Daymond John, founder of FUBU and star of hit ABC TV series “Shark Tank”, opened AFP 2018 in Chicago with a keynote address. He provided attendees with some valuable advice on how to survive and thrive in a cutthroat business environment.
FROM THE BOTTOM TO THE TOP
John began his foray into the world of fashion working low-paying jobs while sewing clothes in his mother’s house. He admits to making quite a few mistakes along the way; he initially approached rapper/actor LL Cool J because he wanted to find a celebrity to wear his clothing line in an ad. LL was already a multiplatinum artist at the time but still lived in the same neighborhood as John and his friends. However, John didn’t actually approach LL because he wanted him to be in his ad; he wanted the famous rapper to introduce him to other musicians who could wear his clothing, such as—believe it or not—Milli Vanilli.
Eventually, John realized the error in his ways and approached LL himself to pose for a photograph. The rapper was initially reluctant to do so for two reasons: he didn’t particularly care for the clothes John made, and he was relocating to California to star in a new TV series and could potentially have other clothing brands offering him the opportunity to appear in their ads. Thus appearing in an ad for a little-known clothing brand could put that in jeopardy. Nevertheless LL agreed to pose for the photo, because he acknowledged that he would never have been successful if some people hadn’t helped him along the way.
Shortly after that, John used his business savvy to sell $300,000 worth of FUBU orders at an event in Las Vegas. The only catch was, he didn’t actually have $300,000 worth of clothes and had no way to make them. Nevertheless, John was determined not to let that stop him. After getting turned down for loans by 27 different banks, his mother managed to procure a $100,000 loan and they turned her house into a sewing factory.
John admits to not having any financial acumen at this time. As the orders for his clothing line increased, he was going broke because he had to pay his employees, the mortgage, etc. Fortunately, his mother had a great idea that paid off. She convinced him to let her take out an ad in the local newspaper requesting financing for $1 million worth of orders. They received a lot of responses, one of which was from electronics conglomerate Samsung. The deal propelled FUBU to the juggernaut it eventually became. “We sold $39 million worth of clothes in three months,” John said.
Not long after that, LL Cool J reentered the story in a big way when he famously wore a FUBU hat and used the tagline “for us, by us” while freestyle rapping in a commercial—for The Gap. From there, John’s empire grew, as did his own celebrity. It culminated in John being offered the opportunity that would make him world famous—his role on “Shark Tank”.
John provided corporate treasury and finance professionals with his five “S.H.A.R.K. Points” to help them excel in their careers. “I’ve tried to punch holes in my five S.H.A.R.K. Points all the time, but what I’ve realized is that every single time I’ve succeeded, every one of those S.H.A.R.K. Points worked,” he said. “And every time I’ve failed, just one of them were missing.”
Set a goal. John noted that when he first set out to build his fashion empire, he set some rather lofty goals that, if achieved would prove that he was successful. So John determined that he would meet Michael Jackson and Muhammed Ali and that he would appear on stage with Prince during a concert. He achieved all three.
Homework, do yours. John noted that you have to thrive in business, you need to understand your field, your competition and your business through and through. Knowing your competition is particularly important, because we all have competitors. He noted that on “Shark Tank”, entrepreneurs often believe that they all have a brand new idea that no one has ever thought of before. Nothing could be farther from the truth. “You’re never going to create something new in this world,” he said. “A Snuggie is just a blanket with two holes in it. Emojis are just hieroglyphics.”
Adore what you do. You may not have money in the beginning of business venture, but money isn’t as important as being passionate about what you do. Growing up in New York in the 1980s amid the early days of hip hop, John began to understand that it was possible to do something you loved and make money at it. “I didn’t have any money but I wasn’t going to use that as an excuse,” he said. “Money sometimes only exaggerates your weaknesses.”
Remember that you are the brand. John stressed that you personally are your own brand, and you should be able to market that brand at a moment’s notice. “Can you put yourself into two to five words? If you can’t, how are you going to be the CEO or CFO? How are we going to invest in you?” he asked.
Keep swimming. Perseverance in the face of adversity is critical to success. John shared an emotional story of how in 2017, he was diagnosed with thyroid cancer and had to have it removed. The entire experience was one of the most stressful moments of his life. But because the cancer was detected in time, and he’s completely cancer-free. However, he acknowledged that much of his success has come at the expense of neglecting his own health. “Sixty-five percent of cancers can be stopped if you catch them in time,” he said. “Because as entrepreneurs and intrepreneurs, we take care of everybody else, except ourselves. And I’m here to share with you that I’m cancer-free and I’m going to walk my three beautiful girls down the aisle, because that is what success is.”