Daymond John’s Creative Hustle- When Forty Bucks Makes You A Millionaire


Yesterday I had a great time meeting up with my man Daymond John from Shark Tank for a new series I am doing at Forbes with Cheryl Snapp Connor, Mary Michelle Scott, and David Williams.

I want to share a quick story about one of the things I admire most about Daymond. It is what I call extreme creative hustle. Truth is, Daymond has always had extreme hustle. If you don’t want to take my word for it read his book which tells his story.

I am currently reading Malcolm Gladwell’s new book, David & Goliath, which talks about how many people turn their advantages into weakness, while others turn disadvantages into strengths. Daymond used his biggest disadvantage in the very beginning of FUBU (lack of money) and very creatively and strategically moved it into great strength… with the help of his washing machine (will explain in a moment).

Daymond’s Creative Hustle

He started the business in his garage in Queens. He had nothing but a few random pieces in his line. A friend of his (LL Cool J) had achieved mega-stardom as a rap artist, and Daymond used his powers of persuasion to convince him to wear the product.

Daymond knew he could not stop with LL Cool J alone and needed to wardrobe more recording artists and celebrities in order to establish further credibility in the market. The challenge was that there were tons of artists, but Daymond only had a few samples. Implementing his creative hustle, he devised a strategy. He would take the few samples he had, have the celebrities wear them at their events, videos and concerts, then he would take them back, wash them (or dry clean them) and re-circulate them to other entertainers. I remember when I met him back in 1996, he walked into the conference room where I was and he gave me a VHS tape (yes VHS) to play. I put it on and saw every entertainer in our market wearing FUBU. I couldn’t believe my eyes! How in the world could he have done that???

As his product became visible in the media, he closed a deal with one of the largest corporations in the world who became his strategic partner (who happened to be my partner as well). The rest is history.

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When It’s NOT About Money

Did Daymond go after the money at first? Absolutely not. What he did do was create something that nobody else had and no investor in his or her right mind could ignore. He created the sizzle. So much sizzle, anyone in their right minds should have invested… but all he needed was one company… and he got it.

Why do I know all of this? Because the company that signed the deal with his company simultaneously dropped their deal with me when the demand for FUBU put them in the position where they couldn’t afford to give us both the necessary attention… so I know the situation rather intimately. They actually gave Gary and I the opportunity to jump on board but we stubbornly refused, as we let our emotions and our egos cloud our judgment. If you want to learn about that story, read how my ego destroyed my business. 

So Why Forty Bucks?

If someone were to advertise their brand in a magazine during that time, it may cost thirty thousand dollars. If they wanted to run a thirty-second ad on television, it may cost them several hundred thousand dollars for one single exposure. So, what would it cost to run a ten-minute commercial on prime time television once a month for, say a year? If your math is at all good, it may cost well let’s see…. Ten minutes into thirty seconds is twenty, multiplied times twelve times for the year, multiplied times a few hundred thousand…. Almost fifty million bucks… give or take a few million.

Well, Daymond got the that ten-minute commercial and infinitely more, as his product appeared quite a bit more than twelve times a year…actually, a lot more. FUBU was worn on prime-time television shows, music videos, cable stations, you name it. Hundreds of hours of footage.

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So what do you think it cost him? Fifty million? Perhaps forty million since they gave him a volume discount? Try about forty bucks. I say forty bucks as that was about the cost he paid to make a sweatshirt for a celebrity to wear on a show or a video. Most of the times it was a t-shirt or a hat so it cost even less. Remember, he was washing (or dry cleaning) the few samples he had and re-circulating them, as he didn’t have the money at first to make tons of samples.

Not a bad price for exposing your product to hundreds of millions of people… and that, in my opinion, was the Tipping Point for him (thanks again Mr. Gladwell).

Flip Your Disadvantages Into Strengths

Think about your disadvantages and think about how you can turn those disdvantages into strengths. If you look hard enough, you will find the answer.

Many people think the advantage is the money. This example should show how that is most often not the case. From my experience, the biggest advantage is hustle, and if ever there was a person with hustle, it would be Daymond.

Have a great day!



David Williams owns a super company called Fishbowl Inventory, has a weekly column on Forbes, and wrote an incredible book which you can read about here.

Mary Michelle Scott is President of Fishbowl Inventory and collaborates with David each week in Forbes. You can find out more about Mary and Fishbowl, here .

Cheryl Snapp Connor is Chairman of Snapp Connor PR. You can find out more about her here .

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