Daymond John on the hustle it takes to succeed

For more from NRF 2018: Retail’s Big Show on January 14 – 16 in New York City, visit the official recap.

For more from NRF 2018: Retail’s Big Show on January 14 – 16 in New York City, visit the official recap.

In the early 1990s, you might have found Daymond John selling FUBU T-shirts on the corner outside the Javits Convention Center in New York City. Now, he is a keynote speaker inside the building at the Student Program at Retail’s Big Show, sharing business lessons with college students seeking a career in the retail industry. John spoke to a room full of transfixed students about how he started FUBU by selling T-shirts on the street while he worked at Red Lobster.

“Don’t quit your day job,” he advised, explaining how his job as a waiter allowed him to pay the bills and how starting small lets an entrepreneur make what he calls “affordable mistakes.” Daymond worked at Red Lobster for five years while he continued growing FUBU at night and in the mornings before his evening shifts. “I just decided to sleep less,” he said.

That’s part of the “grind” that John outlines in his new book, Rise and Grind, in which he shares how a work ethic can pay off. Whether a student or established in your career, consider this advice to make it to the next level.

Put in the time

There’s no substitute for a solid work ethic. “If there is anything you believe in, you will find time for it,” John said. Maybe you sleep one hour less at night, maybe you spend less time on social media. If you care about it, you’ll put in the time each day.

Understand your customer

Selling on the street gave John valuable face time with customers, allowing him to gather data and feedback on exactly what they liked or didn’t like and why. “Most people are successful because they know every single thing about their customers,” John said.

Work on your people skills

As technology continues to advance around us, John said, “The only thing that won’t get smarter is human interaction. That’s going to become more valuable to people.” When the whole world is texting, just making a personal connection by saying thank you or making eye contact can set you apart.

Find a mentor

“The number one reason why people are successful is mentors,” John said. The way people communicate in today’s quickly changing world is being driven by people 15-25 years old, while the people who run companies are older. John sees this as an opportunity for young people to offer their skills in social media and technology to their mentors, creating a reverse mentorship that quickly benefits each party.

Set specific goals

“The most important aspect of how you’re going to make it somewhere is by goal-setting. A lot of people generalize it, but goal-setting is very specific,” John said. His approach is to have 10 goals — short-term, mid-term and long-term — that he reads before bed and in the morning to stay on track. The risk of not setting goals is that others set them for you. “Goals are going to be set regardless, and unless you’re in charge of them, I promise you, you’re not going to achieve them.”

Watch a clip from John's talk below. 

For more stories geared for students, visit the Student Program recap page. See what else you missed at NRF 2018: Retail’s Big Show on Jan. 14-16 in New York City.