‘Shark Tank’ Entrepreneur Daymond John Shares Success Story
Celebrated fashion pioneer, best-selling author and branding guru Daymond John shared his rags-to-riches story and the lessons he’s learned as a successful entrepreneur with an audience of more than 2,000.
Now known to millions as co-host of ABC’s entrepreneurial business show, “Shark Tank,” John grew up on the streets of Hollis, a predominately African-American neighborhood in the New York City borough of Queens.
Celebrated fashion pioneer, best-selling author and branding guru Daymond John shared his rags-to-riches story and the lessons he’s learned as a successful entrepreneur with an audience of more than 2,000 people at an event hosted by Florida Atlantic University’s College of Business at the Carole and Barry Kaye Performing Arts Auditorium Thursday night.
Now known to millions as co-host of ABC’s entrepreneurial business show, “Shark Tank,” John grew up on the streets of Hollis, a predominately African-American neighborhood in the New York City borough of Queens. His parents, who instilled the value of hard work in him from an early age, divorced when John was 10 years old, and he hasn’t seen his father since.
Always on the lookout for a way to make a little money, John discovered his opportunity in the culture that was growing around the music that was born in the Bronx and slowly seeped out to the rest of the city and eventually the world. The music was hip-hop. For John and his friends, hip-hop was their way of communicating about their hopes and dreams and the life they saw around them. Hip-hop began to infuse the way people walked and talked and dressed, and John wanted to be a part of it.
“This was our only way to talk to people on the other side of the country and the other side of the world,” he explained to the audience as a DJ played the Sugarhill Gang’s “Rapper’s Delight” in the background. “And this music was a disruptive technology. It addressed everything. Hip-hop wasn’t something you listened to, it was something you lived.”
He took notice of a young man in his neighborhood who was making a name for himself and a good deal of money by promoting this culture. That man was Russell Simmons, who launched hip-hop recording artists such as Run DMC and LL Cool J. Seeing the fashion that the artists and their fans were adopting, from Timberland boots to Kangol hats, John saw an opening for himself and his friends. They would create clothing that reflected their culture and name it FUBU, an acronym for the words “For Us By Us.”
His mother believed in John, and together with a few friends they sewed the first FUBU apparel themselves in their living room. LL Cool J, who lived just down the street, agreed to let John take a photo with a FUBU shirt on, and John used that photo to promote the apparel at a major fashion trade show in Las Vegas. Their timing was perfect. More than $300,000 in orders flowed in from the trade show alone. John’s mother took out a $100,000 loan on their house to help get the company off the ground. They sold all the furniture in the house and made room for their new operation.
“My mother moved out, my friend moved in,” John recalled. “We purchased a whole bunch of industrial sewing machines. We hired a staff. We were sleeping in sleeping bags next to the sewing machines. And we had a factory up and running in the middle of Hollis, Queens.”
Within months, the company had struck a deal with Samsung Textiles to underwrite the manufacturing of their orders.
The rest is history. Soon, FUBU was everywhere. The company grew to more than $350 million in revenues by 1998.
In his talk Thursday night, John noted the biggest casualty of his success – his marriage. In his drive to build FUBU into one of the world’s most recognized brands, John was rarely home and missed much of their daughters’ childhoods. With encouragement from his former wife, John shifted gears, and put more of his focus on paying it forward and helping others.
After the divorce, John was soon appearing on television shows giving entrepreneurs advice, and in 2009, he joined the cast of “Shark Tank,” in which John and four other prominent executives listen to business pitches from everyday people hoping to launch their company or product to new heights. The show has raised John’s profile to even greater heights and he now travels the world giving motivational speeches.
John’s keys to success include establishing the right mindset and following a few fundamental principles, which he calls his five "S.H.A.R.K points.” He shared his unique goal-setting and achievement strategies, which he hopes will empower people to make positive changes in every aspect of their lives.
Toward the end of his presentation, John showed the audience a photo of his 6-month-old daughter and expounded upon his final S.H.A.R.K. point.
“To be successful in life, it never stops,” he said. “You have to keep swimming.”
Northwestern Mutual - The Striano Financial Group was a platinum sponsor for the event. Other sponsors included NCCI, FAU MBA in Sport Management, Comerica and JC White.