As founder and chief shoe giver at TOMS, a retail company with a mission of social entrepreneurship -- Blake Mycoskie launched his company eight years ago intent on giving back. The premise of TOMS was simple: For every purchased pair of shoes another pair would be donated to children in need in 60 countries all over the world.
The spirit of this trademarked "One for One" philosophy has informed how TOMS has grown, as the company added eyewear to their repertoire and moved into other ventures.
Last year, TOMS Marketplace was launched -- a digital hub that calls attention to similarly socially-minded companies and gives customers an opportunity to shop with a cause in mind.
And this spring, TOMS got into the coffee business, directly trading with the farmers that grow their beans and giving a week of clean water to the communities that need it most for every bag sold.
We caught up with Mycoskie, an award-winning serial entrepreneur, former Amazing Race competitor and the bestselling author of Start Something That Matters, to talk about always putting the customer first and the importance of following your passion, wherever it takes you.
Q: Knowing what you know now, what would you have done differently when you were first starting up?
A: I would have never decided to enter a business where only a handful of companies or customers can determine your fate.
Q: What do you think would have happened if you had had this knowledge then?
A: I wouldn't have tried to start a cable network [Reality Central in 2003]. I tried to start a reality TV cable network and ultimately failed, because we could not get necessary distribution on the big cable operator platforms.
Q: How do you think young entrepreneurs might benefit from this insight?
A: Even if you have the best idea in the world and tons of customers that want it, if there is a platform, channel, retailer that will get in between you and your customers, you could have a problem. If they love what you are doing, that's great, but if they don't, you have to figure out a way to get directly to the end user with your product and service.
Q: Besides inventing a time machine, how would you have realized this wisdom sooner?
A: I would have read more business biographies. The most successful entrepreneurs who write them are transparent about the mistakes they have made and what you can learn from them.
Q: What are you glad you didn’t know then that you know now? Why?
A: How hard it is to start a shoe business. How hard it is to build a business when you are committed to giving something away every time you sell something in a one-for-one manner, and lastly, how many red eye flights you would have to take to save money on hotel rooms!
Q: What is your best advice for aspiring entrepreneurs?
A: Focus on your passion. Nothing else matters.
-This interview was edited for clarity and brevity.