Daymond John Goes Beyond the ‘Shark Tank’ [INTERVIEW]
Daymond John is a modern renaissance man. The founder, president and CEO of FUBU is an accomplished motivational speaker, business mentor, entrepreneur, fashion icon, television personality, best-selling author and an investor on the hit ABC reality show ‘Shark Tank’, where he’s emerged as a fan favorite.
When he’s not circling the waters around potential business investments, John has been busy expanding his relationship with the sports world (something ‘Shark Tank’ co-star Mark Cuban might know a thing or two about). John now oversees the global branding and awareness for Fuse Science, Inc., boosted by relationships with athletes including Tiger Woods, Tyson Chandler, David Ortiz, Jose Bautista, Arian Foster and Paul Pierce. He’s also managing the branding for up-and-coming NASCAR driver Alex Bowman.
The “Godfather of Urban Fashion” took time out of his busy schedule to talk with GuySpeed about his transition into the sports world, business lessons learned and to share some behind the scenes scoop from ‘Shark Tank’, which wraps up its fourth season this Friday night on ABC (9/8 central).
You work with Mark Cuban on ‘Shark Tank’ who is of course one of the best known and successful owners and personalities in all of sports. What advice did he give you about venturing into the business of sports?
I’m not a big sports fan in regards to watching sports — I love to play it. But Mark said something to me one day that, for all my entire life thinking about sports, I may not have understood why fans watch it instead of playing it. He said you have to look at sports as entertainment. Games you go to and fans will go to, some of them will remember the game, some of them won’t remember the game, but they’ll all remember that they collectively got together and they shared a passion with somebody next to them that they did not know. They hung out with them, they hugged them, they kissed them, they slapped hands with them and they had a great time with an absolute stranger. And it brings families together and it brings people together that normally would never ever be together, all ages, all genders and all races. When he said it I looked at it as a unity of people when I always looked at it as something that wasn’t a unity, and it was actually people against each other but I’d never thought of it like that. I think that’s the most enlightening thing he said about sports.
On ‘Shark Tank’, what value do you give to pitches that already have a well-known celebrity or athlete endorsement attached?
It’s a few things like baking a perfect cake. A celebrity endorser can hurt the product just as much as they can help it. The way they can hurt is if they go out and get arrested or something crazy happens to them. Number two, do they not believe in the product — they’re getting paid by Pepsi but they’re drinking Coca-Cola. Number three is did you bet the whole farm on acquiring this athlete and the athlete doesn’t do anything besides a great press release and all of a sudden you’ve spent a large chunk of your advertising and marketing on a person that’s not doing anything and your company doesn’t have the resources if they’ve bet on one horse. I have to look at it and say, “Is this true?” because a celebrity can be detrimental. On the flip side, when you look at a product like Fuse and why I became a part of Fuse, the easiest thing to sell is the truth. Tiger Woods doesn’t need any money. He decided to be a part of this company due to its amazing science. If the athlete is part of something because the product is king, then the easiest thing to sell is the truth.
You’ve recently joined up with Fuse Science to help expand their “Powered by Fuse” message. What is it about the products that appeals to the high level athletes who are part of its stable, including Tiger Woods, Arian Foster and Tyson Chandler?
They’re part of a movement where it transcends many boundaries besides sports. The technology of Fuse Science, which is to be able to apply this method quickly — it hits your system in 15 seconds, the only thing faster is a needle — could be used for everything from helping to work with people who have malaria to hopefully one day be able to deploy these medicines with insulin [for diabetics] without a needle so you can put it on your skin. They see the effect of it with the current product Enerjel — when it soaks into their muscles, they feel it. When they get the electrolytes and they have a cramp and it goes away immediately — not taking 45 minutes for them to drink a Gatorade — they see the benefit. When they need energy, that’s the obvious reason they’re part of it.
You’re working with NASCAR driver Alex Bowman. What opportunities do you see for marketing NASCAR to a new, younger audience?
I met Alex Bowman quite some time ago and kept my eye on him and his career and the kid is amazing. He is an amazing driver and the kid is doing well in the circuit. Again, I can’t do much with Alex Bowman unless he provides these great wins and/or placements because I can’t put lipstick on a pig. What I see with Alex — I see this is a new day and age. I see this is a young kid who is hitting a new market of kids, he is social media savvy, he loves the things that other kids like the generational things such as electronic dance music (deadmau5, Afrojack). I think that he can be great. He can bring NASCAR into living rooms where people didn’t traditionally see NASCAR or NASCAR-like people and they can understand and gravitate back towards NASCAR when they see this young amazing kid winning races that are hanging out with the types of people and celebrities that you wouldn’t traditionally see. The great thing about Alex and working with him now is there’s 20 years to go. It’s a long time and I think the kid’s amazing.
If you had to launch FUBU all over again, but in 2013, what would you do differently?
I’d have to do so many things differently. When I launched it, there wasn’t social media so I had to get up in everybody’s face with a shirt. I would have to learn social media and be so entrenched in social media. And the good thing and the bad thing about social media is first of all you get such pure analytics from your customer base. But second of all I always say when I got out there with those shirts, nobody would get up there before me and nobody would go to sleep after me. Now there’s a billion other people easily online selling the goods and getting the goods in everybody’s faces so how do you separate yourself from the noise.
What I’d do the same is I would find very very strong ambassadors in really niche markets. I would have to find certain amount of kids in certain places — like certain dance groups in the middle of Manhattan and kids doing really strange and bizarre things that everybody is just kind of looking at from afar because that’s where it all starts. It all sparks from the energy of really young kids doing things that are avant-garde.
Can you share any stories behind the scenes about what happens during due diligence once the deal is struck on the show?
That process is extremely colorful. You have everything from lawyers to wives to best friends coming in there saying “This deal is not good. I can do a better deal.” Several deals have fallen apart because as soon as it airs on TV, their cousin’s friend’s brother’s sister tells them “Oh why didn’t you tell me, I’ve got a million dollars for you.” Some of those deals have fallen apart and I’ll see the guy or girl two years later and they’ll say, “Oh boy I sure should have listened to you.” It’s like any other negotiation but for the most part both parties have the best intent to get things done and a lot of the entrepreneurs are really really grateful and really happy to do the deals and they’re as smooth as can be, but it’s a learning process.
Which Shark would you not want to see across from you at a negotiation table?
That’s a tough one because I have the same amount of respect for every single one of them and I’m not saying that to kiss their butts. They’re all incredibly great negotiators and on the other side I think they’re all bozos. I don’t have any favorite or least favorite.
Looking back, is there a product or opportunity from the show you’re sorry you didn’t invest in?
No, I’m not. Here’s an example why. Lori [Greiner] invested in some guy that had a magnetic eyeglass holder in case you’d fall and I thought it was the stupidest idea. Lori goes out and sells $3 million worth of that thing. I wouldn’t have done the same thing with that product. I can’t regret things I haven’t done because it may not have ended up where the entrepreneur intended it to be.