ep. 104 - Daymond John:

Founder & CEO of FUBU, Shark on 'Shark Tank', & Best-Selling Author


A young entrepreneur, industry pioneer and highly regarded marketing expert, as well as a man who has surpassed new heights of commercial and financial success, are just a few ways people have described Daymond John. Over the last 20 years, Daymond John (The Shark) has evolved from one of the most successful fashion icons of his generation to a highly sought-after branding expert, author, consultant, and as a speaker in business and motivational genres.

John’s creative vision and strong knowledge of the marketplace created one of the most iconic fashion brands in recent years. FUBU, standing for “For Us by Us,” represented a lifestyle that was neglected by other clothing companies. Realizing this need in the marketplace, John helped to create the untapped urban apparel space and laid the groundwork for other companies to compete in this newly established market.

John grew up in the community of Hollis, Queens, which was an incubator for stars of a new genre of music called Hip-Hop. With acts like RUN DMC, Salt-N- Peppa and LL Cool J rapidly making names for themselves, John was surrounded by people who gave him the inspiration to create a clothing line, which would ultimately change the fashion world.

Based on the early success of selling affordable tie-top hats, John recruited some of his neighborhood friends: Keith Perrin, J. Martin and Carl Brown, and FUBU was born. They created a distinctive FUBU logo and began sewing it on T-shirts, sweatshirts and hats. The brand hit a tipping point when John convinced Hollis native and Hip- Hop superstar, LL Cool J, to wear FUBU for a promotional campaign. This was the catalyst behind the Hip-Hop community supporting the new brand and instantly giving it credibility.

FUBU quickly became an international success and, in 2001, it grew almost 75 freestanding stores in countries such as Mexico, Korea, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, China and Japan. Acquiring and operating so many diverse products slowly made John an expert in marketing and branding. The media and large corporations alike quickly took notice and sought out John for interviews, consulting and speaking engagements.

In 2009, John joined the cast of the ABC entrepreneurial business show, Shark Tank, produced by acclaimed TV producer Mark Burnett. As one of the “Sharks,” John and four other prominent executives listen to business pitches from everyday people hoping to launch their company or product to new heights. Investing his own money in every project, John becomes partners with the entrepreneurs, helping turn their dreams into a reality. Millions of viewers tune into the show as he demonstrates his marketing prowess and entrepreneurial insights, which have earned him his nickname as “The Shark.”


ep. 104 - Daymond John: Founder & CEO of FUBU, Shark on 'Shark Tank', & Best-Selling Author

Kyle Davis: All right. So with us today on GDA Podcast we have a very special guest, Daymond John, he is an entrepreneur and the founder and CEO of FUBU. He is a star on ABC's Shark Tank and he's also a best selling author. And I think as many people know when [00:01:00] I do this by myself, I don't like to do a long scripted introduction. Instead, I like to have our guests tell us about themselves. So with that being said, Daymond how are you?

Daymond John: I'm great. Thanks for having me.

Kyle Davis: Well, thanks for coming on. So for people who've been kind of living under a rock and they don't necessarily know who you are or your background, or anything else, give us a little sense of what your story is and how you became such a well-respected entrepreneur and figure in business?

Daymond John: Yeah. Well, [00:01:30] I'm a kid from a suburb of New York, Queens, New York, and middle class to lower-middle-class people live there. A lot of the Caribbean influence was there. My father was from Trinidad. My mother's an African American. And I went through school. As a kid, I struggled a lot because I had dyslexia. Not knowing that I had dyslexia at that moment. I grew up really at a really great time when new music was coming around [00:02:00] called rap and hip-hop. This music was almost like a disruptive technology to the kids in the street, because prior to that kids had to be able to, or musicians used to have to be able to harmonize, play an instrument, and just various other things.

This new form of hip-hop that was coming around, I mean the kids just had to be able to really do spoken word and be poets on a microphone, and you know scratch a record a couple of times. But [00:02:30] we were starting to get to see the inner struggles that kids were having all around the world because we were communicating through this music. It was stuff that we wouldn't normally see on TV or the news, but we were finding out what was going on in the streets of Detroit, Compton, and the streets of Japan, through this music. And this music came with a way to walk, talk and dress.

Now when this music came out with this way to walk, talk and dress, we would go out, and we would all buy ... the kids who love this music, we would buy very specific brands. Lees, Levis, Adidas, Fila, and [00:03:00] about 20 different brands. And as it started to grow, we started to see in a newspaper, or just on the news, that a lot of these brands looked down at the kids playing, listening, to hip-hop wearing their brands. So Gucci, Louis Vuitton and all these people say, "Well, we don't like rappers." Or, "We don't like inner-city kids." Or, "We don't like whatever, minorities." Whatever it may be.

