You may have first seen Daymond John on the ABC television show, Shark Tank, as one of the influential business investors (aka “sharks”) who hold the financial fate of fledgling entrepreneurs in their hands. John is no stranger to putting one’s own ideas on the line. As founder, president and chief executive officer of his own clothing empire, FUBU (“For Us by Us”), Daymond John used his own entrepreneurial aptitude and marketing savvy to build FUBU from the ground up. This self-made man grew up in Hollis, a neighborhood in Queens, NY, known as the birthplace of hip-hop. Living in the nerve center of this influential music scene ignited the creative genius in John and prompted him to explore the untapped market of urban apparel. He has said that “he knew his goal of branding a culture after attending hip-hop concerts.” Over the last two decades, Daymond John has emerged as an international fashion icon, with superstars, such as LL Cool J, promoting his hip-hop inspired clothing line. He has also become one of the most prominent branding and marketing experts in the world. Who would guess that Daymond John, an award-winning business executive, motivational speaker, best-selling author, and television personality, has dyslexia?
His Triumphs and Struggles at School
As a young school student, Daymond John excelled in science and math, achieving A’s and B’s easily. However, it was a different story when it came to spelling and reading. The best he could do were C’s or D’s, even though he worked much harder on those subjects. Because of the grade discrepancies, frustration developed for both of John’s parents. His father became anger and began yelling, which escalated when John couldn’t learn his spelling words, even with his father’s help. John couldn’t spell the word “because” for 4-5 years of his life. When John’s school finally had him evaluated by a professional, his mother was in denial about his learning issues. She would not believe that her son had a learning impairment. John recalled that she believed that he just needed to apply himself more.(Neither John’s parents nor John knew he had dyslexia. John didn’t discover it until many years later.)
John’s perspective of school was straightforward. He knew that he had problems with reading, but science, math, and many other things came easily to him. He strove to excel at those things that he could do well, and he contented himself with doing HIS best at reading and language arts. If C’s and D’s were the best he could do, John was fine with it. He decided that he would not let his learning problems define his entire person. John believed that if you know your strengths and weaknesses, you are ahead of the game, and he has applied this principle to everything in his life.
The Birth of His Entrepreneurial Spirit
When it was time to go to high school, John decided to go with his strengths and enrolled in a specialized school program where his learning issues would not matter as much. His choice was the co-op program at Bayside High School. Co-op students would work full-time for a week and go to school every other week, cutting John’s school work in half. He gives credit to the Bayside Co-op program for instilling him with his entrepreneurial spirit. John’s co-op job allowed him to make money, gain valuable work experience, and linger around the city, which gave him the opportunity to absorb the latest trends on the street in music, fashion, and anything “cool” and innovative.
John’s entrepreneurial spirit began to soar when he saw a tie-top hat in a music video that he really wanted, but didn’t want to spend the $20 dollars that stores were charging for them. With a spark of ingenuity, John created his own version. He eventually made ninety hats and hit the streets of his neighborhood in Queens, selling them for $10 each. He sold out in one day, clearing $800. From these meager beginnings, the FUBU brand and business were born. In the early 1990s, John’s designs came to define the urban apparel market. The FUBU brand gained momentum when old friend and hip-hop rising star, LL Cool J wore a FUBU hat in a commercial for Gap. From this point, FUBU took off when John brokered a lucrative distribution deal with Samsung. In 1998, FUBU’s annual sales grossed $350 million, establishing John as an innovative entrepreneur, branding expert, and “Godfather of Urban Fashion.” By preventing his learning impairment from taking over his life and allowing his strengths to take center stage, Daymond John became one of the most successful young entrepreneurs and businessmen of the decade.
Dyslexia: The Mystery Solved
In the early days of FUBU, John’s dyslexia was only a minor problem which was easily overcome. However, when emails and texts started becoming an accepted mode of communication for personal and business purposes, John became fully aware how his horrible spelling changed people’s perception of him. To make matters worse, he faced a personal nightmare during media training. He had to read the moving text on a teleprompter and failed miserably. The 30-year-old business executive of a multimillion dollar company began to question himself. Why couldn’t he read the simple words on the teleprompter? What was the problem? It all began to make some sense when a friend pointed out that whenever they were driving and the GPS in the car said “turn left,” he would turn right. John would also go the wrong way when looking for a hotel room. When his room would be # 206, and the direction sign would read, “Rooms 200-215 to the right,” John would always turn the opposite way and not realize his mistake until he got to the end of the corridor and hadn’t found his room. By correlating these directional issues, the learning problems of his youth, and the ambiguous “learning impairment” classification, it all came down to one conclusion: dyslexia.
Living with Dyslexia Today
It still takes John much longer to read than people who don’t have dyslexia. He often has one of his colleagues read over important documents for confirmation. John has complete awareness of his struggles due to dyslexia, but it has not limited him. Daymond John’s determination to share his personal insights on entrepreneurship, branding, and marketing have driven him to become a popular motivational speaker and author of the best-selling books, Display of Power and The Brand Within. For a young boy who struggled with spelling and reading, his two books are some of his most rewarding achievements. “My mother always said, ‘It takes the same energy to think small as it does to think big,’” John says. “So dream big and think bigger.”