Please enjoy this transcript of my interview with John Paul DeJoria, an American entrepreneur and philanthropist who has launched multiple global enterprises and is renowned as one of the “100 Greatest Living Business Minds” by Forbes.
John Paul DeJoria’s rags-to-riches biography is incredible and truly exemplifies the American dream. Once homeless, he has struggled against the odds to craft a unique life and many unique businesses.
In 1980, John Paul and hair stylist Paul Mitchell converted a partially borrowed $700 into John Paul Mitchell Systems, which is today the largest privately held salon hair care line. In 1989, he co-founded Patrón, the first ultra-premium tequila, and now the world’s number-one ultra-premium tequila, which he sold to Bacardi in 2018. John Paul went on to co-found John Paul Pet, ROKiT, and many other enterprises.
He has signed The Giving Pledge, along with others like Bill Gates and Warren Buffet, as a formal promise to continue giving back, and he has also established JP’s Peace, Love & Happiness Foundation as a hub for his charitable investments, which span the core values of his companies: sustainability, social responsibility, and animal-friendliness.
Transcripts may contain a few typos—with some episodes lasting 2+ hours, it can be difficult to catch minor errors.
This episode was recorded in March of 2020. Due to technical issues, we moved from Skype to phone partway through the interview.
Listen to the episode on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Overcast, Stitcher, Castbox, Google Podcasts, or on your favorite podcast platform.
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Tim Ferriss: John Paul, welcome to the show.
John Paul DeJoria: Why thank you, Tim. Nice to be here on your show. You’ve got a great show and you’re helping a lot of people out along the way by giving them good, positive direction.
Tim Ferriss: Thank you, sir. I have looked forward to this, and been looking forward to this for at least a year, probably two years now. We have a mutual friend, Robert Rodriguez, who’s certainly a fixture here in Austin, long time resident. I thought we would start, this might seem like a strange place to start, but start with a text exchange I was having with him not long ago, where I was asking him about topics or questions that we might explore off the beaten path.
One thing that stood out and that he highlighted was that he saw a picture of you, shown by your wife, from last December at a Christmas party, where you and Smokey Robinson were showing feats of physicality. Robert said that his mind was blown because it looked like you were doing full planches and moves that you might only see at the top levels of gymnastics. Could you speak to fitness in your life? Physical —
John Paul DeJoria: Sure, you bet you. In fact, Smokey — by the way, I’m 75. I’ll be 76 here in a few more months, or a few more weeks. Smokey’s about 80 and he’s unbelievably fit. Now, what people have to know is this, and I’m going to quote an old blues friend of mine, an old blues singer. He died about a decade ago, I was at his funeral, and that’s John Lee Hooker. I knew John Lee for about 40 years before he passed on. John Lee would call me for the last seven years, on my birthday, every year, as well as my wife. He calls her on her birthday, and he’d make up some blues riff and sing it to us. For those last seven years, my daughter Alexis, a race car driver, and I went to his house, whether it was to his Long Beach house, or his San Jose house, to hang out with him on his birthday.
So he called, he said, “JP, I want you to record this.” I said, “Okay.” He never asked me to record anything. So we went out and bought one of these $29 recorders you plug into your telephone, so you can record the conversation on cassette tape, and we did. So he made up a blues riff, a really cool blues riff. He made it up as he went along the way, singing, and then he stopped in the middle of it. Now, what I’m going to tell you is quite amazing because John Lee Hooker was illiterate until the day he died, couldn’t even write out his own name, just his initials. Illiterate to the day he died. In the middle of this blues riff, he stopped and said, “Remember, you will always be as old as your mind leads you to believe,” and then went right back to the blues riff again.
Smokey, my dear buddy, Smokey Robinson, knew that he wants to be on stage, and he’s one of the best performers and best singers in the world, the world’s ever known. Smokey knows he’s got to be fit, so Smokey learned along the time in his life, no matter what age he is, that if he were to do, not only sit ups, but raise his feet up in the air, lay flat and raise your feet up in the air, which really tightens up your entire core, if he keeps on doing that, by gosh, he’s going to do it for a long time. He’s 80, he’s doing it beautifully. He looks like a gymnastics person.
When I was in high school at 16 and 17 years old, I was in gymnastics. My thing was the pommel horse, the side horse, the rope climb. But I also learned how to do things, like from a handstand go into a full lever, where your whole body is parallel with the ground and you’re holding yourself up with actually 10 fingertips, two hands, that’s it. So what I did was, I started doing that, oh gosh, I’d say maybe 20 years ago. Once or twice a year I would do it.
