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How Daymond John Shuts Down Skeptics–and Why He Thinks Most Entrepreneurs Are Wasting Their Time

The entrepreneur and TV star explains the value of goals and grit–and ‘Shark Tank’ idiots.

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BY Emily Canal - 27 Feb 2018

"I make sure that I don't quit until I've got nothing left to give to my cause, my mission, my purpose." CREDIT: Shayan Asgharnia

Don't tell Daymond John there isn't enough time in the day to get everything done. He might just tell you off.

After all, the father of three is running three businesses he's launched--the urban clothing brand Fubu, where he's been CEO since 1992, brand management agency the Shark Group, and the newly opened co-working space Blueprint + co. And as one of Shark Tank's original judges, he's nearing his 10th anniversary on ABC's smash show. He has plenty of bite left, too--just ask the co-stars he heckles to distract them from negotiating deals.

The entrepreneur and investor prefers to measure his days by what he doesn't do, thus ensuring there is "time enough" for what he aims to accomplish. Setting goals and achieving them in a timely fashion is a prominent theme in Rise and Grind: Outperform, Outwork, and Outhustle Your Way to a More Successful and Rewarding Life.

John's fourth book, Rise and Grind explores the daily routines of successful self-starters--including Shark Tank contestant Kristina Guerrero, founder of TurboPup, television mogul Nely Galn, Al and Brittani Baker, co-inventors of Bubba's-Q Boneless Ribs, and entrepreneur and extreme athlete Kyle Maynard, who was born with incomplete limbs, yet still climbed Mount Kilimanjaro.

John explores how they all reached the top of their fields. (Hint: These are not linear paths.) He also outlines his own practices for productivity and explains how he used the obstacles in his life to fuel his success.

In an exclusive interview with Inc., John speaks of his daily rituals, the healthy level of paranoia every entrepreneur should have, and why his Monopoly game is especially vicious.

How did you start your morning?

I tried to bang out about 100 pushups in sets of 20 and 25. I packed my clothes for tomorrow's [photo] shoot. My daughter came in around 9, and I played with her for a little while. I did my goals--I read my list of goals every morning. I meditated while doing my goals at the same time. Then I probably ate something like granola, a smoothie, and a green drink. Sent out as many emails as I could before I even looked at the incoming ones. Two or three calls, and then headed to the office.

So what's on your list of goals right now?

My goals are always the same. So it's 10 goals I read every morning and every night. Seven of them expire in six months and the others expire in five years, 10 years, and 20 years. They are [based on] faith, family, business, health, and career.

CREDIT: Shayan Asgharnia

How do you go about achieving those goals?

By reading them. Goal setting is a very specific thing. It's not "I want to lose weight." It's "I will drink 10 glasses of water per day. I will not eat fried foods or red meat. I will walk over 10,000 steps per day, do cardio in the morning, and weightlift at night." In return for that, I will lose two pounds per week to get down to my goal weight of 170. And this will allow me to be healthier and to remain in my daughters' lives for a longer period of time. Then you have to visualize yourself walking your daughter down the aisle or being a grandfather. So every one of the goals has the action on what I am going to take to do it, has the time period that I'm going to take to accomplish it, and then has the benefit--how will I benefit or how will other people benefit off of it.

Is it going well?

I fall off of doing it and I forget. And I have this anxiety, because if I know all the goals reset on July 15, when July 15 comes around, there's this tension in my body. You shouldn't accomplish them if they are large enough. You should just get close to them. It makes you take one bit of an action in the morning or in the evening toward a goal. Will I drink 10 glasses of water every day? No. Will I do all those pushups every day? No, but will it make me get that green drink in the morning instead of the cheeseburger? Yes. And each one of those gets you closer.

You like to say that if you can do it, anybody can do it. What does that mean to you?

My upbringing was way better than many others', if we look at the entire world, and just as bad as many others'. But many will say you can't do things because of the color of your skin or where you grew up. I grew up in a lower-middle-class area of Queens. I got left back in school, and I'm dyslexic. There weren't too many role models where I grew up. I didn't know anybody, didn't have a famous last name, didn't have any access to capital, and didn't go to college. Many people would've said one of those things could have held me back, and none of those held me back.

How do you handle the tough decisions you have to make?

I try to think about all aspects of the decision. Number one, why do I have to do it and why am I feeling this way about it? Number two, who will it affect? Who will it save? Each tough decision I make stands on its own merit. Sticking your head in the sand as an entrepreneur just doesn't work. You may want to do that in your personal relationships, but in business you can't.

When do you push yourself into new experiences, new businesses?

It's almost like shopping. I go to the store and I see something, but I don't buy it right away. I go home. If I can't get it off my mind, I go back. It's the same thing when I am looking at areas [where] I want to move in life. I start putting it in my goals. I start taking an action once a week, once a day.

My first book 11 years ago--being dyslexic and trying to put out a book, that was very intimidating. That book led me to talking about it on network TV, and that led to Shark Tank. So those small little actions that I took would lead me to different areas of my life.

There's a fine balance. That's what a lot of entrepreneurs have a challenge with. And it's, how big of a pivot do you take? Most entrepreneurs have a healthy paranoia, which they should. Business goes in cycles, up and down.

How do you distinguish between healthy and unhealthy paranoia?

It's a very fine line, and I've managed to ride that fine line very well. Bad times are going to happen. You just have to hold your breath a little bit.

There was paranoia that Fubu would be dead. Then, when Shark Tank called, I realized that I only had clothing brands, and I was paranoid that I didn't have anything else to sell. What if all clothing, and urban especially, was going to fall by the wayside? So I had to start diversifying my portfolio. That was paranoia to move forward.

