Daymond John got a call from Mark Burnett at the perfect time in his career.
It was 2008 and John was 39 years old. He had established a career on the success of his clothing brand FUBU, which he started from nothing out of his mum’s house in Hollis, Queens in 1992. Though the brand was bringing in over $US300 million in revenue in the late ’90s, its popularity faded in the early 2000s.
John acquired stakes in about 10 other clothing companies and served as a marketing adviser. When the Great Recession hit, he told Business Insider, only two or three were making him money. John needed a way to grow beyond the fashion industry.
Burnett, the executive producer behind the massively successful reality television shows “Survivor” and “The Apprentice,” told John over the phone that he was creating an American spinoff of Sony’s business reality series “Dragon’s Den,” which started in Japan and spread to the United Kingdom and Canada. It would be called “Shark Tank” and he wanted John to be one of the investors.
“I decided that absolutely, I wanted to do it,” John said. It would not only provide a spotlight for John and his brands, but would give him an opportunity to diversify his portfolio. He was 40 when the show began the next year.
“What I am is a manufacturer and a producer and somebody that likes to brand products and companies,” he said. “And I was only getting pitched clothing companies. If I was going to sell to one of the big amazing stores that I deal with, I don’t want to only just sell and be in Aisle No. 1 with clothing, I want to be in Aisle No. 3 with soft drinks, I want to be there with electronics. I want to diversify my portfolio. So I took on this new journey to do a show called ‘Shark Tank.'”
The show’s first season was a moderate success for ABC, averaging about four million viewers for each new episode, but it was renewed for a second season and John was all in.
He built his show persona as the brand expert with a signature classy-yet-subtly flashy fashion sense, and used this as the fuel behind a new company intrinsically linked to the show: Shark Branding. This new company used John’s heightened profile and increasingly diverse investments, direct results of the show, as a way to market himself to major global corporations.
Shark Branding has developed relationships with clients ranging from Home Shopping Network to Reebok CrossFit, from Jamba Juice to Shopify. John has used these relationships for the benefit of his “Shark Tank” investments, which then provides him with more ammunition for pitching himself to entrepreneurs who appear on the show.
“Shark Tank” is now in its seventh season. Last year was its strongest season yet, with an overall viewership of 9.137 million viewers, according to Deadline Hollywood.
John said his most profitable deals over the past seven seasons have been, relative to size, Bubba-Q’s Boneless Ribs, Bomba’s socks, and the TITIN training vest. He thinks he’s going to help bring Bubba-Q’s past $US200 million in total sales soon. “Now I’m making more money than ever with boneless ribs!” he said.
FUBU will always have a special place in John’s heart and will always be associated with his name. But he was able to, in his 40s, take a risk on a reality show in the depths of a recession and reinvent himself for the public.
His reputation and public presence has benefited so greatly that President Barack Obama appointed him as one of the White House’s Presidential Ambassadors for Global Entrepreneurship, which makes him as a White House representative for entrepreneurship initiatives across the country and abroad.
John said his 40s have proven to him that his passion is spreading a love for entrepreneurship and growing businesses the right way. He’s been most moved by stories of kids, like Mo’s Bows’ 13-year-old founder and CEO Moziah Bridges, who grow up idolizing entrepreneurs they same way some do musicians and athletes. He feels similarly fulfilled by helping small business owners avoid the same mistakes he already made in his career.
“That, I think, is more fulfilling than anything else when it comes to this amazing journey with ‘Shark Tank,'” he said.
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