And it probably was rumors. Most of that was probably rumors. But you know it created a backlash in our community and I wanted to empower [00:03:30] myself. And I said, "Well, I love this culture so much. I want to try to make a couple hats and tee shirts for just the people that like this music. Not a color. A culture. I wasn't going to be prejudiced like I felt the other companies were. So I decided that I was going to make a couple of hats one day and my mother she showed me how to sew these hats. They were poorly constructed hats, but they were kind of like the hats that hip-hop rappers were wearing and it was 1989 when I stood on a corner and I sold [00:04:00] all the hats that I could make, which was $800 worth of hats.

And I realized at that point, I was like, wow. Why am I leaving this up to other people to dictate to us our fashion? They don't care about our music. They're not in the streets of Brooklyn. I mean they're hanging out in Paris and on runways on fifth avenue. They don't know about this stuff. Why don't I just start making it myself? And that's the really quick story, but I opened up and I started selling hats in '89 and I closed down [00:04:30] the business three times because I ran out of money. But I only ran out of a thousand dollars, two thousand dollars. And I would finally get national exposure around '96, '97.

So to just tell you really quick, I had to turn my house into a factory. I had to try to fulfill orders. I had to stand on every street corner selling things. The things that many, many entrepreneurs go through, but that time was from '89 to '96, '97, and it felt like 20 years. But it was a long period of time. [00:05:00] But I struggled and I finally had gotten to a point where I had a lot of good breaks and FUBU was born.

Kyle Davis: I think you mentioned something pretty brilliant. If you could expand on it for a moment, but what you saw at that time was that the hip-hop community was being underserved by these major brands and you found an opportunity, a niche if you will, and you decided to just go in and make something of it. You know what do you think about other entrepreneurs [00:05:30] who sometimes they see businesses that they think are perceived competition, but they're not really ... Man, I should probably learn to speak today. But they're not really focusing on specific needs and specific markets or something else like that and there's a real opportunity there.

Daymond John: Yeah, of course. I mean you know it's a big world and the world's getting smaller, obviously, because of the way technology is connecting us all. But as the world gets smaller, [00:06:00] these pockets of people that are being underserved is a really big pocket. If I was only dealing with the people who were being underserved in Queens, that would be one thing, but if I'm dealing with a pocket of people being underserved around the globe, that's another thing. You know we've seen this happen in so many different ways. We've seen it happen where there was only three channels when I grew up; ABC, NBC, CBS and now there's TV channels for dogs, women, [00:06:30] veterans, people who like flowers, and people who like to cook. So if you can get laser focused on a small, small community, generally that's how you build your brand and then you're community, as it goes out and becomes ambassadors, and your brand can actually change and grow and encompass way more other things than you ever thought it would.

Kyle Davis: And I think you just mentioned something brilliant, and I'm sure we're gonna come back to this when we talk about branding and marketing, but the [00:07:00] importance of having a brand ambassador or cultivating that culture within your clientele.

Daymond John: A 100%. You know the reality is that everybody will root for you and they'll tell you your baby is beautiful and that's one thing because they have no vested interest. But for somebody to purchase, and a purchase is anything that has cost somebody something. That means purchasing time. Purchasing because they spent a dollar on you. Purchasing because they decided to work for [00:07:30] you for free or intern for you. Or purchasing because they decided to give you advice. Anybody that decides to take what they feel that's of value and give to you means a way different situation than someone who just says, "I like it. Thumbs up."

So when we say proof of concept, that means when you go out and you stand on the corner and somebody takes their hard earned money and buys a hat from you and they don't know you from anywhere, that means they've purchased something from you. Once they do that, you want them to be an ambassador. [00:08:00] You want to make them feel special. You want to make them feel like they're part of a community because you want those people to be at a water cooler on Monday morning in the office talking about, "Oh my god, do you know this restaurant that I went to? Oh my god, did you see Shark Tank Friday night? You know this hat I just bought on Saturday? Oh, you should go to this trainer." You want them to be your ambassador. You can't really buy ambassadors. The ambassadors come to you because you fill a certain desire that they have.

And that's what happened. You know I started off with selling a couple hats to people [00:08:30] in Queens, but after that people would buy my hat and say, "Hey, I'm the FUBU guy." Or, "I'm the FUBU girl in Detroit." "I'm the FUBU guy, FUBU girl, in Nebraska." And it spread like that and ambassadors are extremely important.

