# 254: BOOK OF THE WEEK — “Start Something That Matters”

Mycoskie, Blake (2012). Start Something That Matters.

Story behind the Book Choice

Today’s pick is easy to explain because I chose it for my class on Social Entrepreneurship. The thing is, Mycoskie is NOT a social entrepreneur because he intentionally designed a for-profit-model when starting TOMS. What is social behind this is the mission: Mycoskie wanted to help children in Argentina who did not have any shoes. So, he came up with the “one-for-one” model, meaning that every pair of alpagarta shoes you buy equals one pair of free shoes for poor children. That was the simple idea and it worked so well that the company became a super star with a valuation of more than 600 million USD at some point.

Now, as with almost every success story, it did not end well. The company was bought by its creditors in 2019 because it did not make the transition from a one-product company to a sustainable business model. Still, the story is the story and it is great — exactly because it is a real story, not a fabricated one and not just a “vision” that startups write on paper and that never gets realized. Stories also play a big role in Mycoskie’s book, and I will write more about this below. One thing I want to highlight before doing that is that this book in and of itself is an excellent example of how one can link the aim of sharing experience and expertise with storytelling. You might call this naïve but I mean it. I deeply believe that people still want to write books because they want something different than just personality PR. Here is what he writes in the Author’s Note:

“The reason for this book is simple. I want to share the knowledge we have gained since starting TOMS, and from the amazing group of entrepreneurs and activists I have met along the way whom I have learned so much from…. In addition to sharing the lessons learned, 50 percent of my proceeds from this book will be used to support inspired readers through the Start Something That Matters Fund.”

  1. Don’t Give a Damn

This is something that I keep mentioning again and again because I fall into this trap again and again. But it does not change the lesson: You need to stop listening to others. My personal finding is even that it causes less damage to not listen for one time instead of listening one time too many. Seriously, as an entrepreneur, you do have gut feeling. Otherwise, you would not be where you are. But what he is writing here goes beyond that. You really need to stop your ego from operating. It does not matter what you do and what people think about this — even what you thought about this in the past. If you enjoy it and you are brilliant at it, you have to do it. If you start doing stuff just because it might be more prestigious, hip or even better paying, it will not work. You have to focus on your thing. If not, you will notice it in your empty pockets quite soon.

And guess how I know that?

I have been there.

And made it back — the hard way.

2. Business Biographies

People who know me also know that this is my mantra but since I found it again in this book, I have to emphasize it again: These biographies are sources of knowledge, inspiration, and motivation. I personally do not know any founder who has not read these books but thee is a bias in this, of course. And I am not saying that entrepreneurs who have not read them cannot be good entrepreneurs. I am simply saying that I encourage everyone who has something to share to write these kinds of books.

And, please, do not say “this is all personality PR.” Just imagine all of these people mentioned here would not have passed on their knowledge because of this argument. This actually goes back to 1. above. If you really have guts, you can give a shit about what others are saying. If you are successful, you do have a story to tell and there is nothing wrong with sharing it in a book. Books have power and as Mycoskie is also saying: Books are consumed via so many different channels nowadays, there is nothing wrong with thtat. This does not change the fact, however, that a good story and the knowledge of the author make all the difference. And this knowledge can be exactly the knowledge that can add value to your business and your life.

3. Notebooks

This is also a piece of advice which you can read in most books by entrepreneurs. This is not because they are entrepreneurs but many entrepreneurs are highly creative and creative people — even stereotypically — have many ideas. Now, you could say, “fine, why write them down in a notebook?” The simple answer is: I do not know if and why others write them down but I am like Blake. I want to make my life easier. And it is not an accident that he writes about this in the chapter “Kepp it Simple.” I go crazy because of all the ideas I have in my head if I do not write them down. This is not because I cannot calm down. Not at all, it is simply that, as soon as ideas are on paper, I can move on with life without losing them completely.

Now, in most cases, I never come back to these ideas. Sometimes I do. The point is: What is on paper is not occupying your mind anymore and that allows you to focus and think clearly again .That is all it takes to be a good entrepreneur and good anything else. Even when I write with clients, I write hundreds of pages filled with handwritten notes. Do I go through all of them again before writing the book? No! But I need to write it down — the physical activity of thoughts traversing from head to hand — in order to listen actively without thinking of anything else. Maybe that is a technique in and of itself that is worth studying. I never read it anywhere and nobody taught me. But I have to do it this way to do the job.

And guess why this is so exciting?

Exactly because I do not need to study this method scientifically.

I know it by heart — it is a gift!

The gift of entrepreneurship.

That allows you to give to others:

Shoes

And

Books!

Reflection Questions

1) What is your experience with “listening to others”?

2) Which books have inspired your work/business?

3) Does writing down ideas help you? Which other creative techniques do you apply?

Founder & CEO of Companypoets