Secrets from Shark Tank’s Daymond John

By: Gina Mason

As embarrassing as it may sound, I must admit that many (most) of my Friday nights are no longer spend out at the clubs, but rather at home watching my favorite show on ABC, Shark Tank. Call it my interest in the entrepreneurial spirit (or lack of a social life), I just cannot get enough of the wheeling and dealing that goes on during the show. Outside of some of the ingenious ideas that people come up with, I am absolutely fascinated with the thought-process and negotiating skills of each “shark.”

Due to my obsession with the show, I recently read an article on Inc.com that recapped a speech that business mogul and Shark Tank star, Daymond John did during an Inc. GrowCo conference in Nashville and I wanted to share some of his wisdom. I find John’s story to be the most inspiring out of all of the sharks and applaud him for all that he has accomplished.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with John, he created a clothing empire that started with his handmade line, Fubu. John is the epitome of a rags-to-riches story as he was raised in Queens by a single mother who worked three jobs to provide for the family. Using the sewing skills his mother had taught him, he started making clothing in his mother’s apartment and selling it on the street. After a lot of hard work and hustling, sales for his hats and shirts took off and today he is worth over $250 million dollars.

Thanks to Lindsay Blakely’s recap, here are a few of the secrets for building your business that John shared at the conference:

Act bigger than you are.

“John realized early on that although he knew he wanted to be a part of hip-hop culture, he couldn’t sing, dance or produce music. But he loved fashion. Dominating the hip-hop clothing business became his one and only focus. “I couldn’t hit a target I couldn’t see,” he recalls. The only problem was that he had no money and no knowledge about how to start a fashion company. So he did what many enterprising entrepreneurs have done before him: He faked it until he made it. The first step was getting the right people to stand behind the brand.

John made 10 Fubu shirts and using his connections, showed up wherever influential rappers would be–often at music video studios or as was the case with LL Cool J, his house. He charmed them into trying on the shirts, snapped their photos and then took back the shirts. Fubu still wasn’t a real company with real merchandise, but after two years the brand looked huge, John says–or at least, it looked like all of the cool hip-hop kids wore it.”

Win on scrappiness and savvy.

“John eventually learned that anyone who is anyone in the fashion business needs to show up at the annual Magic Show in Las Vegas, a trade show for clothing manufacturers. He couldn’t afford a booth or even a ticket. So he and a few friends turned a room at the Mirage hotel into a makeshift showroom. John sneaked into the convention and persuaded buyers to make a trip over to the room. By the end of the show, he had closed $300,000 in orders. Fubu later went on to sell, with the help of a distribution deal with Samsung’s textile division, $30 million of clothing in three months.

Or there was the time that LL Cool J was slated to appear in and write the lyrics for a Gap ad. John persuaded him to show up for the shoot wearing a Fubu hat and rap about the brand. (If you listen to the lyrics closely, he mentions For Us By Us, the tag line behind Fubu). The way John tells it, Gap had wanted the rapper to help the clothing line break into the hip-hop market. But after the ad aired and then re-aired, Fubu was the real winner behind the deal–revenue climbed to $400 million. Not a coincidence, the entrepreneur says.”

Remember: You are the brand.

“If you’re an aspiring Shark Tank contestant, this tip is for you. John says one of the most important things you can do to set yourself up for success when you pitch your company is to come up with two to five words that define you as an entrepreneur. “If you don’t know what you stand for, you leave it up to us,” he says, referring to the other sharks on the show.

Speaking of those sharks, whatever you do, learn what each shark is looking for. “After six years of the show, I have no idea how people go on Shark Tank and they don’t understand what the sharks want,” he says.”

I think John not only offered some great insight, but also some incredible inspiration for the aspiring or up-and-coming entrepreneurs out there. He defied the odds and truly created his own success by following a dream, working hard and taking advantage of the right opportunities.

What did you think of his tips?

For those of you who want to catch up on the latest episodes of Shark Tank, visit: http://abc.go.com/shows/shark-tank

I welcome your comments and as always, if you like what you read be social and share.

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