"Someone who is dyslexic, got left back, father left them, no further education, didn't know anything about manufacturing or anything else like this," John said, referring to himself, at an event hosted by IVY, a social university that fosters its members in areas like entrepreneurship, policy, and social impact. "African American, short, sometimes I'm round: If I can do it, anybody can do it."
John became an entrepreneur at a very young age. After high school, he skipped college and decided to buy used cars, fix them up, and sell them for a profit. At 23, he took a job at Red Lobster. He recalls thinking, at the time, "Those kids I thought were nerds are coming back from college with jobs--and I'm serving them shrimp. I realized, maybe I'm an idiot."
That ended up not being the case: In 1992, he launched Fubu, a company that has generated more than $4 billion in revenue. He also recently opened Blueprint + Co., the executive workplace located Manhattan.
Here are some of his tips for entrepreneurs:
1. Choose a startup over an establish company.
When asked if someone should take a job with a startup or an established company, John advised people to opt for the startup. John says the perception that entrepreneurs are crazy and corporations are totally solid is not correct. "Startups are absolutely amazing places to be, if you can afford to be at the startup, and of course, if the startup can afford you," he said.
2. Start a business partnership the right way.
John started Fubu with four other partners, but over time, the group had to replace the fifth partner several times. The best way to form a good working relationship with your partners, he advised, is to establish everyone's roles at the beginning.
"Like any marriage, like anything else, we went through our ups and downs but we are like brothers," he said. "Its all about the beginning and setting it up the right way."
3. When is the best time to take VC funding?
The top reason why small businesses or startups fail is because they are over-funded, explained John. His mother mortgaged the house for Fubu, but only after the company had been operating for seven years.
"You should never take in money until you desperately, desperately need it," he said. "They earlier you take in capital, the more it costs."
4. Be honest with yourself and set goals.
John constantly set goals for himself for several months, and several years, down the line. He re-reads them in the morning and resets them when he's close to achieving them.
His many ups and downs in the past have made me him question what exactly he was doing, or whether he should just retire. "But I am honest with my goals, a lot of people aren't honest with their goals and want fame," he said.