Entrepreneur encourages students to chase dreams
A nationally-known businessman gave students some insight into making mistakes on the pathway to success during a presentation Tuesday.
Daymond John, hip-hop fashion brand FUBU founder and co-star of ABC’s entrepreneurial reality show “Shark Tank,” told his story to a ballroom full of students and faculty, and inspired some young entrepreneurs. John said when he was younger he lived on the same block as hip hop artist LL Cool J. John and his small team stood outside the artist’s house one day and convinced the rapper to take a photograph wearing FUBU clothing. The publicity the photo generated acted as a catalyst for John’s career, he said.
John said he almost went bankrupt when he entered the fashion industry with little knowledge of the business world. At least 25 banks turned him down and he nearly went bankrupt before he and his mother made the decision to take out a second equity mortgage on his family’s home to obtain funding for the business, he said.
However, he soon put an ad in the paper asking for someone to fund millions of dollars in FUBU clothing orders. After pursuing different avenues for assistance, clothing store The Gap ran a commercial with LL Cool J in FUBU clothing, bringing national attention to the brand, he said.
While John became rich and lived his dream, he also started making decisions just to gain money — decisions that cost him his wife and two children. John said students go to school and pursue their passions in order to provide for their families, and he lost sight of why he entered his field to begin with.
“You must do what you love,” he said.
John said he made the decision to start designing again and doing what he loves. He lost many fans, he said, because he didn’t attend events and do the things they wanted him to, he said.
John said he lost track for awhile, but he has no regrets. He said he advises any entrepreneur not to skip an education — because educating yourself on the business world will be vital knowledge. He said he also encourages people who want to pursue their dreams to go out and make a sale.
“I failed way, way more than I succeeded,” John said.
Hundreds of faculty and students attended the presentation to hear John’s story. Many of the students are aspiring entrepreneurs on the search for knowledge and inspiration, while others were staff members who said John’s story was a great way to encourage future businessmen and women.
Matt Purdy, College of Business associate dean of career services, said John is a great role model for students.
Purdy said success always involves risk — starting a business is very challenging and mistakes are part of the learning process, he said. It’s important to recognize that it doesn’t take a lot of money to start a business, it just takes strategy, even though it may be difficult when students aren’t generating revenue, he said.
“When you’re an entrepreneur, you may not be pulling in a paycheck for the first year, or the first two years,” Purdy said.
Purdy said John’s story could be described as a rags-to-riches and particularly relevant to the university because many of those who attend are first-generation college students. Exposure to a story like John’s could be enlightening and motivational, he said.
Laurel Kunath, a senior from Lisle studying foreign language and international trade, said John’s presentation motivated her to continue pursuing her career, even through tough times.
“The main thing I’m going to take away from this is just to keep the confidence in yourself,” she said. “Even when you’re facing rejection from everyone multiple times, believe in yourself.”
Derrick Wright, a junior from Chicago studying fashion and merchandising, said while he was growing up he was a FUBU fan, although he didn’t know John was the creator.
“I used to rock FUBU,” Wright said, “And I never knew who started it.”
He said he plans to start his own clothing line, and John’s speech inspired him to stay positive even when he feels discouraged.
Demetrios Layne, a junior from Itasca studying sport administration, said the most important lesson students can learn from speakers like John is that even the most successful people face adversity.
“Knowing that, yes, there is failure through every success (is the most important thing),” Layne said.