Detroit Regional Chamber > Racial Justice & Economic Equity > Daymond John to Detroit Entrepreneurs: ‘Be Overly Obsessed with Your Customer’

Daymond John to Detroit Entrepreneurs: ‘Be Overly Obsessed with Your Customer’

November 10, 2022

The Detroit News
Candice Williams

Nov. 9, 2022

Fashion mogul Daymond John knows what it’s like to grow a business from nothing, launching one in his mother’s basement 30 years ago and scaling it to a global fashion brand with more than $6 billion in sales.

John, the founder of clothing line FUBU and co-star of ABC’s “Shark Tank,” shared some insight Wednesday and lessons he’s learned along the way during BuyDetroit’s Passport to Procurement Conference at the Hollywood Hotel and Casino in Greektown.

“The biggest reasons small businesses generally fail, besides their lack of education, is overfunding,” John told an audience of entrepreneurs during a fireside chat with Detroit Pistons in-game arena host Kevin Irwin. “They actually take out too much too early.”

To grow a successful business, one should show openness, not overextend themselves and be transparent with employees and customers, John told the audience.

About 300 business owners attended the daylong conference Wednesday, hosted by BuyDetroit, a small business initiative of the Detroit Economic Growth Corporation. The conference is designed to connect Detroit small businesses with high-profile buyers. The day included training and resource workshops, buyer supplier meetings and a pitch competition.

“If you want to scale your business, be overly obsessed with your customer,” he said. “Don’t think that you need to have this 20-year vision. … Your customers will dictate your business.”

John urged business owners to be vulnerable yet confident. That honesty could help an entrepreneur make a needed business connection.

“This whole theory of ‘I’m hardcore. I don’t need anybody. I’m not vulnerable. I’m the man. I’m the woman.’ It doesn’t work,” he said. “Your next partner is in this room. And they’re sitting next to you. … The two people out of the 10 that would (be) down on you — you don’t need them in your life. But have this level of confidence of what you know or what you’re trying to solve. The best cases ever on ‘Shark Tank’ are, ‘This train is leaving the station one way or another. I really hope you’re on this train with me.’ That’s what it is. Not — ‘The train ain’t going to move unless you’re around.’ I got my own damn problems.”

The goal of the program is to help business owners scale, said Keyra Cokley, associate director and creator of BuyDetroit.

“In order for these businesses to really have access to true procurement opportunities, you cannot just look here in the city of Detroit,” she said. “Typically here in the city of Detroit, the larger buyers are typically buying services meaning, construction trade services. There’s a lot of opportunities in that space. We have a shortage from the tech standpoint. So it’s about finding those voices who are in that tech and being able to elevate them outside of the city. Then you have individuals that are in the beauty space who are oversaturated. … It’s about scaling them to be on the national scale.”

In addition to his businesses and involvement in “Shark Tank,” John launched a Black Entrepreneur Day event in New York in 2020. Since its launch, $750,000 in grants have been awarded to businesses.

Among the Detroit-based businesses to attend a New York event were Alecia Gabriel and Deirdre Roberson, owners of The Lab Drawer, STEM kit company geared toward students ages 10-15. They followed up with a visit to the Passport to Procurement event on Wednesday.

“We got to speak with other entrepreneurs and learn about their ups and downs,” Roberson said. “Coming here today is that full circle seeing all of the resources. Hearing the chat with Daymond was really insightful. … He also gave us tools we can apply to our own businesses.”

Since 2020, Gabriel and Roberson have shipped 20,000 kits globally. They operate out of a 2,000-square-foot space in the Durfee Innovation Society on Detroit’s west side.

“We were able to fill a need and stick to our guns about why this is important, why and how we can impact young people to pursue STEM careers,” Gabriel said.

Milton Putnam, owner of Complete Image Manufacturing, said he’s found value in attending BuyDetroit programs. His clothing retail and manufacturing shop sits on Livernois near Seven Mile in the Avenue of Fashion. Among his goals are becoming minority certified and securing government contracts.

“This is a great resource to scale the business,” he said. “Entrepreneurship will never be easy, but they are aiding you along the way.”

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