Swimming with a Savvy Shark

Celebrity entrepreneur Daymond John, who is applying his skills and knowledge to Shark Branding, discusses the competitive marketplace of brand development and licensing.

April 6, 2018

Celebrity entrepreneur Daymond John, who is applying his skills and knowledge to Shark Branding, discusses the competitive marketplace of brand development and licensing.

Daymond John, CEO and president, Shark Branding.

There are numerous words that aptly describe the multi-faceted career and accomplishments of Daymond John, but one word truly characterizes his fame and persona.

John can be called an entrepreneur, fashion icon, author, motivational speaker, TV star, marketing guru, consultant, et al, but "shark" sums him up best. It has catapulted him to a new level of stardom and recognition, influenced his savvy business style and acumen and reinforced his foray into the world of brand licensing.

John is one of five "sharks" who star in the ABC television reality show, "Shark Tank," where he evaluates a wide range of fledgling business ideas based on their creativity and potential for growth.

Similarly, John recently formed and expanded Shark Branding, a boutique agency based in New York, to provide brand development and management expertise

as well as licensing opportunities for various corporate clients and celebrities. He appointed fashion and licensing veteran Faith Paige Wall as head of licensing to manage brand and product development.

John, who founded the popular hip-hop fashion brand FUBU in the early 1990s, has always believed that someday he would utilize the skills and lessons learned to help and guide other brand owners and celebrities.

"I did it for years for my brands, myself and my celebrity friends and CEOs that didn't understand the power of proper branding and communication," says John, who believes that his business model is different from other agencies. "We think from both sides–talent side and company needs–and we fuse both together. We also offer product integration strategies and everything else that can minimize the downside and maximize the upside of deals."

John says he originally called his company Stealth Branding, but changed to Shark Branding.

"I quickly went from being Mr. FUBU to Mr. Shark," he says.

John has partnered with numerous celebrities over the years, including his very first partnership with LL Cool J that featured his FUBU apparel brand. Other celebrities he has worked with include the Kardashians, rapper and songwriter Pitbull, co-anchor Terence J of "E! News," model Selita Ebanks, rapper and producer Lil Jon, Big Ang of the series "Mob Wives," Tony Dovolani from "Dancing With The Stars" and singer and star of "The Voice" Cee Lo Green. Wall says Shark Branding is looking to expand its list of celebrities from across genres–from hip-hop, to country, to mainstream and television personalities.

Based on his personal experience and success with FUBU, John believes in several basic criteria for celebrity brand development.

"Know your customer, know why they support you and don't chase trends unless you create them," he explains. "A celebrity is only good if they fit the brand and can be trusted by not only you, but the consumer. Test every new product, no matter how much money you have. Exposure is great, but how will you convert sales?"

The visibility and publicity John has experienced from the popular prime time "Shark Tank" series has also influenced the development and expansion of Shark Branding.

"I've become the nucleus of deal flow," John says. "From venture capitalists and companies looking for strategic alignment, buy-outs, new developments and licenses to inventors and small businesses looking for distribution, licensees and backers."

The experience of "Shark Tank" has also reinforced much of what John has already realized throughout his career as an entrepreneur and brand expert.

"You should never be more than one step removed from the money in regards to your product or concept," he explains. "I have seen a lot people go on the show and say 'I am going to build this and do that,' but I ask 'when are you going to make a sale?' No matter who you are, sales cure all and sales give everybody the ability to see if you are viable."

According to John, there are several driving factors that he looks for when evaluating a new company or business idea. They are:

  • Can you decipher information quickly and clearly?
    • Do you have scalability?
      • Do you have a history in your business in fashion, form or sense?
        • Are you generating sales?
          • Are you a chief executive officer and a person who can navigate and work things out as you face challenges?
            • Have you protected the name, URL, etc.?

              According to John, the characteristics of the ideal brand licensing partnership, both for a company and celebrity brand, include the following: 

              Company brand checklist:

              • Years of experience in the space and a strong, trusted relationship.
                • Ability to acquire real estate quickly and scale in targeted distribution outlets.
                  • Operators with structure in billing, shipping, sales, financing, distribution and production.
                    • Easy to navigate–have as little "politics" within the company as possible.
                      • Be creative, yet also be able to take input from the licensor.
                        • Look at a relationship as a partnership and not a "churn and burn."

                          Celebrity Brand Checklist:

                          • Clearly know the target audience and what they will accept (put ego aside).
                            • Understand that the celebrities are needed in person to close the deal with big accounts.
                              • Understand that the more work celebrities put in, the more successful a business will be.
                                • Assign a specific person to lead the project to make sure the celebrity does the job.
                                  • Be willing to shift gears if the initial strategy isn't working.
                                    • Use their influence to make sure their celebrity friends support the brand.
                                      • Sleep, eat and live the brand. Don't take on too many other projects.
                                        • Don't squeeze licensees with huge up-fronts; the long-term plan is more important.
                                          • Integrate in everything they are doing.

                                            While John has a long list of accomplishments, "Mr. Shark" still has the commitment and passion for new business development and will continue to swim for success and as he takes Shark Branding into innovative licensing waters.

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