Most of us know Daymond John as one of the sharks of Shark Tank, the unscripted ABC primetime drama wherein entrepreneurs pitch for funding from titans of business.
"I always thought success was a bank account. A name on a card. The size of a house. A title. How many friends. How many people acknowledge you. But success is not that. Success is, amid constant change, doing everything you love," John said from the stage, addressing a freshly caffeinated audience the second morning of the conference.
How do get to do "everything you love?" John laid it out in a high-energy, music-filled, hour-long pitch, taking the audience through a narrative journey of his five "shark points"—ideas forged by over 25 years of seizing opportunities and persevering through mistakes.
S - Set Goals
"If we don't set goals, they'll be set for us," John said. For him, there was no bigger goal than creating the outfit for the world of hip hop and meeting some of his celebrity idols—from Michael Jackson ("a bad man") to Muhammad Ali ("a bad, bad man") to Prince.
John has done all that and more, turning his first $40 worth of fabric into a global empire that's gone on to sell more than $6 billion in apparel worldwide. He couldn't have done any of it without first setting goals and then doing the hard work to fulfill them, including spending years "slinging Cheddar Bay biscuits" as a waiter at Red Lobster to keep money coming in during FUBU's startup days.
H - Homework
Your degree of business success is in large measure determined by how much homework you do about your customers and their needs. And you need the "financial intelligence," as John called it, to properly capitalize on what you know.
Skip this step and you could make a multi-million dollar mistake, as Gap did when it hired rapper LL Cool J to write a song for an ad that included FUBU's "for us, by us" moniker. Add the hat with the "FB" logo and John's company had scored an unexpected and 100% free marketing coup.
"Gap paid $30 million to advertise FUBU," John said. "They didn't do their homework." As a result ... "kids thought it meant they could get [our gear] at The Gap." It didn't take long before John and his partners received a call asking about a deal.
A - Amor
Financial success followed and John said he spent years hanging out with the crowd he'd cultivated, drinking and partying long into the night while missing time with his family. "Isn't that why we do what we do? For the people that we love? That's the most important part, I lost that love," John said.
In the divorce that followed John said he recommitted to connecting with his two young daughters and finding a better balance between work and the rest of his life. He's also strove to maintain integrity—including turning down the first offer to appear on Shark Tank because the contract wouldn't allow him to keep a commitment he'd already made to appear on Keeping Up With the Kardashians.
R - Remember You Are the Brand
Having integrity isn't just about keeping commitments; it's also about knowing what you stand for. "If you can't put yourself into 2-5 words, you leave it up to us to interpret," John said. "They say a jury exonerates or convicts you in the first 30 seconds after seeing you. After that, all they want to do is think about or listen to the things they already know about you."
The lesson? Information is good, but it's better to understand motivations and incentives. Analytics in context are always more meaningful.
K - Keep Swimming
Finally, John told the story of how earlier this year he'd gone in to have half his thyroid removed only to learn he had stage 2 cancer. All is well now, but the experience gave him perspective.
"The anethesiologist told me something before I went under: When people lose faith and they're scared, that's when it's a problem. I want you think of something beautiful, something that makes you smile ... so I thought of the newest edition to my life, my baby daughter Minka."
John played a quick video of her thanking the crowd before exiting to a standing ovation and a selfie. The shark and his school, swimming together.
Whether you're starting a business or helping the CEO navigate a new phase of the company you work for, there's plenty of wisdom to be found in John's shark points and the other keynote speakers—including CEO Dave Kellogg and Constellation Research founder and principal analyst Ray Wang.