Daymond John: Money is a great slave but a horrible master. Never do things for money. You have to do your true love and your passion, which will make you money. But you have to do it first. When I didn’t have money, and I tried to do things for money, I never enjoyed it. It never worked. Even when I did have money and tried to expand into other areas of business I wasn’t really fascinated with, but wanted to make money, it never really worked. It doesn’t mean that I took this advice at first, but when reality struck, I realized what they were saying.
The other thing I learned was to keep good people around you that have the same interests, a mastermind group. They will be your mentors in so many ways, but they will also be your partners and your family. Keep people that have the same goals in mind.
I&T Today: How were you first approached about Shark Tank, and what was your gut reaction?
DJ: I was first approached by my secretary, who answered my voicemail on my office phone, which I never answer. It usually has about 300 random calls on it every week, people trying to sell me real estate, stocks, money management, or saying “I have an idea.”
I&T Today: Who made the big call to your office?
DJ: I believe it was our executive producer, Clint Newbill. He said they were calling from Mark Burnett’s office. We got on a Skype call in our conference room, and it was the producers of Shark Tank on one side and myself and three of my executives on the other. They told me about the show’s idea. I asked, “Who else is going to be on the show?” and they said, “Well, you know, we can’t take everybody, but one of them is Mark Cuban.” I almost fell out of my chair laughing. “I can’t believe you Hollywood guys,” I told them.
I&T Today: What did you think of Mark Cuban when this call came?
DJ: I said first of all, that guy Mark Cuban is on TV more than anyone needs to see him on TV. You know, he’s out there on the sideline throwing chairs and he’s an asshole. This guy’s full of shit. And they said, “No, no, no; trust us.” Then they told me that I would be spending my own money to travel out there, and I really started laughing hard. “You know what you guys are?” I said. “You’re the sharks, you’re the pimps.” Why would I ever want to do this? They just told me to come out and shoot and see if I liked it.
I&T Today: What prompted your decision to travel to L.A. to shoot the pilot?
DJ: First of all, it was Mark Burnett. Second, it was shot by Sony and ABC. The brands don’t get any bigger than that. I had to go to L.A. anyway, so we shot the pilot, and the pilot got picked up right away. I loved the format of the show. Then I realized all the opportunities the show provided me that I normally didn’t get, because people were only pitching me clothing companies.
I&T Today: Why do you think the show has such broad appeal?
DJ: I think that first of all, the producers cut it up, put some music with it, put some drama in it, and make it look interesting. Otherwise, I’m just yelling at Mr. Wonderful all the time (laughs). So, their ability to create something is really amazing. I remember the first season, we were talking about mezzanine financing and things of that nature, and they had to come out to us and say, what the hell are you talking about? You gotta dumb this down for little Timmy in middle America, too, and he needs to understand.
So, it’s their ability to create something. But, I think the attraction is that everybody has an idea. Not everybody can necessarily sing, but people can put themselves in the position or place of the entrepreneur. Number two, when are you ever going to see millionaires and billionaires in a room and see what they’re truly going to ask you? We’re all going to be in that position when we’re going to be pitching something to somebody.
I&T Today: But that didn’t happen right away — not to the audience it now enjoys, anyway.
DJ: The show was on life support for the first two seasons, because people didn’t get it. If you ask somebody, “Hey, do you watch Shark Tank?” If they didn’t think it was Shark Week from Discovery Channel, then they would say, “Well, who wins?” Nobody wins. “When do they get the money? And who comes in second?” They just couldn’t grasp it. So, it was crawling for a while.
I&T Today: How do you think it turned the corner?
DJ: What happened is you have all these entrepreneurs who pitched on the show, now becoming millionaires, their dreams coming true. They’re going out to the local TV’s and local magazines and starting to talk about it. It started to create this cult following for the show. One other reason I’m noticing after five years of being on the show is the kids are starting to come out after watching Netflix or something in their rooms. They’re debating with mom and dad over whether a product is cool or something they would buy, usually saying mom and dad don’t get it (laughs). And mom and dad are saying their kids are missing certain things, so it’s creating dialogue within families.
I&T Today: What’s the chemistry like between the sharks off-camera?
DJ: We love to hang out with each other. We have a really great time. I think we all really respect each other’s position and what the other person has accomplished. As far as I know. I don’t have a problem with anyone. But I’m like the jelly between the moron sandwich. I’m the one everyone calls to hang out at the club or hang out with the kids. So I have to deal with all of them.
I&T Today: That comes through on the show! When someone is pitching you personally, what do they say that gets you to pay attention?
DJ: It would be a sales number. Other than that, I’m often looking for the thing to make me mentally cut off.
I&T Today: Let’s change subjects for a minute. What are some of your favorite businesses in terms of great people to work with, and the success of the companies?
DJ: There are so many. I get to work with so many amazing people, like Nate from Mission Belt, Maury from Hanukkah Treetopper, and Rabbi Moshe from Soundbender are really amazing, energetic people that light up the room when they come in. There’s (former Cleveland Browns great) Al “Bubba” Baker from Bubba’s Q boneless ribs. I could go on and on.
As far as companies, the newest one that has been really cranking has been Sleeping Baby, Sun-Staches, and Bomba’s Socks. There’s Titin Weighted Compression Vests, which I think will be bigger than Under Armour and bigger than FUBU. The Titin vest contains medical vest gels in a workout vest; you can put them in the microwave before you work out if you want to heat up any part of your body. You can also freeze it up for faster muscle recovery. The vest can weigh up to 15 pounds when it’s full. Netherlands speed skating team won 20 medals in Sochi, and attributed winning so many medals to this vest, because it helped them recover quickly for the next day of competition. It’s a really amazing device.
