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Q&A with 'Shark Tank' Judge Daymond John (part 4 of 5)

By Jennifer Wang

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

"Shark Tank," ABC's reality TV show featuring capital-hungry entrepreneurs and five investors holding the pursestrings, is well underway as we near the end of the judges' line-up. The spotlight today is on Daymond John, founder of FUBU The Collection, a multimillion-dollar fashion empire that sprang from fairly humble origins.

In 1992, after some success selling hand-sewn, tie-top hats at concerts and festivals, John recruited some friends, took out a $100,000 mortgage on his mother's house, and launched a branding campaign for an urban clothing line that, roughly five years on, reached a staggering $350 million in revenue.

He's no doubt increasing his net worth with some of the deals he's making on the show, which he's been hyping on Twitter @TheSharkDaymond.If you're not a follower, you'd best get on it: John's been offeringfree phone consultations to people who can re-tweet and answer hisquestions the fastest.

What's going through your mind as you listen to people lay their business dreams on the line?
Because it is my own money, I go through various different emotions. Igo through the emotion of, "I've been there," where I feel the need tobe gentle and soft or very understanding. I also think, "Wow, I wouldhave asked for the same amount of money and asked for the same stupidthings at that point in time. Did I sound that stupid at the time, too?"

Other times, I wonder if people are trying to insult me and ask forthis amount of money and tell me these things that I absolutely knowthrough experience aren't true. And the greatest emotion is when I feelsomeone is a star and the world just doesn't know it yet, and I askmyself how I can help propel that person to that status, make a profit,become a partner and just have a great time.

That's a lot to consider all at once.
Right. It's all being shot at you within 10 minutes of talking to people and four other sharks yelling at them.

True. You sharks don't actually seem that "gentle" or "soft."
[Laughs] No, it depends on what emotion we're going through.

If the positions were reversed, what would your chances have been?
I would have gotten shot down. When I was at that point, what I haddone in my space had never been done before, so it was hard becausethere wasn't a blueprint. I wouldn't have asked them for theappropriate amount of money, and to tell them at that point, "Hey,Busta Rhymes wears my stuff, LL Cool J wears my stuff," they would havesaid, "Who?" So I would have been shot down immediately.

So contestants who don't get deals shouldn't give up, is that right?
Oh, absolutely. This show is a huge, huge step for them, but it's notthe end all be all. You can't buy this kind of exposure,and when the five of us from all walks of life critique them, it's alearning experience. So no matter what, there will be a lot of starswho will come from the show, and a lot of stars who will come from thefollow-up and the lessons they learned.

What's different about "Shark Tank" compared to other elevator pitch shows?
The aspect of it being our money is a really big issue. I hold backwhen I see someone dreaming because when my money is at risk, and mychildren's futures, I throw real questions and real scenarios outthere, and it's like night [versus] day.

Well, it certainly makes for good TV.
It makes for good TV because you see negotiations go down within five minutes. You have to understand, some of the negotiations go on forhalf an hour, and you have a camera on each person. That means there'ssix cameras running for half an hour--imagine all the material theyhave to cut down.

So how do you tell if someone's going to be a good investment?
First of all, I think the person is the brand, so I'm buying into theperson, and there are a few things I find attractive. Do theyhave something that is proprietary--a patent, a great idea, a certainformula that nobody has that I can maximize off of?

Second of all, do they have sales? Have they run it through thetruth-telling machine where somebody that's not in their family spendshard-earned money on it? And between thatis whether they are able to manufacture this idea and ship it to people.

That's what really matters, and then for me to engage in the dealitself, they have to give me a number I can understand. If they'reasking $2 million for a company they've only made $100,000 off of, Ican't even talk to them at that point.

And what's the best business decision you've ever made?
I believe the best business decision I ever made was to learn to brandmy product, because I was just another one of the millions of items outthere. So I think learning branding, understanding how to create abrand, was and is still currently my best decision.

What about your worst?
You know, not to be the guy who's happy about everything, but everysingle decision I've made and all the failures I've [experienced] haveonly taught me how to build a better mousetrap. You can say failureswere because of inappropriate timing, and I ended up benefiting off ofit anyway because I learned from it.

I really don't live my life aroundbad decisions and regret.

Jennifer Wang

Writer and Content Strategist

Jennifer Wang is a Los Angeles-based journalist and content strategist who works at a startup and writes about people in startups. Find her at lostconvos.com.

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