And then I was with a lot of super cool people. My buddy Matthew McConaughey had his birthday and I went to his birthday, and these guys were so fit it’s incredible. Matthew being a nice guy, I was in a tank top, we were in the middle of the desert, with 50 of his best pals, and he rubbed me down with oil on my shoulders saying, “JP, here, let’s put some oil on you.” All those guys were lifting weights, they were all buff. These guys looked like Mister America, but Matthew McConaughey is a very well preserved, very buff person himself.
Anyways, they said, “JP, lift 20, 30 pounds, lift whatever you can.” I said, “I bet I can do something you guys can’t do.” He goes, “Wait a minute.” He stopped, he brought everybody over, and I did exactly what you saw in that picture. In other words, I was able to raise myself up with my two hands, totally parallel with the ground, nobody else could do it. So when Smokey and I got together over at his house around the holidays, we were visiting each other, his wife, my wife, and some dear friends, we both did that, let’s get our feet up in the air together. And we did that and right afterwards, I went into that full plank expanded in the air.
But the whole thing is this: don’t limit yourself in life by your age, or what you think you’re capable of doing. You’re always as old as your mind leads you to believe, and there’s a lot of things you could do if you truly believe you could do it. And if you can’t do it now, do little portions of it until you can do it.
Tim Ferriss: That’s incredible. He, meaning Robert, described you as looking like Spider-Man. What does your weekly exercise routine look like, if you have a somewhat consistent routine?
John Paul DeJoria: It’s not really consistent. I’d say though, probably three times a week, I will do what they call Navy SEAL pushups, these things you hold onto and twist, and I’ll do maybe 25 of them, two, three times a week, that’s about the extent of it. Maybe once or twice a month, I’ll pick up 25 pounds in each hand and do a couple of curls or something, that takes me a minute and a half, and that’s the extent of it. I walk a lot and I walk fast.
Tim Ferriss: You walk a lot, you walk fast?
John Paul DeJoria: Yep.
Tim Ferriss: I think walking is definitely underrated. And what does your diet look like?
John Paul DeJoria: My diet is probably 90 percent to 95 percent vegetarian. I still like my fish, my shrimp, my organic, free-range, no antibiotic chicken, but I’m pulling away from that. In fact, I used to eat a little bit of meat, but I’m pulling away from that also. So I think that eventually it’ll be more vegetarian with just a little bit of fish in there, but much more vegetarian. I think that’s where it’s going to end up.
A lot of people think that, I think because of whatever old school medical people ever said is, you’ve got to have meat in your body to be strong. But then again, I say, “Well, wait a minute, an elephant is the strongest animal on the planet; it eats no meat.” Whales eat krill, they don’t even eat fish and they’re pretty strong too. And I believe to the best of my knowledge that apes, monkeys, gorillas who are very, very strong, are vegetarians. So I’m kind of changing my eating habits. I don’t think man was made to eat meat, and I didn’t believe that till more recently, so I’m kind of changing in that direction.
Tim Ferriss: I’ve had a guest on the podcast, a previous world champion and Olympic, or say world record holder in Olympic weight lifting named Jerzy Gregorek, originally from Poland, who also, primarily for prostate reasons, to lower inflammatory markers, has moved more to a vegetarian diet, and he is one of the fittest humans I know. So certainly there are ways I think to deviate from a meat-heavy diet, without a doubt. I’d love to jump back in time —
John Paul DeJoria: Before you do that, can I go back at diet? Because there’s something good to share with everybody.
Tim Ferriss: Yes, please.
John Paul DeJoria: Oatmeal. I eat oatmeal almost every morning. And what I have done here is because apples are very good for you, if you take a whole apple, and you’ll of course cut out the core and chop into little pieces, cook it with your oatmeal. Cook it with the oatmeal, put a little bit of honey on it. Number one, you’ve got one of the most greatest foods ever, an apple in you to start your day, and oatmeal’s one of the best things ever for your system in clearing you out.
Another thing too, and you can get it over the Internet, it’s called Daily Restore, like R-E-S-T-O-R, Restore, like you restore something, Daily Restore. It’s a probiotic that’s made up of, I believe it’s nine probiotics, and oh, God, I want to say maybe just as many enzymes. But they’re doing research with it right now, where it’s found to do things that are so unbelievable to the immune system, it’s even hard to believe. But if you go online, they have their medical research on there, you can look at it. But I’ve been taking those also, these super probiotics that they make, that Daily Restore makes, that are just phenomenal. I haven’t had a cold, I don’t think in 25, 30 years, that I’ve even had a cold.
