Mentors Who Changed My Life

I often speak about the importance of mentors. These days I’m usually the one doing the mentoring but I wanted to use this week’s blog to give people some insight into the people who changed my life through their mentorship. Mentors can be people who come into your life for a brief period or those who stick around forever. My friend, and current mentor Jay Abraham, who I’ve mentioned many times in the past, recently shared a study with me. It found that startups that have helpful mentors, and learn from startup thought leaders raise 7x more money and have 3.5x better user growth. Mentorship is what allowed the successful companies to focus, not take funding too soon, and scale at a good pace. I’m thankful for all of the mentors who have helped me throughout my career and life. These are some of the ones who changed my life:


My Mother

I have talked about how influential my mom was many times, however, most of the stuff that she taught me, I didn’t really understand until I was at least 20 years old. Like most kids, I was deaf to my mother’s advice as a teen. The lessons stuck though. My mother used to say, “money is a great slave but a horrible master.” She taught me that my homework was what was going to make me rich, not my summer job. She used the summer as an opportunity to expose me to different people and cultures. She would save up all year so she could pay to send me away come June. One summer she sent me to stay with her friend on a navel base in Hawaii. Other summer trips included Barbados, Trinidad, Canada, California wine country etc. Even though we were poor, my mother found a way, whether putting me up with family or close friends, to make sure I developed global view. The impact that had on me is quite profound. It taught me to appreciate a variety of cultures, and broadened my outlook on the world.


My Stepfather

My stepfather, Steve, came into my life after my parents got divorced. He is a white, Jewish man, who takes pride his faith and culture. Steve taught me that I should be proud of who I am. He told me that I should absolutely be pro-black, but don’t be anti anything else. Living with Steve taught me that people are people. Here was a guy who came from relative wealth, but all he cared about was health and happiness. In addition, Steve had a passion for animal preservation and rescue, which has stuck with me.


My FUBU Partners

Keith, Carl and Jay were my guys, my brothers really, who I came up with and knew since I was 10 years old. We used to call it “the brain trust,” as on the days that I wanted to quit, they wouldn’t let me and I on the days when they wanted to give up, I would save the day. We were working towards a common goal, and we were a force to be reckoned with!


Norman and Bruce became my partners after replying to an ad I had placed in a newspaper, seeking investors for FUBU. They didn’t had much experience in the urban market, but they were smart enough to let me do what I do best, market, brand, design and construct, while doing what they do best, make goods and sell them. We had an amazing partnership back then, and still do today.

FUBU’s general council, Larry Blenden, and my business partners Bruce & Norm Weisfeld


My Daughters

When a man has daughters, it changes his perspective on women, and how they are to be treated significantly. My mother taught me to love and respect women, but daughters made me value and appreciate them even more. People typically do one of two things with their kids. They ignore them and talk about how crazy the youth is, or they listen closely to their kids, understanding that they are the new market, and learn. My daughters are constantly introducing me to new technology and they always explain it in a way that I can understand. I love my girls for being smart, cool, and funny but they are incredible mentors as well.


My Customers

People often made the mistake of thinking FUBU was just for African Americans. It was about a culture (people who loved this new genre of music called hip hop) making products for a culture, so people could support a movement. Before social media, people used to approach my partners and me in the street, and tell us what they liked, disliked and wanted to see reflected in our lines. My partners and I would take this information back to our meetings and if there were things that we were hearing regularly, we would integrate those changes into the next line. The customer is always right!


Ralph McDaniels

Ralph McDaniels is a hip hop legend, especially in New York City. His show, Video Music Box, was on TV two or three years before the arrival of MTV, and everyone from Diddy to Busta Rhymes used to beg Ralph for airtime. Ralph, on the other hand, has never asked for anything and rarely gets the acknowledgment he deserves. Ralph was one of the first people to put me on TV. He is dedicated to empowering the inner city of New York and taught me some incredible ways to give back to my community.


Russell Simmons

We used to call Russell everyone’s silent business partner. He had a profound impact on me. Russell sparked a movement in Hollis, Queens that allowed me to understand that the people my friends and I were looking up to, for lack of better options, drug dealers, pimps etc. were of no value because Russell was succeeding, doing something he loved. Russell’s giving nature ran counter to the conception we all had of bosses at the time, as mean, taskmasters.


Mentors don’t need to be business executives or even someone who is older or more experienced than you. Mentors are all around you, teaching and leading by example. Who are the mentors in your life? What do they teach you on a daily basis? Who are you a mentor to? What do you try to teach them? Let me know in the comments!
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