Exclusive Interview with Shark Tank Investor Daymond John: “Why I Do What I Do”

Lori Greiner and Daymond John pose on the set of Shark Tank

On the Shark Tank Set: Daymond John and Lori Greiner

Recently, I spoke with Daymond John, Shark Tank investor and CEO of the global fashion brand FUBU.

I had an agenda to get more insight into the man who first worked at Red Lobster to eventually become the CEO of a new category and a global fashion brand.

Specifically, I wanted to know:

  • How does Daymond choose the companies he invests in?
  • How does he overcome failures and setbacks in business?
  • How he overcame misconceptions in one’s marketplace?
  • The advice he gave to keep the KFC brand finger-lickin’ good
  • How to restore the potential and prosperity of our country

You’ve invested in numerous businesses on Shark Tank.
What’s the constant quality you seek out to determine if it’s a true candidate?

Daymond: The person pitching has to know their business, has to know their customer and know the direction they want their business to go in.

The person has to convey that they were willing to do whatever it takes, willing to overcome whatever barriers to achieve the goal they have.

Plus they had to have made some mistakes and show that they learned from those mistakes and could correct themselves.

When you run into challenges and barriers, what keeps you going?

Daymond: I assess why did I run into this challenge? Lack of info? Lack of the proper team? Lack of preparation?

Once I isolate the cause of that challenge, I can always acquire the right info, people or preparation.

I need to further assess if I have the steam to follow it through and tackle it again. I must isolate what was the reason I lacked the initial preparation or drive and determine: Am I ready and committed to do it again and do it right? I need to assess that I have the necessary desire to achieve that goal. That is the foundation from which all the rest will flow.

How do you pick yourself up when something didn’t go as planned?

Daymond: I reevaluate the cause of the problem and know (going forward) that it’s one less path I have to go down. I have to start again more wisely and ascertain, “Was it the wrong people, or the wrong intel to get the job done?”

Here’s a specific example: Relaunching my fashion brand, FUBU.

We approached it with the concept that we had new and cool designs like everybody does when they’re launching or relaunching a brand. After several faulty trials and talking about how great we are, it wasn’t taking off.

People were not buying the new stuff. This made no sense to us. We had to find out why. So we decided to go on Twitter with the hashtag #FUBU as a social media campaign to learn why.

We discovered this: while we own FB globally for apparel and fashion, there was something new on the horizon that the initials stand for.

People today look up the initials FB and see Facebook (you may have heard of them!) which has over one billion (nine zeros: 1,000,000,000) followers, a situation that didn’t even exist when FUBU first launched. This is a nice opportunity to tap into a community that we had no notion of back in the day. Some even think of our brand as Facebook’s. That’s opportunity knocking Mark Zuckerberg.

What else did we learn with this social media campaign?

That people thought we sold the company. They thought we were a sell out. We learned people only knew us for baggy clothes and thought the styles were old, yet we’d been making form-fitting jeans in Europe for years.

This social campaign was designed to uncover what we didn’t know and we learned that we needed to reestablish WHO owned the brand.

We were surprised to also learn that our product was so well done that others counterfeited it. Really!

So before we could progress, we had to get this dirt off the brand. We had to do a counter-campaign to fight old perceptions before we could deliver any “new” news.

Take KFC (or for those who have been around, Kentucky Fried Chicken). Their ad agency shared an upcoming campaign with me to go up against their rival Chic-fil-A. Just like we did with FUBU, I suggested they make sure to uncover any negative stuff and address that before they try to drive home any new and exciting ideas. I knew there were rumors circling around (like so many big brands), theirs being about genetically modified chickens, etc..

That was the pivotal point: lack of current valid insight.

We realized we had to get rid of the “stink” before we could smell good —eliminating the debris we didn’t know was there.

Only then could we talk about what was new.

FUBU was based on a lifestyle more than a color of customer.
How important is the concept of lifestyle in your branding and business decisions?

Daymond: Lifestyle, to me, is equal to community. What did we promise our customers? We were the rebels representing young men in the market. Apple is the ultimate rebel brand, rejecting the status quo, beige computers and complex interfaces. So we used rebellion as the foundation.

Whether you chose exclusion or inclusion, as a FUBU guy or girl, you wanted to be cool.

We were always about lifestyle and very importantly inclusion, starting from the name: For us. By us. (FUBU.)  For us, it was never about exclusion, but inclusion of a lifestyle that had never been represented before.

You keep giving back to the business community in endless ways. What keeps you inspired?

I guess that’s because I’ve been surrounded by great mentors. I was always oriented to empowering others. It’s in my DNA.

I don’t see how I can do life or work any other way.

It’s the only way I can see to help our country and restore the spirit of free enterprise.


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