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Daymond John: Hustle, Handshakes, & Hollis

The FUBU founder and Shark Tank star joined “Out of Office” to discuss how the hustle of Hollis, Queens prepared him for the ups and downs of entrepreneurship.

Hollis, Queens ranks among the historical cornerstones of hip hop. In the late 1980s, it was the home of legends like Run DMC, LL Cool J, A Tribe Called Quest.

But for a young Daymond John, the pull of hip hop in his neighborhood was so much more than the musical soundtrack of his youth, it was a lifestyle. Its influence helped him harness a hustle that has served as the foundation of his business acumen.

When he looks back on his life, he can’t remember a time where an entrepreneurial spirit wasn’t a core characteristic of his being. His parents got divorced when he was 10, and his mom took on extra shifts. Daymond never wanted to saddle her with extra work so that he could get the clothes or sneakers he had his eyes on.

So he took it upon himself.

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“[When I was young,] at the time it was just some sort of a hustle, some sort of a way to make extra money. Actually wouldn’t say ‘extra’ because we didn’t have any. I had to shovel snow or rake leaves. I had to do what I had to do…It came natural to me,” he told Rich Kleiman on Boardroom’s “Out of Office” podcast.

He quickly assembled a core of workers, scaling his business quickly—and didn’t understand why everyone wasn’t seizing the opportunity.

Meanwhile, in an effort to keep him close, his mom taught him to sew and he began dabbling in creating street styles.

Looking back on his early inspiration, John recalls, “I was fashionable, but I didn’t know I was going to go into fashion.”

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As the crack epidemic took over the streets, John and his friends looked to the people who were getting up and going to work as the heroes of their neighborhood. However, as LL Cool J and his contemporaries broke into the mainstream, they saw a different way out.

“It wasn’t something that was unattainable… I was like, you can actually make money doing something you love.”

Thus began the roots of FUBU. What would become a first-of-its-kind streetwear company was ground in the moment, in the movement of hip hop. John was committed to building a brand that was centered around authenticity.

“We were part of it…. We 100% grew up there, and people came up with us,” John recalls.

And the connections that he made in those earliest years helped him to launch his first of many, many companies.

“You got [long-time friend] Hype [Williams] shooting the videos. You got Onyx. FredRo was my barber for a long period of time, and then when he blew up, he put [FUBU] on. ODB showed up at my house one day. I had only sold like 20 shirts… And now ODB is wearing FUBU in a Mariah Carey video,” he said. “So there was this emphasis on authenticity because we were a part of it.”

And John was committed to ushering a new generation of streetwear brands by creating a network similar to the one that helped him make the leap into the mainstream. As FUBU gained traction, he connected key talent with positions at perceived rivals, like Sean John, Phat Farm, and more. 

FUBU was just the beginning for John. He shares the details of the brand’s rise — and its struggles. By 2007, he was running 10 clothing companies, but clothing and retail were among the first industries to feel the early effects of the impending 2008 recession.

It was then that he was approached about joining ABC’s Shark Tank as a star investor.

He almost missed the chance because he had a verbal contract to appear on a cable show about three sisters who had a store in California. He had agreed to be on the show three times for three minutes apiece, and his agent begged him to back out.

Those sisters? The Kardashians.

He would eventually join the panel in 2009. Among all the thousands of pitches he’s heard, there’s only one company that keeps him up at night: Scrub Daddy. But he finds solace in the fact the show’s most successful launch — Bombas Socks — is one of his own.

Over time, the companies that they’re seeing on Shark Tank have improved substantially, a change that John credits to the influence of the show. Based on over a decade of examples, prospective entrepreneurs see the importance of building a detailed deck and what might be required to be successful beyond the pitch.

That’s made John’s job different.

Not necessarily easier, but different.

At 52, John has seen so much, but the importance of authenticity has remained at the heart of his hustle. John hangs his legacy on FUBU, from its journey from his mom’s basement to its global takeover. He credits its success and its failures with getting him to Shark Tank, and being in a position to inspire other people with his own story.

And with 900 companies in his portfolio, he’s only getting started.

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