Q&A with TOMs Founder and Chief Shoe Giver, Blake Mycoskie

Alexandra Dubinsky

TOM’S Founder and Chief Shoe Giver, Blake Mycoskie, lectured about his experiences as a social entrepreneur and his ONE for ONE movement at Hogg Auditorium on Wednesday night. After the lecture, The Daily Texan sat down with Mycoskie to discuss his journey and his latest business venture, TOMs Roasting Co., a new coffee brand, which first debuted during this year’s South by Southwest. 

The Daily Texan: How do you balance associating TOMS with the story versus selling it as a product?

Blake Mycoskie: Our story, especially seven yeas ago, was so radical and no one ever heard of it and so then over time our story has become very popular and one that has been shared in many forms of media and me speaking and what not, and so the story has really kind of helped carry the growth of the brand but as we grow. What’s really important for the sustainability of our model is that if you wear a pair of the classics, that you’re going to also maybe try the wedges or the ballet flats. We really had to invest in the product and look at ourselves more, not just as a story telling company but as a product company, and that’s shifted with some of the hires that we’ve done and the way that our executive structure is set. So, we brought in some really amazing product people that care about our story and are also obsessed with the product. You got to have a good product.

DT: From the two years you did spend at SMU, what aspects of college life do you attribute to the person you are today? 

BM: So, my first business was this laundry business and one of the ways we had customers was I would go to sorority houses on Monday nights when they had their meetings, after they had dinner, and it was super embarrassing, right? Like, I was trying to date some of those girls, you know? I would stand up there and I would speak about our laundry service and I remember I used to feel like I was going to throw up every time I did it. And so, because I did that so much in the laundry business, that began my comfort level with talking in front of lots of people. I think that a big part of what has helped TOMS grow is my ability to communicate it to large groups of people who then hopefully communicate it to others. Just in general, I think having to do that — because that was the only way we could build our business — it was a necessity and that necessity taught me how to not have stage fright and tell stories.

DT: What’s your biggest piece of advice for college students today?

BM: It’s a very easy piece of advice and it’s something I realized a couple years ago when I started speaking a lot. The most important thing when you leave college, especially from a job standpoint, is to take a job that you’re deeply interested and passionate about. Do not take the job for money, because the truth is, the delta between your peers that get the highest paying job and the lowest paying job is really not that much money in the scheme of your life. Instead of taking a job that you really aren’t that excited about, but you’re going to make ten thousand more dollars a year, you’re still going to have roommates and all the stuff you have when you’re starting out, right? So what I say is even if you’re working for basically free and having to live with three other people and eating ramen noodles, it’s better to do that because you’re going to learn more and you’re going to get more passionate. People who get good at something end up making a lot more money down the road. What’s really important, for the first five to ten years of your career, is to focus on what you’re passionate about and not what’s going to pay you the most.

DT: What is the most challenging part of your job? 

BM: The travel, I mean I enjoy it when I’m doing it, but it does put stress on my relationships and what not because I do travel about 200 days out of the year.

DT: Why did you choose to debut the first TOMs coffee shop in Austin?

BM: I was actually living here off and on for the past two years with my wife, and so when I decided that we were going to get into the coffee business, I wanted the first one to be in my backyard. I love Austin, I was always going to have a place here, it’s just part of my DNA and I also thought that the location on South Congress… We discovered that and no one even knew that was even for rent cause it was all covered in trees and bushes so I realized that it was a one of a kind location and it really could be an outpost for people to go and hang out and have a commune.

DT: How do you like your coffee? 

BM: I take a single espresso shot in the morning usually around 6 a.m. We have an espresso blend called carpe diem which is always how I sign my name and then I usually have another one at three or four if I have a late night of work.

DT: You’re known as an entrepreneur, an author and a philanthropist. Is there anything else we should know about you?

BM: I love fly-fishing. But I think those are all nice things. I mean, I have lots of hobbies, but those, those are good.