Tim Ferriss: Is there anything else that you consume on a daily basis, or do on a daily basis besides —
John Paul DeJoria: Very good. Most days, not all, but most days, I have a nice glass or two of a good, red wine.
Tim Ferriss: Do you have a favorite wine, or is —
John Paul DeJoria: Well, there’s quite a few, I have quite a few. There’s some really good ones out there from Italy, from France, and from the United States there’s some really good ones out there, really good ones out there, so I’ll let everybody take their choice. For me I would say, from a United States of America one, I like a Caymus Private Reserve. Caymus is a good red wine, but their Private Reserve Cabernet is really incredible. That’s a really good one. And there’s others too, there’re other really good wines out there. The Château Lafite Rothschild, the Château Margaux are very good too. But like even if you go to South Africa they’ve got good wines. Out of Australia, good wines are coming. I even had a great wine out of Chile and a great wine out of Spain. So there’re some really good wines out there. Try and get it without any sulfites in them, they’re better.
Tim Ferriss: So let’s strike a contrast with the Caymus Private Reserve and jump to a quote that I read in research for this conversation, which may or may not be accurate. We’ll jump from Caymus Private Reserve to 27 cents. So the quote I have in front of me is attributed to your mother, saying to your brother and yourself, “You know, between us, we only have 27 cents, but we have food in the refrigerator, we have our little garden out back, and we’re happy, so we’re rich.” Can you put that in context?
John Paul DeJoria: Yeah, I sure can. We grew up with very, very little. It was my mother, we had a deadbeat dad, I never saw him after two years old until I was a teenager, still a deadbeat dad. Anyways. So it was really my mom struggling to raise two boys. So my mom really struggled a lot to raise us kids. She worked in Downtown L.A., designing hats. But from the time I was 11 years old, my brother was 13, we had paper routes with The L.A. Examiner in the morning, and we would give our mom just about all the money we made out of the paper route so we could have a little better way of life, because it was a bit of a struggle.
So one day, we were home and my mom said — and there’s a lot of love in my house. Mom was just the most loving mom and she did everything. She took the place of a mom and dad both, she was just great. Anyway, she said, “Boys, let’s see how much money we have, because we have food in the refrigerator, we have food on the shelves, and we have our little garden around back, and it’s the weekend, let’s see what we have.” So we all put our money together, we came up with 27 cents between the three of us, my mother, my brother, and I. And mom said, she said, “We’re the richest people in the world, look at this. We have everything, we’re happy, we have love, and we still have some money. Isn’t that wonderful?” And we 100 percent agreed with her.
And that’s where you go into, what it is the true meaning of success in life and rich? Success is not how much money you have or powerful you are; success is how well do you do what you do when nobody else is looking? When I was in high school, I worked for Stuart’s Cleaners, one of my jobs after school. One day Stuart came up to me and he said, “Johnny, you, by gosh, are the best, most successful janitor in the world. I was upstairs the other night looking around. I dropped something on the floor, looked under the bunk, in my mezzanine, and there was no dust. I moved it, there was no dust. The cabinets were moved, there was no dust behind them. You did what nobody else does. You worked as if I was watching you every single minute. I’m going to give you a 25 cent raise.”
Now when you’re making a dollar and a quarter an hour and you get a 25 cent raise, that is a big deal when you’re in high school, at least for me when I was in high school in the late ’50s, early ’60s, that was a big deal. So I think, “Wow, I was the most successful person.” So success is how well do you do what you’re doing, and continue to do it at your best, when nobody else is looking. And how far have you come? If somebody came from being homeless to having a job, they’re successful. If somebody went from being a janitor to all of a sudden getting raises or a supervisory job, boy are they successful. How well do you do what you do when no one else is looking?
What is rich? Rich isn’t money. You can have all the money in the world and there’s a few people like this that are unhappy and unhealthy. Rich is — let’s look at the priorities. Number one is happiness, number two is health. If you don’t have happiness, you’re not going to have the best of health. If you have happiness and health, you have two of the richest things on the planet, everything else comes after that. But part of it has to be, you have to have a giving heart and be able to give to others and know that you’re here, not just take to care of yourself on the planet, but do something to make life better for other people. You have all those things going, and boy, you’re just rich in soul and in heart and in thinking, and then whatever comes along after that’s going to come along even more beautifully.
