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For Shark Tank’s Daymond John, Everything Starts at ‘Why’

In a fireside chat at the 2021 REALTOR® Broker Summit, serial entrepreneur Daymond John shared his views on success, goal setting, and building a team.

July 9, 2021

3 Takeaways:

  • Your “why” can be personal or professional.
  • Establish short- and long-term goals, and write them down every day.
  • Choose teammates who are not only good on paper, but you like being around.

One of the titular “sharks” on NBC’s long-running program “Shark Tank,” serial entrepreneur and investor Daymond John spoke with Charlie Oppler, the 2021 president of the National Association of REALTORS®, in a fireside chat-style session at the 2021 REALTOR® Broker Summit about what he looks for when building a team and how he structures his life around short-and long-term goals.

Acknowledging that John must have dozens of insights about recruiting new talent or investing in a new idea, Oppler asked what John looks for when he hires a new employee or partners with a new company.

“I look for people that are problem solvers,” John explained. “Eighty percent of my staff are people that started as interns or somebody who was a third-party vendor or worker and we decided that we would test each other out for three months.”

During the initial test period, John watches to ensure each individual finds their way within the company and finds ways to offer value. This self-sufficiency is important, because the second thing John looks for are “people who are always educating themselves, constantly, and they bring that knowledge to the team.”

John used the examples of talking to a hypothetical accountant or financial adviser about emerging cryptocurrency markets, or about where the smartest place is to buy real estate investment properties.

“If you say, ‘I don’t know,’ well I’m going to move on to somebody else who’s going to teach me what I need to know,” John said. “But if you say, ‘I may not have that answer right now, but give me a week to talk to my colleagues—I’m going to do some investigation and we’re going to figure this thing out,’ I’m going to keep growing with you.”

An impressive résumé is a non-factor with John, who never looks at a person’s history on paper after the initial meeting. Whether hiring someone for his own companies or investing in a company,” John said that it all boils down to one thing: “I care if I like you. We are all pack animals at the end of the day. If I’m going to spend eight hours a day, five days a week for the next five years of my life across from you on Zoom or sitting next to you, I got to know that I like you.”

Finding Your “Why”

At age 16, John already had an aggressive vision for his life; he started and ended each day by writing down his goals to stay focused and motivated. At age 23, he launched his clothing company FUBU on a street corner in Queens. On night one, while selling handmade hats, he made $800 and told himself, “I’m never going to work for anyone else ever again.”

The road from there was a bit choppier than he’d anticipated—John shuttered FUBU three times in its first three years and worked at Red Lobster to make ends meet. Eventually, though, the clothing company found its way to the mass market. At its height, John says, FUBU was worth $6 billion.

His success came not only from hustle, he said, but also from his desire to create a community. That was his “why,” or his reason for being—something John says every entrepreneur should have well before they set goals or try to build a company.

He stressed that the “why” behind a person’s idea or company shouldn’t be based on societal or parental expectations—it must be personal. “When you know your why—why you truly want to exist or why you truly want to be successful in whatever it is—and you’re honest with your why, then you can set the right goals.”

John reinforced that a person’s why doesn’t have to center around their business ambitions. It can be related to their personal relationships, faith, friends, or any other central aspect of their life.

Setting (and Resetting) Goals

If the first step to being highly successful is finding the why, the second step is setting goals. Even today, after reaching and exceeding most of his aspirations in business and life, John still begins and ends each day by writing down his 10 goals.

Of those 10 goals, “six of them expire in six months, and the other four expire in two years, five years, 10 years, and 20 years.” The ones that expire in six months, he admits, he rarely makes because they’re too big. When they reset, he has a new opportunity to hit them the next time—whether it’s spending more time with family, losing weight, reaching an important milestone at work.

As for the long-term goals, John tends to remain committed to them because they are big-picture aspirations. At least one of them, he says, has never changed. However, he says that as he changes or as his priorities change, he allows himself to reassess the longer-term goals. The point of goal setting is not to use them as a punitive or limiting measure, but to leverage them as the best way to reach your “why.”

The last step to finding success—after determining the “why” and setting appropriate goals—is to find mentors or get otherwise educated. “Ignorance is the worst disease ever,” John stressed, adding that a lack of education “can endanger the world or endanger people. We have more in common than we are different, and it’s only the lack of education that separates [us].”

Believing in a Singular Impact

In a personal moment, Oppler asked John to share the best advice he’d ever received. John replied that when he was a child, his mother saw him staring in awe as supersonic Concorde jets took off from nearby John F. Kennedy International Airport. John said that his mother told him, “‘Daymond, everything around you started with one person who took one action. Why couldn’t it be you?’ And I had no answer for her. Everything we ever see, it started with one idea and one action.”

It’s easy to see how influential that moment was for John, who wanted to do more than just build a clothing company or become financially successful. Thirty-five years after he first defined his “why” as a community builder, John is now speaking to audiences weekly about how to change their own lives and find true purpose. His community has moved beyond those buying FUBU clothes, beyond his hometown of Queens, and beyond even the millions of viewers who tune into “Shark Tank.” In effect, his community has gone global.


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Gina Rautenberg

Gina Rautenberg is a marketing consultant and writer who specializes in the real estate industry. Outside of her work with the National Association of REALTORS®, Gina has collaborated with T3 Sixty, Inman, realtor.com®, Edina Realty, HomeSpotter, RateMyAgent, and many brokers and associations. To get in touch, please email gina@findyourlingo.com.

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