Despite his success investing in hundreds of startups as an investor on Shark Tank, as well as his experience building FUBU into a clothing brand that has grossed more than $6 billion, Daymond John is very honest about his limitations. "I can't help every business. If that were the case, FUBU would be Nike," John told the virtual audience at the Inc. 5000 Vision Conference Wednesday. 

Knowing your own limitations is nearly as important as knowing what makes you successful, John said during an interview with Inc. editor-in-chief Scott Omelianuk. He went on to offer several thoughtful takeaways that apply to founders at every stage of building and running their companies. 

Never stop learning.

During the Covid-19 pandemic, John has been stuck at home as much as anyone else. How has he spent his time? Taking as many digital courses as he can. 

"I need to know better the cost of customer acquisition these days. I need to make more informed decisions" as an investor, he admitted. So he's delving into whatever he can find on internet marketing, digital conversion tactics, and more. "Never stop learning--that's what true entrepreneurs do," he said. "They learn slowly and they're in it for the long haul." 

Always take care of current customers before trying to find new ones.

John said he learned this tip from spending time with billionaires who've built their wealth over time. When he advises companies, he always favors one that are looking to scale versus those that are trying to move into new markets. He likens it to the McDonald's tactic of super-sizing a customer's fries.

"It's very hard to acquire new customers rather than upsetting them," he said. "Before you look for new customers, take care of your customer complaints. They're raising their hands and saying, 'I need more love.' Take care of them and they'll be your new ambassadors."

Investigate the root of your failures.

John admitted that at this point in his life, he still finds himself reevaluating missteps he's made over his career. This honest self-reflection has helped him realize that his failures typically happened for one of three different reasons. In the beginning, his lack of financial intelligence was mostly to blame. But then once he remedied that shortcoming, he threw his money at too many businesses without really peeling back the layers to understand them.

Finally, ego got in the way. There were times when he thought, "because I'm Daymond John obviously I can help because you stamped my name on [on a business]." The reality is, "Daymond John has to get up and get his ass to work like everyone else," he said. Being honest with himself has meant he's very careful about how many things he says yes to.

Understand what makes you most successful.

The most fruitful experiences John has had, both as a founder and as an investor, share a common theme: passion. "If I don't truly love [an idea], I don't spend time doing the homework to understand it and I can't understand who's the best strategic partner," he said. So, "I don't invest in people I don't have a strong passion for. It has to feel like Christmas every day when we find out a new way of operating the business."

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