TOMS Extends One for One Model into Coffee
March 15, 2014
One of my favorite sessions at this year's SXSW was Blake Mycoskie's unveiling of TOMS Roasting Co.
TOMS began in 2006 with the mission to match every pair of shoes purchased with a pair of new shoes given to a child in need. This "One for One" model has become wildly successful, inspiring other social entrepreneurs, companies, and product lines.
In 2011 TOMS released TOMS Eyeware, which helps give sight to a person in need every time someone purchases a pair of glasses. This is accomplished by giving prescription glasses, sight-saving surgery, and medical treatment.
Now there's TOMS Roasting Co., which will deliver one week of clean water to someone for every bag of coffee purchased. TOMS has partnered with Water for People to help provide the giving, and the coffee is being distributed nationally through Whole Foods upon launch.
I find the TOMS story very compelling:
- It's simple. "One for One" is beautifully succinct and easy for people to understand.
- It spreads the act of giving. When someone purchases a TOMS pair of shoes (or eyeglasses or coffee), they are participating in the act of giving. This not only creates tangible benefits for the recipient, it can also help create a "shift" in the giver: how they relate to consumption, how they identify with giving, and a desire to do more.
“For it is in giving that we receive.” - Saint Francis of Assisi
- It's for-profit. TOMS shows how a for-profit company can have a clear social mission and be very successful. Blake was pragmatic in his talk, at one point remarking, "We can't give unless we sell." TOMS shows how people will passionately support an enterprise when they can see the positive impact of its work.
- It's scalable. Blake shared that TOMS has now given over 15 million pairs of shoes and 300,000 pairs of eyeglasses to people in need. Wow. Can you imagine if every product at the store had a "One for One" option? What if companies were forced to compete on who could give away the most?
- Great execution. TOMS embedded its giving principles into the founding of the company, which Blake credited as one of the most important ingredients for their success. The world's most talented people want to work in places where they're making a positive impact. TOMS' social mission isn't correlated to their success, it's the cause.
Blake also addressed some criticism received over the years, including whether TOMS is contributing to sustainable economic development versus just creating "dependency" in impoverished areas. TOMS Roasting Company incorporates this feedback in how it is developing clean water projects and evolving the company.
Especially when a for-profit enterprise makes its social mission its main brand story, I think people will deeply scrutinize the company for gaps or missteps. Given the behavior of many corporations, we're all naturally skeptical. That being said, TOMS has earned the trust of millions of "conscious consumers" around the world and is consistently demonstrating practical actions for public good.
Just like when he founded the company, Blake isn't letting critics or fear hold him back from the pursuit of what's possible. Entrepreneurs take note!