After last week’s “digression” to a detailed analysis of the current sneaker industry, let’s get back to our exploration of the relationship between innovation and entrepreneurship. In the third as well as the last phase of this journey, we will connect the concept of innovation with the idea of social entrepreneurship more descriptively, and explore companies such as Tom’s and Warby Parket through their unique strategies of making a social impact.
First, let’s review how we can connect innovation with social entrepreneurship. As I mentioned in my blog post “Innovation & Entrepreneurship Pt. 2,” many successful social enterprises effectively utilize the intersection between innovation, social impact and marketing strategies by advocating their products through creative marketing techniques embodied by a layer of social responsibility fulfillments. They often set off with a social mission such as protecting the environment or helping the poor. Then they actively market such a mission and attract those who share the same ideologies and thus creating a positive social impact. The people who resonate with the company’s mission do not necessarily need to be a part of the company’s target market; by contrast, they can come from varied sections of the population, as long as there is a connection between them and the company. As a result, the company is able to increase its sales and achieve its social mission more easily.
Tom’s, a premiere for-profit shoe company based in California started by entrepreneur Blake Mycoskie, has become one of American people’s favorite brands as well as a major social enterprise in the United States. The innovation of Tom’s comes from the bond Mycoskie has established between moneymaking and giving in an unprecedented manner. With its social mission to help the poor kids, the company has been closely identified by its active campaign that a pair of shoes will be given away to a poor child for every pair sold. “One for one” has become the major slogan of the company, and such a campaign brings the company tons of social attention and support. According to an article on Time from 2013, Tom’s has given over 10 million pairs of shoes to needy children around the world. More importantly, Tom’s success has spawned buy-one-give-one “copycats” around world. More and more companies, with the same mission to help the poor, follows the example of Tom’s and tries to make a positive social influence while increasing their own sales. Tom’s success also demonstrates that the connection between innovation in marketing and social entrepreneurship can work powerfully if carried out properly.
One of the most successful followers of Tom’s is Warby Parker, an American brand of prescription eyeglasses and sunglasses founded in 2010 by a group of 4 co-founders. “Warby Parker was founded with a rebellious spirit and a lofty objective: to offer designer eyewear at a revolutionary price, while leading the way for socially conscious businesses.” Just like Tom’s one-for-one strategy, Warby Parker’s buy-one-give-one marketing campaign also fuels the buzz in the society. Every pair of Warby Parker glasses sold means another pair is given away to those people in the developing world who had difficulties living without prescription glasses. Warby claims that over 1 million pairs of glasses have been distributed in the beginning of 2015. Here you may come up with a question: how can we claim that Warby Parker has been creative since it basically follows Tom’s strategy to make a social impact? Good question! But let me re-emphasize a concept I mentioned several weeks ago in my first blog post on innovation and entrepreneurship: innovation does not have to be something completely new and evolutionary. Instead, it can be a subtle adjustment of an existing model, or an application of a successful strategy under a different settings. Even though it seems like Warby Parker is just one of the thousands of followers of Tom’s, it actually bravely uses the model from Tom’s in an unexplored eyeglasses industry. Besides the buy-one-give-one campaign, Warby Parker has many other innovative moves, such as providing fashionable eyeglasses, often valued above $300 in the market, at below $200 to attract more customers. The application of Tom’s model on the eyeglasses industry is simply smart and prospective, as it brings Warby Parker much success during the past few years.
From the examples of Tom’s and Warby Parker, I am inspired by the potential of the simple buy-one-give-one campaign for my own sneaker business. However, to give my business an innovative layer, I want to explore something specific instead of the general idea of helping the poor. As I mentioned in my last blog post, one of the ideas I have is to donate sneakers for poor kids who are interested in playing basketball, or future basketball prospects who are not able to afford game-play sneakers without sponsorship. I am willing to be their sponsor. Sports Gift, an organization focused on providing sports equipment to impoverished and disadvantaged children throughout the world, may be a proper medium for my donations. It has distributed over 300,000 pieces of sports equipment and proves to be influential. I have send them an email for more information, and I look forward to their response.
That wraps up this week’s blog post, as well as the last piece on innovation and entrepreneurship. Next week I will switch the direction of my independent study to the exploration of the importance of a correct mission for startup entrepreneurs. Stay tuned!