Shark Tank's Daymond John on How to Be a Successful Entrepreneur

Daymond John has become an icon in the world of entrepreneurship and branding over the last 20 years. He first embarked on his entrepreneur career in early adulthood when he saw an opportunity to sew and sell fashionable hats for a more reasonable price. After peddling the streets of Queens, New York with his first batch of handmade caps, he returned with $800 in his pocket and a business concept that eventually turned into his million-dollar FUBU clothing line.

Since then, John’s become one of the stars of the television series “Shark Tank” and was recently named presidential ambassador for global entrepreneurship by the White House, using his business acumen to guide others on the road to success. In a recent event co-hosted by Guidant Financial, John revealed a few of the crucial entrepreneur lessons that have led to his achievements and shared inspiring stories of how he overcame adversity to become a household name. Here are our top four takeaways every aspiring entrepreneur needs to know:

1. Nurturing Your Inner Entrepreneur

Many wonder whether the entrepreneurial spirit is engrained from birth or if it’s learned over time — nature versus nurture, as they say. According to John, “we’re born thinking like entrepreneurs,” but life events and the people who surround us shape that inner force over time — for better or worse. “You have all these hopes and dreams and aspirations to go out and change the world, and then what happens? The people around us start to say, ‘You can’t do that. That hasn’t been done.’”

His solution? “It’s about being able to empower yourself,” he said, citing three tactics every entrepreneur should deploy to foster their entrepreneurial souls:

  • Find and follow your passion. “You have to be doing something you’re absolutely obsessed with,” he explained.
  • Develop relationships with strategic partners, including financial consultants, tenured business owners, attorneys, etc., who can provide valuable professional guidance when you need it.
  • Seek strong mentors who will lift you up. “Find a really good, maximized team … [who] convinces you that it can be done.”

2. Finding the Perfect Mentor

Ask any entrepreneur how they got to where they are, and they’ll probably reference mentors as least once in their answer. In fact, John describes life as a “series of mentors,” and said they were the ones to help him tune out the naysayers early in his career. “[My mother] was … my first mentor. [She had] the same goal as me, and she always made me feel like I could do anything in the world.”

When searching for mentors, he recommends aspiring entrepreneurs go after the independent business owners in their own communities. “I try not to go after big, huge mentors,” he explained. “In fact, the first mentor I had that was not a member of my family was a guy named Timmy who ran a small grocery store in my neighborhood … He went up and down through the recession and the competition successfully, he paid his employees and was part of a community for 20 years.”

While Timmy wasn’t a famous entrepreneur, he provided relevant insights that fueled John in his own journey. “I realized that it takes the same amount of energy to be that kind of business operator as it does to operate General Mills,” John remembered. “It’s about the details.”

3. The Right Time to Start a Business

The path to business ownership is different for everyone. For some, it’s a lifelong journey that’s been cultivated over years of inspiration and information-gathering; for others, it only takes a few weeks of researching until they know they’ve found the right opportunity.

For John, though, the most important factor in deciding when to pursue business ownership is after you’ve put in enough time for that figurative light bulb above your head to illuminate. “The right time to start a business is once you have poured enough time into the research — or in the business — and it compounds … I don’t believe you should just go out there and — bang! — start. I think that you should start to slowly move into it.”

Of course, resource availability must also be taken into consideration. Do you have enough funds to purchase the business and get by until it starts generating revenue? Will your family and friends support you? Are you ready to take the risk and  invest yourself 100 percent into the business?

“I’ve seen people start a business after 10 years, and I’ve seen them start after 10 days,” said John. “You’ll know when it’s time.”

4. Understanding Business Financing

While John makes it a point to not live with regrets, the one subject he wishes he would’ve understood better from the beginning of his entrepreneurial journey is financial intelligence, especially when it came to small business financing. “That by far is the biggest thing that I remember, because it’s so hard to make money, and twice as hard to keep it,” he said.

“I wasn’t [always] the guy you see on ‘Shark Tank’ now that has a little more education. I actually closed FUBU down three times from 1989 to 1992 because I ran out of capital … I almost lost my home as well.”

Fortunately, John’s story didn’t end there. His passion for business and his product powered him to keep pushing, and eventually he found a strategic partner who coached him to financial savviness, allowing him to become the successful entrepreneur he is today.

“I never would’ve thought that entrepreneurship would take me all the way to the White House … to hopefully spread this amazing, infectious world of being an entrepreneur,” John beamed. “It’s like I always say: it’s not the cheese at the end of the maze, it’s running the maze that’s the fun part.”

If you’re thinking about business ownership, now’s the time to start educating yourself on business financing. By understanding at an early stage the funding options available to you, you’ll be able to determine which one(s) best meet your total funding needs, as well as your preferred timeline. Check out our list of business financing solutions, and then take two minutes to see which options you qualify for with our painless pre-qualification tool.

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