A Shark’s Guide to Success

Waynette Tubbs

Life is a series of pitches, but “you can’t hit a target you can’t see.” That was the message from Daymond John, co-star of ABC’s “Shark Tank” and founder and CEO of clothing retailer FUBU, to attendees at Bronto Summit 2016 in Miami yesterday.

Daymond JohnJohn and his partners turned rags to riches with FUBU, which stands for “For Us, By Us” and filled an untapped need in the urban clothing market. And last year, he was appointed presidential ambassador for global entrepreneurship. During his presentation, the sought-after brand guru talked candidly about success and failure. And he stressed the importance of goals, investing in analytics, doing what you love and developing your brand.

“This is my industry,” he said. “There’s no difference between you and me.”

A Little History

John always knew he wanted to be an entrepreneur, but he didn’t know what his business should be.  He grew up in Hollis, Queens, the birthplace of hip-hop music, and hip-hop was becoming a way to walk, talk and dress. One day, John saw a hat with a tie-top in a video that he liked, but he was put off by the price.

So his mother encouraged him to make his own, and she taught him how. From $40 worth of fabric, he stitched up a bunch of hats, which he sold for $800 on the streets. Then, he and his partners developed a FUBU logo and honed the art of product placement by getting performers – mostly rappers – to wear the shirts in music videos. Even though they had only a few designs, those placements made FUBU huge!

Another big payday came when they convinced hip-hop superstar LL Cool J, who was filming a commercial for The Gap, to wear a FUBU hat and sneak in a line about FUBU during his rap. Eventually, FUBU amassed more than $6 billion in worldwide retail sales.

John’s grassroots success is based on five tenets, his S.H.A.R.K. tips, that he generously shared with us:

S = SET a goal.

Retailers and individuals who don’t set goals allow other people to set goals for them. Without a goal, your story line might become, “You can’t get an education,” or “You can’t change the world.”

“I knew that you can’t hit a target you can’t see,” John recalled of trying to launch FUBU. Even while he was waiting tables at Red Lobster, he knew that one day he would profit from the world of hip-hop. And why not? It was a growing, untapped market.

H = Do your HOMEWORK. Invest in analytics.

When FUBU was hot, John had little idea where his shirts went. Was that woman buying the shirt for herself or her son? Why did she buy/not buy? How could he resell to her later?

There are three ways to run a successful business: Find new customers. Upsell a current customer. Or make a customer buy more frequently. It’s 22 times easier to upsell a current customer than it is to find a new one.

“Was it a 35-year-old woman in Detroit that loves poodles and drives Cadillacs and has a bad case of dandruff?” John said.

Today’s tech tools can help you know who bought your product and tailor your communications to the customer. “Bronto can show you how to do that,” John said.

A = AMORE. Love your family and what you do more than anything else.

Successful people love what they do. Sometimes, too much. John let FUBU fame strain his marriage, so his wife took their two young daughters and left.

“I lost focus on what I was doing,” John recalled. But, he got a second chance. One day, his former wife called and said, “Daymond, you’ve lost your values … Do you love what you do?” She made him an offer: “I’ll take care of these kids so amazingly … but you have to go out there and pay it forward.”

John has since reconnected with his daughters. He loves working with entrepreneurs and helping them find success. And he has penned several books, including the recent New York Times bestseller “The Power of Broke.”

R = REMEMBER: You are the brand.

Be able to sum up your business and personal brand in two to five words: Apple (Think Different); Nike (Just Do It); TBS (Very Funny); Bronto (Marketing Platform for Commerce).

If you can’t articulate your brand, you leave it up to others to interpret. Worse yet, people who don’t meet you in person might only know your brand by what’s on the Internet and social media.

After you’ve nailed down your brand, master the pitch. Life’s a series of pitches, and John says, to get the pitch right, you have to ask yourself how your offering benefits the person you’re pitching to.

K = Learn from KIDS.

Mentors are usually thought of as older, more mature. But many times, we can learn a lot from our kids.

John explained that he often watches the animated aquatic film “Finding Nemo” with one of his daughters. She loves Dory, the little fish. One day, Dory’s wisdom surprised John.

“She looks at me with those big beautiful eyes, and says, ‘Daddy, I have to keep swimming like Dory, right? I’m gonna fail more than I succeed, but I have to keep swimming, right?’”

“It’s simple,” John said in closing. “You’re going to fail more than you succeed. So you have to keep changing, and that’s why you’re here – to get that education. Because this digital age is changing faster than ever. And you’re going to be dinosaurs the second you don’t learn.”