Shark Tank Star
The apparel mogul came from humble beginnings, picking
up a treasure trove of health and life lessons along the way.
By Allan Richter
Daymond John had a $40 budget when he began selling home-sewn hats on the streets of Queens, New York. When he first expanded, John marketed the line—now distinguished by its baggy pants and loose sweatshirts, and named FUBU—by loaning shirts to hip hop artists to wear. Still operating on a lean budget, he used a rotation of just 10 rewashed shirts that were ultimately seen in more than 30 music videos. Today, the entrepreneur, who turned his fledgling street-corner business into a clothing empire valued at more than $6 billion, is highly sought after for his branding advice, which he doles out regularly to scores of magnates in the making and an audience of millions as a star of ABC’s “Shark Tank.”
As if those enterprises weren’t enough to consume his time, John, 47, is also President Obama’s appointed Presidential Ambassador for Global Entrepreneurship, helping budding entrepreneurs, and chief executive of the Shark Group, a marketing firm with Fortune 500 and celebrity clients. He is on the road a grueling 280 days a year, a schedule that tests his capacity for maintaining optimum health.
With some variations, on the road he not only adheres to the fitness and nutritional practices he follows at home, he manages to nurture his family life. “My family meets me or I go out to them,” he explains. “Of course, it’s very hard. I have daughters who are in school, so I go and meet them, and my current significant other and my new baby have to meet me on the road.
We’ll slip in a week here or there on a vacation. We’ll fit in amazing time in amazing places, so it’s not pure torture, you know?”
John sees a strong link between well-being and entrepreneurship, the latter very much dependent on the former. He draws parallels, for instance, between what he calls the small, methodical “affordable steps” one must take to succeed in both business and health. If you’re a startup and you want to make stellar corporate videos but don’t have the funding, John explains, you get training and make 15-second Instagram videos as a first step. “Or you’re someone who is on the road and you don’t have time to go to the gym all the time. So you say to yourself, ‘I’m going to try to do 300 pushups a day but I’m going to have to start off with 50 and do sets of five.’
“But there are other people who get, as we call it, ‘analysis paralysis’ because they say the job is too big: ‘How can I ever get to 300 pushups because I’m 100 pounds overweight and I don’t have the upper body strength?’ It’s just taking affordable steps—in any aspect of life,” he says.
All the “sharks” on the “Shark Tank” panel have a keen eye for an investment and partners that complement their strengths, but Daymond stands out for his street smarts, a dividend of his city roots, observes Clay Newbill, “Shark Tank” executive producer. John, along with Robert Herjavec, also is openly kind, Newbill says, noting that John flew one “Shark Tank” guest, Moziah Bridges, the then 12-year-old founder and chief executive of bow tie company Mo’s Bows, to John’s old neighborhood to help mentor the youngster. “All of the sharks are tough, and Daymond is tough, but Daymond also has a big heart,” Newbill says.
When we recently spoke with him, John was in Arizona for meetings with Nikki and Brie Bella, the WWE twin sister act and stars of the E! Channel’s “Total Divas,” to work on a line of undergarments for health-conscious women. We caught up with John between one of his meetings and a run on nearby Camelback Mountain. He spoke with us about the importance of writing goals, visualizing success and other themes in his latest business book, The Power of Broke: How Empty Pockets, a Tight Budget, and a Hunger for Success Can Become Your Greatest Competitive Advantage (Crown Business).
Energy Times: Many of the issues you address in The Power of Broke, even though it’s a business book, can be applied to health. You connect the power of being broke—that state of mind, that sense of desperation that propels you to seek a way out—with business success. Elaborate on the link between that power and both mental and physical well-being.
Daymond John: My theory is that money is not going to buy your way. Mental fortitude, the idea that you’re not making the excuse that you need other things around you to succeed, is why you’re going to figure it out. Many of us want to take the shortcut. We don’t want to learn the fundamentals of mentally setting yourself up with goals or the fundamentals of eating right or exercising. We tend to think that we can just [spend] some money, and that’s going to solve the problem. That’s just putting a Band-Aid on the situation.
If you think you’re going to just go and buy all the things you need to succeed, you’re going to set yourself up for failure.
ET: You always have a goal for different areas of your life—health, family, business, relationships and philanthropy—and you give yourself deadlines. What I get out of that is that you have embraced a very balanced approach to life. Could you elaborate a little bit on that?
DJ: I do believe in leading a balanced way of life. I also talk about spirituality. I have ten sets of goals that I read and, as I share in the book, about seven of them expire in about six months and then I reset them. And two of them then expire in five years and in twenty years. And my spiritual goal is the fact that I’m going to pray every morning and every night. I’m going to make sure I celebrate the Sabbath. I’m going to make sure that I give to another. I’m going to make sure I exercise a form of giving, and that the recipient does not know where it comes from; I don’t want to take credit for it.
