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'Shark Tank' icon inspires local entrepreneurs

Millionaire mogul Daymond John thanks Bryan Jon Maciewski of Fond du Lac Tribal and Community College for hosting him.1 / 11
Daymond John of "Shark Tank" chats with the audience at Tuesday's entrepreneur seminar at Fond du Lac Tribal and Community College.2 / 11
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Shark Tank's Daymond John visits with Bryan Jon Maciewski of Fond du Lac Tribal and Community College's business department.6 / 11
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Don Liimatainen chats with Ronda Lennartson.9 / 11
Don Liimatainen signs a book for Ronda Lennartson.10 / 11
Hunter Jaakola11 / 11

Hunter Jaakala has an idea — and a dream.

The 14-year-old resident of the Fond du Lac Reservation has come up with a concept for a new field dressing tool for deer and other big game hunters, “kind of a better version of a gut hook,” he told millionaire business mogul Daymond John Tuesday at Fond du Lac Tribal and Community College.

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John was the keynote speaker at the free, half-day “Your BIG Idea Entrepreneur” seminar, organized by Dylan Olson and hosted by Brian Jon M. of the college’s business program. After talking about how he discovered his own formula for success, John sat back and listened to Jaakala and two other entrepreneurs pitch their ideas in hopes of gleaning the pathway to success.

“There is nothing in the world that’s new,” said John. “It’s just your energy and finding a different way to deliver your idea to the rest of the world that count.”

John quizzed Jaakala about why he thought his concept would work, what his experience has been with the traditional products that are out there, and why he thought his idea would be a better one.

“The ones used now snag on the skin and won’t cut all the way through,” responded Jaakala, explaining that his new product would instead utilize razor blades attached to a device that would deliver a clean, effortless cut when field dressing a deer.

Then John asked Jaakala if he’d thought about how he would manufacture his product, suggesting that he make an individual prototype first in order to see if it works and then fine tune it before developing any type of mold or process to turn out large quantities of them.

John’s quick, analytical mind and insightful questions were apparent throughout the other two presentations as well, one given by two brothers from Minneapolis, calling their business “Man Cave,” who are producing a retail line of brats and hamburgers marketed to the male population which are now being sold throughout the Upper Midwest. The two told John they expect to branch out into other facets of the market as well and are on track to make some $4.5 million over the next year.

An entrepreneurial couple, also from Minneapolis, pitched their product called “Supra Clear Armor,” which they referred to as “the ultimate windshield treatment.” The two just signed a deal to market their product throughout the entire country of Canada, and they have logged $150,000 in sales monthly since January. John fired a series of questions at them about their marketing plans, contracts, dealers and cost structure, all of which the couple fielded smoothly. John offered to give them his contact information and talk with them after the seminar, though he stressed he was not there to invest money in the ideas presented that day.

John’s own story of entrepreneurial success reads like the classic “rags to riches” story — with a few monkey wrenches thrown in along the way. He grew up in the New York borough of Queens, where he started his first “business” at the age of 6, selling pencils to other boys with the names of the good-looking girls in their class inscribed on them.

“That lasted about a month, until I got called into the principal’s office and told to stop it,” related John. “The principal found out I had been stealing the pencils from the guys I didn’t like!”

When John’s parents divorced when he was just 10, his mother worked three jobs and John decided he wanted to help out. From that day on, he peddled flyers, worked at the neighborhood mall and Red Lobster and did whatever he could do to help out with the household expenses. Through it all, however, he had no aspirations of what he wanted to be in life.

“I never saw any heroes in my neighborhood, but that didn’t mean they weren’t there,” said John, referring to the small business entrepreneurs, which he said are “the bloodline of our country.”

John didn’t find his true passion in life until he was exposed to the world of a newly launched music craze — hip hop, which was blossoming around him in his Queens neighborhood. He vowed he would someday be a part of that world, and after an extended period of starts and stops, he managed to get his foot in the door when he sewed and marketed a line of hip hop caps, and later T-shirts, sensing that hip hop would not only become a music craze but a fashion craze as well.

He was later successful in getting hip hop icon LL Cool J, “a fellow member of the neighborhood,” to endorse his clothing line, and his fame was launched.

Hence, his fashion line, “FUBU” (“For You, By You”) began its precipitous climb to the top of a multi-million-dollar dynasty. Along the way, John nearly lost his family home (on which his mother had taken out a second mortgage so he could turn it into his clothing manufacturing plant) and eventually lost both his wife and children to divorce.  

When John was asked to join the cast of entrepreneurs on ABC’s now-famous “Shark Tank” television series, he at first turned it down because they demanded he invest $1-2 million of his own money annually in the aspiring entrepreneurs who appeared on the program. After having second thoughts, he resumed talks with the producers once again, but then turned it down again when they demanded he not be involved in any other television programs. At the time, he had a deal brewing to work with the Kardashian family on their successful reality series, but when Chloe Kardashian found out he had turned down “Shark Tank” she released him from his obligations to their show. The rest is history.

John is now one of the stalwarts of “Shark Tank” — “the token smart one in the group!” he said with a light-hearted jab at the panel of self-made millionaires who also appear on the show.

Now, John said he patterns his formula for entrepreneurial success on the premise of the program and the five things it takes to embrace the “shark” philosophy:

  •  Set a goal for yourself (“Otherwise you will focus on negative targets”);
  •  Do your homework and research (“Take inventory of yourself, your assets and liabilities”);
  •  Do what you love (“Success might not always be monetary”);
  •  Remember that you are the brand (“You have to know what your brand stands for and pitch it every minute of the day”); and
  •  Just keep swimming!

John concluded his nearly two-hour presentation by taking a giant “selfie” with members of the audience to post on Twitter.

Some 350 people registered to attend Tuesday’s seminar, which also included a talk by former FDLTCC student Don Liimatainen, now a speaker, local entrepreneur and author, and recognition of four local businesses for their “excellence in entrepreneurship.”

Local businesswoman Ronda Lennartson of Kid-Go-Round attended the seminar with her mother, who she said is now retired and has “an idea that she’d like to do something with.”  

And as for Lennartson herself, who is already living out her dream of running her own small business?

“I’ve always thought I might like to write something….” she mused.