Tim Ferriss: You mentioned homeless, I think that we might as well segue there.
John Paul DeJoria: Sure.
Tim Ferriss: I’ve many questions for you and we’ll probably bounce around, but you mentioned being homeless. Is it true that you’ve been homeless on not one occasion, but two occasions?
John Paul DeJoria: Twice, that is correct.
Tim Ferriss: Can you describe how those two periods of homelessness happened?
John Paul DeJoria: Sure, it sucked, but it happened. First time I was 22 years old and I was working as a master of ceremonies at the second annual Sports, Vacation, and Recreational Jeep Vehicle Show. I was young, 22 years old, but I got the job. Anyways, I came home from that job and when I came home from it, it was down in Anaheim, I was living in the Atwater area at that time, of Los Angeles. I was with a young wife, very young wife, we were like a year apart. We shouldn’t even have had kids, so we had a two-year-old child.
So I came home, and as I came home and pulled the only car into the driveway, she came down the stairs and said, “I’ve got to run over to the store.” So she took the keys and jumped in the car and took off. Well, by the time I got upstairs, she was long gone. Right there, smack in the middle of our little living room was our two-year-old son, with my clothes piled there, a little pile of clothes, and a note basically saying that, “I can’t handle being a mom anymore. He’ll do better off with you. Goodbye and good luck.”
Unbeknownst me, what little we had in the bank, she totally took out. This was all manipulated by her. She totally took out everything out of the bank the day before, everything. What little we had, it wasn’t a lot, a little. She had not paid the rent, or the utility bill for three months, meaning that she pocketed all that money. I was not going to get paid for another week to 10 days from the show that I did. You put your request a week before you get paid. I had almost nothing on me.
And then the next day, surprise, they were there to evict us. They had already put up notices, which she ripped up for the eviction. So there we are, down and out, flat out, and no car, no nothing. So I got a hold of this 1951 Caddy with a broken water pump. You had to put water in it every four hours and we were on the street. And the way we got around was — when you’re down and out, you can only think about, okay, the next thing is survival, we’ve got a place to live, we’ve got pillows, couches, towels, we’ve got all this stuff. We just piled in the car there, and some clothes, we’ve got to eat.
So I went around to vacant lots and picked up soda pop bottles. In those days, grocery stores and liquor stores took them from you. You got two cents for a little one, five cents for a big one. And we just went around collecting them off vacant lots, Coke machines, wherever we could find them, 7 Up machines, cashing them in, and that’s how we got by.
A short time later, I ran across this friend of mine, who was what you would call a really hardcore biker. His name was Lee Meyers. He said, “JP, I got an extra room in my house, why don’t you come on over? You and your son can be there and some of our biker mommas will help take care of him while you’re out there working.” So by that time I had landed another job, but of course I wasn’t paid either for that other job for another two weeks until I finally got a paycheck out of that. And that’s how we kind of got out of it.
Tim Ferriss: Wow. That was —
John Paul DeJoria: And the second time I was homeless —
Tim Ferriss: Yeah, the second.
John Paul DeJoria: The second time was when I started Paul Mitchell. We needed a half a million dollars. There was no way I could start a hair care company for under a half a million dollars, so we got a half a million dollars. A fellow named Dick Holthouse, who worked for City Corp arranged it, for a European investor to invest it. So everything I was doing at the time I left, A, I’m starting my own business with my pal, Paul Mitchell, we’re going to start our own business. He’s a hairdresser, I’m a businessman and a formulator, this is going to be great. I don’t do hair, he doesn’t do business, what a perfect combination. We’ve been buddies for the last nine years, and the money’s coming.
So I left everything I did, my relationship wasn’t going well at all at that time, so I left the newer car, even though it was a good used car, the newer car, with my wife at the time who had my child and a daughter at that time. I took the older car down the hill to get the money, because it’s coming in at Bank of America. It never showed up. Long story short, the guy pulled out.
Why did he pull out? It’s 1980. In 1980 our hostages were still held in Iran. 1980 and ’81, we went through some bad times. We stayed in line to get gasoline, inflation in the United States was 12 percent. Unemployment in the United States was 10.5 percent. If you could get a loan, and I say if you could get a loan, prime rate on a loan was 17 percent, if you could even get a loan. Terrible times, but between Paul and I, we came up with 350 bucks each, had a couple of hundred bucks in my pocket, lived in my car once again, and that’s how we started John Paul Mitchell Systems.
