Daymond John, star of ABC’s Shark Tank and the founder and CEO of FUBU, visited the Phillips Center for the Performing Arts Monday night to tell UF students and Gainesville residents his story. He also used the opportunity to advise ordinary Americans on how to become successful entrepreneurs.
John was full of humor, starting off his talk by poking fun at himself. After the audience started snapping pictures of him when he first came out, he recalled once being mistakenly recognized in the street as “Ashy Larry” from the Dave Chapelle Show.
After a few jokes, he delved into the main idea of his lecture. He divided the talk into five S.H.A.R.K points, including Set Goals (5, 10, 20 year-goals), Homework (do your homework!), Amore (love what you do), Remember You Are a Brand (you are always pitching), and Keep Swimming (never stop moving forward).
John started by discussing his childhood in Queens, NY. He was born to an African-American mother and a Trinidadian father. After his father left when he was 10, John became the “man of the house” and got a job to supplement his mother’s three employments. For his first job, he passed out flyers for $2 an hour.
He acknowledged that in his neighborhood there weren’t any real heroes visible. The real heroes, he said, were waking up early to get their kids ready for school and weren’t coming back home until late at night after they had finished working. What was visible in his neighborhood were two things: the prevalence of drug dealers, and soon, a new form of music called hip hop.
John said he connected with rappers and most importantly hip hop because “you don’t just listen to hip hop, you live it.” Through hip hop he saw one visible hero: Russell Simmons, a co-founder of Def Jam. Simmons appeared in the papers traveling abroad and making business decisions, showing John that it was possible to succeed.
After passing out flyers, he began working at a new mall. This was John’s first experience with entrepreneurs. These people were diverse, smart, and hard-working. Soon, John started believing that he could be like them.
John began touring with rappers as hip hop began to grow. He saw the racism against the hip hop movement and its sense of fashion, namely how Timberland said it didn’t “sell to drug dealers.” Soon thereafter, John came up with “By Us For Us,” or BUFU to represent the hip hop movement amidst backlash against urban style. After realizing BUFU meant something else in his neighborhood, he changed the name to FUBU. Thus, FUBU was born.
John started selling hats he made with his mother’s help. He started making shirts, which two years later he used as props in rappers’ music videos. He even got LL Cool J to take a picture wearing FUBU (John said they thought LL as their “Michael Jordan of Nike”).
With this new publicity for FUBU, John set his sights on the all-important MAGIC Show in Las Vegas, which was the number one trade show for fashion. After arriving in Las Vegas, he got $300,000 in orders. FUBU was now a name everyone wanted to wear.
Soon, though, John realized he didn’t have the money to make $300,000 worth in orders. He went to banks for loans and subsequently got denied 27 times. John harped on how important “financial intelligence” is; he said if he could go back in time, he would tell himself to seek this “financial intelligence” through higher education.
Since he didn’t know how to go about doing the orders, he put an ad in a newspaper to try to get a strategy partner. Samsung’s textiles division called him and offered to help, but with an ultimatum. Samsung told John that he had to sell $5 million in three years. John knew he couldn’t do it, but decided to go along with it anyway. Lo and behold, he didn’t sell $5 million in three years, instead he sold $30 million in three months!
He discussed his appearances on Keeping Up With The Kardashians, and amid laughs from the audience, he actually praised Kris Jenner and the Kardashians as amazing entrepreneurs. This praise is warranted, he said, considering that the Kardashian enterprise is raking in $200 million a year, and like John, they don’t sing, dance, or rap. They are smart businesswomen.
John ended the talk by discussing how he got casted for Shark Tank. He joked that the show’s creator, Mark Burnett, needed a “token smart guy.”
Then, he went on to put the other Sharks on blast and to praise them all the same. Robert, he said, just wants something cool and something his kids will think is cool. Barbara is emotional, sure, but an amazing marketer. Lori sells some ridiculous products (he mentioned Scrub Daddy), but she still has made the most money off of Shark Tank products. Mark can buy all the Sharks six times over. Mr. Wonderful likes money-hungry and evil ideas the best. This whole section had the crowd in uproar and giggles.
Daymond John wrapped up his story by going back to the five main S.H.A.R.K points.
He believes you should set goals and go back to those goals all the time; he believes you should always do your homework on any decision; he believes you should love what you do so much that you’d be willing to do it for free; he believes you should remember that you’re always a brand and that transparency in social media is the new way to do business; and he believes you should always keep swimming, even if the going gets rough.
Daymond John appears on Shark Tank Fridays at 9 p.m. on ABC. You can also find him on Twitter at @TheSharkDaymond.