Two thousand small business owners sat and listened intently to Daymond John, CEO and Founder of FUBU clothing, author, and reality TV star of Shark Tank, present his top six “Shark Points” to a successful business at the InfusionCon 2013 conference.
“I was always an entrepreneur,” John said. “My mom and dad always told me that your day job won’t make you rich.”
John grew up in Hollis, Queens at a time when hip-hop music was making its way to the radio and his community was the hub of it all. At the age of 11, his parents divorced and John was forced to become “the man of the house” and eventually help provide for the family. The only males that young men unfortunately looked up to in his neighborhood that drove fancy cars and had money were the drug dealers. He had to find another outlet in the community, so he looked to the music industry. John found Russell Wendell Simmons, an entrepreneur type who, at the time, was building his reputation as a producer and promoter-known today as the founder of Def Jam Records and godfather of hip-hop. Simmons and his partner Rick Rubin discovered LL Cool J, RUN DMC, Public Enemy, Salt-N-Peppa and the Beastie Boys, to name a few.
As John watched these music artists perform on stage, he realized that no company really made urban apparel-and the regular brands that were popular at the time (Nike or Timberland) did not want to be associated with gangs, drug dealers or hip-hop music.
John decided it was time to change that stigma and make urban apparel for the genre. The first name he chose for his brand was BUFU (By Us For Us) but then he quickly realized that it apparently meant something else in the gay community. He then altered that name to FUBU (For Us By Us).
“As entrepreneurs, we all make mistakes–[but] we have to be agile and nimble,” John said.
While maintaining a job at Red Lobster, John began to design hats and t-shirts with the FUBU label and loan shirts to every artist that created a rap video. Perceptually FUBU seemed to be everywhere, but in truth, John only had 10 shirts and used them over and over for two years until his team got a big break.
He went to his neighbor LL Cool J and asked him to wear the label. LL was resistant at first because of the affiliation with “the street” and he was concerned about a conflict with his own sponsors.
Then LL remembered…help the community that supported me (a lesson we all need to remember) and allowed John to take a photo of him wearing a FUBU shirt and hat. John still has the photo today and used it as a marketing launchpad to media outlets and potential buyers.
From conferences and mass marketing to department store deals, John eventually built FUBU to be the multi-millon dollar company it is today. With fame and fortune in his pocket, he did admit that at one point he got lost in it all and he began to lose things dear to him, family and customers.
“When you get too successful, sometimes you can lose track of what is important and forget your customer,” John said.
John explained that with success it’s easy to get wrapped up in yourself and forget how you built the company to begin with. Also, without keeping in touch with the customer, it’s easy to keep doing the same thing-and then you wonder why your company isn’t progressing.
“We get stuck on what we want to do–but really, it’s always about what the customer wants.” John said.
As his story progressed, John would shout out a “Shark Point” that was relevant to him as he built the business. With each progressive point, you could see the attendees straighten in their chair, feverously write notes and bob their heads in agreement. It was like an epiphany had shot through the room as John went through, frankly, very simple, easy, business 101 points that an owner needs to remember and execute to continue to be successful. I have to say it wasn’t Earth-shattering information, but apparently, now-and-again, owners need to be reminded to go back to the basics.
What you’ve all been waiting for…Daymond John’s six “Shark Points”:
- Set goals-you can not hit a target that you can not see
- Do your homework–you are bound to make the same mistake without doing your homework
- Motto: We love what we do and we must love our customer
- Remember–YOU are the brand
- You must learn how to pitch
- You must keep swimming
To learn more about Daymond John visit www.daymondjohn.com. @TheSharkDaymond