Why TOMS failed, and how MECE can save you!
Most of us know the story of TOMS shoes, One for One®, for every pair of shoes sold, one’s donated.
TOMS changed from their One for One giving model in 2019 — that’s 9 years & 75 million pairs of shoes after a 2010 internally commissioned study concluded there was “no evidence that the shoes exhibit any kind of life-changing impact, except for potentially making them feel somewhat more reliant on external aid.” Bruce Wydick, The Impact of TOMS Shoes.
TOMS failed because they created the wrong solution, then waited too long before testing if it worked
In this post, I’ll outline how we’re using the MECE framework to avoid the TOMS fate by
- Brainstorming through the top problems in our problem roadmap
- Digging deeper using MECE in top-down & bottom-up approaches
- Testing our business assumptions like are these shoes making an impact? to help us ensure we’re building something valuable
MECE can get dry, I’ll share what I do to keep the inspiration running.
What’s MECE and How is it Useful?
MECE is a popular problem-solving framework used to break down large & complex problems into individual solvable tasks. For example, if our product has a 20% drop in Monthly Active Users, I can use MECE to drill down into each problem and uncover the highest value solution to implement.
Most PM’s and Consultants can explain what MECE stands for, this article will focus on the application. Here’s a link for further reading.
How can I use MECE if I don’t yet have a product?
MECE is simply good for problem-solving, so let’s take a similar approach to the above and use it with the problem roadmap built out in the previous blog post, available here.
1. Explain the problem with good reason as to why it's a problem - these will have come from customer discovery 2…
MECE Top-Down Approach
The Top-Down starts with the company vision, goals, outcomes, and customer problems in mind. You can follow this process:
- Start the MECE tree with the company vision in your head. Ours is
We believe NFT’s are becoming a technology standard for digital ownership, authenticity, and financial liquidity and will soon be used as a trading mechanism for all high-value wines.
2. Identify a high-value problem from your problem roadmap
3. Split it between sub-problems. Here we’ve noted 2 reasons for wine trading illiquidity
4. Brainstorm solutions
5. Focus on 1 solution; in my MECE below I’ve focused on the fact that digital ownership will increase liquidity
6. Design hypothesis testing around it
MECE Bottom-Up Approach
Bernard Roth, a Stanford design veteran shared a design-thinking tool that helps me build MECE from the bottom up, especially when I’m stuck or a little bored. Credit to the Product Talk newsletter which is where I saw this first.
1. What do you really want?
Bernard starts with this question getting to the core of the desired solution, what are you really looking for?
2. What would it do for you if it solved the problem?
How would this make you feel is a question getting to the core purpose of why you’re doing something
3. And what else could do that?
We tend to get stuck in our favourite solutions, this question opens the mind to alternative solutions
Notice how we start with a solution in mind, build back up to the outcome, and then expand the solution set.
Testing Business Hypotheses
Once you’ve identified the solution, it’s time to narrow in on the test cases you can run to validate whether the idea’s solving the problem and delivering value to the users.
For a new product like Palate.so, it’s most important to quickly validate the idea by testing assumptions through customer interviews and prototypes than building out roadmap items.
The 2 most important risks to tackle are:
- Value Risk: are customers going to buy this? Will users use it?
- Business Risk: will this be a viable business? How will we make money?
I did start this article with a heavy hand against the work that TOMS did, mainly because of the spectacular 13 years, 95 million pairs of shoes spent on delivering ill-fitting solutions without soliciting feedback.
I do believe the founder, Blake Mycoskie, intended to do good — if TOMS followed a good MECE framework from the beginning, they could have delivered 13 years of value.
Since the 2019 50% bail-out from Bain Capital, TOMS changed to a 1/3 profit to grassroots model, I think the flexible delivery will do them well.
In the next article, I’ll cover the prototypes needed to quickly test both risks.
Palate.so’s building in public, sign-up at our public notion page to receive updates on our progress feel free to contact me if you’d like to share any problems you’re aware of, or if you’d like to share your thoughts or guidance.