Investor Daymond John shares lessons for success at Contact Committee event

Decorated entrepreneur reflects on his rags-to-riches success story and the lessons he has learned along the way


Kevin Remington

Daymond John speaks at Lee Chapel on Thursday evening. Photo by Ellen Kanzinger ‘18.

Elyse Ferris

Daymond John, a world-renowned entrepreneur, investor and star of ABC’s “Shark Tank,” spoke to hundreds of students and families in Lee Chapel on Thursday evening about his experiences as a budding businessman and the steps he has taken to succeed.

Contact Committee sponsored John’s visit with support from the Williams School, the Connolly Center for Entrepreneurship and the Venture Club. Event organizers distributed hundreds of tickets free of charge to W&L students and community members, advertising the talk as a kickoff for Parents Weekend.

“We try to offer a wealth of different individuals who we think W&L needs to hear from,” said Matt Carl, co-chair of the Contact Committee. “Not only is [Daymond John] a big name, he’s got an incredible rags-to-riches story. He went from mortgaging his own home to becoming a multi-millionaire.”

John is the founder and CEO of FUBU (“For Us By Us”), an American clothing and hip-hop apparel company; the CEO of The Shark Group; a presidential ambassador for global entrepreneurship; a New York Times best-selling author; and co-host of the reality investing show, “Shark Tank.”

During his talk, John discussed his life story and also shared his six “Shark Points” for success: Set goals, do your homework, love what you do, remember you are the brand, pitch and just keep swimming.

Growing up in Hollis, Queens, John said his love of hip-hop music and culture inspired him to create his FUBU clothing line, which is now worth billions.

“Hip-hop wasn’t something you just listened to, it [was] something you lived,” he said. “The kids were communicating through this music. This was our version of Twitter.”

Starting with just $40 worth of material, John and his mother began sewing FUBU hats, which they sold on the street. The hats were an instant success and earned them nearly $1,000 within an hour.

After some more early-on success, John worked on expanding his brand by spray painting FUBU’s logo on gates near public transportation routes and asking musicians to wear FUBU gear in their music videos.

Rapper LL Cool J, who conducted several FUBU ad campaigns, was especially instrumental in boosting the company’s reputation.

In addition, in 1995, Samsung’s fashion and textile division invested in FUBU, which further contributed to it becoming a major international brand.

In 2009, John took his entrepreneurial talents to the next level by  joining the cast of “Shark Tank,” a television show in which he and four other big-name investors listen to business pitches from entrepreneurs and decide whether or not to invest money in their ideas.

“As sharks, we’ve been gifted with being able to invest in other people’s dreams,” he said. “We know that the next Steve Jobs is home watching Shark Tank.”

John concluded his speech by emphasizing the true meaning of success.

“Success is many things,” he said. “Success is not money. I know a lot of filthy rich people who are miserable. Nothing is more important than family.”

Students said they found John’s speech valuable and applicable to their college careers.

“I’m so glad we had the opportunity to hear from him,” Caroline Trammell, ‘20, said.  “I felt like he presented a lot of information that was useful for people considering all majors. He was really engaging and funny, and he presented everything in a way that was easy to comprehend.”