Daymond John, acclaimed business owner and investor, knows a thing or two about how to succeed in business. John is the founder and CEO of hip hop clothing company FUBU, but is best known as "the People's Shark" as an investor on the Disney-owned ABC reality smash hit show Shark Tank.
John is lending his time and talent to the Heroes to CEOs contest, hosted by Bob Evans Farms. The competition is exclusively open to veteran entrepreneurs and three finalists will be flown to New York to meet with John to hone their pitch. One grand prize winner will receive a $30,000 business grant, as well as an additional mentoring session with John.
U.S. Air Force veteran Charlynda Scales was a recipient last year and used the grant money to ramp up manufacturing for "Mutt's Sauce," an all-purpose, sweet and peppery tomato-based sauce from a recipe created by her grandfather, Charlie "Mutt" Ferrell, Jr.
I spoke with John recently about the challenges veteran entrepreneurs face and what sets them apart from their peers.
"This is the third time I've had the pleasure of working with Bob Evans Farms to celebrate veteran entrepreneurs," said John. "Each year, it reminds me of my passion and commitment to help aspiring entrepreneurs by sharing my experience."
Veterans have a unique set of challenges...
John believes that while veterans have much to offer, many are reluctant to share their background.
"Some of them don't want to tell people that they're veterans, because for some reason other people think if they get into business with [veterans] or give them this opportunity, they may have some baggage that is not beneficial to the relationship," said John.
Another difficulty many veterans face is overcoming an "other's first" mindset.
"Veterans were brought up to think about everybody else and stand in the line of fire for everybody else," said John, "and sometimes they don't think about what they need." An entrepreneur needs to be "a little bit selfish ... to place themselves and their business first." This is one of the "small adjustments" veterans have to make "so they can grow their business better and be able to help more people," he said.
...but also distinctive strengths
John noted a number of factors that make veterans ideally suited to be business owners and entrepreneurs.
"They come with a wide network of like-minded people they can reach out to," John said. "They also know how to complete tasks in a timely manner."
He went on to say former military members have experience with navigating obstacles and overcoming them, which will come in handy as a business owner.
"They know how to take inventory of the situation at hand and make tough decisions, when others try to stick their head in the sand," John noted. "They know how to work within a team. I think those are just some of the aspects of what a veteran brings to the table."
Tips for anyone trying to grow a business
Some of John's guidance for veterans is also sage advice for any budding-entrepreneur, or even a seasoned business owner.
John said entrepreneurs need to draw on their "slack resources," or those innate resources that everyone has. If you're looking to start a business. "Tap into the years of experience you have and the network you have around you, because the money can come and go." John went on to say that money can at times be a hindrance, as people tend to "throw more money at something," rather than addressing the cause of the problem.
Finally, John recommended using the skills of people within your network -- what he calls OPM -- other people's manufacturing, or manpower, mind power, or marketing. "Tap into all the other resources you have, don't just depend on the money."
Veteran entrepreneurs can enter the Heroes to CEOs contest February 18 through March 20 by submitting a video sharing their business idea and a plan demonstrating a solid business concept.