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In the Shark Tank: The wisdom of Daymond John

You’re probably familiar with Daymond John from his 11 years on Shark Tank, where he’s earned the title “The People’s Shark,” but over the past 20 years he’s evolved into a branding expert, author, consultant, and speaker, having helped create the untapped urban apparel market with his iconic brand FUBU (“For Us By Us”).

I recently had the honor of interviewing him about entrepreneurship at America’s Small Business Development Center’s virtual conference, an event designed to support the thousands of coaches and mentors around the country who are providing no-cost business consulting and low-cost training to new and existing small businesses. This organization, funded by the Small Business Administration, has been around for 40 years—about the same amount of time as Intuit—and we have been working with them for decades, as we share a mission to help small businesses succeed and remain competitive.

Daymond deeply understands the hardships of starting a business from nothing. He has experienced all aspects of its ups and downs, successes and failures, and its effect on families and friends. Daymond’s mother was one of his original investors in FUBU. She mortgaged the family’s home in Queens to raise $100,000 in start-up capital and turned part of it into a makeshift factory and office space.

During our conversation, Daymond shared a wealth of insight into what he’s learned throughout his career as well as practical advice for turning that insight into action. I believe every entrepreneur can benefit from his knowledge. His words inspired the audience—and me!—so I grouped together some key themes that came up during our chat so I could share them with you.

Invest in yourself

“Do your homework.”

Daymond believes in the power of data. One of his top considerations as an investor is how well the entrepreneur knows their market, their customers, their partners. If you don’t take the extra time to educate yourself on your business, your (or his) investment is going to be spent on learning the hard lessons rather than growing your business.

“Everybody is hackable, and you have to hack yourself.”

When Daymond talks about hacking, the computer system he’s talking about is his own brain. He encourages entrepreneurs to be willing to keep learning every day. You’re never too big to fail, so continue to sharpen your intelligence, whether it’s on new financial tools, what’s trending in the market, or how to use social media marketing and technology, or risk being disrupted.

The early bird gets the worm.

Daymond is very well known for his list of goals. It’s part of the personal inventory he takes. He has 10 goals that he reads first thing every morning and again every night. Six expire in six months, and the other four expire in two years, five years, 10 years, and 20 years. He reads them before anything else to give him focus—in the morning because he wants them to be the first actions he takes, and at night to remind him what he hopes to happen. He makes them big and resets them even larger to push himself.

“You don’t need a bigger billboard.”

Most successful people Daymond knows have had five failed businesses. Every time you fail, learn something new and come back stronger. Investigate your weaknesses and be vulnerable to a point. Don’t just throw money at a problem, he says, “Because if you need a bigger billboard and your product is crap, well then you’re advertising a bunch of crap. Or if you need a bigger billboard and your content… is not really grabbing people, well making it bigger is just a bigger version of noise.” Instead, be tactical and take affordable and calculated steps, then reevaluate your situation. If you’re passionate about your purpose and stay focused on what you do best, you can succeed.

Daymond John being interviewed.

Your community is more powerful than you think

Look at the whole picture before throwing money at a problem.

Daymond reminded us that inventory and assets mean more than boxes in a warehouse or money in the bank. Successful entrepreneurs look at the whole picture—their inventory can include their time, employees, customers, skills, or their list of contacts. Your career and experience can unearth a variety of opportunities in your network. This is true whether you’re a veteran, mompreneur, or have left years in the corporate world to pursue a passion. Understanding the breadth of assets you’re working with can mean the difference between resilient entrepreneurs and those who fail.

“What can I do for you?”

Daymond and I share an outlook on this. “I’ve always called people, asking what I can do for them, instead of what can they do for me,” he says. Especially when looking at your inventory, call people that you haven’t talked to for a long time. You never know what opportunities will arise, maybe even a chance for you both to solve a problem together and deepen your relationship. These days, people are more open to collaborating on new things, and someone who has told you “no” in the past may now need your help. Nurturing your network is the only way to find out.

“Don’t try to be everything to everybody. You just need to be special to one person.”

One of the most powerful assets in a business’ inventory is its community. In his book, The Power of Broke, Daymond shares his journey and the experiences of several successful entrepreneurs who built their empires from nothing. They did so by building brands with a promise to take their customers to a destination, then over-delivering on that promise. Referring to one of the brands he’s invested in, Bombas socks, he explained, “You won’t see them talk about anything else besides giving in a community and making the best sock they can. They don’t get off message. They stay on brand.” And if you do that, he says, “Your ambassadors will always scream your names from the rooftops.”

Business in the COVID era

“This is going to be the largest transformation of wealth in our entire history.”

Despite the challenges we’re seeing every business face, Daymond remains optimistic. His optimism should be encouraging to both small businesses, laid-off workers, and people working from home. Small business owners can now tap into a global talent pool that’s bigger than ever, as highly skilled people are ready, willing, and able to work. If you’ve been laid off, he says there’s no better time than now to start reaching out to your network. And people now working from home have another 10 hours a week to educate themselves, start a business, or get in shape since they’re no longer commuting.

“You can always come back once you’re small.”

This is an ideal time to take inventory and ask yourself the hard questions. “Look at yourself and see what you did wrong,” Daymond recommends. “Be very honest with yourself about it. Reset. Understand this is your ego. Were you thinking about the way the community looks at you or your significant other was looking at you? How can you go back to just covering the fundamentals of what is going to keep the lights on right now? Get as small as you can. You can always come back once you’re small. But if you are overextended and you’re just trying to pump more money into something or spend into the curve, you’re going to hurt yourself.”

Put your own mental health first.

There’s no question we’re all stressed right now, whether it’s financial stress at home, getting new customers, or taking care of staff. But Daymond noted that the entrepreneur’s mental health often sits on the back burner. He advises investing in yourself, putting your own mental health first, and then taking advantage of this time to take inventory or learn something new. And remember: “We’re going to come back, all of us.”

Daymond is truly an inspiration. While most people know him as a TV star and fashion mogul, I can happily report he’s just as humble, creative, funny, and smart in person as he is on Shark Tank. More than that, he practices what he preaches, and he does it with heart and gusto. It’s a lesson (or 10!) we can all take in when we’re up against a wall. While we’ve all been through challenging times, and more challenges lie ahead, I hope some of his advice proves helpful to you as we continue this journey.

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