At the age of 10, Daymond John worked his first job handing out flyers in his neighborhood in Queens, New York, for $2 per hour. At that age, he had no ambition.
That was until he first heard the sounds of hip-hop, and from then on, he knew he had to be part of it.
“There was something about this music,” he said. “I could feel it, smell it — taste it. It talked about our struggles, dreams and aspirations.”
John, the founder, president and CEO of American-owned clothing company FUBU, or “For Us By Us,” and a personality on the ABC reality show “Shark Tank,” spoke last night at the College Avenue Student Center.
Hosted by the Rutgers University Programming Association, the event is part of Leadership Week, which showcases programs and events designed to provoke thought, inspire action and develop skills in future leaders, according to the Student Life website.
Andrew Moldoff, a Rutgers Business School first-year student and “Shark Tank” fan, said he was ecstatic to see the television star in person.
“Of all the places he could have chosen to come, he chose Rutgers,” Moldoff said. “It’s super cool.”
John first realized the power of sales in the first grade, when he would scrape the paint off pencils, paint the names of the prettiest girls in class on them and sell them. That lasted until the principal found out that he was stealing the pencils from the boys he hated in his class.
John was fortunate enough to live in Queens, where many up-and-coming rappers lived, including the not-yet-famous LL Cool J.
The moment he saw Run-D.M.C. step on stage, John’s life “turned into Technicolor.”
“I set a goal that no matter what, I was going to live, die and prosper in hip-hop,” John said.
In spite of not being able to sing, dance or produce, John chased his dreams and did anything he could to support his passion for hip-hop, which included working at Red Lobster so he could afford a new pair of Timberland shoes every month.
He realized hip-hop had no real niche fashion market, so he went home and came up with a four-letter acronym about power: “BUFU — By Us For Us.”
He later changed it to “FUBU” after realizing the acronym had already been trademarked as something very different in the gay community.
His mother showed him how to sew hats, and John sold $800 worth of his creations in one hour of standing outside the local mall.
It was then that he realized he wanted his own company. For two years, John and his friends made 50 shirts with the FUBU logo on them and lent them to rappers.
“All of a sudden, my partners and I thought we had a huge company,” he said.
John and his friends went to LL Cool J’s house and asked him for advice on getting a famous spokesperson like Michael Jordan behind the brand. LL Cool J told them they should stalk the celebrities they wanted as spokespeople and that “a no was an absolute maybe.”
Since John and his friends had no car, they decided to “stalk” LL Cool J himself. They noticed a black limo pulling up to take LL “to the big time” for a new reality show he was set to star in.
John begged LL to allow him take a photo of him wearing one of his FUBU shirts before he left, and in spite of him hating the clothes, LL agreed to the photo.
John used the photo to promote the brand and took it with him to Las Vegas, where he and his friends snuck into a magic show and sold more than $300,000 worth of FUBU clothing.
From there, he hired seamstresses, bought half a dozen sewing machines and turned his house into a factory. FUBU quickly became the No. 1 brand sold at the local mall.
John’s lack of financial intelligence set in. Three months later, he was having trouble keeping up with supply and demand and was close to having his house taken away.
“Because I didn’t get an education, I almost jeopardized everything I was doing,” he said.
John went back to Red Lobster to earn $2,000 dollars for an ad in the newspaper that read: “One million dollars in orders needs financing.”
One of the phone calls he got in response was from Samsung, who said he would need to sell $5 million dollars worth of clothing in three years to keep the distribution deal.
“We did the deal anyway because we knew we would sell $30 million in three months,” he said. “After that my life was officially the good life.”