FUBU Founder, ‘Shark Tank’ Star Talks Business

by June 11, 2012

daymond-john2A few years ago, the unusual occurrence of a Manatee in the Memphis area caused great local buzz and attention. The salt water giant found his way into the waters of the Mighty Mississippi and into the hearts of Memphians as they tracked his movements. Well, in similar fashion we recently had another giant of the sea, a “Shark”, (not the aquatic variety), visit our fair city to much fanfare and accolade. Daymond John, a fashion industry pioneer, is founder of the FUBU clothing line and star of the ABC reality show “Shark Tank,” which features a team of wealthy and successful investors (the Sharks) being pitched by up-and-coming entrepreneurs to invest in their fledging business ventures. John has emerged as one of the shrewdest and most popular “Sharks” on the panel. Still, he remains most renowned for using hustle, creativity and sacrifice to build a multi-billion dollar urban fashion empire from a $40 investment.

Following a dynamic presentation (May 17) at the Lipscomb Pitts Breakfast Club at the Memphis Botanic Garden, I talked with John, who shared a glimpse of how he built that success, how he’s maintained it and how he now is expanding his global brand in new industries and arenas. He was particularly candid about the need to reinvent his business model as the fashion industry continues to be impacted by technology and the spending habits of younger generations upon which his business was built.

Stay Adaptable

“What are my assets? A globally recognized brand, I know manufacturing and production, whether it’s a shirt or a camera tripod, and I have relationships and credibility with many retailers,” said John.

TSD President and Publisher Bernal E. Smith II caught “Shark Tank” star Daymond John, FUBU founder, with a lot to say. (Photo by Nicole R. Harris)

“Now I have to put together those assets to sell them something new. I have to be nimble enough to recognize market trends and opportunities and deploy the assets I have to new profitable business ventures.”

Having operated in the ever challenging and changing publishing business that has been dynamically impacted by technology, I could immediately relate to his statement.

“My employees, the folks on my team have to be equally adaptable,” said John. “Whereas they once were manufacturing shirts, I may go to them and say today you’re going to have to do table cloths or hand bags. Not everyone is going to be able to make the leap but in order for us to be successful we’ve got to stay adaptable and anyone in business, a CEO or even a parent, you have be adaptable to changing trends.”

‘Super Heavy Users’

FUBU, “For Us By Us,” represents more than just fashion. It’s a message and a movement signifying the importance of cultural pride and cooperative economics in the market place. Taking that into consideration, I pressed John on the importance of that in practice as an entrepreneur and in the African-American community in general.

“We are known in the advertising world as SHUs, “Super Heavy Users”. It’s not necessarily a derogatory term but it means we consume everything. On one hand that translates into collective buying power that is approximately equal to that of the 16th largest country in the world. The issue is that in the African-American community $1 goes in and $.98 comes out and that largely is an issue of financial literacy and intellect, which we have got to increase with each generation.

“On one level , whether we are buying more African-American products or more Louis Vuitton. we have got to stop being heavy consumers and become heavier savers and investors. Ultimately, should African Americans be supporting African-American owned business? Yes, but make sure universally you are supporting businesses that are actually supporting and building the community and reinvesting in the community.”

Fame and Success

John has certainly realized a good deal of new fame and success from his stint on the ABC-TV hit show “Shark Tank” and he talked about his future in the reality television arena.

“There are more shows in my future. Whether I am in front of the camera or behind it is the key,” said John.

“At this point, I am being called a celebrity. However, I consider myself a notable person (versus a celebrity), but I am a businessman first. If I never go on another show again, but I am behind the scenes of successful money making shows, I will be just as happy. For right now I am hyper focused on what I am doing with my current show. My tunnel vision at the moment is to do that well, help the people that I have an opportunity to help through that forum and build to help that brand reach as high a level of success as possible,” he said.

“Down the road I will be in a better position to leverage this and think about the development of other shows. ”

Local Press Power

During his 42-minute, autobiographic presentation at the Lipscomb Pitts Breakfast Club, John discussed – to my pleasant surprise – the importance of the local press in the initial success of his business and meteoric rise as a global brand.

“The local newspapers and publications were the first to write about us and begin to educate the world about the uniqueness of our story. I believe that the local press is the most important element when you are about to hit a tipping point in your business,” said John.

“The entrepreneur has to understand what it is that makes them unique and makes their story compelling news. What about your story is going to impact and inform their readers/viewers?

“Here is the level of importance of local – whether or not people knew Biggie was from Brooklyn, or know Nellie is from St. Louis or Billy Joel is from Long Island, the record business solely says if you are not a super star in your hood you can’t be any place else,” he said.

“The local press was by far the most important thing for us because when we got picked up by them they told everybody that we’re planting a stake in the ground and essentially laid the foundation for the world to recognize what we were building.”

‘Understand your value’

As we wrapped up our conversation, John left a word of advice for TSD readers and particularly up-and-coming entrepreneurs.

“Nobody in the world, whether you are white, black, yellow or green, is going to make your dream happen for you,” said John. “If you are a CEO or entrepreneur, you cannot depend on someone else to make success happen for you.

“You must understand your value and be able to communicate that, and more importantly, execute on it. It is what will attract resources and opportunities to you.”

Daymond John’s 5 S.H.A.R.K. Tips for Business

S. – SET your goals, identify where it is you want to be and establish clear goals to get there!

H. – Do your HOMEWORK. Do whatever research is necessary to understand the opportunities and threats to you achieving your goals!

A. – AMORE. Do what you love; love what you do!

R. – REMEMBER you are the brand. Promote the brand and build the brand!

K. – KEEP moving forward, stay flexible, stay aware and be willing to change! •

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