We believed what we had was so good, and all of the people we’d already set up gave us 30-day billing. So it was matter of okay, we better do this, we better do that. In fact, if your listening audience has a chance, pick up the documentary Good Fortune, like a good fortune. Good Fortune is a documentary I did about three and a half, four years ago. It talks about the whole story, how to survive through homelessness, and how to create not one, but two businesses after that, that turned out to be billion-dollar businesses each.
Tim Ferriss: You’ve done so many things in your life and we won’t go through the entire list, but you mentioned janitor. I want you to fact check me if I get anything wrong here, but I also have door-to-door encyclopedia salesman?
John Paul DeJoria: Oh, for three years, sold encyclopedias door to door, Collier’s. It was commission only.
Tim Ferriss: Right, so you have this long period of many different hats that you’ve worn; how did you get to formulating the John Paul Mitchell Systems?
John Paul DeJoria: Another very good question.
Tim Ferriss: How did you get —
John Paul DeJoria: Along the way, I was 26 years old, and one of my jobs was working for Time Inc. in their circulation department of Sports, Fortune, Sports Illustrated, and Life magazine. It was basically a boiler room, where people would call to get people to renew their subscriptions or get new subscriptions. Well, I went to my vice president, I said, “Look, what do I have to do to become a vice president? Because I don’t want do this for the rest of my life. I’d like to know how to go ahead.” He said, “You have no college, you’re only a high school graduate, and you’re only 26 years old. Come back and ask me when you’re at 35.” Well, I certainly didn’t want to wait at a job I did not like and offer them nine more years.
So a friend of mine, John Capra, was an employment consular where people would pay him to get people to go to work for them. So he sent me on several jobs, and I ended up, after trying a few of them out, to working for a company in the professional beauty industry as a salesman, period, to sell beauty supplies. Well, while I was with that company, I went all the way up to national manager of two of their divisions with the company, but I got involved in learning how they formulated some of these products, who did it, how they did it, what they did.
And then I worked after that — they fired me, by the way, because I complained that they were testing on animals, it was the wrong thing to do. Well, that didn’t go over particularly with management, so they fired me. I told them it was wrong, wrong, wrong. They said, “Well, you care more about animals and people than you do about the corporation. You’re not a corporate guy,” so they fired me. And that was Redken by the way, Redken was the company. But I said, “Well, you’re firing me, but why are you testing on animals? It’s stupid.” They said, “Because it makes us look good, we’re the scientific approach.” Anyway, so it’s just as well I was gone.
The next company I went to work for was a company purchased by Syntex, a big pharmaceutical company, a company called Fermodyl. And Fermodyl is doing about eight million a year in business there in the United States and they hired me to train their management, their sales management, their sales staff, and educators. Well, in one year we increased the business by 50 percent. But I learned, while I was there, more about formulating and where to go to get different things. And they ended up firing me because, once again, I wasn’t part of management. I cared more about people and getting them off the road and not leaving them out there for many, many weeks than I did about the company’s expenses, and what was cheaper for the company. And also, they had some things that I didn’t agree with that weren’t very, very nice.
Anyways, I went to work for a third company and I did very well. I tripled their sales. They were very little, but I tripled their sales that first year I was with them. They came to me one day and said, “We could get somebody to do your job for only half of what you’re making or less.” They said, “So there.” I said, “Well, wait a minute guys, I just tripled your sales. You’re little, but your sales tripled. How about this? You pay me the $3,000 a month, which my salary was, but the six percent that you’re giving me for sales increases, you cut that in half and let me buy with the other half, 10 percent of your company.” They said, “No way, absolutely not.” I said, “But guys, most of the money I made was off increased sales.” They said, “I know, but the increased sales was so much that you made more than the owner of the company.” I said, “Well, don’t let me get involved with them anyways.”
So I left, but at that company, I learned more about formulating, where to buy bottles, where to get silk screen, and all this, so I was set up beautifully to be able to start my own company after that, and then I did. I started the consulting company, but I told you everything you needed to know in three months; you didn’t need me anymore. So I’d have to go through a lot of clients, so that’s when I decided, “Let’s start my own thing.”
Tim Ferriss: Let’s look at one of the themes, the through-lines here, is being very good at increasing sales. You became the national manager of two divisions, if I’m remembering correctly what you just said, at Redken. Tripled sales at this company you just mentioned. How did you become so good at sales and what made you good at increasing sales?
