How to Build an Entrepreneur With Empathy
“I’m here to talk about globalization, about how a little brown boy was able to take a couple of jeans and hats and create a global brand.” — Daymond John, CEO of FUBU.
Thrilled to close our second day of PANGEO 2021 with a Shark and a fellow entrepreneur, Nicole Sahin, CEO of Globalization Partners welcomed Daymond John to the main stage. John is an investor, television personality, author, and CEO of the sportswear brand FUBU.
In his scored keynote, thanks to DJ Danny Estrella complementing the Shark’s stories with hip-hop that took us all back, John shared the experiences that shaped who he is today.
John started enterprising very young, perhaps before 1986 when he first decided he would strive to make a name for himself. “I set a goal that no matter what I was going to live, grow, and thrive in the world of hip-hop,” said John. “I told you in 1986 where I was going to be. You can’t hit a target that you can’t see.” At the time, John didn’t even know what “entrepreneurship” was.
Back then, it was called hustle.
But what he did know at that tender age of 16 came from what he saw in the community: We need people to grow our businesses.
John quoted something profound his mother would say to him: “Son, you understand that responsibility is something that must be taken, not given. As long as you understand that you will be successful.” At this point, he mentions that his mother was not talking about money when she spoke of success.
“I didn’t equate money with success. Money just drives you up to your problems in a new Bugatti. Success is stopping people trafficking. It’s being one of those underappreciated ‘commodities’ — a teacher, a veteran.”
Expanding on the idea that success is what you achieve, not what you earn, John signals other heroes aside from those that teach and protect us. He stated that real heroes are trying to stay on the cutting edge of change and trying to educate themselves, because they know that the only thing that’s constant in life is change. “On ‘Shark Tank,’ we invest in people not companies, because we want to create change.”
Interestingly, John suggested that Covid-19 sped up the changes that the world truly needed in 2020.
“Those who were overleveraged and undereducated crashed and burned. Those who were always educating themselves, utilizing technology and the best resources they have — their Rolodex — flourished.”
Daymond John clearly had an appetite for success and an unfathomably wise role model in his mother. She told him to take inventory of himself.
“Take inventory, meaning: Maybe you don’t want to go out and educate yourself because you think you know it all. Maybe it’s the people around you. Maybe your inventory is the fact that you know that you can now scale globally with somebody who, years ago, you couldn’t work with because they were in a different country. Now that there’s Zoom, and everyone has reclaimed two or three hours a day on a round trip [commute], now they could help you work on your dream. That’s inventory.
Two years ago, call somebody and they’d be on a plane, train, or automobile so you couldn’t get a hold of them. You know where everybody is now! Everybody’s at home, fighting over the remote control with their significant other, eating Cheetos, wondering how they can get out of the house and who else they can collaborate with. That’s your inventory.”
We can all learn from Daymond John how to look hard at ourselves, detect our own shortcomings, and offset them with the opportunities around us.
We’re in business due to empathy.
John shared stories with the audience about how it didn’t initially occur to him to ask his close friend LL Cool J to be a brand ambassador for his clothing brand, but eventually he did remember to leverage that contact. He shared how he initially turned down the opportunity to dress a struggling band called NSYNC until he recognized Justin Timberlake from the Disney Channel. Having that shared experience in common closed the deal. To John, this is the end-goal of empathy. It’s finding common ground and experiences to make a connection with other humans.
The theme of empathy carried on through the experiences that would bring John to his TV personality actuality. When John was young, he thought that business owners and entrepreneurs should be mean, nasty people, like Mark Hanna in the Wolves of Wall Street or Mr. Burns from The Simpsons. But in his keynote at PANGEO, John heralded back to comments from Johnny C. Taylor Jr., CEO of SHRM, who talked in depth about empathy. John explained that “businesses are people who solve problems that keep other people up at night — that’s what empathy is.”
Daymond John continued to inspire the audience with memories of his antics sneaking into trade shows when he couldn’t afford a ticket, only to come away with US$300,000 in orders. We heard how this huge success only brought more challenges, to finance the manufacturing of those orders and how he took out an ad in the newspaper saying, “1 MILLION DOLLARS IN ORDERS NEED FINANCING” – simple advertising is the most effective, we say!
The law of the SHARK: Set goals, do your Homework, Amor – have love for what you do. Remember – you are the brand, then Keep swimming.
John shaped his talk around his famed SHARK acronym, and the audience was ecstatic at every throwback hit we heard, every grain of wisdom from John (which he doled out by the kilo) and laughed throughout the whole experience.
To do the unexpected, just as Daymond John has done his whole life, we will close with Daymond’s opening remarks:
“Whether it’s terrorist attacks, recessions, depressions, Spanish flues, world wars, dot-com bubble crashes … There always will be something new. But no matter what – we come out of things stronger.”
Learn more about Pangeo, The Largest Global Employment Conference in the World, here.