Daymond John has come a long way since starting his $6 billion clothing line FUBU, an acronym for “For Us By Us,” in his mother’s basement with just $40. John also is a “shark” investor on Shark Tank, an Emmy Award–winning venture-capital reality show in the U.S. He spoke to ShareAmerica about failure and other keys to business success.
You’ve said that failure is an important part of success in business. Why is that?
Losing is a great learning experience. Every time you fail, you learn what doesn’t work and, if you’re lucky, why it doesn’t work. You then take that knowledge with you and apply it to the next step on your journey.
Was there a time when you wanted to give up?
I was ready to give up plenty of times, but I always had a team of like-minded folks who kept me going. It’s like having a workout partner who is there constantly challenging you and urging you to get to the gym, especially on the days when you don’t feel like going.
What’s been the biggest lesson you’ve learned?
I’m still learning every day, so it’s hard to say what my biggest lesson has been. An invaluable lesson I learned over the years is that people are more important than numbers. Invest in people — they pay the highest dividends.
You’ve talked about diversity as a good business practice. Can you explain what you mean?
Major League Baseball wasn’t integrated just because it was the right thing to do socially. Baseball was integrated because team owners wanted to put the best players on the field — period. Business is no different. If you exclude minorities or women, you’re hurting your business.
What advice do you have for minority and women entrepreneurs?
Believe in yourself and know that you are just as capable as anyone else. Always remember that you’re standing on the shoulders of those who came before you and be willing to pay it forward.
You’ve said that strong mentors are a key to success. What’s the best way to find one?
The biggest misconception about mentorship is that you need to have a personal relationship with a mentor. There is so much access now that you can learn from the people who inspire you through their books, articles, videos and the suggestions they put out via social media.
Find somebody who has already done what you want to do and follow their playbook. Find out what they did. How they approached problems. The difficulties that confronted them and how they overcame them. Draw from their experiences and rebuild them in your own voice. Ask yourself: What would Steve Jobs or Elon Musk or whoever else do in this situation?
Who are three people who have inspired you?
First and foremost, my mom. She taught me to think big as a child. She had this giant wooden can opener hanging on the wall in our kitchen that read “Think Big.” It stuck with me.
Another inspiration for me was a guy who ran a small corner grocery store in my neighborhood. He wasn’t rich or famous, but he kept his business going for many years. I think entrepreneurs can learn just as much from a small business owner with years of experience as they can from someone running a major corporation.
Russell Simmons is another person who inspired me a great deal. He was from my neighborhood as well. He showed me that you can make doing what you love profitable, and he and I have at least one love in common: hip-hop music and culture.
As an investor, what’s the Number 1 thing you look for in a pitch?
What’s in it for me?