The world is changing, people are seeking out brands for the difference they’re making rather than the profit and TOMS is leading the pack. Rather than keeping their pathway to success top secret, they want everyone to know about it and be inspired to do the same via their own journey.
Speaking with TOMS Managing Director John Elliott is at first so much fun, you're oblivious to the fact your perspective on the world will be significantly altered post-conversation. From casually talking about work life balance, which includes an impressive shoe-selling resume on his behalf, you’re immersed in the findings of a man who is intent on doing a ‘truckload of good’ and inspiring others to do the same. The greatness of TOMS and their One for One philosophy spills into a conversation on how everyone, from solo entrepreneurs to CEOs of big businesses can play their part in making a difference, because as John asks “why wouldn’t you?”
TOMS began in 2006 with the explicit aim to use business to affect positive change. Founder Blake Mycoskie (also titled TOMS Chief Shoe Giver) visited Argentina in 2006 and watched young children in the villages racing around without shoes. So prompted the idea of creating a sustainable and profitable business based on the concept of selling a pair of shoes would result in giving a new pair of shoes to a child in need.
“TOMS has now donated over 70 million pairs of shoes across 70 countries since 2006,” John says. “It’s a really simple idea that’s totally transparent, the One for One principle and I think it really pricked the consciousness of consumers especially with millenials, because research shows 88 percent of millenials would prefer to buy from socially responsible businesses. Why wouldn’t you want to help someone if you could just through the simple act of buying a necessity like shoes?”
While John does put TOMS on a bit of a pedestal for what the company has done so far, he says they won’t be resting on their laurels anytime soon. Instead, he believes the company is constantly evolving as they try to do more for the global village (they now sell eyewear, using the one for one principle to restore sight and sell coffee, which leads to supplying clean water) and encourages others to adopt their own mechanisms for bettering the world. Here’s what John shared;
1. Purpose over profit - One for one doesn’t suit everybody and nor should it, but elevating purpose does suit every business and it’s absolutely necessary. Become an elevating purpose machine in your life and business by asking where you can give back and how that looks.
2. Define your own success – Work out what success means to you because if you let society define it for you, you better be a billionaire with lots of fast cars. What a crappy version of success! Make sure you look at what’s important to you in life, determine your success based on that and then tread your own path.
3. Incorporate your positive social outcome from the beginning – People say to me all the time “oh I’m just a start up so we’ll donate once we’re successful and making X amount of money”, but you need to factor it into the business plan from the beginning. I think being successful is giving back, so don’t wait to incorporate a positive social outcome because you’ll find people will engage with you much quicker when you have that and it’s tremendously fulfilling to be on that journey.
4. Keep your message simple – There are a lot of companies giving back which is wonderful in itself, but plenty say they’re giving one percent of profits to here or there but what does that mean? How much profit are they making? It really doesn’t mean anything to us so when you make it really simple and easy to see what good you are doing, people will engage.
5. Make your business affiliations count – One plus one should equal four. A lot of people come to me and say they love TOMS, which is great, and ask how we can work together but you can’t connect with business. Make sure the result of collaborating is multiplied. We worked with Westfield last year and hosted a pop up store where Westfield provided an empty shop and its staff members volunteered to man it so we not only gave 657 shoes to those in need, restored the eyesight of 44 people and provided 29 birthing kits from the pop up – we also donated all retail profits which was $16,500 to local charity, the Holdsworth Community who were also involved by providing volunteers in-store. By working with others, we amplify our positive social impact.
6. Internal communications is king – When you’re elevating purpose in your business, it’s much more important to have really good internal communications and tell your staff what results you’re getting because your staff become your voice and they go home and tell their friends and family, how cool is this, the company I work for has done all these great things. Communicating well internally and engaging your team creates a much more authentic way of getting your message out.
7. Live responsibly 24/7 - How I am Monday to Friday is exactly how I am all the time, my personal brand doesn’t change when I’m at work. Take responsibility for what you’re doing because it doesn’t matter who your boss is or what political party is in power, we all have the opportunity to do good stuff. So take ownership for what you can change even if it’s in small ways, the world becomes a better place when we take responsibility for it. Do something today.
8. Don’t try to be the next big thing – The worst thing to think is how do I become the next global business rockstar, because if that’s what your inspiration is, it’s sort of self-serving and it shouldn’t be ego-driven. If you have an ability to elevate purpose with a really cool idea that is self-sustaining, absolutely start it! But be adaptable if that idea doesn’t work, go somewhere else. If you just do good stuff you’ll attract other people doing good things and who knows where it will lead. I wasn’t the guy who came up with TOMS but when I heard about it, I thought, this is something I have to be a part of and now I’m in the fortunate position to be in this vehicle that really helps the global village. Put your ego away and engage in things that do good stuff.
9. Be mindful of all stakeholders – I’m on the board for B Corps, which represents corporations who pursue a triple bottom line or maximising their impact on people, profit and planet rather than solely maximising return to shareholders. It’s easy to say you’re going to use your business to do good, but how? B Corps knows how to define that and not only shows you where you are today, it provides a roadmap on where you can go tomorrow.
10. Create opportunities for feedback – Engage with consumers, welcome feedback they’re giving and really listen. Social media becomes really important here but also get out to events where you can meet your customers face to face and hear what they’re thinking. Attend legitimate events that feel right. We went to the Byron Bay Surf Festival and collaborated with Patagonia, which is a great brand in itself, and met people. Have an open heart and share parts of yourself, and by doing that, you’ll find people want to do the same.
If the philosophies of TOMS and John Elliott resonate, come down to the One Day Without Shoes event at Cottesloe Beach on May 12.