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Want to Find a Great Mentor? Pick Someone Who Gets Personal About Their Mistakes, Says Daymond John

Scott Mlyn | CNBC

Mentors can help you succeed. They can also show you how to fail.

That's the mark of a great advisor, says "Shark Tank" star and FUBU founder Daymond John. The topic is divisive: While his on-screen colleague Mark Cuban says he's never personally been a "big mentor guy," John tells CNBC Make It that over the years, mentors have changed his life.

John's reflection on the value of mentors comes ahead of his second annual Black Entrepreneurs Day, a funding event for Black-owned businesses on Oct. 14 that he co-sponsors with several corporate partners. This year's effort features a series of $25,000 grants available for Black entrepreneurs and small-business owners, who can apply online until Sept. 28.

Last year, the event awarded ten such grants, from a total of 5,000 applications.

The marquee of the Apollo Theatre in Harlem, N.Y. displays a promotion for 'Black Entrepreneurs Day.'
Source: Medium Rare
The marquee of the Apollo Theatre in Harlem, N.Y. displays a promotion for 'Black Entrepreneurs Day.'

The event will be at New York City's Apollo Theatre, with a free livestream on John's Facebook page. A long list of celebrity entrepreneurs are set to join John on stage to share their stories of successes and failures, including Shaquille O'Neal, Tyra Banks, Kevin Hart and Michael Strahan.

The discussion of failures is crucial, John says. For him, choosing a mentor who only wants to talk about their triumphs is a huge mistake. Mentors willing to share their own financial mistakes and how they survived, he says, are more valuable.

"If I would have seen that," says John, "it would have helped me so much earlier on in my career."

Why you need mentors who can get personal about their mistakes

Early on, John says, he thought successful people didn't want to talk to somebody like him — particularly because few of them looked like him. And because he never got to engage with them, he never learned about their failures.

"I thought somebody hit them with a magic wand," he says.

Of course, everyone struggles with hurdles. Once John understood that even the most successful people make financial mistakes — and that it's OK to make them, too — his career found traction. "You are dealing with [challenges], and mentors are too," says John. "We just need to know how to find them and extract that value."

Finding them can be easier said than done. Some of John's greatest mentors, he says, were closer than he thought — not business icons, but people like his mother, stepfather and daughters.

Teachers, city workers, small-business owners or church leaders, he says, can all show you what it means to fail and still succeed.

"You may not be able to get a hold of Daymond John or Barbara Corcoran," John says. "But mentors are all around in our community. They're just in disguise."

John used to think there was a "special place" successful people went to for mentorship. Now, he says, he finds them everywhere — a concept he hopes to bring to Black Entrepreneurs Day, highlighting both people and companies that can help Black entrepreneurs get ahead.

"We need to talk more about these resources," he says. "Because the more people get educated, the more people get empowered."

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

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