"You don't need money to make money. A lot of people think they do, but they don't," he said. "Most people are starting at zero."
In an interview at the 2017 Inc. 5000 conference in Palm Springs, California, on Thursday, the entrepreneur, investor, and author talked about what it really takes be successful, his recent brush with cancer, and of course, the inside scoop on Shark Tank.
John related that the name "the people's shark" came about while he was traveling with President Obama as a global ambassador for entrepreneurship. "Steve Wozniak was right in front of me. Tim Draper was over here," he said, pointing. "I think Jesus was over there." Amid those luminaries, John was trying to figure out what he could say that would be valuable. He quickly realized that no one could object to the retelling of his personal entrepreneurial story.
"I'm fighting for everyday people who are confused and scared," he said, noting how many companies profit on insecurity. He decided he wasn't going to be that type of person or build that type of company. Instead, he would concentrate on a positive message that if he could do it, anyone could.
John even referred to his apparel company Fubu's $300 million in annual sales as "really nothing," and said that he's never achieved a comfort level where felt like he and the business were successful. It wasn't until he began partnerships with other companies and realized the breadth and depth of the knowledge he'd acquired that he gained a real sense of accomplishment. He realized that he had a manufacturing pipeline that he was skilled at managing, and that he had strong relationships with other influential people.
John also provided the audience with some inside dope on his fellow sharks. Here's how he says entrepreneurs can get a deal from each of them:
Kevin O'Leary: O'Leary will do a deal "if he knows the company can scale to a certain amount, and he can get all his money back in a certain amount of time. He's more like a loan shark."
Mark Cuban: "Show you will hustle and knock on doors. Show that you're all-in and show that you made some mistakes. Mark and I are pretty similar on the reasons why we will invest."
Barbara Corcoran: "Barbara is as transparent as it gets. Her first husband left her for her secretary, and she had to borrow $1,000 to start her company. She doesn't want to let that happen to any woman again."
Robert: "He's goofy. He wants to have fun. If his kids like it, he's in."
Lori Greiner: "She is the flea market of Shark Tank. If it's plastic and under $20 at retail, she's all over it. ... That big plastic potato chip you float around on, she's done $180 million on that piece of crap. You can tell I'm a little bitter because I haven't invested in that company."
John also encouraged his audience to take care of themselves. "When I started to have some level of success, at what time was I going to spend time with my family and on my health?" he asked. "We always say we'll get to it tomorrow. Tomorrow never comes." That approach became especially dangerous when a doctor found a lump on his thyroid that turned out to be cancerous. John said had it removed but didn't comment on it further.
"If you don't have health, you don't have anything," he said. "I want to be around to walk my three daughters down the aisle. If I can use this stage to help save someone's life, then that's why I'm here."