TOMS Shoes – A “hand-out” vs. “hand up”

TOMS Shoes first surfaced 7 years ago with a new responsible and sustainable business model: Buy One Give One (BOGO) – when you buy a pair of shoes TOMS gives a pair to a poor child in an underdeveloped country.


Blake Mycoskie, founder and CEO of the company, first came up with the idea in Argentina when he realized barefoot children, who accounted for over fifty percent of the children, weren’t allowed to go to school. Mycoskie contacte a local shoemaker in Argentina and ordered a few hundred pairs to sell, with BOGO model in mind, in his hometown Los Angeles. Soon, the shoes became a phenomenon, a movement some call it. It’s one of those companies that has a positive image in almost all consumers minds, and the first that comes to mind when thinking about socially conscious purchases.

In 2011, after selling millions of pairs of shoes, the company branched out to eyewear, promising to give out one glass in the developing world for every purchase. Last month, the company announced they’re expanding into the coffee market – Mycoskie stated that for each coffee bag purchased ($12 per bag), they will give a week of clean water to someone in need. Their new product will be available for purchase on their website, café, and Wholefoods stores nationwide.

Although the coffee market is a very crowded one today, Mycoskie says that they picked up on the current trend in America of artisanal coffee roasters, and argues that they will have a better hand since people feel better about themselves with purchasing from a business with BOGO model. He believes that “the same conscious consumers that love his slip-ons will dig his beans.”

However, TOMS Shoes has been the target of a backlash from consumers and philanthropists who criticize the company’s business model for not being helpful in the long run. Now with their new venture, they are sure to receive more criticism from the same people claiming that the giving people a fish and teaching them to fish are two different things and the latter is more effective in the longer run.

The Intern Problem in Today’s Economy

In 2013 two former interns, Lauren Ballinger at W magazine, and Matthew Leib at The New Yorker, sued Conde Nast for violating federal and state labor laws. Conde Nast, one of the most prestigious publishing houses in the country, owns more than 25 publications, including Vogue, Vanity Fair, The New Yorker, and GQ.

With the economy still in a slow pace, it is no surprise that internships nowadays don’t pay much, or any money. Most internship advertisements clearly state that they won’t be paying and that the internship is only available for school credit. The two Conde Nast interns were paid “$12 a day for shifts that last 12 hours or more,” which accounts to less than $1 an hour – way below the minimum wage. While industry officials claim that a Conde Nast internship is one of the most prestigious one in publishing that opens many doors, the publishing house has decided to end its internship program after the lawsuit was filed.

The problem with most internships today is that they require long hours, hard work, and little money, claiming that the internship is an invaluable experience. This, in return, creates a privileged candidate pool for these internship programs since not many students can afford living in a big city without any earnings. These internships are only available to those whose parents are able to support their stay, like the daughter of Arianna Huffington, or TV stars Lauren Conrad and Whitney Port. As a “former intern told The New York Times that if she didn’t have her parent’s financial support, she “absolutely” could not have accepted the internship.”


The purpose of the lawsuits filed against Conde Nast is to make minimum wage internships a law. However, with the economy still running slow, and publishing suffering, this seems like a stretch. Yes, the ending of the internship program might open up more entry-level positions – but there’s also the possibility that it might not. Frances Bridges of Forbes came up with a better idea. She stated that with long hours at Conde Nast interns weren’t able to get a second job and “that was the flow with the program.” She claims that if  “Conde Nast had decreased the intern’s hours, but paid the same, small stipend, it would have increased the amount the interns earned an hour, and would have opened up their evenings, allowing them to hold a second job.”

The publishing house decided to settle the lawsuit last week, but they didn’t say what their next move would be about the internship program. Applicants say that there weren’t any more openings in entry-level positions either compared to the previous years. I think this is correlated with the slow economy and the crisis publishing houses are dealing with in the past few years. Clearly, they don’t have enough money to hire more, and that’s why they were abusing the interns – but now that that door is closed, they need to come up with a plan B in order to both attract new talent and get the job done.

Turkey’s Social Media Bans Scaring Off Potential Investors

“We’ll eradicate Twitter. I don’t care what the international community says. Everyone will witness the power of the Turkish Republic.” These were the words of Turkish PM Erdogan right before banning Twitter a in late March. A few days later, in an attempt to stop leaks of recordings that linked him in a huge money laundering scandal, he also blocked YouTube. His intentions were simple, there was an election coming up (last Sunday), and he wanted to block media channels to prevent more recordings being leaked, and to ensure his party will succeed once again in the elections.


Although both bans were eventually lifted by the ruling of Turkey’s Constitutional Court, the illegally blocked freedom brought question marks to minds. Could Erdogan ban Facebook, Google, and eventually the Internet all together if he thought they were a threat to his power? What would then happen to the economic market in which many foreign investors depend upon?

Until Gezi Park protests this past summer, Turkey had a growing economy and was considered one of the most stable growing markets. However, it all started to fall apart on June, and nowadays Turkey’s currency has lost a third of its value.

In the recent years, Turkey had seen a great development in entrepreneurial ecosystem, but this too has changed with the unstable market. Investors are slowly withdrawing their money, as they feel more and more anxious about the unstable Turkish government. Also, since most entrepreneurial efforts rely on Internet and freedom of expression, with social media bans and Internet blocking, investors feel like Turkey is not the promising future economy anymore. “Sevin Ekinci, a Turkish economist who regularly consults foreigners looking to invest in Turkey, said that if she was a foreign investor, she wouldn’t put her money into a company here.”

Although Erdogan’s government was very pro technology throughout his rule, with President Abdullah Gul courting Twitter and Microsoft on a visit to Silicon Valley in 2012, his current strategy of blocking technology to protect himself and to silence those who are against his power is scaring off investors, and thus threatening the Turkish economy.


A Rich Man’s Game – A Glance into the Art Market

In November 2013, a Francis Bacon piece was sold for $142 million at Christie’s auction house, which gave the piece the title of “the Most Expensive Artwork Ever Sold at an Auction.” Only in this past year a Picasso was sold for $155 million, a Warhol for $105 million, a Pollock for $58 million, and a Lichtenstein for $56 million. Although arts has long been seen as an investment and a long-term profit, with new collectors from emerging countries such as China and Russia, and with the market experiencing substantial growth in the past 25 years, it is not surprising that prices are increasing dramatically for the finite art pieces – especially those by artists who are no longer alive, often referred to as DWMA (dead white male artists) – causing the market to be known as a Rich Man’s Game.


How much money each artist grossed at auction in each year from 1998 to 2013 adjusted for inflation (Salmon, Reuters).


The art world is one we ‘commoners’ have a hard time understanding and making sense of. It is a totally different parallel universe, where millions are spent momentarily to buy a painting, a sculpture, or an art piece by a recognized artist. While we debate over and over if going through with a 20-year mortgage to get an apartment is a good idea, people in the art world would go through with a transaction worth millions instinctively over a conversation they have with their art consultants. The market has its own unique economic indicators, which explains why supply-demand theory doesn’t apply in this case.


It is a market, in which the price confirms the objects worth; as Ernst Beyeler, Swiss art dealer who helped found Art Basel said: If [you] can’t sell something, [you] just double the price.” It is a rare market that defies simple economics by functioning without the notion of exchange value. An art piece is worth more one day and less the other, just because an auction house creates hype over a specific artist, or a Russian billionaire drives the prices up for a piece that wouldn’t be considered valuable before. If a consultant or a collector agrees with a dealer on the worth of a piece, that becomes its value – it’s as simple as that. It’s what psychologists refer to as ‘anchoring bias’, which is fancy wording for saying that when a specific art piece is linked to a price, the anchor is set and that becomes its ‘natural’ price – no questions asked. Arne Glimcher, founder of world-renowned Pace Gallery, justifies this by his statement: “all you need is two people to make a market.”


Although one imagines that a market dominated by the richest people in the world would not even slightly be affected by the changing economy, taking a look at the statistics, it is safe to say that the stock market crash in the 90s and in 2008 extremely impacted the market, causing price to decrease by 30%. Olav Velthius notes that confidence in the art market had dropped 40% in just a few months after the 2008 crash, bursting the bubble of confident auction houses, dealers, and collector. There is definitely a correlation between the art marker and the financial environment; simply because if the economy is doing well or is stable, the consumer confidence index will be higher, where collectors would be expected to be more actively buying within the market. Today, with recession coming to an end and the stock markets doing well, the consumer confidence is higher; and richest of the richest are competing to buy art worth billions of dollars again, driving the prices up in rocket speed.


Another approach to look into the relation between the art market and the economy is that people buy art in unstable economies, with the belief that it is a better investment since it’s more tangible and lucrative. A study by New York University economist Michael Moses supports the argument that art is a solid investment. Through applying economics theories and equations, Moses found that art as an investment showed significantly better returns than any class of bonds. These are not the billionaires though; they are upper middle class collectors, more interested in pieces worth 5 figures rather than millions. Their activity in the market, again in which they compete with other collectors for a finite number of pieces, result in driving the prices high in the overall market. Swapnil Pawar, chief investment officer at Karvy Private Wealth, suggests that “during the global financial meltdown, the works of most artists saw a steep fall in prices [while] [well-known artists] remained on top.” He claims that after the recession, qualitative works of renowned artists are now more in demand than ever, as they proved to be lucrative investments.


An additional argument to why the prices are increasing in the art market is the exponential growth of the market itself. In 1990 the market was valued at $27 billion, whereas this figure doubled by 2013 ($56 billion). There are now more buyers, more auction houses, and more dealers than ever before. More of everything except for the most sought after art pieces, which are finite in number since they’re mostly by DWMA. The main cause for the market growth is primarily the increasing demand of the newly rich from the emerging countries such as Russia, China, and India. This is now a global market, in which China accounts for 25% of sales, with United States leading with only 33%.


