April 10, 2015

Growco Conference: Daymond John’s Roadmap to Success

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Note: This is part of our on-going coverage of Inc. Magazine’s #GROWCO15 conference in Nashville, Tenn. Makes sure to read our previous post on 3D printed cars and the future of business, and check back early next week for additional takeaways and exclusive interviews with key speakers.

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Daymond John loves entrepreneurs.

As one of the stars of ABC’s “Shark Tank,” he’s certainly met his fair share. As the founder and CEO of FUBU, he’s also endured the highs and lows that come with the journey.

John recently shared some of his experiences on the main stage during his keynote address at Inc. Magazine’s GrowCo conference in Nashville, Tenn. To him, successful entrepreneurs are the first at the office and the last to leave. They thank everyone, but blame only themselves. They help others move up the ladder, but are never too concerned about their own title.

And they all follow a clear business roadmap en route to becoming a successful “shark.”

Set a goal

John has a “rags to riches” story that starts in the kitchen at Red Lobster and climbs to a the top of a multi-billion dollar fashion empire. It’s a journey set in motion by establishing one clear goal: He loved fashion and hip hop culture. He dreamed of creating his own business that combined both. John also refused to let others set goals for him and judge his success. Fueled by a ferocious ambition that he credits to his mother, reaching his own goal became his sole focus.

Do your homework

While there’s a certain amount of luck involved in breaking through as an entrepreneur, there’s also a lot of work that goes into positioning yourself to take advantage of that luck. John had no money and no knowledge about how to start a fashion company, but he knew he was the only one who had the power to change that. He grew up with several young hip-hop stars, and worked those connections to learn about where he needed to be and what he needed to do to in order to sell his vision.

John did his homework on what buyers and investors wanted to know, then worked to fake it until he could actually make it. He convinced friends and their connections to try on FUBU clothing, then snapped pictures for grassroots marketing efforts. At one point FUBU only had nine total pieces of clothing, but John found a way to showcase them in a hotel room during a popular trade show. He wound up taking orders for more than $300,000 worth of clothing that had yet to be made.

Adore what you do

The exhausting pursuit of success is far more manageable if you like what you do. That’s clear to pretty much everyone. Entrepreneurs often talk about needing to have a passion for your work, but John takes it to another level. You can’t force yourself into a business, he says. You need to discover what you love and what fulfills you, then pursue it with laser focus at all cost. For John, if the business isn’t something you can do forever even if no one is paying you to do it, there’s no reason to waste the time and energy trying to pursue it.

Remember that you’re the brand

It’s not just the business that needs an established brand — an entrepreneur needs an identity too. Citing his experiences on “Shark Tank,” John believes every entrepreneur should be able to describe themselves and their company in two-to-five words. Nike has “Just do it.” Apple has “Think Different.” As John said, “If you don’t know what you stand for, you leave it up to (investors) to interpret on their own.” A clear, concise, and powerful message will help entrepreneurs break down barriers and rapidly build powerful brand identity for their business.

Keep swimming

Fitting for a shark, John likes to close with a line from an animated Pixar movie. His daughter is a big Finding Nemo fan, and frequently reminds John to “just keep swimming or you will drown” when times are tough. Much of John’s speech focused on the highs and lows in his own life, including his parents’ divorce, his own divorce, and missed moments with his two children. He urges entrepreneurs to stay the course and ride out the rough times, noting that every overnight success usually takes 15 years. He’s certainly proof that thinking big, putting in the work, and pushing through the pain really does pay off.