'Shark Tank' investor Daymond John explains how his dyslexia helped shape him into an entrepreneur
He had already achieved more success than he ever imagined with his clothing line FUBU, which brought in $350 million in annual revenue at its peak, but he worried that his poor spelling and reading comprehension would suddenly make him appear unintelligent and out of his league.
To make matters worse, his confidence took a hit when he underwent media training and struggled to read the teleprompter.
After a friend pointed out that John often followed the inverse directions on his GPS, he finally decided to see a professional, who diagnosed him as dyslexic. He suddenly had an explanation for many events in his life, including the beginnings of his path to entrepreneurship, the "Shark Tank" investor told LinkedIn executive editor Dan Roth in a recent interview.
As a kid in elementary school in Queens, New York, John excelled in math and science but did poorly with anything requiring extensive reading and writing. His father would often angrily yell at him to stop slacking, John told Yale's dyslexia center. His school eventually diagnosed him with a general "learning disability," but due to a lack of information on dyslexia, his parents still believed that his bad language arts grades had something to do with his attitude.
John came up with his own solution at Bayside High School. He enrolled in the business co-op program, where he spent alternating weeks in the classroom and at the First Boston investment bank in Manhattan.
"I started to realize how much business was being done," he told Roth. He found his passion in business, where he could use his love of numbers to create something.
After he founded FUBU in 1992 and as he developed as an entrepreneur, he found that while he still dealt with reading and writing difficulties, his mind was highly visual. He mapped business plans in his head, he told Roth.
Learning that he was dyslexic allowed him let go of any shame he once had, and he would confirm with his colleagues that he correctly understood documents he was working with.
For his book "David and Goliath," author Malcolm Gladwell found that 3% to 5% of the general population has dyslexia. Meanwhile, a seemingly higher percentage of highly successful business leaders - including Virgin Group chair Richard Branson, designer Rommy Hilfiger, and Susan G. Komen foundation CEO Nancy Brinker - are dyslexic.
In his research, Gladwell said at a 92Y panel in July, he found a recurring theme in these stories, one that aligns with John's life: The challenges of dyslexia were difficult enough that they could compel the afflicted to stop trying to excel, but isolated enough that they could be overcome by building existing strengths. All of the successful dyslexic people overcame their struggle with reading comprehension to enhance another skill, as Branson did with close listening and memorization and as John did with visual and analytical thinking.
Today, John likes to say he's "blessed with dyslexia," and he encourages others not to conceal it as he once did.
You can watch the second half of John's LinkedIn interview below:
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