FUBU founder Daymond John headlined at Trainual's Playbook 2020.

5 Lessons Daymond John Learned As An Entrepreneur

Lo Kidd

December 01, 2020

An entrepreneur in every sense of the word, Daymond John has come a long way since taking out a $100,000 mortgage on his mother’s house and moving his operation into the basement.

Today, FUBU, Daymond’s much-celebrated global lifestyle brand, has seen over $6B in product sales. His marketing strategies and ability to build successful brands have made him one of today’s most influential consultants. Starring on ABC’s Shark Tank included.

And with a raving resume like that, we were stoked when Daymond agreed to kick off Playbook 2020, the ultimate small business virtual event. The candid chat was jam-packed with Daymond’s humble beginnings, biggest successes, and most importantly, everything he learned in between.

So, here are Daymond’s top 5 lessons that you absolutely can’t miss:

👉 Watch the whole keynote conversation here.

1. Learn from your failures

Before founding FUBU, Daymond had 2 other ventures. The first was buying, fixing, and selling cars. But after 6 months, Daymond was broke and came to the realization that he didn’t love the work. So he quickly pivoted to his second venture: a transportation company.  

“It was like a carpool in our neighborhoods,” Daymond explained, “We would drive vans up and down the bus stops and pick people up for a $1 apiece to ride from Queens to Rockaway.”

The carpool business was much more lucrative. But Daymond faced a major challenge: he didn’t have the necessary taxi license from the Department of Transportation (DOT). And they weren’t easy to come by.

So he continued to run his business without one until DOT issued him a $3k ticket. Daymond said the ticket cost made him sick for weeks because another one would put him out of business.  And he “realized quickly that this was not a business [he] wanted to be in.”

So while both businesses were, on paper, failures, Daymond looks at these experiences as some of his greatest lessons. Because these mistakes gave Daymond invaluable insights that he says made him a smarter businessman and contributed to his overall success.

Quick take: In every failed attempt, learn from what didn’t work and use these insights to fuel your strategies moving forward. This will make you more resilient and better at what you do.

2. Meet customers where they’re at

In the early stages of FUBU, Daymond decided to target a specific customer: urban residents in Hollis, Queens. Particularly, what Daymond dubbs “the bigger-built Black men.”

“I realized the really big guys had no stylish clothes to wear. They had to go to Rochester Big & Tall and get a white or black shirt. Or they had to get something custom made,” Daymond explained. So he bought 50 or so shirts in all sizes, including 5X and 6X, and put his logo on them.

Daymond gave a handful of the batch away to bouncers who stood outside his local clubs. Not the celebrities inside. And all he asked in return was that they wear them.

A lot of these men would wear the shirts several times a month. To the clubs, standing in front of the clubs, and even, just to hang out with friends. Because not only did they not have as many clothes as the celebrities inside, but because it made them feel special.

“This is all about making a group of people – no matter how small or literally big – feel special.”

Daymond John, FUBU founder and star of ABC’s Shark Tank

Over time, other people started to notice. The celebrities inside the club and Trainual CEO Chris Ronzio included (see below). And they started to ask where they could buy a FUBU shirt for themselves.

Trainual CEO Chris Ronzio wearing FUBU in 1999.
Trainual CEO Chris Ronzio wearing FUBU at his 7th-grade talent show.

As FUBU grew, Daymon shifted his influencers to emerging music artists so he could build brand awareness quicker. But he continues to focus on that same core customer and how FUBU can meet their needs.

Quick take: Make your core customer feel special by meeting them exactly where they’re at. Become obsessed with their unmet needs and serve them.

3. Be the one who defines your brand

Once Daymond realized he wanted to build FUBU into a global brand, he focused on improving and streamlining his core products.

“I knew my customer, but I didn’t know my business,” he told us. “I started to hone in on my pricing, my colors, my deliverables, and my sizing. And that’s how I started to expand the brand.”

By focusing solely on the most popular SKUs, Daymond knew what worked. And in the process, he defined his brand and started to scale. But FUBU took years to get to this point.

