No-Brand Nudo

The Persistence and Passion of The People’s Shark

This write-up was done following an April 23, 2019, talk by Daymond John of the TV show Shark Tank. It was originally published on LinkedIn.

“An Evening with Daymond John” at the Illini Union on April 23 began with a frenzied video montage of the well-known Shark Tank cast member engaging with numerous famous people of the day and being interviewed on television programs such as Mad Money with Jim Cramer. The footage was exciting and explosive, designed to pump up the Illinois students who filled most of the seats in the room.

But when the barrage of images showing John’s jet-setting ways stopped and he strode to the podium wearing jeans, a sports jacket, a tie, and black boots, the vibe was almost anticlimactic. Height-wise, John is on the diminutive side and is both supremely confident and remarkably humble. He’s funny, reflective, and a guidance guru. He looks young for fifty and joked with the millennials in the audience more than once that he was younger than his actual age.

Along with his longtime stint as a TV personality on Shark Tank, which is now in its tenth season, John is the president and CEO of the mega-successful clothing line FUBU (For Us, By Us). He has written bestselling books, was appointed as a Presidential Ambassador for Global Entrepreneurship, has traveled the world numerous times, and is comfortable onstage when talking about the ups and downs of his career and life.

For all his wealth and success, though, John understands that not everything is solely about money and knows many unhappy rich folks.

“What is success?” he posed to the audience. “Could be stopping human trafficking. Could be saving some of those furry friends of ours who can’t fight for themselves. Stopping the carbon imprint on this planet. Taking half the plastic that we’re dumping into the ocean out of the ocean. Being dedicated to your faith. That’s what success is.” 

With many in attendance hungry for advice on business, John related the unfortunate story of a young entrepreneur who had accrued more than a million dollars in T-shirt sales but lost it all due to a lack of infrastructure, issues with logistics, and not being able to keep up with orders. He himself faced some of the same pressures early on with FUBU, a company that was inspired by his love of hip hop.

“It’s because he didn’t have people like you that have a higher level of education and understand systems and understand solving problems in a timely manner and working within a group,” John said of the T-shirt vendor’s entrepreneurial demise. “He didn’t complete what he started out to do. And that’s life, period. You keep growing, you keep continuing.”     

John’s talk was peppered throughout the evening with retro music and old photos and videos provided by his accompanying DJ. Amid the multimedia extracurriculars, which were sometimes a tad distracting, The People’s Shark talked about some of his regrets. His biggest one was not attending college, which turned out to be a major hindrance as FUBU exploded.

The People’s Shark talked about some of his regrets. His biggest one was not attending college, which turned out to be a major hindrance as FUBU exploded.

“It hurt me many, many times in my life. I couldn’t even fill out a loan for the loan officer,” he said. “I didn’t have the resources that you have here. The two or the four or however many years that you’re going to educate yourself formally is gonna come down to one minute when you use it. It’s gonna change your life.”

Perhaps the loosest, most fun part of the evening was when John spouted off about his fellow sharks from Shark Tank, both making fun of them and relating their importance to him. He showed a goofy image a few times of Kevin O’Leary, also known as Mr. Wonderful, with his head sticking out of a toilet (the crowd loved it). One rather intimate photo showed Mark Cuban taking care of his business in front of a bathroom urinal as he held the NBA Finals trophy just won by the Dallas Mavericks, the team he owns. John also poked fun at Robert Herjavec for being a bad dancer on Dancing with the Stars.

Fun-loving jabs aside, John is close to his fellow sharks. He said Barbara Corcoran is a far superior marketer than him and someone he draws inspiration from. He jokingly lamented Lori Greiner’s major success in investing in Scrub Daddy on Shark Tank but also conveyed how special she is to him.

John said Shark Tank was in danger of being cancelled during each of its first three seasons, but he had a feeling it would endure because it was a family-oriented show that was regarded by many as smart TV.

“Professors were showing it and using it in teaching classes, and that’s why Shark Tank lasted. It’s not because of us. It’s because of you,” he said.     

Daymond John is not a college graduate, and at times he seemed almost in awe of the students in the crowd who were pursuing a topnotch education. In turn, the students watching him speak likely came away with a great deal of inspiration from this self-made man whose relentless passion and persistence could teach anybody. John admitted early on in his talk that he wasn’t in Champaign-Urbana to discuss microeconomics or macroeconomics, saying, “Honestly, the professors here could do that on a Ph.D. level. They could teach me even more than I know.”

He gave it up for the academics in the room, and then John shared his life story to reveal what can’t be learned in a classroom.     

Think Like a Shark Through These Five Points by Daymond John

1)     Set a goal.

2)     Do your homework.

3)     Amor (love).

4)     Remember, you are the brand.

5)     Keep swimming.

Photo by Sal Nudo


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