Daymond John: The CEO and Shark Tank Investor on How Teenage Passion Morphed into Sprawling Profits

The FUBU founder shares how hustling in his youth laid the foundation for his investments.

These days, Daymond John is known for his investments and role on Shark Tank. But his entrepreneurial skills came out of hard work. He grew up hustling and loving hip hop. He eventually channeled his biggest passions into FUBU, one of the leading hip-hop apparel companies in the world. He has since expanded into other ventures, writing books and investing in Shark Tank’s Bombas along the way.

John joins Hawke Media CEO Erik Huberman in this Hawketalk episode and talks about his transition from C-student to successful entrepreneur. Here are some of the highlights:

On what motivated him to hustle


Erik Huberman: Take us back to three, four-year-old Daymond John… did you come out and start taking pitches, shutting people down like on kindergarten? Where did it all start? Tell me about your childhood, your family, your parents.

Daymond John: My parents ended up getting divorced when I was around ten years old, but they were hard-working people and… at that time, I really wanted to just start making money because I didn’t want to make it that hard on my mother because hip hop was really starting to come around.

Daymond John. 4hourworkweek, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

I started falling in love with the music, and I wanted to either buy an album, buy some sneakers that I thought, you know, we’re part of hip hop. I felt bad that seeing my mother work so hard, all these jobs to try to buy this stuff that she couldn’t really afford, and I think that’s where it really came from, my initial desire to make money… and simultaneously make money and be part of a culture.

On the prelude to his success


Huberman: When did you first have that exposure to selling something, growing something. Was it FUBU from the start, or was there something before that?

John: No, no, no. I actually had a delivery service. It was like a van. It was like carpooling in our neighborhood… so, it was, kind of, like this cottage industry, and that was my first real business.

Huberman: How did you get the money to get the van? I always love the detail side of this.

John: I worked at a Red Lobster. I also worked at various other places. I saved up money. See, I was always somebody who was trying to leverage whatever I had, right? So, whether it was build a bicycle so I could ride it and eventually sell it, it was let me get a van because… I was, like, okay… I have a car, on my way to go someplace, I can make twenty dollars picking up people back and forth. And then I can take the seats out of the van and put clothing in there and go to a flea market one day. So, I was always trying to maximize whatever I had.

On the fuel that lit the fire


Huberman: What inspired you with FUBU?

John: Well, it came from a frustration that I was buying anything and everything that I could see in music videos, and I was told, you know, I believe 90% of it was rumors now, that these fashion people disliked us. They did not want people of color or people who love hip hop, rapping, rappers, inner-city kids, whatever you want to call us at the time, right?

They didn’t want us wearing their clothes, but this was the emerging music that I loved. Hip hop was fairly new at that time. It was really only, from a commercial standpoint, it was probably only four years old, and I really was obsessed with it.

On finding a way in


Huberman: So, you start going into it, did you have a lot of contacts in the hip hop space too?

John: Well, there were friends. I’m fortunate enough to say that I had a lot of contacts… the good thing is that I grew up in Hollis, Queens. And Hollis, Queens has, if I would run off the names of the people in Hollis, Queens, you would say, “What the hell is in the water?”

So, whether it was build a bicycle so I could ride it and eventually sell it, it was let me get a van because… I was, like, okay… I have a car, on my way to go someplace, I can make twenty dollars picking up people back and forth.

So some of them were my friends, you know. Not the big artists because LL Cool J and Run-DMC were, like, massively huge, and they were one generation older than me and, you know, that type of separation, when you’re in the neighborhood, it’s pretty big.

My closest friends were me and a guy named Irv Gotti, who created something called Murder Inc., and another guy named Hype Williams, who became a very famous video director, and we would go on tours… and that’s where I started to really get an understanding of that there was an escape from the hood that didn’t have anything to do with drugs, and you can actually make money doing something you love.

Huberman: Was it having those relationships with the director and having those tours in your background that you went to the people you had met along that way to get it out there? How did you start?

John: No, my first relationship was standing on a corner and selling it to people, and then it was realizing that I had enough money to buy, maybe, 50 shirts. And if I would have dressed all the cool kids and the rappers in the neighborhood with the 50 shirts, they may or may not wear them. If they wore them, they would have worn them once and given them away.

So, I made sure that I brought a bunch of 4X, 5X, and 6X, and I gave it to the big bodyguards, and the big guys in the neighborhood… and those guys would be in front of the red rope at a club, in front of a stage, in front of the cameras in a music video, and in front of the artist because they were normally bodyguards or big guys. They were walking billboards.


Watch the full interview here.

Erik Huberman is the Founder & CEO of Hawke Media, a full-service Outsourced CMO based in Santa Monica, CA that launched in 2014 and has been valued at $60 million.

Featured image: Leonard Zhukovsky /