btripp_books (btripp_books) wrote,

A "feel good" business book ...

I've been very fortunate that over the past 8 months running I've “won” something from LibraryThing.com's “Early Reviewer” program (I throw the quotes on “won” because, while it does have a competition aspect, with many more requesters than copies, the exchange of hours for the production/shipping cost of the book is more like volunteering to read/review a book for about 30¢/hour!), and this came to me from that source.

Blake Mycoskie is the founder of TOMS (which is a contraction of TOMorrow's Shoes), famed for giving away a pair to impoverished South American kids for every pair they sell, and Start Something That Matters is sort of an autobiographical story of how he did that, and sort of an “inspirational” book for would-be entrepreneurs. For a book sort of targeted at would-be business owners, this is very “soft and gentle”, going for a “feel good” level in the various stories presented here.

In 2006 he was in the midst of his fourth start-up, at the relatively tender age of 29. He ended up taking a vacation down to Argentina and both encountered the “national footwear” of a canvas shoe called the alpargata, and a charity group that was trying to get shoes for kids. These two elements cross-polinated, and Mycoskie headed back to Los Angeles with a bag of the shoes, and an idea. Obviously, this took off as we're looking at the success (on both sides of the equation) of TOMS five years down the road.

Only the first chapter is specifically about the TOMS story (although elements of it come back in throughout the book), with the rest being Mycoskie's “business philosophy”. To get an overview of this, here are the chapter titles: Find Your Story, Face Your Fears, Be Resourceful Without Resources, Keep It Simple, Build Trust, and Giving Is Good Business.

When I first started in on this review, I looked at all the bookmarks I'd put in and thought I'd have a bunch of copy blocks to put in here, but these were more “ideas” that I wanted to get back to. An example of these is where he talks about studies comparing the effectiveness of stories vs. facts. I've always been a big “facts guy”, and it's unsettling to see how much more can be achieved with stories … leading up to the point that “Stories Resonate More Than Facts” with a follow-up reminiscence of how a lady in an airport lounge launched into a massive rave about TOMS shoes to him, not realizing she was talking to their founder!

In “Face Your Fears”, he recommends starting small (like his initial 250 pairs of shoes), so that you can build the story, and test the market, without big risks, and then make gradual improvements and expansions, while realizing “The Timing Is Never Right”.

It's also amazing how little they had in the early days, and how much they depended on unpaid interns (sourced from CraigsList), and had everybody working in the apartment he shared with other roommates, while said roomies were off at their day jobs! He has assorted suggestions for managing this sort of arrangement, and compares his experience with something like a dozen other start-ups.

He discusses other businesses all through the book, in some cases making them the main focus for a point, and in other to shed light on TOMS. In the “Giving” chapter he looks at various non-profits and for-profit operations that have a substantial charitable aspect to them.

The following is what he puts forward as as part of the Keep It Simple chapter, the quick-and-dirty quiz for getting clear on what your business is about:
THE SIMPLE PLAN

Write one sentence to answer the questions below that pertain to what you are trying to do. For some of you, that could be all of them; for others, it might be just one:
          1) What is your business about?
          2) What do you want to be known for as a person?
          3) Why should someone hire you?
          4) What social cause are you seeking to serve?
          5) If you are designing a product or a service, look at it and then decide: What else can you remove from the design or service and still keep its function intact?

The key is to answer the appropriate questions using a single sentence. If you can't then consider going back to the drawing board until you've honed your answers down to a simple statement.
Something tells me that the folks coming out of Wharton or Kellogg business schools would be confused by this (especially #4), but it sounded especially pithy to me. Of course, I've obviously not come up with a sufficiently compelling answer for #3, given my two and a half years of unemployment!

Start Something That Matters just came out in September, so you're likely to be able to find copies in your local brick-and-mortar book source, but the on-line guys both have this at 39% off, so that's probably your best bet. This is addressed at potential business owners, but it was one of the more enjoyable “business” reads I've had in quite a while, so I'd really recommend it to “all and sundry” for it's “feel good” look at what is possible out there!


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