The TV personality reflected on the lessons he learned at his annual star-studded event in celebration of Black entrepreneurs
Daymond John has returned to the place where his fashion business began more than 30 years ago, doing what he does best — celebrating Black businesses and inspiring the next generation of entrepreneurs.
The live-streamed event aims to “inspire, educate and provide bottom-line financial support” to Black entrepreneurs through a host of conversations, live pitching competitions and hip-hop performances, all curated by the FUBU founder himself.
This year, the 54-year-old businessman welcomed cultural icons like Whoopi Goldberg, Shaquille O’Neal, Anthony Anderson and Cedric the Entertainer to the iconic stage in a series of Game Changer Conversations.
The investor also moderated Shopify’s Pitch Competition segment which gave Shopify entrepreneurs the opportunity to pitch their ideas to a panel of judges, including Cedric and Anderson, for the chance to win $25,000.
The Shark Tank judge himself has continued to invest in budding entrepreneurs by recently resuming his role as a "Shark" on the hit ABC show's 15th season alongside entrepreneurs Mark Cuban, Barbara Corcoran, Lori Greiner, Robert Herjavec and Kevin O’Leary.
The event broke away from its usual formula when New York City Mayor Eric Adams surprised John on stage with an official Proclamation, naming Oct. 21 Black Entrepreneurs Day.
Like previous years, the television personality gave away $250,000 to Black entrepreneurs in partnership with the NAACP and the show’s sponsors.
While speaking to a full audience, John recalled how his single mother, working multiple jobs, took out a mortgage on her home to fund the roots of his now multi-million dollar apparel company.
As a child growing up nearby in Queens, he exclusively told PEOPLE in 2015 how rising crime had influenced his community.
"A lot of kids looked up to drug dealers because we didn’t have any other images,” John told PEOPLE. “I had a great relationship with my mom — I couldn’t let her down.”
That’s how FUBU got its start right outside the Apollo venue, John said.
“Back in the days, I sold hats right outside of this Apollo Theater and these legendary doors right here on 125th Street,” the TV personality said on stage. “Eventually, that little Brown boy who stood outside to sell a couple of hats could rent out the entire Apollo Theater and inspire the next generation of people.”
“We are the American Dream,” John continued. “That is what black entrepreneurs are — we are the American dream, just like every other culture.”
Even though John worked his way up to become a CEO and Shark Tank investor, he said he still deals with plenty of “business setbacks” like any ambitious entrepreneur.
For instance, John was granted a permanent restraining order in July 2023 against the owners of Bubba’s Q Boneless Baby Back Ribs — a company the Shark invested in when ex-NFL defensive end Al “Bubba” Baker, his wife Sabrina and his daughter Brittani appeared on the show in 2014.
The contestants alleged that John cut them out of profits and made “disparaging” comments on social media, in which they detailed their dealings with the investor and accused him of attempting to take over their ribs business.
After “repeated attempts” to allow the Baker’s to “correct their violations” according to John’s spokesperson Zach Rosenfield, John filed a temporary restraining order.
“This temporary restraining order is due to the Baker’s blatant actions to undermine a business partnership and the legal parameters they agreed to four years ago,” Rosenfield told PEOPLE in a statement. “Their belief that they can unwind poor business decisions through slanderous social media posts and articles will no longer be tolerated.”
To that end, the businessman told PEOPLE several lessons he learned about dealing with business setbacks and negative public perception.
While recalling how he “screwed up” at a past public speaking event, John talked about how he learned to let public perception “challenge” him, but not to be so “serious” on himself because of it.
“I went to the bathroom and there were two gentlemen [who said] ‘Oh, He was at that speech last time — painful,’” the motivational speaker said. “Then you know what they were like? ‘So what about the Knicks?’”
“I realized they didn’t really care,” John continued. “It was the end of my life as far as I’m concerned, but those guys are thinking about the Knicks two minutes later. That’s why I tell you, don’t take yourself too seriously because nobody else is.”
However, the Shark still talked about the importance of choosing the right partners to work with. His criteria has always been “the same” since his journey began: “I look at anybody who wanted to jump in and tell me where I’m going wrong and add the value they have because they were better than me in other areas.”
“It’s the same people who are going to test me, who are going to tell me, ‘Shut up,’ who are going to tell me I’m wrong,” John added.
John said he also pays attention to his gut, or what he would call “God’s little direct line to your belly button.” Learning to trust his gut and lower his ego, even when things “look good on paper or as a person,” are lessons that took him “years to understand.”
While building his success story, John mentioned how he failed to often listen to his body’s needs.
It wasn’t until after his 2017 diagnosis of stage 2 thyroid cancer that he realized “I’m a human, I’m not a superhero.”
"Then three years after that, COVID would show us that we're not [super] human," he exclusively told PEOPLE in April 2023. "At that time my daughter was one, my newest daughter in my life, made me want to change a lot of the things that I wouldn't say I was neglecting, but I needed to be more aggressive about the personal aspects of my life or as aggressive as I was about business."
Today, John says he always makes room in his schedule for responsibilities outside of work. That also includes spending time as a father of three daughters — Minka Jagger, whom she shares with wife Heather Taras, and two other daughters, Yasmeen and Destiny, from a previous relationship.
“I take very personal time for myself working on my health every single day — just like entrepreneurship,” John said.
Being “a human” also shows up in John’s commitment to “be soft” as an entrepreneur despite the narrative that “as African Americans, we have to have a thick coat.”
“You should be vulnerable, meaning when you walk in the room, you should say, ‘I don’t know this, but if you can help me, I can help you with this,’” John advised. “That’s something entrepreneurs need to understand, because if you see us on Shark Tank and you go, ‘Well I’m doing great. I was doing great here, then I’ll do here,’ then I’ll tell you, ‘What the hell are you here for?’”
“Don’t walk in the room cocky — nobody’s going to talk to you,” he continued. “But you walk in the room going, 'I'm really confident with what I do and I can't wait to be of value to everybody in this damn room,' you're going to have to beat them off of you.”
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This year’s free, global live stream of Black Entrepreneurs Day 2023 is available Wednesday as of 7 p.m. ET across the Black Entrepreneurs Day website, YouTube, Facebook and more.
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