Blake Mycoskie’s autobiography, Start Something That Matters, tries to give readers an inside look into what it takes to be a successful social entrepreneur but falls short in giving practical advice that will actually help.
Mycoskie’s ambiguous and oversimplified eight-step guide to social entrepreneurial success is so saturated with shameless plugs and unnecessary details that it is easy to miss Mycoskie’s point that passion is really all that matters.
Granted, Mycoskie did start TOMS Shoes — a relatively new shoe company that hit the hipster scene long enough to become a world-class brand — and at first glance he does have the qualifications to school the American public on entrepreneurship.
But read Start Something That Matters further and his advice turns into suggestions such as filling the company wall with inspirational quotes or getting “SUPER FANTASTIC” interns.
According to Mycoskie, the eight steps to becoming a successful social entrepreneur are achieved by finding your story, facing your fears, being resourceful, keeping it simple, building trust, giving and starting something that matters.
If this is all Mycoskie did to get where he is today, he should enter the lottery, because sheer luck is on his side.
Instead of concrete examples of how to pitch a good idea or practical guidelines for presentations in front of industry professionals, Mycoskie spends his time giving readers generic one-liners about “knowing your audience” and “treating customers as you would like to be treated.”
Mycoskie is not malicious; he actually believes his purpose is to inspire others into successful social entrepreneurship.
What Mycoskie does well is introduce the concept of passion and inspire those who are on the fence to go for it and start a company they may not have had the courage to start.
But if someone reads his book and decides to become a social entrepreneur, then he or she should look elsewhere for the “how to run a business” manual, because Mycoskie is probably not the best place to start.
His anecdotes about Steve Jobs starting Apple in his garage and Google succeeding because of its lack of initial funding (rather than in spite of it) all contribute to Mycoskie’s notion that anyone can be a winner. Whether or not that is true seems superfluous, since Mycoskie writes in such a way that makes it hard to disagree with him.
Mycoskie is quirky, and his writing reflects that. His company title is “Chief Shoe Giver” and his assistant is known as the “Straight Shoeter.” With jokes interspersed with cheesy graphics and inspirational stories, Mycoskie sets the reader up for a good laugh and plenty of encouraging moments.
It is heartening to know someone as goofy, idealistic and simple as Mycoskie can make it big in such a competitive market as the shoe industry.
He explains that people would laugh at him after hearing his pitch or after finding out he ran his company from the comfort of his bedroom. Mycoskie even photocopied his journal from when he first thought of the idea, revealing his original plan for success included getting interns and getting donors.
His writing is simple and his ideas are basic — the problem is, the real world is not. Starting a business takes more than just having an idea. Mycoskie unfortunately does not address this reality.
But for those who are not looking to start a company or simply need some light-hearted motivation, Start Something That Matters might be inspiring.