Entrepreneur, FUBU founder discusses the business of life
Discover yourself, set goals, find a mentor, learn “the grind” of hard work and experience. And definitely get a regular job.
These are just a few pieces of advice that renowned entrepreneur Daymond John gave to his audience, predominantly Purdue University students, during a sold-out appearance March 25 at Loeb Playhouse. John’s presentation, which was followed by an autograph and photograph session, was a Giant Leaps Series lecture event.
The evening opened with a short video recap of John’s remarkable rise from inner-city New York City dreamer to successful apparel entrepreneur, best-selling author and television star on the reality show “Shark Tank.” John is also a Presidential Ambassador for Global entrepreneurship.
“Most of the businesses I got into early — ones I thought would be successful — ended up failing, so don’t quit your day job,” John said. “I suffered. For a long time, I didn’t have a life. To any students out there who wonder if they should become an entrepreneur or get a job, my advice is get a job.”
FUBU and the Grind
John recounted how he worked full-time at Red Lobster for years while launching the clothing line FUBU, which is now a multibillion-dollar brand, out of his mother’s house. Unlike previous failures in businesses that he started simply to make money, John believes FUBU succeeded because it connected something he loved — hip-hop culture — with his entrepreneurial instinct to exploit a market niche.
“I always wanted to be somebody in hip-hop, and all these successful rappers were coming out of my neighborhood. I realized you can make money doing something you love,” said John, who is from Hollis, Queens.
“At that time, you started hearing rumors about designers saying they didn’t want to make clothes for drug dealers. I came up with the idea of ‘For Us, By Us’ — FUBU. If you love hip-hop, we’re for you. That’s what inspired me to make a brand, and my love for it is what kept me going.”
According to John, this is when he began perfecting “the grind,” which he described as, “You’re out there working, you’re figuring things out. You’re not just running, you’re getting your life experience. You’re running, but you’re calculated about it.”
This also was when John discovered a principle he calls O.P.M., which he learned from his mother. “She said, ‘You need O.P.M.,’ and I thought that just stood for other people’s money,” John said. “No, she said it could be other people’s manpower, other people’s manufacturing or other people’s mentors. It could also stand for other people’s mistakes. Basically, she was saying that I had to find a way, working together with like-minded people, to do this. When I realized this, that’s when FUBU took off.”
Pitfalls and Lessons Learned
With Purdue Student Government President Aaron Banks moderating, John went on discuss the pitfalls suffered and lessons learned on his way to success.
Many of Banks’ questions touched on topics important to Purdue and its students: inspiration, innovation, mentorship, goal-setting, work-life balance, diversity and inclusion. Health, both mental and physical, also was a topic because John deals with dyslexia and is a recent cancer survivor.
“The most important thing of all is health. If you don’t have that, I don’t care what company you run, you’re never going to be successful,” John said. “I didn’t know I had dyslexia until I was 33 years old. I got around it. I think it strengthened me. It gave me the grind to succeed.”
Additionally, John was asked to discuss investing. His response had more to do with people than money.
“On ‘Shark Tank,’ we don’t invest in companies. We invest in people,” he said. “Are you a problem-solver? Do you add value? Are you the Swiss Army knife of the team? You definitely need skill, but it all depends on how you’re applying yourself.”
John’s advice to the students in the audience was to use their formative years, including college, to develop themselves by discovering what they love, finding a mentor and setting personal goals.
“Take that 10 years and get the most out of it. Find yourself. Whatever it is, you have to be comfortable with who you are, where you’re going and where you’ve been,” he said. “You already have mentors here in your professors, but life is a series of mentors. One of the main reasons people in business succeed is they find a mentor.”
The Black Cultural Center was a sponsor for John’s appearance, along with Krannert School of Management, Purdue Student Government and the Purdue Student Union Board. Renee Thomas, director of the BCC, helped coordinate the event.
“Daymond John spoke about how grit and persistence fueled his success,” Thomas said. “He inspired a young, diverse audience to pursue their dreams and goals. He emphasized that there is no magical formula to success, that it takes hard work and a relentless spirit.”
Hirity Abebe of Fishers, Indiana, is a 19-year-old junior at Purdue. A studio arts and technology major, she plans on starting her own business one day and found John’s presentation extremely useful.
“I’m hoping to start an animation company and I came because he’s a successful entrepreneur and I thought he could give us some good advice. I think the tips he gave were very helpful,” Abebe said. “I’ve been to a few of these events and this was unique. I think this was something that appeals to a lot of people, because a lot of millennials and other young people want to start their own businesses and do it themselves.”