From his humble beginnings on the streets of New York to becoming a self-made multimillionaire, Daymond John is truly the personification of the American Dream. As he begins his 10th season on ABC’s four-time Emmy Award-winning series, “Shark Tank,” John, age 49, has had an incredible life that has molded him into a successful and inspiring business leader.
Best known as “The People’s Shark,” John started his entrepreneurial career in the ‘90s when he launched the global hip-hop clothing line, FUBU. In the decades since creating FUBU, he has continued to build upon his entrepreneurial success and has been recognized at the highest levels for his commitment to small business. He was named a Presidential Ambassador for Global Entrepreneurship under the Obama administration and has previously been recognized for his contributions in the space, including being bestowed the NAACP Entrepreneurs of the Year Award, the Congressional Achievement Award for Entrepreneurship and more.
An accomplished author who has continued to battle dyslexia, John’s release of his fourth book, Rise and Grind, in January 2018 became an instant New York Times bestseller, marking the second time a book he has written has achieved that prestigious honor. Through all that, John remains committed to the art of branding and marketing and still oversees the day-to-day branding and marketing firm, The Shark Group.
In anticipation of his keynote address at the Manufacturer & Business Association’s (MBA) 113th Annual Event on October 4 in Erie, Pennsylvania, the MBA’s Business Magazine reached out to John to learn more about his rags-to-riches story, his views of entrepreneurship and his “Shark Tank” experience, as well as his approach to marketing and branding in a highly competitive business world. Here, we count down his responses to our Top 10 questions.
Your latest book, Rise and Grind: Outperform, Outwork, and Outhustle Your Way to a More Successful and Rewarding Life explores how grit, persistence and good old-fashioned hard work are the backbone of every successful business and individual, and how to develop a game plan for being more productive in day-to-day life. It’s quite interesting to hear how you and other successful people power through their days. What is one of your favorite sections from the book and why?
Hands down, one of my favorite sections is Kyle Maynard. If I had his determination and discipline, it’s scary to think about what I could accomplish. He reminds me not to hide behind excuses. There’s always a way if you want something bad enough and you’re willing to work hard. And, that is an important philosophy because Kyle has conditioned himself for the long haul. The fire that burns inside of you when you want something bad enough has to be just as bright on Day 100 or 1,000 as it is on Day 1.
As a young man, you founded a modest line of clothing on a $40 budget by hand-sewing hats between shifts at Red Lobster. Today, your brand FUBU has more than $6 billion in sales. What did you learn during those early years that made you persevere and find your passion to become an entrepreneur?
First, don’t try to think your way through everything. Slow down and assess, which will help you to take action and learn as you go. But those have to be affordable steps, so that if you trip, you won’t break your wallet or your spirit. In other words, don’t build or spend time planning to build a bakery before you’ve sold any cookies. Think big, but take small concrete steps.
Second, passion is a bigger driver of success than money, so work on things you care about. It will help you through the long nights and early mornings, and it will also help you implement the first step when you start to hit rough patches.
Third, the most important part of the entrepreneurial process is building a good team. Some people tend to think entrepreneurs are lone wolfs, but they’re team builders and players. Find a mentor; find emotional support; and, find people you can trust. People can grow into different roles as time goes by, so make sure the people you line yourself up with are people who have a shared vision and a level of trust that you can set your clock to.
For most successful entrepreneurs, failure is often a rite of passage. Describe one of the biggest business failures you’ve experienced and what you learned from it. How did it influence your decision-making going forward?
I once read that losing is the biggest learning opportunity you will get in life. It is hard to feel that way in the moment when you are dejected, but if you embed that philosophy in your mind, you will have a context for failure and won’t be flat-footed in how to handle it (and succeed) once you do.
One “failure” was starting a record company which, depending on how you look at it, cost me about $6 million; the other was starting a women’s line called Heatherette, which also cost me millions. Both taught me a lot but, generally speaking, they reinforced the idea that people are the most important aspect of any deal and, again, you shouldn’t do things just for money. With the record company, I lost money but ended up making it all back in other businesses with one of the guys I had hired to work in the record company. With the clothing line, I wasn’t the right person for that type of clothing line — I wasn’t knowledgeable enough about it or passionate enough about it to learn it.
You are one of America’s most successful branding gurus, having been recognized with more than 35 awards, including the Brandweek Marketer of the Year and Ernst & Young’s Master Entrepreneur of the Year. You also serve as CEO of the brand consultancy, The Shark Group, which manages more than 60 “Shark Tank” companies. In your opinion, what is the recipe for marketing and branding success and how can our members, small to midsize manufacturers and businesses, maximize their efforts to make a real impact in the markets they serve?
