Detroit – Fashion mogul Daymond John knows how to grow a business from nothing, launched one in his mother’s basement 30 years ago and scaled it to a global fashion brand with more than $6 billion in sales.
John, founder of clothing line FUBU and co-star of ABC’s “Shark Tank,” shared some insights Wednesday and lessons he’s learned along the way during BuyDetroit’s Passport to Procurement Conference at the Hollywood Hotel and Casino in Greektown.
“The biggest reason small businesses generally fail, in addition to their lack of education, is overfunding,” John told an audience of entrepreneurs during a fireside chat with Detroit Pistons in-game arena host Kevin Irwin. “They really took it too early.”
To grow a successful business, one must show openness, not overextend oneself and be transparent with employees and customers, John told the audience.
About 300 business owners attended the noon conference on Wednesday, organized by BuyDetroit, a small business initiative of the Detroit Economic Growth Corporation. The conference is designed to connect Detroit small businesses with high-profile buyers. The day includes training and resource workshops, buyer supplier meetings and a pitch competition.
“If you want to scale your business, be very obsessed with your customers,” he said. “Don’t think you have to have a 20-year vision. … Your customers will dictate your business.
John urges business owners to be vulnerable but confident. That honesty can help entrepreneurs make the business connections they need.
“This whole theory of ‘I’m hardcore. I don’t need anybody. I’m not vulnerable. I’m the man. I’m the girl.’ It doesn’t work,” he said. “Your next partner is in this room. And they are sitting next to you. … Two people out of 10 will (be) down on you — you don’t need them in your life. But having this level of confidence about what you know or what you’re trying to solve. The best case on ‘Shark Tank’ is, ‘This train is leaving the station one way. I really wish you were on this train with me.’ That’s what it is. No – ‘The train won’t move unless you’re around.’ I have my own problems. “
The goal of the program is to help business owners scale, said Keyra Cokley, associate director and creator of BuyDetroit.
“For these businesses to really have access to the right procurement opportunities, you can’t just look here in downtown Detroit,” he said. “Usually here in the city of Detroit, the big buyers are usually buying services I mean, construction trade services. There’s a lot of opportunity in that space. We have a shortage from a technology standpoint. So it’s about finding the voices that are in that technology and being able to elevate them outside the city. Then you have individuals who are in an oversaturated beauty space. … It’s about scaling them to be on a national scale.”
In addition to his business and involvement in “Shark Tank,” John launched the Black Entrepreneur Day event in New York in 2020. Since its launch, $750,000 in grants have been awarded to businesses.
Among the Detroit-based businesses to attend the event in New York are Alecia Gabriel and Deirdre Roberson, owners of The Lab Drawer, a STEM kit company geared toward students ages 10-15. They joined the visit to the Passport to Procurement event on Wednesday.
“We have to talk to other entrepreneurs and learn about the ups and downs,” Roberson said. “Coming here today was full circle seeing all the resources. Hearing the conversation with Daymond was really insightful. … He also gave us tools that we can use for our own business.
As of 2020, Gabriel and Roberson have shipped 20,000 kits globally. They operate out of a 2,000-square-foot space at the Durfee Innovation Society on Detroit’s west side.
“We were able to address the need and stick to our guns on why this is important, why and how we can influence young people to pursue STEM careers,” Gabriel said.
Milton Putnam, owner of Complete Image Manufacturing, said we found value in attending the BuyDetroit program. The retail and manufacturing of clothing is located in Livernois near Seven Mile on the Avenue of Fashion. Among their goals is to become minority certified and secure government contracts.
“This is a great resource for business scale,” he said. “Entrepreneurship won’t be easy, but they help you along the way.”