A lot of people think, “How dare you put spirituality or seeing your daughters or things like that, that are very sensitive and personal, how do you put that on a list and write a goal about that?” People just think it’s insensitive when I write it on a list, that I’m going to spend certain times with my kids every single week or call my mother every single day or whatever the case is.
They say that should come naturally, but we’re all human and things that are tugging at you all day sometimes just get in the way, and we say we’re going to get to it tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow. You need to value people in your life more every day. Kiss her every day. Love her every day. Love him every day.
The same with health. If I don’t set those goals in the morning, to try to hydrate enough during the day and eat a certain number of times and eat healthier, then I’m not going to think about those things during the course of the day. I’m going to think about the things that I care about most at the time: paying bills, going to work. Then everything else will fall by the wayside. And when those things fall by the wayside, they’re going to catch up to you, especially health. If you don’t have health mentally or physically, everything’s going to crumble because your foundation is weak.
ET: How did you learn that lesson?
DJ: I had to learn it the hard way. I learned it actually when I started making money. That’s when I started to learn the value of health because my health declined. I was going out and making money, and felt, “I can eat three things on the menu now because I want to. I can drink all night because I’m the boss. I don’t have to wake up in the morning as early as possible because I am the boss.” That attitude during my late twenties and early thirties started to hurt my health because I didn’t care about it at the time. I thought, “Hey, I have resources. I’m rich now. Who cares?”
ET: Tell me about how you use visualization techniques in concert with your goals.
DJ: I read my goals at night before I go to bed and when I wake up. They’re the last and the first things I think of in the day. When I’m talking about my goals and saying that I’m going to work out two times a day, I’m envisioning myself doing squats. I also listen to music often when I’m reading my goals because it puts me in that frame of mind, and then when I hear that music again, it reminds me.
The music tracks work in a symbiotic way. Usually they’re very big orchestra tracks like [“Rocky” theme composer] Bill Conti’s “Going the Distance” or any of the big songs from an adventure movie like “300” or “Terminator,” or songs that don’t have many lyrics. They get me very excited, and then I start to visualize the goal. I start to look at, as [hockey star Wayne] Gretzky says, not where the puck’s at, where the puck’s going to be. I start reminding myself how I looked at that time, or I may have some pictures on my phone of aspirational things that I want to get to. It could be a guy running and he’s very fit or things of that nature. That’s how I try to visualize.
ET: Let’s look at some of your more near-term goals. You want to get to 170 pounds by avoiding food after 7:00 p.m. and cutting down on fried foods, meats and alcohol. How are you doing?
DJ: Right now it’s not as good as it should be because fortunately I’ve been blessed with a new daughter in my life. So, of course, to be supportive, I was eating everything my significant other was eating while she was pregnant. We’re going through those changes of having that beautiful new life in our world, and, as most men will tell you, you take on a certain amount of weight because you’re dealing with a lot of other things, but yes, I am progressing.
When you normally see me on “Shark Tank,” I’m around 173. I’ve been as low as 167 but I usually get down to at least 178. But I got to my highest weight [in recent years], which was 200, with a pregnant woman around; she’s cooking every two minutes.
ET: You word your goals very assertively. Rather than saying you will avoid something, you position it by writing what you will do: you’re going to eat only fish, drink only iced tea and water, and exercise twice a day. I guess the message and the goal is easier to latch onto when it’s framed positively like that.
DJ: Yeah, it is. That’s what works best for me. Books like The Secret have talked about it for many years. When you’re negative, it’s like you’re driving a car that’s spinning out, and you go, “Don’t look at the wall.” What are you thinking? You’re looking at the wall.
ET: Since physical well-being is part of a balanced life for you, describe your current fitness regimen.
DJ: My regimen varies because I travel so much, but generally I have to try to drink more than ten glasses of water a day. I don’t drink anything besides water or unsweetened iced tea. Caffeine is not the best for the heart, but I used to be even worse with those really bad energy drinks, so that’s how I leveled down [from excessive caffeine].
I try to walk and run over 10,000 steps a day. I’ll usually do cardio early in the morning and I’ll do a small amount of weightlifting late in the evening. I tend to want to do weightlifting in the evening because it’ll make me hungry, my body and my muscles will starve for some form of protein, so I’ll take a shake or something like that. I try not to eat after 7:00 at night, nothing besides maybe fresh juice or the protein if I work out. When I’m on the road I try to do up to 200 pushups a day through the course of the day.
ET: Because you travel so much, are there days when you simply do not have time to exercise to the level you want?
DJ: Yeah. And if it’s a day that I know that I won’t really get to work out, instead of having maybe egg whites in the morning, I’ll generally have oatmeal or a banana because I won’t want to put the heavy fuel in my body that I know I’m not going to burn off as quickly.
