You recently went public with your
cancer diagnosis. Why?
Last year, I got an executive physical.
The doctors found a nodule. They
suggested taking out part of my
thyroid; it could be cancerous, they
said, but there was a chance they
would be taking out a perfectly good
part of the gland. I told them to
do it anyway. It turned out it was
I didn’t want everyone to misunder-
stand and think that I was dying. I
know that it’s a touchy subject for a
lot of people who have lost relatives
to cancer. But I also know that people
put their heads in the sand and go,
“It’s a big world. It probably won’t
happen to me.”
I realized that I wanted people to
see me running around, doing what
I do, cancer free. I wanted them to say,
“I want to be like him. I’m going to get
a mammogram, or a biopsy, or a colo-
noscopy.” There was a slight chance I
could save one, two, or 10 people’s lives.
And after I started speaking about it, I
got letters from people saying they got
checked out and caught their disease
early enough to treat it.
Founders aren’t always the best at
taking care of themselves.
They take care of everybody else first.
They’re running around miserable.
They say, “We’ll get to it tomorrow.”
They say, “I need this money to buy
a new cash register. I can’t do this. I
can’t do that.”
In Fubu’s early days, though, you didn’t
need money for a cash register—you
needed it to save the business. Twenty-seven banks turned you down for a loan, so
your mother took out a second mortgage
on the house you both lived in for $100,000.
Were you afraid you’d let her down?
Of course. Early on, I thought that
money could solve everything. I
thought that access to capital was no
problem. The fear wasn’t there,
because I was too dumb to understand.
I didn’t have the financial knowledge
that I needed.
Once I depleted everything, it was
a very scary time. But my mother saw
the work I was putting in. I started
the business in 1989, and we mortgaged the house in 1995. She saw that
I wouldn’t give up.
At the same time, you’ve recognized limits
to what that brand could do.
Sure. In the late 1990s, Fubu was doing
about $150 million in men’s apparel,
and Jordache o;ered to license a women’s line from us. It made sense, because
they had already created a women’s
We had other o;ers. Some companies were promising $20 million and
$30 million in annual sales, giving us 10
percent, to license our brand. But they
could have made anything they wanted
to, sold anything they wanted to. They
could have burned the brand.
It wasn’t an option for us to make
ladies’ apparel ourselves. If we had
done that, I would have had to learn
another business, one with a di;erent
sales cycle, a di;erent design cycle. It
was too big of a risk for where we were.
How is Fubu doing today?
In apparel, we’re probably doing about
$20 million globally. I don’t think Fubu
will ever get back to where it used to
be. There’s a lot of fragmentation in the
market, and retailers are su;ering. So
unless we get into a subscription model,
where it goes right to your door, I don’t
believe the growth will be there.
Considering how high revenue had been,
does that number disappoint you?
Not at all. In the beginning, I wanted
Fubu to be a boutique. It became a
global brand. Just because it isn’t where
it was before doesn’t mean it’s bad.
Let’s talk Shark Tank. How do you
decide whether to invest in a company?
I’ve been wrong many times. I’ve lost
as much as $6 million—when I invested
in the fashion brand Heatherette. It
always comes down to the entrepreneur’s character.
On Shark Tank, I have this everyday
man’s approach. I’ve never understood
the concept of grow, grow, grow without
turning a profit. My co-Shark Mark
Cuban is di;erent. He probably makes
more than all the Sharks combined, and
people like him need to spend. But I
haven’t gotten used to hearing “Eh, it’s
just a few million,” “Eh, it’s just $100
million.” I’m a welfare case, compared
with some of the other Sharks. I know
that my co-stars Barbara [Corcoran] and
Lori [Greiner] feel the same as I do.
Recently, I got into a big fight
with—I can’t say who, but one of our
guest Sharks. A contestant came on
who had a very high valuation of a
young tech company. They had several
million dollars in the bank. And they
were looking for more capital. To me,
99. 9 percent of the people watching
the show can’t even grasp having
millions in capital.
I started yelling at the contestant,
because I felt this person didn’t need
us and was taking away an opportunity
from some struggling mother who
mortgaged everything after working on
her company for eight years. I felt that
person was very self-absorbed. They
could have run around Silicon Valley
and gotten the money, no problem. I
was upset with the guest Shark because
they were ready to invest. They were
saying, “Oh, that’s not so bad.”
I guess that’s the beauty of the show.
Maybe that person will create the next
Facebook, and then I’d be wrong.
Do you think the show has changed
your investing style?
In the beginning, I didn’t have
anyone to vet the companies. I’d go,
“Sure!” and throw money at them.
Then, I realized, “Holy shit! People
are actually … ”
"I thought money could solve everything. I didn't have the financial knowledge I needed.