Stick to your core values in whatever you do. Make sure they come across consistently, regardless of platform.
In 2009, you were tapped by producer Mark Burnett to join the cast of “Shark Tank,” which has since become one of the most successful business reality series of all time. How would you describe your experience on the show and what it means to be called “The People’s Shark”?
Overall, it has been an inspiration and a learning experience. I’m always inspired to see what smart, passionate and dedicated people can accomplish. It also keeps my ear to the streets so-to-speak when it comes to entrepreneurship. I just made T-shirts and baggy jeans; many of the folks I meet from “Shark Tank” are truly brilliant. We learn from and inspire each other.
I have also been able to grow as a businessman through the show by seeing new industries up close, especially the millennial space. We always have to be willing, ready and able to learn, and I am fortunate to do so with some of the most motivated and brightest minds in business.
Being able to learn from them and grow with them not only helps me better understand my value to them, but also allows me to further my scope in business and the various industries I might want to be part of.
We were thrilled to have your fellow Shark, Robert Herjavec, here in 2016 to speak at our 111th Annual Event. How would you describe your business approach compared to his and your fellow Sharks and why this mix of investors and negotiating styles makes the show such a big hit?.
We all have our own styles, but I try to stick to either a) businesses in which I know I can add value with my contacts, experience and knowledge or b) entrepreneurs who I would want to work with even if the current business fails. Robert is, first and foremost, a family guy. If he thinks his kids will think it’s cool, he’s open to it.
Beyond your TV and branding fame, you are also a highly successful author. Your books Display of Power and The Brand Within were national bestsellers, while The Power of Broke (2016) and Rise and Grind: Outperform, Outwork, and Outhustle Your Way to a More Successful and Rewarding Life (2018) are the only New York Times best-selling books from any of the Sharks. Why do you believe your books resonate with readers, and who do you turn to for business advice?
don’t know if there’s any one reason, but it may have something to do with me just being myself. These books also came along at a time where people are thirsty for information to apply to themselves and their own dreams. Being about to start a business (of any kind) feels feasible to most people, and a lot of people are more willing than ever to take their shot.
So I am able to share my experiences in my own voice, while also reminding people of my earlier days long before “Shark Tank,” books or FUBU. I try do everything with a sense of humility and authenticity because I know those two things are the embodiment of my readers. They are nervous and excited, which breeds humility and authenticity. I see it on the road when I go on book signings and whenever people stop me on the street to say, “hi.”
But we have to get away from hero worship. Nobody wins and it is a prime dream killer. I’m no guru. I honestly brag about my mistakes in the hope that people can learn from what I learned the hard way. People can’t relate to perfect people.
In 2015, you were named a Presidential Ambassador for Global Entrepreneurship under the Obama administration, an initiative that included providing new entrepreneurs with the chance to draw capital, talent and education. What did you learn from this experience, and how can employers foster an entrepreneurial mindset in their present workplaces that can help drive their talent to innovate and create?
For me, the ambassadorship reinforced that entrepreneurial thinking can be applied to much more than building new companies; it works to keep existing companies relevant as well and can be applied to all sorts of societal problems.
To foster an entrepreneurial environment, you need to be willing to create a work environment that entrepreneurial minded folks are drawn to. I became an entrepreneur because I wanted to feel like I had more control over my life — more schedule flexibility, more freedom to take chances and even — gasp! — fail; more chances to work on stuff that was aligned with my values — meaning stuff I cared about, basically.
It has been reported that one of your proudest accomplishments is your fight against dyslexia and that you continue to work with the Yale Center for Dyslexia and sit on the advisory board of Understood. org. What is your recommendation to those who may face similar challenges (a struggle shared by fellow Sharks Barbara Corcoran and Kevin O’Leary) and how can they use such experiences to their advantage in their professional careers?
Be honest about who you are — including your perceived weaknesses. Don’t hide them. Revealing them may help people understand you, as well as how to work with you, better. Again, nobody relates to perfect people.
This year marks the 10th anniversary of “Shark Tank” and an incredible run for the Emmy Award-winning series. What is your expectation for this milestone year, and what’s next for you and your career?
My expectations for this milestone year are to meet more very inspiring entrepreneurs; you never know which guy who walks down that hall is going to change the world. What’s next for me? I am going to continue doing what I love — inspire people, and keep an open mind and take everything one step at a time.
Read more in the October 2018 Annual Report.