I do take some supplements. I go to an amazing acupuncturist so I take a lot of natural herbs. She gives me these 12 herbs that I need to take, and I take a multivitamin in the morning. I take vitamin C and fish oil. I take flaxseed. Sometimes I’ll also take cayenne, once or twice after a meal here and there. It helps burn the food but I can’t take that too late at night because I have acid reflux…so I’ve got to take that before three in the afternoon.
ET: How challenging is it to keep fit on the road because gyms and the like are inconsistent?
DJ: It’s extremely hard for a couple of reasons. Sleep is very important, and you’re inconsistent because you’re traveling through different time zones. Plus when you’re on the road you’re most likely entertaining or being entertained, so the temptation of picking up some bread or getting a drink is there every single minute. You’ll notice many businessmen are all sitting around the lobby bar until 12 or 1 at night trying to drown their sorrows. You have to really be upbeat and disciplined, and that’s why goals are important. You blink your eye, a month has passed and you have not been consistent, and that will end up compounding like anything else.
ET: Is it difficult to replicate the diet you’re used to at home while you’re traveling?
DJ: Yeah, you do find it hard when you’re on the road. But after you start to cook at home and eat healthy, then when you’re on the road you start to crave the same things: “Okay. This is what’s working for me best at home. Let me try to take a little bit of time to go out and find it.” Again, it goes back to the power of broke with your company. You bust your butt so hard to do all this. Why would you go and just start destroying it all with bad decisions?
When I’m out in the morning now, even when I go through the airport I’ll go to the American Airlines Admirals Club and get oatmeal and a banana instead of stopping off at the fast food place. When I was first becoming healthy, green juicing wasn’t really the big craze, but now, thank God, you can go and get a green drink and it’s going to put some energy and some good stuff in your system.
ET: Tell me more about how you pulled yourself out of the mindset that, having wealth, you could adopt whatever lifestyle you wanted, no matter how unhealthy.
DJ: When I was younger I always loved working out, and I was trying to go into the fitness world as a trainer.
Before I had FUBU I was very health conscious. So I’m starting to make money and I’m at my heaviest, 220 or something, and of course, it didn’t look that way because I was making baggy clothes. The weight was all somewhat hidden; it was hidden from me as well.
I started to have many migraines and because of my travel, which was 25% of what it is now, I was literally sick. I would have the flu three times a year and I would have a normal cold roughly a dozen times a year. I was living out in Long Island, and I decided to move closer to the city because I realized I was spending three hours in traffic a day. Even though somebody was driving me, I could utilize that time more efficiently in the city. Once I moved to the city I started to go to the gym. But after about a year, I realized I did not lose one ounce of weight because I thought I could go in the gym and then eat junk all day long.
Then I started to go home and cook, and then go to the gym. I dropped 30 pounds over the course of about a year, just from those small alterations in my life. I started to see the progress and to realize what the benefits were.
It was kind of vanity. I remember I was out at Atlantis [resort in the Bahamas] and I remember at that time I was single; I had just divorced. I was standing there and my kids were with me, and some girls whom I thought were about my age walked by and said something like, “Excuse me, Mister.” They almost called me an old man. They asked me directions and I realized that I was the fat guy on the beach. It was just weird.
ET: When you look at the investments you’ve made in “Shark Tank,” are there a few that stand out and that you’re particularly proud of? And how important are health-related startups to you as an investor?
DJ: I’m proud of almost every one of my investments. Do I want to invest in more health-related products? Absolutely. I think that the world is getting more health conscious. I’d rather invest in a bunch of health-related products for my selfish needs: I’m surrounded by a bunch of healthy people with a lot of healthy initiatives.
ET: What are some of the standout health investments you’ve made?
DJ: I look at my Three Jerks Jerky [gluten-free, gourmet beef jerky] company, and that’s really amazing. You can read everything on their package. You know what every ingredient means. I used to think that all jerky is going to be high in sodium, but it’s low in sodium, and a lot of athletes use the product. I also have Titin, which makes a weighted vest [for workouts], and that’s a really great company.
I was also an investor in a couple of CrossFits. I also have an investment in Cowboy Ryan’s Cowboy Workout. It’s a gym, and people come and work out on these rodeo fences. I’m also an investor in something called Shefit. It’s a bra that is adjustable for women as they’re working out.
ET: So who’s the healthiest shark on “Shark Tank?”
DJ: The healthiest shark would be Robert [Herjavec] by far. Robert runs every single day. His body fat has to be 8% or something. The guy is by far the fittest. In Season One or Season Two I believe, Kevin Harrington was one of our fellow sharks and he must be 55 or 60, but this guy is like a Marine. This guy was extremely healthy. And after that, you have [Mark] Cuban who plays a lot of basketball. But I think Cuban and I fluctuate; we go up and down because Cuban has young kids and he kind of eats with his kids but then he’ll come back to shape, and then you have me. I really don’t know the regimens of [the other sharks].
ET: Thanks very much for sharing your thoughts. Is there anything else you want to add as we wrap up?
DJ: No, that’s about it. I’m going to try to go hit this mountain real quick.