Thinking like a shark

Daymond John details his hard-fought journey from street vendor to bonafide businessman

Daymond John of ABC's "Shark Tank" fame, as well as CEO and founder of the global lifestyle brand FUBU, wouldn't call himself an overnight success. From a young age, he was motivated to earn money for his family and find opportunities others may have overlooked. This "rise-and-grind" mentality served him well later in life as he sought to build his business empire.

On July 16, he detailed his journey to becoming a successful entrepreneur during the general session, "Daymond John's Five Shark Points: Fundamentals for Success in Business and Life" at AVMA Convention 2023 in Denver.

Daymond John shared his unique goal-setting strategies during the interactive general session presentation he gave on July 16 at AVMA Convention 2023 in Denver.
Daymond John shared his unique goal-setting strategies during the interactive general session presentation he gave on July 16 at AVMA Convention 2023 in Denver. He also used his own story to encourage audience members to make positive changes in their lives. (Photo by Sara Buegen)

John grew up in the Hollis neighborhood of Queens, New York, and has fond memories of family dogs, including one who retrieved the newspaper each morning, and a pair of Great Danes.

Hard work was modeled for John at a young age. His father left when he was only 10, and John's mother worked three jobs to support him. As the "new man of the house," John hated to see his mom suffering and decided to get his first job at age 14, handing out promotional fliers for a new local shopping mall. The job paid just over $2 an hour, but helped him hone his sales skills early on. It also gave him a chance to network in the retail space.

At the same time, hip-hop music was originating and bursting into neighborhoods across the Bronx and Queens, and John took in all he could.

Inherently entrepreneurial, John learned to sew from his mom, soon selling hats and T-shirts to local hip-hop artists and fans. He branded this apparel FUBU, which stands for "for you, by you," born from his passion for hip-hop culture.

As he notes in his book, "Rise and Grind: Outperform, Outwork, and Outhustle Your Way to a More Successful and Rewarding Life," the key to getting ahead and staying ahead is to rise and grind each day. Do everything you can to work smart as well as hard, but to achieve more, you've got to outwork everyone else, John says.

Thanks to his hard work and hustle—as well as persistence in the face of mistakes—FUBU's popularity took off and John was able to pursue his dream of a global lifestyle brand. To date, FUBU has surpassed more than $6 billion in global retail sales. FUBU played an integral role in the development of the streetwear market, which is now a $20 billion industry.

"My mother always told me, 'Responsibility is something that must be taken,'" John said. "'It can't be given and the moment you understand that you will be successful.'"

Along his personal entrepreneurial journey, he has identified the keys to his success: establishing the right mindset and following five fundamental "SHARK" points for success:

  1. Set Goals
    You have to set a goal and take action to reach it. If you don't take charge of setting goals for yourself, someone else will set them for you. To stay focused on his ambitions, he keeps a list of 10 goals—four short-term and six longer-term—and reads them every morning when he wakes and every night before he goes to sleep.
  2. Homework
    When building the FUBU brand, John learned everything he could about the apparel industry, and trends within the hip-hop music scene. He advises to do the same to reach your goals.
  3. Amor
    Love what you do and love people as you do it. John connected deeply with his customers because they shared the same interests and dreams. At the same time, as much as you may enjoy your job, don't forget to find the time to spend with the people you love who are most important to you.
  4. Remember You Are Personally the Brand
    How would you describe yourself in two-to-five words? Use those words to master your own pitch, and always be ready to represent your product or profession.
  5. Keep Swimming
    Entrepreneurs never give up. John said that anything worth doing is worth overdoing. Think about what success means to you and how to obtain it.

A version of this story appears in the October 2023 print issue of JAVMA