Kyle Davis: Good. It's a big thing of mine and I'm glad that you touched on that. Now one of the things that my mom talked to me about, because she's been in your audience before and she wanted me to mention this, but is the way that you tell your story to an audience about how you grew up. And when you're explaining this hip-hop culture [00:09:00] that you kind of came up in, you bring a DJ out on stage and that's kind of like a whole interactive element. Can you describe what that's like for an audience?

Daymond John: Yeah. So, you know what I consider what I do, I try to make it a one-man play. I bring a DJ on the stage because he scores my speaking engagement. I alter my engagement probably anywhere from 25% to 50% per who the audience is because there's a different message that I need to drive home to everybody else. [00:09:30] The 50% that stays the same is my life story. I'm not gonna be born in Brooklyn today and be born in Queens tomorrow. So I can keep the fundamentals of my story the same and during the fundamentals of the story, I score it with certain music because I want to bring people back to a certain time of where it was. And it's just not hip-hop, or whatever the case is, I show that there were other generations prior to us, rock 'n' roll and the 70s, that had their own way to communicate love and hate [00:10:00] and how they wanted to dress, walk, and talk.

So that's what I do and I think that by scoring it and telling people a great story, I think people are willing to observe and absorb the information. You know most people they don't technically check-in to a speaking engagement until 15 minutes in and they check-out 45 minutes after it starts. And if I can retain their attention for an hour and give them as much information as I can and relate to them [00:10:30] with the music and with my failures, hopefully, it makes them more powerful when they leave and they get more inspired by it.

Kyle Davis: Good. So coming from that and how you grew up and then launching FUBU into what it was. What was it like when you got the phone call for Shark Tank? I mean for a lot of people who maybe are just tuning in, I mean that's how they know you. So what was that like? And then I think from there, as [00:11:00] an investor, how beneficial has it been for you just to learn about all these new companies and new ideas and have the opportunity to mentor and invest?

Daymond John: Oh, I got a call from the team that Mark Burnett put together, and the gentleman's name was Clay, about Shark Tank. I was interested, but the only reasons I was interested is because I said I wanted to meet Mark Burnett because I want to pitch him some great TV ideas and I don't think that any show's ever gonna work of you sitting there listening to five business people talk about what we do every single [00:11:30] day. But, you know what, I'm glad I was wrong. You had somebody like a brilliant producer, like Mark Burnett and the team, you put some music in there and some real heartfelt stories of people who've overcome things, and it works.

So I initially went there and did the show for two reasons. Number one, it was '08. I had 12 clothing lines, 10 of them weren't doing well because nobody was buying another shirt or pair of jeans when they can't pay their mortgage. I wanted to diversify my portfolio [00:12:00] because all I was getting pitched were clothing lines. So I said, "You know what, if I go on this show I'm gonna get some cosmetic companies. Some bedding and electronic companies. So when I deal with my friends over at Macy's or JC Penney, I can take up more real estate because people aren't buying clothes right now."

I go on to the show and I start to find out that it's way more empowering than I thought. It's empowering entrepreneurs. It's a top show watched kids 5 to 15. It's a top show watched kids and parents together on network. [00:12:30] I'm also learning, as technology is changing and unlike the way I used to do business where I make a shirt, maybe a store buys it. Maybe the store puts it out on the rack and I have no idea who purchased it off the rack and if it doesn't sell they send it back to me. I'm starting to see people take advantage of this new outlet called Instagram and Facebook and Twitter and they're converting sales on there. They're doing online marketing. They don't have any inventory. They're not dealing with stores.

And I start to realize that I'm getting educated more than anybody else watching [00:13:00] the show or on the panel. And then I'm starting to bring that back to my business and change the way my business is being done. So it was a ... I'm very fortunate to be on the show, but I'm not confused that I probably am the person who has been more educated than anybody else because of the show's creation.

Kyle Davis: I think you just kind of stumbled on to something that I wasn't gonna ask, but now I feel like I'm obligated to. For you, what has been the biggest take away from the show that has really changed the way [00:13:30] that you think about business or life or anything else?

Daymond John: Well, a couple of takeaways. The reason why I wrote The Power of Broke is because I see two type of people that come on to the show. One type of person who comes on the show and thinks the Shark has the golden wand, pixie dust, and the silver bullet and the Sharks can change their life with the snap of a finger and it's not true. If all of us could do that then Mark Burnett's team, I mean Mark Cuban's team, would win every year. FUBU would [00:14:00] be Nike and whatever the case is.

