John was the guest of the university’s Coles College of Business Tetley Distinguished Leader Lecture Series, titled “The Brand Within: How We Brand Ourselves, from Birth to the Boardroom.” Students, faculty and friends of the college attended.
John, a Queens, N.Y., native, founded the hip-hop-inspired clothing line, FUBU, which stands for “For Us By Us.” He also appears as an investor on ABC’s “Shark Tank,” a reality show featuring entrepreneurs seeking venture capital.
On Wednesday night, he offered the several hundred audience members at the KSU Convocation Center his five keys to becoming a successful entrepreneur.
John said entrepreneurs should set goals, do their homework, make sure they love what they’re doing, have a brand that briefly sums up who they are, and always continue moving forward in spite of setbacks.
“Entrepreneurship is what is going to save our country and our economy,” John said. “Between the years of 1980 to 2005, almost every job created in America — 40 million jobs — were created by businesses five years and under. That’s the power of entrepreneurship.”
John was raised in the epicenter of hip-hop, New York City, during the 1980s, as the musical genre began to grow a worldwide following. He was familiar with such popular acts as Run DMC, Salt-N-Peppa and LL Cool J, as well an entrepreneurs like Russell Simmons.
The popularity of hip-hop music and the lifestyle that grew around it convinced John that there was an apparel market that could be supported by the hip-hop community, and he started FUBU in 1992. He tailored clothing he bought on the streets and then sold items from the trunk of his car as he followed hip-hop acts around on tour.
“It was more than just music,” John said in a presentation peppered by music. “Hip-hop was not something you do. It’s something you live.”
He told of how at one point, his company was short on cash, but he took a chance and attended the Magic industry trade show in Las Vegas, which produced more than $300,000 in orders for FUBU products. His mother mortgaged her home to invest $100,000 in FUBU, and the company eventually inked a distribution deal with Korean conglomerate Samsung. Superstar LL Cool J became a spokesman.
FUBU went on to record annual sales of $350 million once the urban brand of hats, jeans and outerwear entered mainstream markets, John said.
“Remember that you are the brand,” John said. “We invest in the people, not in the company.”
In 2009, John joined the cast of the ABC’s business reality show, “Shark Tank,” produced by Mark Burnett. John said he looks for companies that fit into his portfolio.
Dr. James Herbert, who teaches management and entrepreneurship, said he uses the show as an additional teaching tool for his students, who are required to present a viable business plan at the end of the semester.
“It’s a lot like the ‘Shark Tank,’ because we have judges and we invite different classes, faculty members, alumni to come in and serve as judges and give their feedback,” Herbert said.