What did you learn from writing Rise and Grind?

I've learned from the book like crazy. I learned, and I hope other people will learn, that you are always going to hear no, and people are always going to doubt you. Look at Kyle Maynard, who climbed Mount Kilimanjaro [without the aid of prosthetics]. It's amazing to hear people say, "He had an unfair advantage in wrestling." The man has no arms or legs. Nobody wants the unfair advantage that he had, but it shows that no matter where you go in life, no matter what you do, somebody will tell you, "That's unfair. You're lucky."

Did you want to prove wrong the people who say things like that?

Not anymore. As a kid I did. Now, I say, "If they knew so much, I wouldn't be here. They would be here." They are idiots. You'll have some people go, "Daymond, you walk on water," and some people say, "You'll be over with tomorrow." But you can't pay attention to them. To the people who say you can walk on water, you can say, "Trust me. It's not like that." If they are underestimating you, I just ignore them.

"I didn't know anybody, didn't have a famous last name, didn't have access to capital, and didn't go to college. None of those held me back." CREDIT: Shayan Asgharnia

"I didn't know anybody, didn't have a famous last name, didn't have access to capital, and didn't go to college. None of those held me back."

How can you work hard all the time without burning out?

I put the time in to take the time off. I just came home from 14 days away, and I hit 20 cities. I was really exhausted. I went to my home in upstate New York, but then I drove another hour and a half to go snowboarding by myself for a day. I turned off the phone; no one could get a hold of me. That felt like a week of vacation. Last night, I was at an event on the Lower East Side [in New York City], and I walked from there to 65th Street with my headphones on listening to Nat "King" Cole. I put that time in, too.

"A lot of people like golf because you go outside and you get to be out in Mother Nature. But you can't fry a golf ball and eat it with tartar sauce."

Daymond John discussing which sport occupies his scarce spare time

How would you suggest other entrepreneurs make that time? Most feel they don't have a moment to spare.

They have the moment to spare. Or don't look at Instagram. Don't watch every episode of Game of Thrones in one weekend. I haven't seen a new show in five or six years. I know how addicting they can be.

What else do you do to relax?

I play with my daughter. No matter what, I'm going to FaceTime with her every night or I'm going to play with her. I shoot a recurve bow; that's so meditative. I fish. I play pool. We have a vicious, vicious Monopoly game.

Who is "we"?

Some team members here [at Blueprint + co. and the Shark Group]. It gets nasty. The fascinating thing about Monopoly is that when you're negotiating and competing and you're playing by the rules of the game, people's true characters come out throughout that four or five hours. But can they make decisions? Are they willing to do questionable things or deals? Are they always making excuses why somebody else is winning or not winning? Or are they polite? The real individuals come out, and it's fascinating when you play that with your team.

And your favorite board piece?

The boot, because I like to give people the boot. When they're out of the game, I'll boot them.

Do you like the new guest Sharks this season?

I love them. The reason I love the guest Sharks is that you're sitting next to Kevin [O'Leary] for 10 years and when he says, "You're dead to me" in year one, you go, "Oh, my god. How dare you?" After he says, "You're dead to me" in the eighth year, you go, "Ugh. Shut up." It's like your rude uncle or your rude cousin at the table. You know he's going to pick his nose at Thanksgiving. But a new Shark comes on, and they have a different opinion and you don't necessarily know where they stand. It creates a debate that maybe I can learn from. Maybe they can learn from. So it just adds a great dynamic. Like bringing someone into a family dinner to fight with us.

John takes leisure seriously. "I put the time in to take the time off," he says.

John takes leisure seriously. "I put the time in to take the time off," he says. CREDIT: Shayan Asgharnia

Do you have a favorite Shark?

Barbara [Corcoran] says I have to say it's her, because she lets me stay at her beach house. That's my official one. Unofficially, I don't. We're all close.

Is there a kind of founder you want to see more on Shark Tank?

No. The ones who get the deals and go off to be successful, they were going to be successful with us or without us. Nothing was going to stop them. They're America's dream. They are usually women. They are usually mothers, which I love because I always say, "A mother is the ultimate entrepreneur." And I love the idiots who come on, to show America that there are some idiots out there, because you have to learn from those people, too.

You once said that when you invest in people on Shark Tank, you're probably learning more from them than they are from you.

I've learned the importance of giving, in regards to that being part of your corporate culture and being very obvious and very overt about it. At Fubu, we gave a lot, but we would never advertise or market it, because we didn't want to make a profit off of the hardships of others. We got a huge backlash after a while. But back then, we'd have to actually take an ad out to do it. It's not like today, when we can say, "Look on our social media page at all the stuff we've done." So taking that ad out would have looked worse. But today, most of my successful entrepreneurs, when you buy something, they automatically donate something. I've learned that people really appreciate it.

"Don't ignore all those naysayers in your path. Put that negativity to work for you. Let it drive you, even if it's just to prove everyone else wrong."

You also preach the virtues of failing well, of extracting value from mistakes.

That happens every day. I had a company that my partners and I were financing, a ladies apparel company [Heatherette], and we spent about $6 million in funding the company. We had to shut it down because we realized we were going to be out of more and more money. The bad part about it was, we had to fire 15 people and let down the partners we invested in, because they thought that we'd be able to take it to another level. You have to learn from that.

It taught me that unless you have partners who fully know the area of business and they're really good operators, then you can't buy your way into businesses. You have to roll up your sleeves and work just as hard as if it were you starting from the beginning. Most of the businesses I would launch after that, I would start off at a very small level and figure out all the problems, and it ended up saving me a lot more money in the future.

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