Start Something That Matters Book Review

Start Something That Matters by Blake Mycoskie I just finished reading Start Something That Matters by the founder of TOMS, Blake Mycoskie – for the second time.

I’m a huge fan of the concept of social business. I.e., a for-profit business where the main goal of the company is not to put money in the pockets of shareholders, but rather to make the world a better place.

Muhammad Yunus, the founder of the Grameen Foundation and a Nobel Peace Prize winner, coined the term in his book called Building Social Business.

The concept is so simple, yet so powerful. In the case of TOMS, for every pair of shoes they sell, they give a pair to someone in need. One for one.

In Start Something That Matters, Blake shares with us the story of TOMS and some great insights into running a successful social business – or any kind of business, for that matter.

What’s Your Story?

One of the points Blake makes in the book is that it’s important to have a story. At TOMS, customers don’t just buy shoes – they buy the TOMS story. They get to feel that they are part of something special – a greater good.

At Web Gnomes, we provide an industry-leading SEO audit and other Internet marketing services. To give back, we provide free audits to qualifying non-profits and share knowledge freely with our community. This is our story.

Stories are the most primitive and purest form of communication. ~Blake Mycoskie

Having a good story also helps with the other kind of social – social media. In our case, we can talk about the non-profits we helped or free seminars we conducted. TOMS can show pictures and video of their shoe drops and share stories of people inspired by the TOMS story, who are starting their own businesses that matter.

In the book, Blake shares an amazing story where he bumped into a woman wearing TOMS shoes, and who passionately proceeded to tell him (a complete stranger) the story of TOMS. Now that is what I call a fan!

Supporters beat customers every time. ~Blake Mycoskie

The book also demonstrates that a story can lead to great partnerships. Most everybody wants to feel like they’re making a difference. Hence, large companies may partner with a smaller, social business for the greater good (and for positive exposure for both).

The book provides tips for finding your own story.

Fear of the Unknown

Starting anything new is scary. Whether you’re using your savings or relying on investors, it’s a big risk to jump into the world of entrepreneurship. Especially if you have no idea what you’re doing…

I personally have a fear of the unknown. It can be big or small (like worrying about falling off the treadmill before I actually tried it). However, when you think about it, it doesn’t really make sense. It’s unknown – so what is there to fear?

Blake walks the reader through the important realization that the worst case scenario is not all that bad:

No matter what happens, win, lose, or draw, never forget that life goes on. ~Blake Mycoskie

This is a really effective exercise. Jot down the worst thing that could happen if your new venture didn’t work out. It’s really not that bad, right?

Blake also shares inspirational quotes that he relied on to get through some of the more difficult times and additional tips for facing your fears.

Managing on a Shoestring Budget

Like many businesses, TOMS started small with a limited amount of funds. In the chapter entitled “Be Resourceful without Resources,” Blake shares some valuable tips about how to make the shoestring budget work – to your advantage.

If you’ve ever worked at a company with seemingly endless resources, you’ll know that it isn’t exactly a breeding ground for innovative ideas. Just throw money at the problem…

That’s not the way to start something that matters. The book provides insights into the benefit of properly utilizing free labor (i.e. interns), how to ask for free services for your cause, and using social media to spread the word.

A lack of resources is no reason to avoid starting a company. ~Blake Mycoskie

Keeping It Simple

As a proponent and practitioner of simplicity – in the best sense, I was especially delighted to find a chapter on keeping it simple. Blake covers the topic of simplicity both as it relates to your business model and your environment.

Keeping your business model simple, helps your prospects understand what you do. Doing only one thing, and doing it well, is a key to success.

Keep it real simple. Do one thing and do it the best you can. ~Harry Snyder

As it relates to the environment, less clutter means more creativity. This is true both at the office and at home. There is also a concept of digital de-cluttering. I personally turn off email when I’m working on a blog post or something else that requires my undivided attention. This allows me to write it twice as fast and find time for other activities.

Complicated lives and heaps of possessions don’t necessarily bring happiness; in fact, they can bring the opposite. ~Blake Mycoskie

The book provides tips for simplifying your life.

How to Build Trust

As you know, trust is one of the core pillars of good business. If you don’t trust your employees and they don’t trust you, the work and your mission will suffer. If your customers don’t trust you, they won’t share your story, great as it may be.

It’s a big topic, but Blake does a great job covering these two basic trust relationships: internal (as a leader) and external (with your customers and partners).

I especially enjoyed the advice on how to handle mistakes – both your own and your employees’.

Giving Is Good Business

If you ever doubted it, this book in its entirety confirms the concept that giving is good business. The TOMS story demonstrates this in a powerful way and there are many other stories as well.

The book shares a few of these, and I won’t spoil it for you by repeating them here.

Ultimately, people want to work for businesses who contribute to the greater good. If you business has a giving component, you are likely to attract better people.

Further, customers want to do business with a company who gives back. If I have a choice of two service companies and one of them does great things for the environment, or gives back some portion of their revenue to a cause, that company is going to win.

Read: Start Something That Matters

If you can’t tell, I really liked this book. It’s inspiring, but also a great business book – for any type of business. I’ve heard the term “life-changing” used to describe this book. You must read it and decide for yourself.

I will end with one of my favorite quotes from the book, (because it turns the traditional definition of success on its head):

To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded. ~Often attributed to Elisabeth-Anne Anderson Stanley

I’d love to know what you thought about this book (or the concepts in this book). Please leave a comment!


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