In 2006, then 29-year old Blake Mycoskie took a vacation to Argentina to drink some wine, play some polo, and do a little dancing.
It was during a visit to a polo farm that Mycoskie began wondering about the impoverished people who happened to live right next to the polo farms. He questioned, for example, “Why didn’t they have the basic necessities?” They didn’t have running water, bathrooms, or shoes.
Interestingly enough, his polo excursion happened to coincide with a shoe drive that was underway. The drive was a way to collect worn shoes and provide them to the children.
As you can imagine, the shoes were tattered and were either too big or too small. Finding a decent pair was a crapshoot. Despite the drive’s valiant efforts, most children left without a pair of shoes. This fact bothered Mycoskie. So much so that he decided to do something about it.
Mycoskie thought, “What if I came up with a shoe company? And, when I sold a pair, I would give one away.” The idea for the Shoes for Tomorrow Project was born. Of course, the project and company name would later be shortened to Toms Shoes.
Mycoskie, upon his return to L.A., had a problem: he knew nothing about shoes. Ah, but Blake is an entrepreneur and did what entrepreneurs do – he asked lots of questions and assembled the right team members.
Encouraged by what he learned, Blake had 250 pairs of the initial shoe made. This was, he thought, the perfect number to test the concept. Then something akin to a miracle happened – the L.A. Times got a hold of his story and featured Toms Shoes in the calendar section.
As you can imagine, orders exploded, which created a new, but good, problem. After selling from his initial 250 run, he only had 120 shoes left. The Toms Shoes website received 2,200 orders in one day.
In less than a year, Toms grew from Mycoskie’s living room to 8,000 square feet of office space. Today, Toms Shoes has given away over 100 million pairs of shoes.
Toms Shoes is a for-profit company. And, wherever there is profit, there will be competition. As such, the brand has experienced some tough times of late. In fact, some are writing them off. I, of course, can’t predict the future. However, if Toms doesn’t survive, they would have already won by providing the first pair of real shoes to millions.
This is the power of entrepreneurship.