From Rags to Riches, From Beauty Products to Tequila: The Story of John Paul DeJoria
In his early 20s, John Paul DeJoria was homeless, collecting Coke bottles to support himself and his two-year-old son. He bounced back though, experiencing some success as a salesman for the better part of a decade.
Then, at 36-years-old, he found himself homeless for a second time, living in his car on Mulholland Drive. And guess what? He bounced back once again. In a big way.
Today, Mr. DeJoria is worth an estimated $3B due in large part to two companies that he’s founded: John Paul Mitchell and the Patrón Spirits Company. Yes, the hair care products and tequila.
He’s a sought after motivational speaker (the CIA has invited him to speak to employees multiple times), a unique manager (he doesn’t use email or a computer), and an extremely active philanthropist.
The guy’s a boss. Let’s take a look at the life of the “computerless billionaire.”
In 1944, John Paul is born to two immigrant parents in the Echo Park neighborhood of Los Angeles.
His entrepreneurial spirit is present early, as he begins selling Christmas cards and newspapers to help support his family.
In 1962, John Paul graduates from high school and goes into the Navy.
After serving, he’s unable to afford college. So, he takes a job as a salesman for Collier’s Encyclopedia.
This was one of the most influential experiences in John Paul’s life, and he credits it with teaching him how to deal with rejection.
“Tough job. You’re just cold-calling. Doors slam literally in your face — maybe 30, 40 doors before the first customer will actually talk to you and let you in…
It was the mid-1960s. The set of books was $369. And it was with a payment plan of $36.95 a month. We gave them little piggy banks to put quarters in.”
Around this time, he becomes homeless after his wife “decided she didn’t want to be a mother anymore” and took what money they had, leaving him to care for their 2-year-old son.
“A couple weeks later, I was out there hustling, getting a job, picking up Coke bottles along the way, cashing them in, two cents for a little one, five cents for a big one.”
In 1971, he decides to get into the beauty industry. He starts as a Redken representative, then works his way up the sales ladder at a few other companies.
John was an incredible salesmen, but kept getting fired. One time, it was because he was earning so much money on commission that he made more than the owner of the company.
Another time, it was because he refused to play the socializing game with coworkers and was told he wasn’t their type of manager.
“When people fire you for not being their kind of manager, it makes you want to be your own manager.” So, that’s exactly what he did.
In 1980, he teams up with his friend and hairstylist, Paul Mitchell, to launch John Paul Mitchell.
“Paul was struggling, so I said, ‘Why don’t we start a business together?’ We were both in the hair care business, and decided to create products for professional stylists that would cut the time needed to do a client’s hair.
The first products we created were a single-application shampoo, where other shampoos at the time were multi-application, and a leave-in conditioner that improved blow-dry results.”
Right before starting the business, their investor backs out and John Paul becomes homeless for a second time.
“Paul would own 30% of the company, I’d own 30%, and a European investor contributing $500k would then own 40%. But the investor changed his mind, and the money wasn’t there.
Paul was on his last leg. Things weren’t going well with my former wife, so I gave her all the money and moved out [and] lived in my car in Los Angeles for a while.”
Yet, they still launch the business…with just $700.
“[Paul] had an extra 350 bucks, I borrowed 350 bucks from my mom. She never knew how bad off I was. That paid for the artwork. It took two weeks to make the products, and we had two weeks left before the bills were due.
Just like selling encyclopedias, I went door to door, beauty salon to beauty salon.”
For the next decade, John Paul Mitchell becomes an iconic brand, present in salons across the country.
In 1989, nine years after starting John Paul Mitchell, DeJoria launches Patrón Spirits Company.
“I started Patrón with my friend Martin Crowley, an architect who’d gone to Mexico to do some work. I said bring back some tequila. He found a hand-blown bottle and said, ‘I could design a label for this. Want to make a smoother tequila and go into business?’
So, I decided to make the first 12k bottles. Blue agave is so expensive, but even at $37 a bottle, I believed the world was ready for a high-end product.”
For the next few years, John Paul introduces friends and acquaintances to the brand.
“My thinking was, if no one bought it, I would keep it, because Paul Mitchell was doing good. And for 10 years everybody I knew got one — for their birthday, christening, bar mitzvah, any kind of holiday you could think of.”
Patrón starts growing like wildfire, thanks in part to JP’s friend, Clint Eastwood, giving them a free one-minute product placement in his movie ‘In the Line of Fire’.
Side note: how hilarious are old movie trailers?
By 2011, Patrón is selling nearly 3m cases of their premium tequila per year.
Today, JP remains the CEO of John Paul Mitchell and his unique work habits are well-documented.
For one, he doesn’t use email. “If I had email, I would be inundated. I choose not to have [it] or ever even turn a computer on.”
He also wears the same “uniform” every day. Black shirt, black pants, black blazer.
Whether you’re looking to start a business, are managing multiple people, or swimming in gobs of money, you can learn something from John Paul DeJoria.
For those looking to get started:
“Inflation in 1980, when we started [John Paul Mitchell], was 12.5%. Interest rates were 20%. Unemployment in the United States was up to 10%. You can do it, no matter what you have…
And [if] you start making a little money, do not change your style of living. Something goes wrong, now [you] can’t afford it.”
For those managing hundreds:
“Whenever someone does a good job, praise them loudly in front of as many people as you possibly can. Whenever you have to reprimand somebody, do it one on one behind closed doors so nobody hears you. Tell them what they did incorrectly and how to do it correctly. Then tell them something they’re doing right so that they leave with a good feeling.”
Seems simple enough.
And for those billionaires reading my article:
Give back. John Paul lives his life by one simple motto: “Success unshared is failure.”
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Originally published at thehustle.co on June 23, 2016.