Before he was an author, motivational speaker and one of the star investors on ABC’s “Shark Tank,” Daymond John was an entrepreneur trying to launch a clothing line from his living room.
John, the founder of hip-hop apparel company FUBU, spoke Wednesday at the University of Missouri at an event sponsored by the Delta Gamma Foundation. He discussed how hip-hop culture provided the values he used to build FUBU into a global brand.
John told the story of how FUBU grew from his Queens, New York, home into a company that has done $6 billion in sales, peppering the talk with entrepreneurial advice and snippets of old hip-hop songs. In an era before social media, John said, hip-hop was the form of self-expression that taught him how to make his apparel unique.
In a nod to his hit TV show, John described how five core “SHARK” principles have shaped his career.
“Every time I have either succeeded or failed, it was because I either activated or didn’t activate my five SHARK points,” he said.
S – Set a goal
John said that he started setting goals as a 16-year-old entrepreneur that found inspiration from the hip-hop artists he saw on tour.
He was raised in a single-parent household and began working part-time to supplement his mother’s income. According to John, his heroes were the parents that worked hard for their families while living in a neighborhood surrounded by drugs and crime.
“You have to be in charge of the goals you set,” he said. “If you are not in charge of the goals that you set, then you let other people set goals for you.”
H – Do your homework
When Samsung’s textile division invested in FUBU in 1995, John said he had no choice but to accept the offer because he had run out of operating funds. John said that the investment returned $30 million worth of sales in three months due to his proof of concept — he knew his customer, made his mistakes small and was ready for a strategic partner.
“I do my homework to understand this industry and who is my competitor,” John said.
Social media platforms like Twitter and Instagram are tools that John said will allow entrepreneurs to deliver their products in a different form. Although he did not have these resources when building FUBU, John said that his ability to sell and build brand recognition through hip-hop was what made his brand stand out.
“You are never going to create anything new in this world again,” he said. “You’ll find a new market, you’ll find a new audience, you’ll find a new way to make it faster. But Uber is still a limousine service. Airbnb is still a timeshare.”
A – Amor: Love what you do
The only principle all successful people in the world have in common is love for what they do, according to John.
“Everything else I had done for money … failed,” he said. “But I would have dressed people for free for the rest of my life if I could have.”
Although passion for your career is important, John said, it’s also necessary to maintain a healthy work-life balance — a lesson he learned when his first wife filed for divorce.
R – Remember you are the brand
John said it’s important that a brand is able to describe itself in two to five words when pitching. Otherwise, they leave it up to the investor to do it for them. The most important part of an investment is the person behind the pitch.
“The only thing more important than the number is the person,” John said of his philosophy regarding “Shark Tank” pitches. “There still has to be a human capability to what you do.”
K – Keep swimming
Earlier this year, doctors operating on John’s thyroid found stage 2 cancer during a surgery that lasted three hours. John said the experience made him realize success is being a good father to his three children and living for the ones he loves.
“When I went under, I could only think of the happiest things of my life and nothing had to do with money. Nothing had to do with business,” John told the crowd.