Shark Tank’s Daymond John Talks Digital Gap in Workers’ Skills

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other underserved groups become more involved in the digital economy. Last week Anil Dash and Rev. Jesse Jackson discussed the issue during the Social Media Week conference.

There is also the NYC Tech Talent Pipeline, an initiative launched last May by Mayor Bill de Blasio to get locals the training necessary to pursue jobs at tech companies in New York. Kristen Titus, founding director of that program, was on hand Thursday and said there have been struggles even with big tech companies trying to be more inclusive. “We need so much more of what is happening [at this event] today,” Titus said.

FUBU has looked for ways to adapt to the changes wrought by technology. The company became popular in the 1990s as a maker of apparel and accessories popular with the hip-hop scene. Tastes change, though, as often happens in apparel, and the brand focused on primarily selling its wares to overseas markets until 2010, when John introduced FB Legacy in the U.S. Under FB Legacy, the company produces custom garments for certain music artists and groups.

Eight months ago, he launched a brand called Jewel House in association with rapper Lil Boosie. That showed John how consumers have changed the way they discover and purchase new products away from brick and mortar stores. “In the first two weeks, 97 percent of our Jewel House sales came from iPhones and iPads,” he said.

His company has been leveraging online media, particular social networks, to connect with consumers. “Years ago, music videos [on television] got my low-cost advertising out.” These days his company gets in front of online audiences through social media stars such as Nash Grier, known for his videos on Vine, and actor Josh Peck. “They’re the new celebrities,” John said.

One of the benefits of working with social media stars, he said, is their followers stay connected because they want to interact with them—and that often translates into more sales. “The conversion rate when they speak to their audience is way higher than anybody else,” said John.

The first ten fellows to benefit from the Capital One Opportunity Fellows Fund (photo by Joao-Pierre S. Ruth).

The first group to benefit from the fellows fund (photo by Joao-Pierre S. Ruth).

FUBU, or For Us By Us, got its start as a brand to reflect urban culture. The objective for the company was not necessarily focused on minorities, John said, but about being more inclusive.

“People for a while thought FUBU was purely for African-Americans,” he said. The company emerged out of frustration, John said, with other businesses not reaching out to diverse communities—but he wanted to embrace difference groups of people with his brand.

A conversation with his white Jewish stepfather helped John frame the approach for FUBU connecting with a wide cross-section of consumers. “He told me to be pro-black, but not anti-anything else,” John said.

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