‘Love what you do:’ Daymond John shares five points for success at UB

Shark Tank investor speaks at Center For the Arts for Distinguished Speakers Wednesday


Daymond John said he saw “future” and “current sharks” in the audience of UB students who were taking notes during his speech Wednesday.

He said the only difference between him and the audience is he has a camera following him “all the time” and he sits next to an “a-hole” named Kevin O’Leary. 

John, Shark Tank Investor and CEO of FUBU, spoke as the third guest of UB’s 33rd Annual Distinguished Speakers Series Wednesday amid coronavirus cancelations and SUNY’s switch to “distance learning.” John still spoke to 1,000 UB community members in the Center for the Arts about his five points of successful businesses: set goals, do your homework, love what you do, remember you are the product and keep swimming. John reflected on starting his own business, FUBU, and what he learned from his mistakes. 

When setting his own personal goals, John said he wanted to meet “the greatest of all time,” Muhammad Ali, and “his favorite artist of all time,” Prince, before the world ended. But to get there, John knew he had to build himself as a businessman. His mother taught him to make hats, which he sold outside of Jamaica Colosseum Mall when he was 28 years old. 

“My selling techniques weren’t that great and I made a terrible charmer but in one hour I sold 800 hats,” John said. “My goals were starting to unroll in front of me.” 

John said he turned his ability to convince people that his product could “enrich” their lives into money. After that, he “never” wanted to work for anyone again. 

These hats were the beginning of John’s FUBU line, he just didn’t know it yet. 

His next “homework assignment” was getting himself known to the public. John expanded from hats to buying 10 T-shirts. He advertised his shirts by going on music sets and putting them on known rappers such as Will Smith and Diddy. He visited 300 stores around New York and New Jersey and asked store owners if he could spray paint FUBU on their gates. He said his paint job is still up 30 years later. 

“[I sprayed,] ‘authorized FUBU dealer.’” John said. “I didn’t care that you were selling Chinese food, you were an authorized FUBU dealer. … That was $3 million worth of advertising, buses and pedestrians and the trains going by [and] those same 10 T-shirts are on videos like Mariah Carey’s and Method Man’s –– that’s another $15 million worth of advertising.”

John realized if he wanted rappers to recognize his brand, he would need a spokesperson from within. He reached out to rapper LL Cool J and asked for his photo, but the rapper turned him down for two reasons: if his clothing “stinks” he would have to turn down multi-million dollar contracts and he hated his clothes.

But the rapper changed his mind and left John with some advice: always try new things. With that now-famous advertisement and after changing the original look of his clothes, John soon made $300,000 in sales. 

John told audience members that no one is “too good” to set a goal. He told the story of a woman he met a year ago. She was a new mother and had to take maternity leave to care for her premature baby. Once her leave ended, she told her job she needed to work less hours to continue to care for her child. Her boss left her with two options: keep working 40-50 hours a week or quit.

So she quit and set a goal.  

“During the time that she was off she learned how to become a virtual assistant,” John said. “She gives me 20 hours a week, another company five hours a week and another company five hours. She doesn’t have to trek through the snow, she doesn’t have to wear face masks. She gets to stay home with her child.”

Because she set a goal for herself, John said she now earns more money “than she ever did in her life.” 

Rayjon Young, a senior digital media studies and English major, said he respects John’s “come up” story. 

“How he didn’t have any money and then just made FUBU and then within five years [his] brand became worth 30 million, that’s just ridiculous,” Young said.

Fernando Hernandez, senior media studies major, came to see John because he aspires to be an entrepreneur himself. He said he is a “filmmaker at heart” and hopes to run a business in film production. 

“Mainly his five keys, I think they were pretty spot on: set a goal and chase it, do your homework, keep swimming and just keep doing your thing,” Hernandez said. “It was very motivational, I did take a lot of the things that he said to heart.”

Aqeelah Howard, junior African-American studies and nursing major, was inspired by John to become a future entrepreneur. 

“The use of hip-hop culture was the key thing that helped him grow his business,” Howard said. “That’s particularly something that’s special to me because I’m African American  and that’s our culture.”

John ended by sharing a point he said “had nothing to do with business but everything to do with business:” keep swimming. 

He told audiences of the time he had surgery to remove what thought was a benign nodule in his throat. While he was on the surgical table, he found out it was stage two cancer. 

He told audience members that he wanted to get on stage to tell everyone that early detection is what saved his life. He said he received “thousands” of fan letters saying that his story saved their life, but he said that isn’t the case. 

“I didn’t save their life because there is a 70% chance that if you detect something early enough in time, you’re gonna be okay,” John said. “That’s how my life is defined because I’m cancer free and I’m here to walk my three little beautiful girls down the aisle.”

The news desk can be reached at news@ubspectrum.com


Alexandra Moyen is the editor in chief of The Spectrum.