Reflecting on this, Daymond advises scaling business leaders to clearly define your brand in 2 to 5 words. That’s it. And whatever you come up with is what you tell people about your brand.

“[The] 2 to 5 words [that define your brand] need to be throughout everything: how you dress, how you walk, how you talk, what people say about you when you’re not in the room, and what you say when you’re on social media because that’s where people are looking at you.”

If you don’t own the narrative for your business, someone else will. And this leaves a lot of room for miscommunication (and misinterpretation) in the marketplace.

Quick take: Hone in on your business by listening to your customers – and eliminate everything else. But make sure you’re the one who’s defining your brand.

4. Delegate what you know first

In Daymond’s opinion, a company’s first permanent hire should always do a job the owner does. This way, Daymond explained, “you can easily know whether [the first employee is] doing a good job or a better job, and you can start focusing on some of the other areas and the other hires.”

🔥 Tip: Thousands of small business leaders trust Trainual to delegate what they do. Try for free.

Daymond started FUBU in 1989. And in 1997 he hired his first full-time employee. He had just landed a manufacturing and distribution deal with Samsung’s Textile Division, so he needed someone to manage the day-to-day operations. And he needed to focus on meeting the needs of the deal – including hiring even more hands.

But if you want your first hire to be a success, you need to treat them like a real human being. And that starts with sitting down to have a real conversation with them.

In Daymond’s case, the first few days were rocky. The employee was showing up at 11 am for a job that started at 9 am due to a personal obligation. And if she could come in later, she was willing to work until well after dinner.

But Daymond didn’t know any of this until he sat down and actually talked to her. “I ended up understanding what was going on in her life,” Daymond told us. “And I allowed her to do [those hours]. And she became my best employee for 20 years.”

Quick take: When your business is ready to hire its first employee, have them do what you’ve been doing. That way, you can easily assess their performance and confidently focus on growing the business.

5. Check your ego at the door

While building FUBU into a global brand, Daymond relied on a lot of mentors to help get him there. The biggest influence in his early days being his mother, Margot John.

Margot had a keen mind for securing capital – a quality her son lacked. And she was the driving force that allowed FUBU to get off the ground.

The company’s initial funding was a second mortgage on Margot’s house in Queens. And when funds started to dry, she pushed Daymond to seek investors, using an ad in their local paper. 

But Daymond had several other mentors along the way. Ones who taught him to capitalize on his skills – rather than just rely on his brand to do all the work.

“When my mentors would say, ‘Hey, we want to acquire other brands,’ I took it personally at first. Then, I realized it’s just clothes,” Daymond reflected. “Why am I falling in love with the product instead of falling in love with my capabilities?”

So he started to hone in on the skills that set him apart – and worked on his shortcomings. And he sought out people that balanced his strengths and weaknesses to mentor him or join his team. And by doing so, he built a household name, invested in countless companies, and earned the title “The People’s Shark.”

“You can’t let your ego get in the way of you sometimes. You have to start hacking yourself. Don’t take yourself too seriously and see where you fall short.”

Quick take: Don’t let your ego get in the way. Instead, seek out experienced mentors to help you recognize your own shortcomings. And rely on them to balance your weaknesses.  

Bonus: Focus on what you can do today

When asked about 2020, Daymond explained, “things are always going to happen, so what can you do with yourself today?”

And he suggests taking inventory of what you have right now. “Is it extra time? Is it the cash on hand? Is it the fact that you don’t need to travel 4 hours a day anymore?” Whatever it is, be grateful that you have it and intentional about what you do with it.

As a firm believer that there is always an upside, Daymond challenges us to recognize what’s there (in our business, in our home lives) – and do something about it.

For him, this means doing what he wants to do first. Meaning, no emails or social media scrolling as soon as he wakes up. Instead, if he’s at home and wants to have a meal with his family, it’s going to be breakfast.

But really it comes down to this: what can you do today, right now, so you have no excuses tomorrow?

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