Wednesday, May 15, 2013

For Love or Money

John grew up in the Hollis neighborhood of Queens, New York, a community that was home to many future hip-hop icons, including Run D.M.C, Salt ‘n Pepa, and L.L. Cool J.  John was an only child, growing up in a single parent household with his mother after his parents divorced.  This gave John the feeling of being the man of the house at a young age, and instilled in him the understanding that no one was responsible for his destiny but himself.  His mother reinforced this belief, telling her son, “It takes the same energy to think small as it does to think big. So dream big and think bigger.”  To fully impress this notion on her son, she kept a can opener more than two feet long over their refrigerator with the words “Think Big” printed on it.

John began earning money in the first grade by selling pencils to his classmates.  As a teenager, he’d shovel snow, mow lawns, and work at flea markets, and he participated in a high school program that allowed him to alternate weeks attending school and working a full-time job.  However, he was still young, and young people sometimes make mistakes.

Growing up, John had a friend who was constantly looking for ways to get ahead, legal or otherwise.  During high school, John’s friend began dealing drugs and stealing cars, and it wasn’t long before John was arrested on suspicion of involvement in the crimes.  It was the lowest moment of his life, and he was determined never to let anything like it happen again.

Immediately after high school, he started a commuter van service.  He drove the van sixteen hours a day and came home most nights with more than three hundred dollars.  However, when he finally did the math on what running the van was costing him, he found that he was actually working himself to the bone for about fifty dollars a day.  After this realization, he decided to focus on his passion for clothing while waiting tables.  Surprisingly, he didn’t mind being a waiter at all.  He earned a hundred dollars a shift, but knew exactly what he was making for his time, and it left his mind free to pursue his dreams. 

John’s first venture in clothing came about purely by chance.  He saw a wool hat he wanted to buy, but was surprised that it cost $20.  Instead of buying it, he thought he could make it, and asked his mother to teach him to use the sewing machine.  He and a friend began making the wool hats, sewing them in the mornings and selling them in their neighborhood for only $10 each.  On one occasion, they made $800 in a single day and knew they were on to something.

Believing in his idea’s potential, John and his mother mortgaged their house to generate starting capital, and even turned the home into an office and factory.  They began sewing the distinctive brand logo they’d created onto jerseys, sweatshirts, and t-shirts, and recruited more neighborhood friends to help with production and sales of the clothing.  One of those friends was LL Cool J., who agreed to wear one of John’s t-shirts in a promotional ad.

Now their brand was gaining some recognition.  John and his team attended a trade show in Las Vegas but couldn’t afford the cost of their own booth.  However, because of the brand’s unique style and its identification with the growing hip-hop scene, they accumulated more than $300,000 worth of orders by inviting retail buyers to their hotel room to see their samples. 

Soon, they expanded their line, even securing a contract with Macys.  Despite this, John was refused financing at 27 banks.  In search of capital, he finally put an ad in the newspaper, which resulted in 23 phone calls, one from Samsung’s textile division.  Suddenly, John and his team were able to manufacture and distribute their designs on a massive scale, and they never looked back.

Daymond John started his For Us, By Us clothing brand, better known as FUBU, in 1989.  He ran out of money three times along the way and nearly closed it down before the company eventually took off.  Since then, FUBU has generated $6 billion in global retail sales.  Talking about the decision to wait tables while pursuing his larger plans, John says, “The day I made that decision is the last day I ever worked in my life.”  Instead of working for money, he was working to pursue what he loved... and that’s what living your dreams is really about.

Until next week...

Live Your Dreams

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