Sharing The Power of Entrepreneurship: Shark Tank’s Daymond John
The story of Daymond John’s American dream only gets better. Already a highly celebrated entrepreneur, author and TV personality with a reported net worth of $300 million, John–widely known as the founder of FUBU and co-star of the reality show Shark Tank–has recently added Ambassador to his resume.
Just over a year ago the White House appointed John to the Presidential Ambassadors for Global Entrepreneurship (PAGE).
The PAGE initiative is a collaboration between successful American entrepreneurs, the Department of Commerce, the Department of State, U.S. Agency for International Development, Small Business Administration, National Aeronautics and Space Administration and the White House. The goal of this program is to harness the energy, ideas, and experience of the next generation of entrepreneurs both at home and abroad. John’s signature initiative is dedicated to helping underserved entrepreneurs and emerging digital influencers build their brands and customer base.
John, 47, said his job as a presidential ambassador is three things; to inspire, give access and actually engage the underserved in the process of being an entrepreneur. “Domestically and around the world I educate people on the power of being an entrepreneur,” said the Queens, NY native. “…if you give somebody an opportunity to feed their family they are less likely to do things that are not in the best interest of mankind.”
By no means a stranger to humble beginnings, John has been conducting business since elementary school. He sold lost pencils that he found and restored to students, he shoveled snow in the winter and raked leaves in the fall. “My parents always instilled in me the fact that I had to work hard for everything that I wanted out of life,” he tells CNN Money. “And then they got divorced.” John goes on to reveal, “My father left when I was around 10 years old and I haven't spoken or seen him again since then, making me the man of the house and making my mother a single mother…any parent in the street could, and had the right to beat us, that’s just the way it was growing up.”
John’s mother, who played a key role in developing the drive that has led to his many achievements, has been a constant. “It was my mother, you know coming up as a dyslexic child, who made me feel like I could do whatever I wanted and I’m not perfect.”
Even as he faced this handicap she’d encourage, “’You’re dyslexic and you can’t read that well. Now you have to read three times, four times and you just have to concentrate.’” John described to CNN Money a value his mother modeled and he’s never forgotten, “She always made sure that the people around her and me were very smart people who had aspirations.”
This value for being around the smart and aspiring may have been a factor for why John accepted the co-starring role with Shark Tank on ABC. He disclosed that initially he turned down the opportunity twice partly because they wanted him to invest some of his own capital in the show. So he rebutted, “I’m supposed to get paid to be on TV!”
What would convince him to agree to their offer was learning that the show’s viewership consisted of children ages 5 to 15, and that they, along with their parents were watching Shark Tank together. “ABC felt that people were educating themselves and they actually like smart [television programming,]” said John who has been with the show for the full eight seasons.
Shark Tank is the recipient of the 2014 and 2015 Emmy Award for Outstanding Structured Reality Program. The show features The Sharks who are a cast of tough, self-made, multi-millionaire and billionaire tycoons who invest in America's best businesses and products. The Sharks offer people from all walks of life the chance to chase the American dream, and potentially secure business deals that could make them millionaires.
“It’s changed my life in so many ways,” reflects John on his role as one of The Sharks. “It is clarified my calling. I’ve met the last three presidents and one of them has, as you know, assigned me to a prestigious position. I can talk to any CEO around the world. They pick up the phone for me…I’ve accepted the fact that I am somebody that people look up to, especially kids. Now, kids want to be sharks just as much as they want to be actors, actresses, and singers and dancers and there’s nothing wrong with that.”
From the $40 John used to launch FUBU as a 20-year old hustling shirts on the streets, to the multimillions he’s amassed entrepreneurially, he has embraced the reality that he is more than a business man. He shared how his success began to crystalize when someone referred to him as “the face of entrepreneurship” and they went on to say that whether he liked it or not, “you’re inspiring people…you invest in people more than you think you do.” While John didn’t disagree with the claim he confessed, “I never wanted to inspire people. Because I just didn’t think that I was about that. I never knew that was my calling. I just love fashion. I love writing a book.”
John is celebrated as a pioneer in the fashion industry having grew FUBU into a six-billion-dollar brand. One of the many lessons about business he offers nowadays is “that business is the ultimate equalizer.” By this he means “it doesn’t have a race, religion, sex, creed, or color.” He believes, “Once you know the fundamentals of business you can go throughout many areas [and conduct] business.”
