Daymond John had unforeseen problems with his startup clothing business, FUBU. He’d been able to hustle up to $300,000 worth of orders at a trade show in Las Vegas, but when he returned to his New York area home he came to a sudden realization – he had to make $300,000 worth of clothes and he didn’t have the money to make his products. He went to 27 banks and every single one of them turned him down for a loan.
His mother came to his rescue. She took out a $100,000 mortgage on their home, and helped to transform it into a clothing factory. John, who’d passed out fliers in front of a local mall and worked as a waiter at Red Lobster to make money, was starting a business that has now sold more than $6 billion worth of clothes. John is commonly referred to as the “People’s Shark” on the hit television show, Shark Tank.
He was the first speaker in the Mike Watson Lecture series held Wednesday night (Oct. 30) on the Arkansas State University campus. He spoke to a capacity crowd inside Riceland Hall.
“It’s fascinating where business and life are going today,” he said.
Long before his business success and Shark Tank, John grew up in a relatively obscure neighborhood in New York. His parents were working class and there was nothing special about their name or the work his family did, he said.
During the 1980s, hip hop began to grow and and artists and groups from his part of the city – Run DMC, Salt and Pepper, The Beastie Boys and LL Cool J – became household names. John wanted to participate in the movement, but there was one problem, or several depending upon how you look at it.
“I couldn’t sing. I couldn’t rap. I couldn’t dance or produce,” he said.
John along with several of his friends soon realized that hip hop was bigger than just the music. It was becoming a cultural phenomenon and clothing would be one of its staples. The group developed the FUBU clothing line.
It was during this time that John made a promise to himself. No matter how much it cost, someday he’d attend a Prince concert just so he could say that he was in the same room as the star musician.
To get their business off the ground, John and his friends painted the name FUBU all over walls, and gates throughout New York. They cooked up a scheme to get some of those now famous rappers to wear some of their clothes. The group stalked LL Cool J in front of his home.
The rapper finally agreed to take a picture wearing a FUBU shirt, and it was the prop John and his colleagues used to convince retailers at the Las Vegas trade show to buy their products. That $300,000 in orders soon turned into millions and FUBU became a fashion icon.
John gave the crowd several bits of advice about business and life during his talk. When obstacles are presented, the key is to not react; you must respond, he said. If you start any type of business or decide to invest, do your homework. Choose a vocation that you love, he added.
“Remember … assets feed you. Liabilities eat you,” he said.
In addition to FUBU and Shark Tank, John now consults through his branding company, Shark Branding. He is also the best-selling author of four acclaimed books, the most recent, “Rise and Grind,” released in January 2018. In 2015, President Barack Obama selected him to be a Presidential Entrepreneurship Ambassador.
John said there are some misconceptions about Shark Tank. The pitches are real and the average pitch takes an hour or more even though only about eight minutes end up on the show. No information is given to the sharks before the pitch, and it typically takes six to nine months before the deals are completed.
His life has been a roller coaster, but he wouldn’t trade it for anything, he said. Back when he wanted to meet Prince, a popular song by him was “1999.” The song’s signature catch phrase is “party like it’s 1999.” On Dec. 31, 1999 Prince had a concert and on stage with him were numerous stars from a lot of different walks of life. Playing air guitar near Prince – Daymond John.