I&T Today: Is there any technology you personally find important in managing your busy life?
DJ: Uber has been a life changer for me. iRecorder allows me to record meetings with my staff and send them out. I was going to throw out my Blackberry, but I love their email system. Not only that it’s secure, but that I can find emails easily. Voice dictation has also saved me about an hour and a half a day with texts, tweets, emails, all of that. And, of course, social media. I wear enhanced hearing devices from Starkey. It’s basically like a hearing aid but I can listen to audio books, etc. It’s very small but now they have an app with TruLink and I can do everything from record a conversation in a meeting to someone tapping into my app and talking in my ear, things like that.
I&T Today: Print or digital books and magazines?
DJ: I like to hold it in my hands, because I’m dyslexic. I need to be able to circle things and write on things.
I&T Today: What are some of the biggest misconceptions about dyslexia?
DJ: I think one of the biggest misconceptions is that people who are dyslexic can’t read. It’s hard for us to absorb it, but people assume we are illiterate and then we assume we’re dumb. But when four of the six sharks are seven U.S. presidents are dyslexic, and 80 percent of professional chefs are dyslexic, and 45 percent of entrepreneurs are dyslexic, I don’t think it’s a form of being dumb. It’s a different form of learning.
Twenty percent of the world is dyslexic, and there’s no (distinction) by gender or color or religion. That means one out of five people you know are dyslexic. People don’t realize it’s just another form of learning. And people don’t realize reading is basically new to our species. People just have an ignorance about it.
I&T Today: What type of education is more important to youth today in terms of the future global economy?
DJ: Financial intelligence is very important. Understanding structure and business is really the basis to anything you do, whether you’re a mom running a household, an entrepreneur or momtrepreneur, or running a company as a CEO. Money is very hard to make, but ten times harder to keep. I also think we need team building and more curriculum on how to work with other people, because we have really lost this social aspect of our lives. Kids these days don’t know how to work with others. Even though they claim to have thousands of friends online, and you and I probably had ten friends growing up, they don’t actually work with the friends. I find this with my younger staff members. They’re kind of in their little worlds. When they come in, they don’t know how to work with each other. There’s a way to do it; it’s about emotions. It’s not about a text or a tweet.
I&T Today: Is there any advice you have for someone staring a business?
DJ: First of all, they have to research what they’re doing, and then take affordable steps. People think you need Shark Tank – you don’t need Shark Tank these days! I met 57 individuals that did over $1.5 million this year alone. The beauty of technology is the fact that people are now able to reach the entire world and take in money ahead of time, test it with your consumer, and then buy and sell the consumer the goods off their own money.
I’ll give you one example: one kid shared with me how he wanted to be rapper. I said, “Okay, well I can’t really help you with that area,” and I went out the hotel lobby. He had a very beautiful car. I said, “It looks like you’re doing well. What are you doing?” And he said, “I’m a graphic artist”. “OK, well, you’re doing well.” Then he told me, “Well, I have 100,000 followers on Instagram, and every Wednesday I take a shirt, paint it, put it up on Instagram and I tell everybody, ‘Put your orders in now. You’re only going to see this shirt for 24 hours.’ I get everybody’s money in, on Tuesday I go to the screen print store and I make however many prints of the third I’ve already sold, and I give the printer the money people pre-paid.” I asked him, “How much did you do this year?” He said, “$1.8 million.”
So, look at how he takes affordable next steps. He tests the market, people pay for it, and he sells the goods. I think that good entrepreneurs will figure it out and take affordable next steps like that.
I&T Today: We spoke with bestselling author John Mullins a few months back about customer-funded business, and he said it’s definitely the model that new business owners should take if possible. Could you talk a little bit more about that in general?
DJ: Customer-funded business is truly amazing, for a number of reasons. Number one is, you normally want to get a focus group. How accurate is a focus group? You ask people questions and see what they think. A real focus group is when someone digs in their pocket and pulls out their hard-earned money and they buy something. Nothing can beat the action of somebody actually investing in your products.
Number two is customer-funded businesses, especially with technology. You not only get the focus group, but you get the analytics of who this person is, where they live, and what they do everyday. Most likely, there’s going to be technology behind it, whether it’s your Facebook customers or Instagram, Pinterest. You’re going to get an accurate count of who your people are.
I&T Today: Could you give us an example?
DJ: There are endless stories of people who had companies and sold goods through retail, but they’re so detached from their customer. Timberland never realized or acknowledged that the kids in Brooklyn and Queens were buying more Timberlands than anybody. If you’re a construction worker and you have a pair of Timberlands, the best boots in the world, you only need one pair of Timberlands a year! I was buying two new pair a month. So you often don’t know who your customer is when dealing with a retailer, or why someone’s buying something or not.
Also with customer funded business, you get to the point where you can go to strategic partners, banks, and places of that nature, and say, “this is how much money I’ve made.” It isn’t an assumption. You’re not saying “I’m going to open a business and create this great concept and they will come.” No, now they’re coming and I need to create more! There’s so many reasons why customer funded business are great. If customers aren’t funding your business, maybe you should shut the doors.
I&T Today: In closing, do you have a couple favorite books for entrepreneurs?
DJ: Think and Grow Rich is the book I read twice a year. I also like Rich Dad Poor Dad,.I do like the Google Strategy on how to take the same old things and make them new. I love Gary Vaynerchuk’s book Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook.