From a star role on smash hit reality show Shark Tank to recognition as a US Presidential Ambassador for Global Entrepreneurship, Daymond John is globally recognized for his relentless commitment to promoting and supporting entrepreneurs. But at Rakuten Optimism in San Francisco — a conference addressing the hottest trends in digital marketing, e-commerce, mobile network technology and more — he reminded attendees that he wasn’t always America’s favorite Shark.

Back in the late 1980s, before Daymond John was chief executive of FUBU and The Shark Group, as well as a New York Times bestselling author and one of ABC’s original The Shark Tank investors, he was just a kid from Brooklyn handing out flyers on the street for $2 an hour as he dreamed of making money doing something he loved. Then a chance idea led to him founding a fashion empire. But as the famed entrepreneur reminded the business people in the room, the path to success is never a smooth one. To get to the top takes hard work, insight and — of course — a healthy dose of optimism.

John’s vision and dedication were evident from the beginning of his entrepreneurial journey: After selling $800 of homemade beanies in a single day, he extending his fledgling brand to include screen-printed t-shirts and more. Soon he was persuading local hip-hop artists to wear his FUBU (For Us By Us) brand on stage, in photoshoots and in music videos. Local sales boomed, but before long he was taking thousands of orders after setting up an unofficial wholesale store on the peripheries of a global trade show.

This trajectory wasn’t without sacrifice and calculated risk. After he was turned down by no fewer than 27 banks, John’s mother remortgaged their home to secure $100,000 for inventory. Meanwhile, he kept his scrappy marketing campaign alive by recycling the same hockey jerseys and t-shirts, each one being worn and returned several times by rappers, musicians and other artists. John drew parallels between the hip-hop scene of this time and social media now — a savvy entrepreneur, he saw the music culture he loved as an active conduit through which trends flowed and were often amplified. Place the right product in this live environment at the right time and there was an opportunity for explosive overnight success.

To find success in the business world, Daymond John recommened that entrepreneurs follow his “Five Shark Points.”
To find success in the business world, Daymond John recommended that entrepreneurs follow his “Five Shark Points.”

Indeed, it was his consistent and determined collaborations with artists from the then burgeoning hip-hop market that led to FUBU’s brand emergence. Old acquaintance LL Cool J rapped about FUBU while wearing a FUBU hat in a 1999 commercial for The Gap, introducing what had until then been a distinctly urban brand to a broad commercial market. The rest — according to John — is history. Shrewd investments, dynamic partnerships, speaking, consulting, authoring books all followed. And, of course, his fame as a regular investor on the hit reality TV series The Shark Tank.

Though keen to inspire with his personal story and tenacity, the serial entrepreneur also took the opportunity to share his learnings along the way. To find success, he explained, entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs should follow his “Five Shark Points:”

  1. Set goals – Know where you’re going. You become what you think 90% of the time.
  2. Homework – Insight is everything, and you have to truly know your business and your industry to succeed.
  3. Amore – Remember to love what you’re doing along the way!
  4. Remember, you’re the brand – Life is a series of pitches, so make sure you know something about the people you’re pitching to.
  5. Keep swimming – When you stop swimming, you die. Take care of yourself.

John was keen to emphasize the latter, having had a narrow brush with thyroid cancer that lead him to re-evaluate his health and priorities. Being happy, spending time with family and getting physical rest is as important as being focused and determined. Ultimately, suggested the star entrepreneur, it’s about balance.

Rakuten Optimism delegates left enthused by John’s energy and motivated by his success: a fresh crowd of would-be sharks. 

Daymond John’s high energy keynote capped a day of enlightening and entertaining sessions at Rakuten Optimism in San Francisco.
Daymond John’s high energy keynote capped a day of enlightening and entertaining sessions at Rakuten Optimism in San Francisco.

For more about Rakuten Optimism, visit here.