would actually match the children they’re hoping to donate them to.

Blake wondered …. “What if I start a donation fund, and all the proceeds will go to funding shoe drives in Argentina?” It was a noble idea, but it also faced the same core limitations of the shoe drive (what if the funding dried up?) He then thought … “What if I could bring this fashionable shoe over to the U.S?” He thought there was a market for it there, so he and some friends designed something very similar, but with a more durable sole. Eventually he landed on a sort of hybrid “for-profit but also socially-responsible business model”:

“What if … for every pair you purchase — we donate one pair to a child in need?”

It was simple and beautiful. It told a story in a sentence, and everyone immediately understood what this was all about. Thus TOMS was born in the living room of an apartment in Venice, CA — and the rest is history.

I’m not quite sure what this means for me (and potential future business ventures), but I will say that I was quite inspired by Blake’s story, and I got a lot out of this book. In fact, it’s one that I plan on reading again someday — it was that enjoyable.