chicagoland chamber of commerceOn Wednesday the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce held their annual Exchange Tradeshow 2014, where Chicago businesspeople gathered to mix, mingle, and learn what they could from the array of speakers there to enlighten us. The keynote was a special treat, I heard, but didn’t learn the speaker’s name until I sat down at the trade show and scoped out the program: Daymond John.

Fans of ABC’s Shark Tank, the reality show on which John is a star, were buzzing, and longtime business heads were expectant. After all, Daymond John is a true entrepreneur. Best known in the past for his mega-brand FUBU and more currently famous for his speaking engagements, books, and, of course, Shark Tank, John is 100% American bootstrapper, starting his clothing company, FUBU, in his mother’s house in Queens in his late teens and sewing hats by hand with his friends. His story is every entrepreneur’s dream: he saw an opportunity, he took it—and worked his tail off—and made it big.

The Story of a SHARK

John told us his story there in the Grand Ballroom of the Hyatt Regency, starting from the very beginning and working his way through his history as a businessman, pitfalls and all. Johns knew in his heart he could make it in business, working hard from a very young age and learning everything he could from the vendors at Coliseum Mall. But it wasn’t until he was following a hip-hop tour along the Eastern Seaboard, making a few bucks selling t-shirts and jeans to the crowds, that he had his aha! moment. As he stood among the crowd on the tour, he looked out at the masses of attendees wearing Kangol hats and Filas and thought, “Who sent the memo?” There was almost a uniform to hip-hop fans, he noticed: like any musical culture, there was a style associated with the genre. And in that moment, Daymond John saw the opportunity to market clothing made specifically for that audience. And thus FUBU was born.

Now, twenty years later, Daymond John is a multi-millionare with his hands in many entrepreneurial pies: giving advice to other businesspeople on stations like MSNBC and winning awards such as Brandweek Marketer of the Year, the NAACP Entrepreneurs of the Year Award (which he won twice), the Advertising Age Marketing 1000 Award for Outstanding Ad Campaign, and others. We in the audience at The Exchange Tradeshow 2014 were privileged to hear his story and be inspired it, and even more for the tips he gave us as bite-sized takeaways. SHARK, it turned out, is more than a nod to the television show he’s famous for: it is an acronym that highlights the advice Mr. John gives to entrepreneurs who seek to make their business the next big thing. We will share them with you here.

Set Goals

It’s important to set goals, Mr. John says, because you need something inside you to provide momentum for the dream. Identify the thing that will power you forward, and set goals around it. Whether it’s a monetary goal or, like Mr. John, the goal to dance with Prince on stage on New Year’s Eve in 1999, goals are necessary. And if you don’t meet your goals? Failure is an excellent teacher.


Do your homework. Don’t set out to create a fancy app or an expensive business without first investigating the market. What exists already? What are they doing wrong? What are they doing right? Does the market need you? Don’t just jump in. Strategize.


That’s right, love. It’s simple, says John. Do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life. And if you’re like most born entrepreneurs, your business is like your baby. Don’t commit to something you don’t or cannot love.

Remember: You Are the Brand

Your personal brand should be powerful, memorable, and meaningful. These days, you are as much your brand as any other part of your business is. Market yourself. “You are always pitching,” says John. Don’t forget it.

Keep Swimming

“When a shark stops swimming, it dies,” says John. Keep swimming. Keep moving. Always be on the lookout for opportunities and trends. A true entrepreneur knows that greatness is around every corner—you just have to see it first.

The mild applause that greeted Daymond John when he took the stage was a standing ovation when he left. Half the crowd rushed from the ballroom to get a photo with him. If entrepreneurial spirit is contagious, Chicagoland left the Hyatt infected. Look out, world. Daymond John set some SHARKs on the loose.