Daymond John is a textbook example of how dogged determination can transform a novel idea into a global megabrand. The early years launching his sportswear company read like a Hollywood script. John and his buddies would sew the distinctive FUBU logo on hats at his mom’s place in Queens, New York.
Tapping into the rapid growth in the early 1990s, John’s mom remortgaged her home for $100,000 to generate start-up capital. It paid off, and in no time, celebs and hip hop stars such as LL Cool J, Will Smith and Busta Rhymes were flaunting the clothing brand.
“Most of my companies really flourished because of celebrities and influential people wearing it,” says John, Shark Tank investor and founder of FUBU (which stands for “For Us, By Us”).
Soon, FUBU became one of the most iconic fashion brands for urban consumers. At its peak in 1998, FUBU generated more than $350 million in revenue.
“I was frustrated at the time because I’d heard rumors that a lot of big designers didn’t want rappers or inner city kids wearing their clothes.”
“I created it (FUBU) because I wanted to say who was going to be proud of this group of people,” says John. “FUBU was born from a love of hip hop, but we never cared about the color of your skin.”
Fast-forward the years and the brand’s popularity has waned stateside. John says the company’s main focus is now in overseas markets.
“We’re doing pretty good in Asia, and we’re OK in Europe,” he says. “We’re decent in the States, but not on the level people remember us.”
Through his reputation as FUBU’s CEO, John has become a published author, public speaker, business partner and highly sought-after branding expert.
He is also passionate about supporting innovative products and business ideas. So in recent weeks, John has been traveling across the country as a judge in the Miller Lite Tap the Future business plan competition.
The contest, now in its second year, pits teams of entrepreneurs against each other in front of a live audience and panel of judges. In mid-August, the top five winning teams will compete for a no-strings-attached grand-prize of $200,000 to develop their business.
“They want to invest in entrepreneurs, they want to invest in small business and they want to invest in friends doing business together.”
“They are giving people a chance to get up there and pitch in front of a lot people and display their product, their concept, their idea. The first round they get $20,000 and the grand prize they can potentially win $200,000 and you actually don’t have to give up any of your company to get that much needed infusion of cash.”
Still, it is his role as a cast member in the TV show Shark Tank that’s creating a buzz. John, who joined the show in 2008, says he has invested at least $5 million in projects and business ideas on the show.
“When I invest in Shark Tank, I have to take care of those businesses because they’re brand new to me,” says John. “Shark Tank is a real show, so I really have to jump in and help these entrepreneurs.”
“It’s not the product that hot, but it’s the person behind the product who’s going to put it out there, “ he adds. “What are you creating and why is it different than anything else?”
John reveals some of the most common mistakes made by aspiring entrepreneurs is not doing their homework and are being saddled with hefty loans early on instead self-financing to kick-start the business.
“They don’t go to school or don’t really look into the business and really try to understand the business. They have a romantic dream about being the boss, and they don’t have enough information.”
The secret of his success is in his passion and in being fortunate enough to be surrounded by great mentors, says John.
“If I could dress people for the rest of my life and come up with great ideas on what I want to see to be worn is something I’d do for free. I don’t know everything, and I need to listen to everybody for different reasons.”
Still, John says, aside from his personal ventures, much like Magic Johnson, he is committed to using his talents to give something back.
“I want to create jobs, so I have a fund where we’re going into inner cities and we’re tying to develop the communities. I want to also start to address the under-banked entrepreneurs that don’t have access to capital or the information they need to get access to capital.”
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