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John Paul DeJoria's journey from homeless to billionaire

by Daniela Pierre-Bravo /  / Updated 
Image: Actor John Paul DeJoria attends the 12th Zurich Film Festival at Kino Corso
Actor John Paul DeJoria attends the 12th Zurich Film Festival at Kino Corso on Sept. 22, 2016 in Zurich, Switzerland.Alexander Koerner / Getty Images file
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Difficult life experiences have helped shape some of the most influential and successful people. That includes John Paul DeJoria, the self-made, billionaire entrepreneur who is best known as the co-founder of hair care company John Paul Mitchell Systems and Patrón Spirits Company.

DeJoria was raised by his single mother in Los Angeles before landing in the foster care system when she was no longer able to provide for him. At one point, he even lived out of his car as he struggled to get by.

But DeJoria, 73, recently told me that he decided to take challenges head-on early in his career. "The only way I could go was up," he said.

DeJoria saw his economic obstacles as an opportunity to work hard. When there wasn’t money to eat, he sold Christmas cards. When he couldn’t go to college because he couldn’t pay for it, he started selling encyclopedias. He didn't rely on anyone else. “If you expect free lunch to come your way, you’re not going to go far and you’ll be very bored. Go out there and do something. Get involved," he said.

DeJoria and I also discussed Good Fortune - a new documentary that tells the rags-to-riches tale of his own life. As someone who personally struggled through his 20’s, he had a slew of advice for our generation about breaking through barriers, picking yourself up after tough times and finding success.

Those were all lessons he learned before starting his first lucrative venture, John Paul Mitchell Systems. DeJoria initially learned the ropes of the hair care business when he worked for Redken and Fermodyl Hair Care. He was eventually fired from those two companies.

The eventual success of John Paul Mitchell Systems was the result of word-of- mouth selling and getting the attention of his first distributor, who eventually paid off his first bill. From there, his hair care products were eventually sold in a number of salons and turned into a million-dollar company after just two years. His tenacity to succeed helped turn the $700 he started the company with into the billion-dollar business it is today.

DeJoria drew on his own experiences when offering this advice for millennials:

Get familiar with rejection

One of the biggest motivators for DeJoria early in his career was his ability to overcome rejection. “You’ve got to be prepared in life for a lot of rejections,” he said, pointing to his time selling encyclopedias door-to-door. Many doors, literally, closed in his face. 

 As a result, he came to expect rejection, which proved to be beneficial. “You must be just as enthusiastic on door 51 as you were on door 50, even if all 50 of those doors are closed in your face,” he told me.

“Success unshared is failure. But to get something done, if you’re prepared for a lot of rejection, you won’t let it get you down,” DeJoria explained.

Don’t dwell on the past

Letting your past mistakes or background define what you are capable of can limit your prospects.

DeJoria said he always focuses on his future. “When you’re down, most people think about the past and what got them there. That’s not going to get you anywhere. Think about what your next step is. Don’t dwell in the past—go forward,” he said.

Don’t forget that America still works

DeJoria noted that our generation has a much grimmer outlook on a number of issues, including economic prospects and mounting student debt.

But DeJoria has a message for millennials: “You can get through the hard times as long as you’re willing to work and put forth an effort and not sit back waiting on everyone else. America works, but to make it work you’ve got to go out there and you’ve got to do something.”

To learn more about DeJoria’s journey, check out his film, https://www.goodfortunemovie.com.

Daniela Pierre-Bravo is Know Your Value's millennial contributor. Learn more about her here.

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