In early February, Daymond John was preparing to launch his latest company, his spin on a coworking space he named Blueprint + co.
He’s looking to the future: Going forward, the business could allow the Shark Tank investor to leverage the influence he’s established over the last eight years as a “Shark” long after the series, or his participation in it, inevitably ends.
A few days before the Blueprint launch, Business Insider stopped by the 17,000-square-foot space filled with new office furniture as contractors with power tools wrapped up small projects.
Blueprint comprises the two top floors and a 3,000-square-foot roof deck in a 14-floor high-rise in Manhattan’s Garment Distric. It can hold 150 employees or 300 people total, for special events. Downstairs is John’s company The Shark Group, formerly known as Shark Branding, a small business he founded during the second season of “Shark Tank” when he realised he needed to formalise management of his growing portfolio of investments.
Since John moved into this building a year ago, he’s seen it as an evolving home base, with the perk of having a beautiful view of the Empire State Building. It’s a place where he can develop his own businesses and foster relationships with entrepreneurs, both upstarts and veterans.
He has lofty ambitions for the location, telling us that he wants his center to be like the old MTV Times Square studio, where musicians, celebrities, and producers were always making exciting entertainment in the heart of the city — except his will be all around entrepreneurship.
“We’re taking the whole building by the time we’re done,” John said.
From FUBU to Shark
In 2008, John was 39 years old and ready for a change.
He had achieved notoriety and wealth through his clothing brand FUBU, which he started from nothing out of his mother’s house in Hollis, Queens in 1992. Though it brought in over $US300 million in revenue at its peak, its popularity faded in the early 2000s. He contracted himself as a marketing adviser and acquired stakes in about 10 clothing companies, but after the Great Recession hit, only a couple were actually bringing him money.
So when famed reality television producer Mark Burnett told John that he wanted him to be a founding cast member of “Shark Tank” — an American version of the international series “Dragon’s Den” — in which he would invest in small businesses that convinced him they were worthy of his money, John thought it would be a great idea.
It would not only bring him back into the spotlight, but it would allow him to move beyond the clothing industry.
John wrote in his 2016 book “The Power of Broke” that he lost $US750,000 on the first season of “Shark Tank,” due to a combination of bad investments and wasted money on consultants he hired to help him manage the portfolio (which is why he then hired his own employees for the company that became The Shark Group). But after this adjustment period, his participation has proven to have reignited his career.
Over the past eight years, John has become a household name to millions of Americans and has become a savvier investor, with a hand in about 60 small businesses. He noted that some of his best investments now are things he never would have dreamed of getting involved in back when he was laser-focused on FUBU — he likes to point out his stake in Bubba-Q’s Boneless Ribs as a prime example.
It’s why he sees now as a perfect time to kick off Blueprint. It’s a way to leverage the influence and connections he’s enhanced over the course of “Shark Tank” to establish a launch pad for the next phase of his career.
Mentor and student
John told us that his idea for Blueprint came out of “necessity.”
He found himself with a wide variety of “Shark Tank” businesses to which he could teach general lessons about how they should grow a nascent business, but found himself wanting to learn more about industries he had no experience with beyond investing. He had his protegés but wanted teachers, and it got him thinking that there was a gap in the market for co-working spaces for more seasoned entrepreneurs.
There’s an application to get space at Blueprint. John and his team are looking for companies bringing in a minimum of roughly $US250,000 in revenue a year, and who want access to other growing companies, either to toss around ideas or collaborate. Blueprint makes money through desk rental fees and rents out its roof to members and non-members alike.
Basic access costs $US275 monthly, access with added advisory perks runs $US700 monthly, and getting dedicated desk space comes in at $US1,000 monthly. Contracts are signed for a minimum of three months, and prices are competitive with what coworking space leader WeWork charges for similar access arrangements, minus the mentorship and other perks, across its New York locations.
John said that the office, which opened on February 6 this year, is running at 65-70% capacity.
“It goes from the independent entrepreneur who’s been in business for 10 years to a corporation who, they may have 500 people working for them but they want innovation so five, or 10, or 15 of their people are based here, so they see what’s going on in the middle of New York City with all the fast-thinking individuals,” John said.
Currently, Blueprint hosts representatives of companies like direct-to-consumer mattress company Leesa, women’s clothing company Ashley Stewart, and private jet ride-sharing company JetSmarter.
Leesa CEO David Wolfe told Business Insider on a phone call that even though his company is based in Virginia Beach, he’s happy that he chose to have five of his employees located in Blueprint. He said that the main thing that distinguishes the it from other coworking spaces is the way John and his team are intimately involved with the operation, as if they have a personal stake in each of the company’s success.
Wolfe also noted that he preferred the Blueprint space to those of its competitors, and that his company stands to save money by taking advantage of its photography studio, a unique perk. Adding Leesa employees to Blueprint is a seamless experience, he said, and noted that when he visited the space he found a productive balance between the way Blueprint allows teams to have their own space and gives them a chance to interact with each other.
John is using the early days of Blueprint to deepen his connections to his existing network. He’s been the brand ambassador of the online market service Shopify since 2011, for example (also how he connected to Leesa), and it held a contest to send two of its clients (which they call “Partners”) to Blueprint. “We’re viewing this as an experiment to see how our Partners like working in the space, and based on our experience so far, we’ll be looking to work closely with them in the future,” a Shopify representative told us in an email.
We talked to both of these winners, web developer Durlan Vega and digital design firm MiGSiG founder Michael Tizol, over email, and both said that John has made himself a regular presence in the Blueprint space, and that the ability to work with him and his team has been the biggest benefit of their first weeks there.
John is also planning ways to use the space as his window to the world, including shooting live videos and recording podcasts in Blueprint’s studio. He’s already brought in his “Shark Tank” friends Barbara Corcoran and Robert Herjavec for a chat, and VaynerMedia CEO and celebrity entrepreneur Gary Vaynerchuk sat down with John for an interview for the launch party.
Vaynerchuk told us he’s “always open” to doing more collaborations with John in the future and said about Blueprint, “I like the concept a lot, and feel the leadership will help it excel.”
John declined to share financials regarding his investment or projected revenue for Blueprint, but it’s an undertaking that’s still in its infancy. And while we heard positive feedback from people already working there, Blueprint’s success will be based on those companies choosing to send more of their representatives to the space, and their presence in turn attracting more talent to keep an entrepreneurial ecosystem going.
John’s still a long way from taking over the entire building, but he’s working toward his dream of building a base stronger and more wide-ranging than any of his previous pursuits, and one that can outlast “Shark Tank.” It’s based on a simple premise of wanting to work with people he can help out, and who can make him better, in turn.
“I want to be around like-minded people that I can feed off of them, they can feed off of me,” he said.
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