See This Guy: John Paul DeJoria

john paul


The name John Paul Dejoria isn’t as well known as, say, Steve Jobs or Elon Musk. But John Paul has something strong in common with those two famed business legends; he created multiple billion-dollar brands.

Yet, he overcame hardships that would crush most potential entrepreneurs.

I remember once in junior high school, on a Friday, my mom came home from work and said to my brother and I, 'You know, between us, we have only 27 cents, but we have food in the refrigerator, we have our little garden out back, and we're happy, so we are rich.

The product of an early-age divorce, John Paul's single mother was unable to support him and his brother. And you can see his grit emerge, as he began selling Christmas cards and newspapers at age 9 to help support his family. Despite his efforts, Jean Paul wound up in foster care and eventually ran with street gangs.

In high school, his math teacher told him he would “never succeed at anything in life” (Seriously, how did THAT guy get a job as a teacher?). After serving in the U.S. Navy, he spent years bouncing between jobs, including time spent as a janitor, pumping gas and selling insurance.

When he couldn’t bring in enough money to support his 2-year-old son, he was forced to collect Coke bottles and cash them in. For a while, they were homeless. And his is not the last time as an adult he would experience homelessness.

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. You've gotta talk your way in to the front door. And that was the mid-1960s. The set of books was $369.

Things began to look up, when John Paul found a job selling encyclopedias door-to-door, a job which takes an extreme amount of perseverance. He was even named Man of the Year by his company for being the top sales rep.

Eventually, he found a job in the hair care industry but was fired over a disagreement with a superior. That experience kicked-in his entrepreneurial drive, and he knew he wanted to start a company. His good friend and eventual partner Paul Mitchell developed a unique hair care product and they were convinced it would be a winner. They found a backer who agreed to invest a half-million dollars in the venture.

But fate would once again intervene – harshly. The investor pulled out without a reason. With no job, and dependent on the investment to launch his company, John Paul once again found himself homeless and sleeping in his car for several weeks. And he borrowed $350 from his mother to start Paul Mitchell Systems – at age 37.

When you start with next to nothing, all you've got is a lot of thought, a lot of innovation, figuring new ways to do things without using a lot of money.

Paul Mitchell Systems did things differently. Aside from great products made with care, the company was the first to ever publicly advertise it did not testing on animals. Plus, it’s credo (Love the product, love the planet, love your customer.) led to tremendous employee loyalty. After 30 years in business, it’s entire worker turnover was less than 30 people, unheard of for a billion-dollar brand.

Not content with one massively successful company, John Paul founded Patrón Spirits in 1989, one of the most successful premium alcohol brands in the world. Thanks to his insight for branding and eye for quality, Patrón has become a fixture of popular culture.

Not a bad ending to a story that probably should have left John Paul DeJoria struggling through life. But he knows the secret to true success is what you do when no one else is looking.

The biggest hurdle is rejection. Any business you start, be ready for it. The difference between successful people and unsuccessful people is the successful people do all the things the unsuccessful people don't want to do. When 10 doors are slammed in your face, go to door number 11 enthusiastically, with a smile on your face.

John Lavallo57 Posts

John is Columbia Business School MBA with expertise in marketing, business leadership, and law. John is a successful entrepreneur who took his first company public. He currently resides in New York City.