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Work Harder, Try Smarter

‘Shark Tank’ Co-host Daymond John knows ‘The Power of Broke’ in life, business

By James Mitchell

Page 22

“Humble beginnings” barely scratches the surface of Daymond John’s self-made story of invention, re-invention and perseverance. There was little doubt he’d get there — whether as CEO of a global fashion empire, co-star of ABC’s “Shark Tank,” marketing guru or best-selling author — but the road map he followed included more than a few unexpected turns along the way.

The Queens-born businessman had his sights set on investment strategies even while attending Bayside High School, where he learned the value of time while working a job opposite spending alternate weeks in the classroom. Early ventures included a commuter van service before he took note of the overpriced, at least as he saw it, wool hats that were popular in New York during the early 1990s.

John and a friend made the first batch of product themselves and sold them on the street for half of what stores had been charging. The $800 profit made that day was the seed that launched For Us By Us (FUBU), an African-American owned and operated clothing line that now represents a $6 billion business.

On the surface, John’s rise seems a meteoric success story, but “overnight” took many years and seasons to reach via trial and error.

“The process of establishing myself as well as my company was slow and often frustrating,” John said. “I wasted a lot of time and money moving in the wrong direction due to a lack of knowledge.”

His razor-sharp instincts were honed and refined over the years, with expensive educations that included having lost an estimated $750,000 during the first season of Shark Tank. John was rarely careless, and “work hard” as a motto was complemented with “try smarter.” John’s third book, “The Power of Broke,” explores lessons learned the hard way, which can be equally applied to individual startups or global conglomerates.

No matter the enterprise, John maintains the principal value that people are always more important than any product or profit. Lessons learned from FUBU, “Shark Tank” and other endeavors helped frame his newest enterprises: a marketing consulting company called Shark Branding, and the Launch Academy, which helps steer future entrepreneurs down the right corridors.

The Detroiter caught up with John in advance of his keynote address at the 2016 Mackinac Policy Conference.

What have you personally learned from “Shark Tank,” and in what ways has it impacted your investment and business decisions?

People are more important than numbers. I invest in people. Many times, if the business doesn’t work, I’ll work with the person in another way. People pay the highest dividends.

Summarize the goal of Shark Branding and the Launch Academy, and share any anecdotes regarding the company’s benefit to entrepreneurs.

The goal of Shark Branding is to leverage the knowledge and connections I’ve made over the years to help brands grow. The goal of the Launch Academy is to share some of the most fundamental lessons I’ve learned with upcoming and aspiring entrepreneurs, so they can learn from some of the mistakes I made without having to make them themselves.

In regard to your book, “The Power of Broke,” we’re reminded of a Bob Dylan quote: “When you ain’t got nothing, you got nothing to lose.” In what ways are there advantages to having been broke?

Being broke is an advantage because it forces you to be resourceful and creative; however, you don’t have to actually be broke to exercise the “power of broke.” It’s more of a mindset. In fact, some of the most successful people are those who continue to exercise the power of broke mentality despite their success. I earned this lesson the hard way. I made some of my biggest mistakes once I was rich. You see, when you’re rich, you think you can afford to take bigger chances than you really need to. When you’re exercising the power of broke, you take smaller steps. If you make a mistake or fail, it’s a small mistake, a small failure. You learn from it, but it’s usually not fatal.

How do you spot or identify entrepreneurial talent?

There are several ways, but one of the most important is learning how people respond to failure. Talented entrepreneurs manage failures well. They learn from them and keep going. Another important indicator is a person’s ability to create and maintain lasting relationships. A lot of folks jump into entrepreneurism because they don’t want to have to answer to or deal with people, but entrepreneurism is usually a team sport. Talented entrepreneurs can build and maintain meaningful relationships.

What would you say to the people of Detroit — and Michigan as a whole — to summarize the key lessons you’ve learned?

Keep investing in yourself. Michigan, and Detroit specifically, has one of the strongest entrepreneurial spirits in the country. The producers of “Shark Tank” have figured this out because Detroit has consistently had some of the highest viewership ratings in the country for “Shark Tank.” Folks in Michigan know all about dealing with adversity. They’re tough, proud and determined people. So, yes, keep trying, but continue investing in yourself, so you can learn to try smarter.