Founders of Toms Shoes and Lululemon demonstrated contrasting styles of responding to criticism. One said critics had a point; the other said some potential customers are too broad in the beam. Guess which style worked out best?
Toms founder and CEO Blake Mycoskie told the Huffington Post he was initially hurt by criticism that his "buy one give one" business model provided people with shoes, but not jobs. Critics called his shoe donations tied to shoe sales a gimmick that was ineffective, patronizing and hypocritical.
"If you really are serious about poverty alleviation, our critics said, then you need to create jobs," said Mycoskie. "At first I took that personally, but then I realized that they were right... using our model to create jobs is the next level."
Mycoskie pledged by the end of 2015, Toms will produce one-third of its shoes in countries where it donates footwear. It already has a shoe factory in Kenya with locally hired workers, he says, and will expand the same model to Ethiopia and Haiti.
"There really is a lot you can learn from critics," Mycoskie told the Huffington Post. "You can either try to debate them and fight them or you embrace them, and that's what we're trying to do."
Lululemon's critics were less harsh, but no less determined in exposing what they believed to be quality downgrades in the company's yoga pants. When complaints about sheer fabric in the bum first surfaced earlier this year, Lululemon blamed customers with an overly large bottom line. Eventually it got around to reinforcing the fabric after consulting university experts and their "sheer-o-metre."