What ‘Shark Tank’ investor Daymond John learned when he threw a party and nobody came

Television personality and Founder, President and CEO of FUBU Daymond John (C) takes a selfie with club goers.
Bryan Steffy | WireImage | Getty Images

Long before he launched what would grow to be the 6-billion-dollar hip-hop culture clothing line Fubu and starred in the hit ABC show "Shark Tank," Daymond John leveraged every dollar he could get his hands on to throw what he hoped would be a life-changing party.

The goal of the party was clear: John wanted to make money. Lots of it. He hoped the party would make him rich.

John's father left the family when John was 10, so John spent most of his childhood growing up in New York City with only his mother. Money was tight. They couldn't always afford to heat the apartment in winter.

John started his first business as a kid: He stole pencils from the boys in school he didn't like, painted them with the names of the girls in his class and sold them to the girls. Later he got a job distributing flyers for a new mall being built near his home in Hollis, Queens. When the mall opened, he started working there.

But while these jobs helped the family, they certainly weren't making John wealthy. So a teenage John developed a new plan: He would throw a hugely successful party on a boat.

To pull off the massive social event, one that John expected would turn his life around, he scraped together $20,000 by leveraging all of his credit cards and borrowing where he could. He spent every dime he could gather on one night in what was, he admits now, a real gamble.

Money is not success. Money just drives your problems in a Bugatti.
Daymond John
Founder of FUBU, investor on 'Shark Tank'

"Thirty years ago, I took one of the biggest risks that I ever took in my life," says John, recalling his attempt to throw the party. John was speaking at Forefront, the first large-scale live event of the I Will Teach You to Be Rich community in New York City.

John rented the Circle Line cruise boat for a night. He couldn't afford the Princess Cruise Line boat, to his dismay. He hired DJ Kid Capri for $8,000, spent $3,000 on radio sound equipment, $3,000 for flyers to promote the party, $2,000 to staff the boat and the remainder on liquor.

And what happened? "Very few people showed up," says John.

He watched furtively as well-heeled party goers arrived for the party on the Princess Cruise Line docked just next to his Circle Line party. He vowed to someday have enough money to be one of those party goers.

It wouldn't be that night, however.

In the end, John brought in only $4,000, leaving him $16,000 in the hole.

John didn't immediately understand why his get-rich-quick scheme was such a flop.

How I Made It: Daymond John and the Power of Broke
How I Made It: Daymond John and the Power of Broke

"Success can be so many things. I didn't understand that the day I was handing out flyers and risking everything for the Circle Line what success was. I would realize it many, many years later," says John.

In hindsight, John identifies the party that nobody came to as a pivotal moment in his own development.

"It was a defining moment in my life, because I did that for the pure fact that I wanted to make money. I was a big fan of Kid Capri, but I wasn't a fan of being a promoter," says John. "I didn't realize that at the time I was failing because of my mindset."

Decades later, he came to understand that success requires passion beyond a desire to get rich.

"Money is not success," says John. "Money just drives your problems in a Bugatti."

"See, success can be stopping human trafficking, it can be dedicated to your faith, saving carbon imprint on this planet, saving those furry little friends of ours who can't fight for themselves, being a great husband, a great wife, a great mother, maybe you are going to be one of the most underappreciated commodities in this country: a teacher," he says. "That is success."

Five years ago, John got some much appreciated closure. Fidelity invited him to deliver a keynote address to wealth managers on a Princess Cruise Ship in the New York Harbor.

"I realized as I was standing in front of the Statue of Liberty speaking to the people that manage the wealthiest people in the world and they were there to hear my keynote for me to deliver inspiration to them," says John. "I was wealthier at that point in my life than everybody in the room."

Disclosure: CNBC owns the exclusive off-network cable rights to "Shark Tank."