That boldly-colored “For Us, By Us” t-shirt in the back of your closet helped pad the pockets of its founder Daymond John, better known to folks born after the 90s as the “branding expert” on ABC’s “Shark Tank.”
Now in its fourth season, the series has been a quiet ratings force on Fridays, with whole families tuning in to watch Daymond and his fellow panel members weigh business and product pitches from entrepreneurs seeking their investment money.
And when that rare pitch comes along that looks like a sure moneymaker, the panel does not play nice.
“That’s the beautiful thing about this season. We are really starting to figure each other out and hate each other,” John told reporters in January about his fellow sharks: Mark Cuban, owner of HDNet and the NBA’s Dallas Mavericks; real estate mogul Barbara Corcoran, technology innovator Robert Herjavec, venture capitalist Kevin O’Leary, and guest shark Lori “Queen of QVC” Greiner, a prolific inventor of retail products
When two or more of them latch onto an entrepreneur’s idea, Daymond says it’s fun sometimes to just jump into the battle, even if he has no interest in the product.
“I really like to, if it’s something in one of their respective areas, I think, ‘Well, I don’t want to be a shark. I want to be a catfish, and I want to suck the blood out of one of them and get a free ride,’” he said, with his fellow sharks seated beside him in the interview. “So either I ratchet up the number another, you know, $300,000 or they’re going to give me a piece and let me in on the deal. So I sit back and start working on you guys.”
Daymond’s FUBU millions began with a simple desire for a tie-top hat, but being unable to afford one. The only child of a single mom in Hollis Queens, Daymond asked his mother for sewing lessons and soon, the budding entrepreneur was hooking up his own tie-tops in the morning and selling them on the streets at night. He created the FUBU logo and began sewing it on all kinds of apparel, including hockey jerseys, t-shirts and sweatshirts. Buzz skyrocketed in 1993 after Daymond got his neighborhood friend, LL Cool J. to wear one of the t-shirts in a promo campaign.
Daymond and his mother mortgaged the home they collectively owned for the $100,000 in start-up capital, then, Mom moved out so Daymond could use the entire house as a factory and office space. In 1994, he took his talents to Vegas for an industry trade show and returned to Queens with $300,000 worth of orders. Soon, the company had a contract with Macy’s and began expanding to include jeans and outerwear.
As CEO and president, Daymond’s FUBU hustle earned him $350 million in revenues in 1998. And in the years since, Daymond has remained in the fashion business as a sought after branding expert and keynote speaker, with multiple business ventures on his plate.
However, missing in his rags-to-riches story is the pursuit of a college degree. In fact, none of the sharks have a business degree.
“I think people today spend too much time thinking that college is a guarantee of a great life,” said Herjavec. “And they burn all their savings and their money, all their parents’ money on going to college. I’ve got an English degree. I barely finished university, and I did okay, as did most of us. I think the only thing you can invest in in life that’s a guarantee to success is yourself.”
Added Greiner: “I think watching ‘Shark Tank’ lets people see that, whether they get a college degree or not, to be creative, to be inventive, to think outside the box, to not think that you just have to go into some normal 9 to 5 job, that you can go into anything that you want to, give it your all, and try to make it happen. I think that that’s really important about the show. It gives people other hope than the traditional path.”
Daymond, however, isn’t so sure that the show’s subliminal anti-college message is a good thing.
“Shark Tank” airs Fridays at 9 p.m. on ABC. Watch last week’s episode below.