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Seven Lessons Learned From Teaching With Shark Daymond John

FUBU founder Daymond John, Babson Lecturer Elizabeth Thornton and I taught a Management Consulting Field Experience course at Babson College with 11 MBA students last semester.

Now that Daymond is beginning his second semester at Babson, I have been inundated by emails and phone calls asking, “What is it like to teach with a Shark?”

The short answer is: “lots of fun and action-packed!”

At the beginning of the semester, Daymond was completing filming on the upcoming season’s ABC Shark Tank.  Daymond crafted the course by offering to bring the business opportunities in which the Sharks had invested to our graduate student team to examine, explore, and assist in developing.  Babson College Entrepreneurial Thought and Action, in action!

He posed the initial questions for the course in this way:  Here are the opportunities the Sharks are in the process of investing in?  What do you think of these ideas?  Dig deeper and develop a picture of the market opportunity. What would you do with the business ideas? How would you develop the market opportunities?  What strategic alliances would you go after?

Here are seven lessons-learned from teaching with the Shark.

Lesson 1:  Building A Business Is Action-Packed

Sharks like action.  By all means, act when you feel the time is right, but take action. When in doubt, try it out.  You can learn as much about business from failure as you can from success.  Take lessons learned from each venture or effort and apply them to your next.

Lesson 2:  Ask – How Is This Going To Work?

Understand the operations of the business opportunity from soup to nuts.  Ask the right questions and be hands on.  How are things going to get done and who is going to do them?  How many actions have to align to bring the product to market, to reach the customer, and to exceed expectations?  What is the timing of events from product creation to delivery?

Lesson 3:  Build And Engage Your Network

Sharks build strong relationships and strategic alliances.  Daymond is constantly developing his network in his particular “hyper” connectivity.

Daymond said, “Sometimes you have to over deliver to be a valued business partner.  Over deliver and you will be given something.”  All of the entrepreneur’s actions are about delivering value; some of this work is relationship building, which leads to building the foundation for future business

Lesson 4:  Sharks Focus

Make sure you have drive, focus, and vision.  Once you have selected the opportunity, go at it with energy; stay focused on that opportunity, and constantly build the vision for how the opportunity can grow.  Opportunities need momentum to succeed.

Once started, and especially once the opportunity begins to succeed, entrepreneurs can get sidetracked by sideline opportunities.  Sharks stay focused.

Lesson 5:  Customer, Customer, Customer And Sales, Sales, Sales

Do you have an opportunity that will create sales?  Prove it.  Demonstrated sales are convincing evidence that your product or service has a real market.

Lesson 6:  Surround Yourself With Excellent People Whom You Trust And Make Sure Your Word Is Your Bond

Values are part of the entrepreneur’s identity and his/her stock in trade.  Business partners and customers judge you by your actions.  Make your actions consistent with your values.  Follow through.

Daymond brought with him many talented individuals to engage on the project, most notably, his two right hands:  Ted Kingsbery acted as Daymond’s operations manager, keeping the projects moving along and focused, while Champ Nichols gave us philosophical and morale building perspectives.

One reference Champ gave us from Mary Kay Ash, founder of Mary Kay Cosmetics, became a watch phrase for the course:  “Everyone has an invisible sign hanging from their neck saying, ‘Make me feel important.’ Never forget this message when working with people.”  This is a great rule of thumb for building relationships with customers, strategic alliances, employees, and students!

Lesson 7:  Brand Is All Important

Be your brand.  You are the primary representative of your brand.  Communicate your key messages in a variety of formats, including social media, and be true to your values.

Teaching with the Shark has been a great experience.  As the Babson College Entrepreneur in Residence, Daymond John has participated in a wide spectrum of activities including the Foundations of Management and Entrepreneurship Kickoff, Venture Accelerator Kickoff, Babson Forum for Entrepreneurship & Innovation, while mentoring students and participating in student organization meetings.

Once again, this Spring, Daymond John will be on campus working with an undergraduate MCFE, participating in the Arthur Blank Center Accelerator Program with students and Alumni, and the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship (NFTE) which mentors young people from low-income communities to build successful businesses.

Many thanks to the wonderful students who participated in the course:  Michael D’Aria, Sophia Deutschman, Kuorkor Dzani, Erik Ferjentsik, Jordan Gilbert, Stephen Jacobs, Kamaal Jarrett, Jason Leboeuf, Joel Marquis, Neha Saxena, and Clifford Worley.

Daymond has written two books:  The Brand Within:  The Power of Branding from Birth to the Boardroom and Display of Power:  How FUBU Changed a World of Fashion Branding and Lifestyle.  Both are excellent reads and have valuable insights for entrepreneurs.

By Dr. Caroline Daniels
Babson Lecturer Entrepreneurship & Technology