Shark Tank’s Daymond John on Innovation, Entrepreneurs at William Blair Event

Thursday, July 8, 2021

James O’Connor, head of the Venture Capital Group at William Blair, and Shark Tank investor Daymond John
James O’Connor (left), head of the Venture Capital Group at William Blair, moderated an innovation talk with Shark Tank investor Daymond John.

ABC's Shark Tank investor and CEO of FUBU Daymond John joined William Blair for a virtual discussion held June 23 with clients and colleagues on lessons learned during the pandemic and his investment philosophy that powers success.

John made his mark as an entrepreneur by founding the iconic hip-hop clothing brand FUBU in 1992. His business, which began in the basement of his mother’s home in Queens of New York City, has surpassed more than $6 billion in retail sales today, with products ranging from casual wear and suits to shoes and ties.

He loves to share his business advice and invest in up-and-coming entrepreneurs.

When looking to invest in a start-up or privately held company, John wants to learn about the company’s history—failures, how the founders pivoted to overcome those failures, inventory of assets, and future goals. But mostly he is looking at the person he is investing in.

“You want to hear that people have a passion for something—and the most important part is they are constantly educating themselves,” John told the crowd. “Whether this business works or not, we are going to learn together.”

FUBU, Bombas Socks

Of the investments John has made over the years, he says, FUBU of course remains his most important. It defined his life and business success.

John recalls those early years when he convinced brawny bodyguards of rising hip-hop artists to wear his FUBU T-shirts. They became “moving billboards” walking the red ropes ahead of performances, wearing FUBU 5X-6X T-shirts, he says. It worked and his fledging business became noticed among celebrity influencers. Through perseverance, a supportive mom, private funding, and a deal with Samsung’s textile division, the company became globally recognized by 1997.

Still, John is proud of his investment in Bombas Socks, a maker of colorful socks rooted in a social mission: for each pair sold, the company donates a pair to a homeless shelter. Bombas Socks was one of Shark Tank’s best-selling products, with over $225 million in lifetime sales and more than 42 million pairs of socks donated.

Supporting businesses with a social mission, whether it’s supplying socks to the homeless, reducing plastics in the ocean, taking guns off the streets, or whatever initiative a company takes to improve the society, is a growing investment theme, John says. That is especially true after the past year with people’s antennas raised for social issues, whether marching on the streets or marching online.

“People want to know what are you doing for other people today?” he adds. “That is viral.” 

Supersizing Sales With Tech

Among the lessons learned during the pandemic, John says he has become a bigger fan of technology and would like to lean more into companies with a full tech plate of services.

He watched many retailers close stores during the last year because they were not prepared for the forced shift to digital shopping. John likes the idea of entrepreneurs being directly connected to their customers online and knowing everything about their shopping preferences.

“If I have technology and I'm delivering directly to them … I know why they like it, why they don’t like it—I can upsell them or make them buy more frequently,” John says.

William Blair Speaker Series

William Blair introduced its latest speaker series in 2021 to provide a forum to address the many societal changes that occurred during the pandemic. Other guests have included Adam Grant, an organizational psychologist and professor at the University of Pennsylvania Wharton School, and former FDA commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb.

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