Although he’s best known as an investor on the hit ABC reality show “Shark Tank,” Daymond John is also an entrepreneur, author, motivational speaker, and the founder and CEO of the popular clothing company FUBU. On Feb. 23, Examiner caught up with John and Edovo founder Brian Hill to chat about Miller Lite Tap the Future, a competition which encourages aspiring entrepreneurs to enter for a chance to win up to $200,000 to help transform their business visions into reality. John also touched on a few other topics, including his blunt appraisal fellow Shark Mark Cuban’s business savvy, how he approaches the concept of failure, and whether he’ll ever follow in Cuban and Robert Herjavec’s footsteps by appearing as a contestant on “Dancing with the Stars.”
Sherry Wight: Daymond, new enterprises are launched every single day so it can be challenging to stand out in the crowd. How can entrepreneurs shout “hey, look at me!” in a good way?
Daymond John: Product is always king, but come up with a concept that has some level of a following [in] people who are supporting the idea and the concept. Then go out there and prove the concept by selling to a couple of people so that you can learn what price point they want to pay, what they won’t want to pay, what they like about it, what they don’t like about it. That’s when you understand what it is and you can start honing in on it and perfecting it.
SW: Now of course we know you from “Shark Tank.” When you’ve been listening to all these pitches over the years, what’s the one thing that’s made you think ‘now that’s a winner’?
DJ: It’s been the person. It’s been the person that I feel that their energy is infectious, they have a real passion for it, and they’re not going to stop no matter what, and you’re just fortunate enough to listen to that pitch so you can hopefully be a part of their ride but they’re not going to stop no matter what.
SW: Conversely, what’s the single biggest turn off you’ve encountered when someone’s trying to score an investment from you?
DJ: I think the single biggest turn off is people who think that they need money and they need all these people around them so if they get the money they can just buy all the things they need to help the company… [without] hav[ing] to put in the work themselves.
SW: Oh, yeah, that would be irritating. Brian, entrepreneurs like you can apply for Miller Lite Tap the Future. What did [winning last year’s competition] do for your business?
Brian Hill: Yeah. First I would just encourage everyone: definitely apply. It’s so worth your time. We’re in a tough space. We do education in a correctional environment so we bring educational and vocational training [including everything from literacy to college degrees to parenting] to those who are incarcerated [who might otherwise sit around watching daytime TV] through tablet technology. So you can imagine some of the challenges [that accompany] that business.
What Tap the Future does is really bring [in] incredible folks like Daymond and other business leaders who can give candid advice and can see your business from the outside and help you hone in the things that will help you succeed.
SW: That’s a terrific idea for a business. Daymond, what is your role in the contest?
DJ: My role in the contest for the last three years –this is my fourth year– is being a judge and or mentor to a lot of the companies. I’m part of a panel that decides on… the winners in each city [who win $20,000 each and] go on to become part of the national contest [which will award $200,000 to the grand prize winner]. And that’s it. I vet the products and the companies and the people and give them my vote of confidence, and this is the best part: I don’t put any of my own money into it. This is Miller Lite really investing in the community.
SW: Awesome. How can interested parties apply?
DJ: Anybody interested can apply [through the website]. We’re going to six cities –Miami, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Chicago, Atlanta, and Houston. You do not have to live in [any of those cities] to compete. The deadline is April 8.
SW: Brian, I want to go back to you for a minute. As someone who’s faced a Shark, what’s your best piece of advice for anyone who may want to follow in your footsteps?
BH: Be passionate about the product that you’re pushing, and have traction. Show that you’ve actually taken it out and tested it. You’re going to fail many times along the way, but when you sort of get married to the outcome that you want and don’t worry about some of the challenges in between, they’re going to be looking for you…. Apply. You want to be in the Tank. Let that passion show through.
SW: Were you scared?
BH: I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have some strong nerves walking into that.
SW: I’d be terrified. Now Daymond, Brian just mentioned failure, and I always like to ask people who have been highly successful in life this question: how do you cope with failure?
DJ: You know, I think it’s only failure if you put the word failure on it. I think it’s part of the process of learning where you’re going to go and what doesn’t work. Once you figure out… all the things that don’t work, then you figure out what does work. So I don’t think it’s failure. I think it’s part of the process.
SW: Do you feel like working alongside the other Sharks has changed the way you approach business and making investments at all?
DJ: Yeah it has. I realize that I’m the smartest Shark and that I’m right about everything and I’ve really gotten this confidence, you know, underneath me because I sit next to four people that don’t know anything on “Shark Tank” and I realize how smart I am.
SW: Which of them has influenced you the most and made you feel the smartest?
DJ: Mark Cuban. The richest guy on the panel, the billionaire who can buy all of us 20 times over. I realize he knows nothing.
SW: You live that kind of high impact life and we see you on the go all the time. What’s your favorite way to wind down?
DJ: Whether people know it or not, I’m a big nature guy. I like snowboarding, I like fishing, and those are my ways to wind down. I’m not a golf player. I think golf and fishing are the same, but at the end of the day, you can’t fry up and golf ball and dip it in tartar sauce. So I’m a fisherman.
SW: It’s morning. What’s your idea of the perfect breakfast if you had no limits on time?
DJ: The perfect breakfast is fish with grits and scrambled eggs with onions. I’m getting hungry thinking about that.
SW: Sounds good to me! Okay, this is the last one. I’ve talked with your fellow Shark Robert Herjavec a few times so I have to know: are we ever going to see you on “Dancing with the Stars”?
DJ: You will not see me on “Dancing with the Stars.” I was thinking about it. My daughter is actually a competitive ballroom dancer and she has practiced with me a couple of times and it’s very, very hard. Robert really put his heart into it, Cuban did [as well], and I do respect them for what they did. It is very, very hard to do that ballroom dancing and I am going to be nowhere near it. Now if you have a hot dog eating contest, call me.