John’s convinced the African-American community has the right wiring to thrive in entrepreneurship. Yet he argues there is much more to be done because technology is constantly changing how business is executed in today’s culture. “We’re resilient people,” he affirms. “I think that we have been entrepreneurs since day one – we just may not have put on the title of entrepreneur. We’ve been bartering and trading and leveraging our relationship capital every single day…the state of [the black business community] could be stronger. We have to do it ourselves, nobody’s going to hand us anything.”
Because technology is removing the face of the entrepreneur, he predicts it will make doing business for minorities more powerful. “People are going to start the old boy club. They will deal with who they want to deal with because that’s who they know and who they trust,” John says. “That’s the state of what some female [entrepreneurs] are going through and other classes. I believe [it’s all because] technology is changing it.”
One of John’s ventures is taking advantage of this technologically changing climate. The Shark Group, is a team of expert communicators, strategic analysts and creative heavyweights who transform businesses into iconic brands. They offer advice on how to effectively communicate to consumers innovatively and connect brands with the world's top celebrities for everything from endorsements to product extensions.
A sought after motivational speaker, John is also an award-winning entrepreneur. He’s received more than 35 awards including the Brandweek Marketer of the Year, Advertising Age Marketing 1000 Award for Outstanding Ad Campaign, and Ernst & Young's New York Entrepreneur of the Year Award. Moreover, he has three best-selling books; Display of Power, The Brand Within and The Power of Broke, which was released earlier this year.
“All those people who talk in hypothetical ways and they always need a band aid or somebody to lift them up are not going to make it,” John says candidly about succeeding as an African-American entrepreneur. “The ones who make it are [those who insist] I’m going to take an affordable step and I’m going to figure it out. I’m going hear “NO” 9 times out of 10 times.”
He continues advising that the right attitude needed to flourish as a business or social entrepreneur today is, “A shark can or cannot help me, but nobody is going to stop me from progressing on a daily basis. I’m going to surround myself with likeminded people…I’m going to find a mentor. I’m going to create something that’s going to empower people or solve a problem. Maybe it’s going to help people live longer. Maybe it’s going stop some form of racism or whatever the case is. It’s a passion, it’s not about the money. Whether I win, lose or draw, I’m going to make sure this is addressed.”
Admittedly, the idea of giving up has crossed John’s mind many times mostly in the early stages of his career. He said when he and his friends started FUBU, “I doubted myself...we doubted ourselves every single day and I still have three friends, who every time I would want to quit, they wouldn’t let me and vice versa.” To this he personally acknowledges, “When I got my first divorce, did I want to give up and say, ‘was any kind of fortune worth the risk of my family’ – or when my health started to go up and down [did I] question it? Sure.”
Giving up, however is not in John’s DNA. He embraces challenge and often times it’s self-inflicted. In the gym he’ll set unreached goals when he knows he needs to work out. On the set of Shark Tank, he willingly risks partnering with an unproven ambitious entrepreneur. As a father of three daughters he embraces the challenges that comes with parenting all while sustaining a high profile profession. “I want to leave my girls a legacy and an inheritance,” says John. “I want them to be able to be proud of what people say about their father. I also have a bunch of Shark Tank companies allowing me to take part in their dream and I owe them the energy and the time.”
Regardless of the source his challenges, John maintains that the success story he’s become he owes to God. “Faith is a huge part of why I am here, why I have three healthy children, why I still have my health and I’m able to go out and speak to people,” he said. “Let me not act like I’m this holier than thou person because I’m learning like anybody else out there...Yes, I went to catholic school for seven years of my life. I then questioned the faith for a while which was the right religion. But at the end of the day, I know that I do have faith and God is the reason why I’m here. So [entrepreneurialism] has become my calling.”
John is enjoying fulfilling that call each day he wakes up and it has little to do with the amount money he can access but more about exercising his passions. “I don’t equate money with success. Money provides you with more problems and limousines,” he exclaims in an online interview. “Success is doing the thing that you want to do every single day and being around the people that you want to be around. It’s also knowing that you define who you are. That you don’t need anyone else’s validation, unless the validation is out of love.”
John continues doing what he loves–being around very smart people just as his mom exemplified. In addition to the PAGE appointment he’s working alongside President Barak Obama on the My Brother's Keeper program. The national initiative assists underserved men of color in creating access and opportunities for them through mentoring and education. “It’s very hard for me to say what African Americans can do,” John reasons. “But the way that I live my life and the way my mother raised me is; if you have an issue with me that’s your problem–that’s not gonna stop me.”
He continues, “There’s no give me a break, because the next person behind me is hungrier than me and I’m not going to walk in the room and make it challenging for other African Americans. I’m not going to walk in the room with a chip on my shoulder. I’m going to walk into the room proud and that’s just what it is.”