And then I started to realize the fundamentals of business are in everybody. And the ones that come on and win are the people that come on, they're telling you the story about their life and what they're going through, or how they had a couple of setbacks and how they're moving forward. And the train is leaving the station and if you want to get on the train it's up to you. But no matter what, this train is leaving the station and a Shark is only a stepping stone in part of a longer journey. And they're allowing you to invest in their [00:14:30] dream and nothing in the world is gonna stop them. And that's something that I've learned is the fundamentals of a true, true entrepreneur. They have huge rejection muscle. But they are not depending on anybody but themselves.

Kyle Davis: I'm glad that you brought up the fact that the fundamentals remain the same because it's I think important for a lot of people to understand that if you focus on the fundamentals and then obviously do all the extracurriculars, that you're at least starting from [00:15:00] a really good place. I think it's just important for people to understand that. When you're giving your speeches then, kind of back to the fundamentals, there's a lot of different topics when you do tailoring that you kind of bring it back to. And we've mentioned branding and marketing and the importance of having a brand ambassador, but some other ones, and I'm just kind of reading off a list here, is fostering creativity and goals and motivation. So I'm just wondering if you can give kind of like a teaser on those or how you think about different things like that?

Daymond John: [00:15:30] Yeah, sure. You know when I'm talking to big corporations and one thing that is disappointing to me, it's natural to happen because big corporations have so many things going on. And don't get me wrong, I think the people who work in a corporation work just as hard as the entrepreneur because you have a lot of moving parts there and you have to deal with sensitive people and policies and things of that nature. And when I'm talking to big corporations, and they say, "Hurray. Hurray. Hurray." And they all go back and they don't do anything about it. It's [00:16:00] a little disappointing, but it's hard because what they have to do is they have to ... What I try to get across to these individuals at the big places is, it starts from the top down and innovation is not something we can all just sit in a room and say, "Hi everybody. Let's be innovative." That's not the case.

It's when everybody from the kid in the mail room all the way up to the CEO, has an ability to input what they see as a lack of something being done or something they're really excited about and then they share it with everybody, it doesn't get [00:16:30] knocked down, but other people bring other aspects to it. Hey, you should think of this. Hey, you should think of that. And that's what I try to share with people. That's what the fundamentals are of business. Innovation is two and three and four people getting together and finding the best way to work things out.

And sometimes innovation starts with just changing around the way the office is situated. Stop having everybody in these corner offices where they don't talk to everybody and they don't know who everybody is. Stop telling people they get penalized if they try something. [00:17:00] I look at some of the best practices out there, when Google says that one day out of the week you're supposed to work on anything you want to work on. When you start finding out that 10 and 20 and 40 people are working on one project that they really love, just because that's what they're all drawn to, you start to look at, well why aren't we implementing this in our system?

So, that's what I choose to talk about when I talk to corporations. When I talk to everyday individuals, I try to explain to them if stop trying to do keeping up with the Jones's. Stop trying to compare your blooper [00:17:30] reel to everybody's sizzle reel and you think everybody else in the world is doing great. They're not. They have the same challenges that every single one of us have and you have to stay your course. Come up with a strong culture in the beginning. Stick to your guns, but you have to act, learn, and repeat. You have to take small steps so that you can recover from them small steps and you are going to get closer to your target and your mark. And those are the two type of individuals that we speak to and those [00:18:00] are some of the fundamentals I try to share with them.

Kyle Davis: I mean I could probably talk to you for hours on both of those things. I'm a huge fan of innovation and there's just a lot that we can discuss, but I know that you're kind of short on time. So I want to segue into your new book and I kind of have a funny story to tell. But one of the things as a former sales manager for a few different tech start-ups was in Silicon Valley and New York, that I've always had the thing. My issue with was when I walked into the salesroom, if it's quiet, it's not a good day. And the funny thing is one day when you [00:18:30] come into the office at GDA, it was around the lunch hour, and you said like the dreaded phrase, "Who's on the phone?" Or, "Why is it so quiet?" Something like that and it was just like my heart sunk. But I knew what you were getting at.

And I think that's kind of a good segue into the new book, which is titled Rise and Grind and from there I think the subtitle is, How to Outperform. How to Outwork. How to Outhustle the Competition. So, what's it about and what are some kind of key teasers that people should know about?

