Monday, July 20, 2015

Read Like Crazy: Start Something that Matters

I wanted to read and review Blake Mycoskie's Start Something that Matters almost from the day I launched YCIYWT. The story fascinated me. How did one man make one style of shoe so popular in such a short span of time? TOMS has only been around since 2006, and yet for the number of folks walking around out there in TOMS footwear, you'd think the TOMS shoe had been around longer than the sandalwhich Jesus wore. 

It's not as though the shoes are a clever or convenient twist on one of the classics. Actually, they're somewhat odd-looking, given the looks other twenty-first century, first-world casuals tend toward. The alpargatas are uniquely their own, which ought to have narrowed their demographic. And yet: rich, poor, liberal, conservative, off to the gym or off to a wedding, everyone seems to wear them. How did that happen?

Well, first of all, it turns out Blake Mycoskie may have had resources at his disposal he never realized he had. He was the son of a successful author and he had competed with his sister on The Amazing Race prior to starting TOMS. He had a face to recognize and he had a network. 

Then again, he also had a few things that seem less exotic and impossible to acquire, but which were nonetheless integral in getting his idea off the ground: discipline, determination, courage, and humility. He wrote down on paper the pros and cons of his ideas, working out every detail he could think of before moving forward. He had little education in the area he wanted to break into, shoes, and for that matter not a whole lot in his checking account, but he moved forward with what he had. He approached those in his network (everyone from a polo instructor in Argentina to a wealthy multi-company owner) for advice and help along the way. He graciously learned to accept the word "no." And he did not give up.

More than anything, Mycoskie had a business concept that rocked the boat. When he decided to start a for-profit company dedicated to helping others, retailers could easily get on board with his product. Everyone could bring home a little bacon to fry up in the pan, and yet at the same time, everyone also got to be part of something bigger. Many thought it would not work, but many more were compelled to be a part of it.

Mycoskie's book goes far beyond the story of TOMS. It is a book of many stories, and an excellent resource to anyone starting any sort of business or movement.

What I liked about it: Start Something that Matters is a quick read packed with information. There is no fat in this book. I was able to read most of it in a day, partly because it was short but mostly because the narrative voice is genuine, helpful, hopeful, and down-to-earth. The stories were both human and incredible. It was the first book I read on the topic of business that never left me feeling daunted; I felt that if Blake Mycoskie could climb this mountain, I could, too. 

What I didn't like about it: Some of Mycoskie's advice sounds like luck to me; while tips like, "Feed your employees" and, "Win, lose, or draw, never forget that life goes on" seem perfectly sound, a tip like, "Take advantage of the fact you don't have business cards," rationalizing that this sends the message that you won't spend money needlessly, doesn't match up.

Would I buy this book? I did buy this book! Barnes & Noble now price-matches Amazon, and since I want to support the bookseller, I went through Barnes and I got a bargain. But I was prepared to pay full-price, and it would have been worth it. I can see this being the kind of book I return to again and again when I need the reminder that every startup goes through hard timesit's what I do with those times that will make a difference.

Some quotes for the fridge:

"A few mistakes will seldom sink the entire ship. You may get a hole in the boat and start taking on water, but you aren't going to drown. In general, there is virtually no mistake you can make early on that you can't recover from." - Courtney Reum, VeeV, p. 56

"... if you are starting a new organization by yourself, calling yourself founder and/or CEO makes your company look small, clearly identifying you as the only person within the organization. At another of my earlier companies, one that I founded and led, my card read, 'Vice President of Sales.' If you call yourself a vice president, it implies that there's also a CEO and/or president out there, and you're just one part of a larger staff." - p. 87

Since Mycoskie invented the TOMS model, other companies, like Sackcloth & Ashes, have been able to replicate the concept and continue the movement toward change. You can purchase your own copy of Start Something that Matters at Barnes & Noble or at your local bookstore.

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