These newcomers, often in search of an identity for themselves in the elite world, turn to the art market to justify their presence. They are attracted to the glamorous life the market promises: parties, art fairs, and biennales. Eli Broad, a Los Angeles based collector, proving that buying art is the way to justify one’s position in society says, “spending [money] on huge yachts is despicable. I have a lot more respect for the people who put their money in art.” They are most often attracted to DWMA because they want to their names to be heard, and what better way to announce their presence than buying a $50 million worth Pollock? “It’s become extraordinarily unpleasant to compete for work in this market with people buying for social-status reasons… What you have now is more buyers overpaying and creating misaligned values,” Dean Valentine, a major art collector states, because while purchasing respect and status through purchasing art, the newly rich drive up the prices in the art market.


While the prices of DMWA art keep rising as collectors compete for “super-status” effect, the mid-market is slowly and steadily dying down. Small galleries are closing, emerging artists are struggling, and niche art is disappearing. Polarization in the market is evident, with the super rich driving up prices for the super valued finite art pieces, and a handful of auction houses benefitting from these major transactions. However, the mid-market is struggling and looks far less optimistic. With creativity no longer valued as art, and art being valued for what it is said to be worth, it seems that the market has become a rich man’s game – maybe all you need is two rich man to make a market after all.





AnneLutfen – Online Retail in Turkey

This past weekend, my cousin Roys Gureli was visiting from Istanbul, Turkey.  She is the founder and CEO of, a baby/mother online retail store operating in Turkey.  She is a young entrepreneur, a Northwestern undergrad, and a recent graduate of Stanford MBA program. I took this is as an opportunity to learn more about her entrepreneurship journey, and so we started our interview.

“Before attending Stanford, I had a prestigious job working with the Borusan Group – specialized in logistics and energy – in  Turkey.  After graduating, I knew I had to build something of my own and I started to look into markets, see what was missing in Turkey. Soon I realized there wasn’t even one online retail market on baby and mother products,” says Roys. AnneLutfen is now one of the fastest growing online retailers in Turkey. The company has 25 investors, including Agah Ugur and Jaclyn Shnau.

AnneLutfen differentiates itself from its competitors through fast delivery, good customer service (live chat, 10 min. response frame on social media), and advanced technology.  Roys proudly says they have the biggest mother/baby selection in Turkey, and they give great importance in online product descriptions, videos, and comments. They’re also very active on social media, something other Turkish companies haven’t yet picked up on. She says they regularly give away free gifts through twitter and Facebook, and have Instagram competitions to create hype for the website.

Established in 2011 AnneLutfen entered the fastest growing market in Europe: Turkish economy expanded by 9.2% in 2010, and 8.5 percent in 2011. The company also entered a market where baby/mother retail was worth $6 billion and only %1 was online at the time. “Compared to the United States average of 10%, I realized this was the market to grow in. Even after 3 years, I believe the market has still not reached its maximum. Slowly, with offline customers switching their habits to online, there will be huge growth in e-commerce in the next five years in Turkey,” says Roys.

When I asked Roys about how she would describe their change in market percentage and sales since they first launched AnneLutfen, she said that in their first year they developed the product base for their website and perfected their service levels. She says considering the importance Turkish people give on people relations and communication, they knew they had to achieve excellence in customer service if they wanted to be the best in the market. She believes this is one of the biggest reasons they were able to grow 11 times more in only 12 months. Roys says their business is not as highly affected from political crises or the economy as much as other businesses, and gives the example that they grew 40% during Gezi protests, a major uprising in Turkey against the current government that negatively affected most businesses.

Although AnneLutfen was not affected majorly by the recent crisis, Roys thinks customer confidence index is the economic data that affects their business the most. “Baby and mother retail does not get affected by crisis, but political instability and currency fluctuations affects customers spending habits. People spend more carefully in unstable environments.”Roys tells me that in order to survive the crisis in the past years, they focused on growing their sales team and support teams, and promoted their marketing head to be the merchandising head in order to cut on costs and have a better marketing plan with the suppliers.

When I asked about their biggest challenges, she responds firmly: getting new investments. “ E-commerce requires a lot of capital before the company scales and becomes cash flow positive, therefore the investing environment in Turkey is very important. AnneLutfen has been growing with crowd-funding. We have 47 different angel investors in the company, 80% of which are foreigners, and it has been challenging to get those,” she continues by saying that foreign angel investors want to invest in Turkey since it’s a fast growing market, but they want to limit their exposure with a minimum investment amount, and that since Turks are new to angel investing, their appetite to invest are less than foreigners.

Finally, Roys says that there are always new entries to the market, but it takes time to build relationships with suppliers and develop a large product base. “The market is very big; we are the only large player so there’s always room for more players.” However, she says that for now, since they don’t have competition, they’re able to maintain their prices: “ We are a full price website, but every day we have special offers on different products. Although offers definitely induce sales, most parents are price-agnostic, so discounts are not a must in our business.”