Daymond John: [00:19:00] Yeah, and I'm glad that you brought that up. I mean yes, when you walk into a salesroom and it's quiet, there's a problem. You don't want people who are order takers. You want people who are order makers. And my last book was called Power of Broke and it was the concept of, all right stop using the fact that you don't have money as an excuse. I want you to walk up to your issues like I don't have money, but where are my other slack resources and what else can I bring to the table and you have nothing to lose. And you'll start to notice that most people that are successful have the same [00:19:30] mentality.

All right, so now I move into Rise and Grind. I'm wanting you to have the mindset of what it was in the Power of Broke and that's why I interviewed about 20 well-known people, or some weren't well known, from all aspects of life, from music to sports. Rise and Grind is, all right, now give me the actual recipe. So now I've interviewed 20 other people who are people such as Santana, Catherine Zeta-Jones. A young man who climbed Mount Kilimanjaro who has [00:20:00] no arms and no legs. That he did not use any prosthetics to do it.

Kyle Davis: Kyle Maynard.

Daymond John: He army crawled and ... Yeah, Kyle, of course.

Kyle Davis: Yeah, a good guy.

Daymond John: Yeah. He's a great speaker as well. So I used that and I said to them, okay, what's the first 90 minutes of your day look like? What's the last 90 minutes of your day look like? What exactly did you do when you were 20 years old that you don't do anymore when you were 40 and that you return to when you were 50 because it realized it got you here in life. What are the things that you refuse [00:20:30] to do? Did you go all out in your 20s and at what time in your life did you decide, "Listen, I need a work-life balance." Did that ever happen? And I want to know specifics what they did.

And what I found is that in all of the individuals they all came back to various things that were almost the same. Some would say like me, Daymond John, says, "Hey, I goal set every morning. I read my goals from here to whatever and I break it down in the book." Santana would say, "I meditate." [00:21:00] No, Santana would say, "I pray." Russell Simmons would say, "I meditate." But if you look at it all and the methods and the techniques they were doing, is they do a couple things. First of all, they give thanks for the reason they're here. Second of all, they start to acknowledge all the other people and or what has gotten them here in life. Then they start to go into what do they want out of life and then they go into what will they get in return if they receive these things out of life, no matter how you want to put it together.

And almost all of them did that in the morning and at night. [00:21:30] Listen, I love working out late at night. And I noticed that most of them work out early in the morning. And I learn more from the book than anybody else. Now I started working out early in the morning. I'm not a morning person and instead of me fearing that I don't have enough hours in the day to do that early in the morning, what it's done it's increased my productivity. So I look at myself after a month, I go, "Wait a minute. I was 30% more productive because I worked out in the morning instead of the evening."

[00:22:00] So there's a lot of different things that I've put in the book that people either say they're doing already and they're on the right track. Maybe they should try it. Or they've never done it and you know what they should try it. So that's what I put in the book. I wanted to answer as many people's questions of how to maximize my day and what is my rise and what is my grind?

Kyle Davis: I think that's brilliant and one of the things that I liked, you mentioned, and maybe this is just off the cuff, but you talked about how you're 30% more productive. [00:22:30] So I guess my question for you is, how do measure success? How do you measure productivity on your end? And I think that'd be a good place for us to kind of wrap up because it's a good thing for people to know that there has to be a way to measure certain things.

Daymond John: Yeah, and in the book, I put there listen, your inbox is your defense, your outbox is your offense. That's how I look at it. And when I look at my productivity, I've looked at how many more emails I get out during the day. When I am talking about how I set goals, and I'm looking at my goals, I'm [00:23:00] getting further and more accomplished, or I'm getting further on setting my goals and accomplishing what I want in them. I can look at that. When I look at the fact that I'm spending more time with my family. And why am I spending more time with my family? Because I'm leaving the office earlier. Why am I leaving the office earlier? Because I'm putting out all the fires that I usually wait until seven, eight, nine o'clock at night to put out. I'm getting them done at four or five because I don't need a break. I have adrenaline running through my system because I started working out earlier in the morning.

So I can look at all [00:23:30] that and I can basically see, you know at the end of the day I'm really in tune with my time and my life. That I'm 30% more productive due to it.

Kyle Davis: I think that's just an awesome take away. I really appreciate you coming on the podcast and letting people know your story and all the different things that you're working on and especially the new book, Rise and Grind. With that being said, Daymond John thank you so much and come join us again next time you're in Dallas.

Daymond John: Well, thank you for always working with us and being such [00:24:00] great partners. We appreciate it.

Kyle Davis: Thank you.