John Paul DeJoria: When I was selling newspapers door to door and delivering in the morning. We would deliver in the morning and the way we would sell it door to door was, we would go by after school and knock door to door and try to convince them to take The L.A. Examiner for the morning delivery in our area. Everyone we got, we got $1 for. So I learned how to knock on a lot of doors and take a lot of rejection. But the big one was when I was in my 20s and I sold encyclopedias door to door.
I got out of the Navy and I went to work with P.F. Collier Incorporated, Collier’s Encyclopedia. I learned how to sell encyclopedias door to door. Now in my training class they said this to you — and by the way, it was commission only. Even during training you made no money; it was commission only with every sell. And there were no leads. You went door to door knocking.
But they said something to me that I believed, they said, “The people that make it and will make good money are the people that don’t give up. A lot of doors can be slammed in your face, but you must be just as enthusiastic on door number 101 if a hundred were closed in front of you.” I believed them and they were right. It took me over a week to get my first order, but I did and I lasted three and half years while I was doing that, which was more than the average three days an encyclopedia salesman lasted in those days. So I learned how to overcome rejection, which was very healthy.
And then when I got along the way and I started say, other products, I could only sell what I believed in. So I what I tell to people is this: if you’re going to sell something, don’t really be in the selling business. You don’t want to be in the selling business. It’s one of the big secrets I give everybody. Whether it’s a service you’re selling or a product you’re selling, whether you work for yourself or somebody else, don’t be in the selling business. Be in the reorder business. In other words, your service is so good or your product is so good that whoever you sold it to is going to order it and reorder it again, or tell somebody, if it’s a one-time product, how great that product or that service was.
That’s why things work. You don’t lie to people, you don’t con people, you tell them the truth about it, but in such a way where you can go back and see them a month, a year later, and what you sold them — service or product — was so good they’re already reordering. And that’s how I build and how I treat people and how I train them. Be kind to people, be nice to them, but at the same time, look them in the eye and make sure that what you have is so darn good that you would convince your mother, if you love your mother, to get it — and here’s why.
Tim Ferriss: This is excellent. So then we flash forward to, I guess forward and backward to a few hundred dollars along with Paul Mitchell, and you guys are going to take on the world. What is the pitch and who are you pitching?
John Paul DeJoria: Well, we had it set up where all of our vendors, the bottle maker, the silk screener, the filler, and the warehouse that filled it for us, who had some of the ingredients, were all set up for 30 days. They knew what we were doing was going to be big, they knew we had this money coming in. So what happened was this. How do you do it when you have no money now? Well, 100,000 bottles was our first run. I called up the bottle maker and I said, “Can I just have a sample run?” I didn’t tell him we were broke. I was just like, “Can we have a sample run of only 10,000 bottles?” They said, “Oh, of course, we understand the sample run.” I told the silk screener we have a sample run coming of only 10,000 bottles, and I told the fillers the same exact thing.
So we would have 4,000 bottles of the conditioner, 3,000 of shampoo one, 3,000 of shampoo two. And it took them from the time we said go, it took them two weeks to make it and by the way, we had $700 in our hand. The key thing was we needed the artwork for the silk screener. We went to him and told him the truth, “Hey, your bill’s $1,000 for this artwork; it’s in black and white.” Thank God we stopped putting any color on it, because we couldn’t afford that. “We only have $700; can we give you $300 now and give you the rest later?” He said, “No,” he said, “because I’ll never get the rest later. Give me $700; it’s a $300 discount and I’ll give you your artwork.”
Well, we did, so all I had was a few hundred bucks in my pocket because I borrowed some money from my mom. A few hundred bucks in my pocket, Paul had the same thing. He was on his last money. And that’s how we started. I piled stuff in my car and drove up, in Los Angeles, Ventura Boulevard, going salon, to salon, to salon.
Now why did we pick salons? We had no advertising money, no promotional money. The three companies I worked for, the Redken, and the Fermodyl, and the Tri, all three of those were selling beauty salons, so we knew the industry. And we knew also that if you have something really good — we had a darn good product, like really good. And we knew if we have something that good, and we gave it to a salon, or a salon was using it, they would buy it from us and use it, they would see how good it was for their hands and the person’s hair, that they would want to reorder and recommend it to people to take home in between visits, and they did.
So that’s the market we went after and we stayed with that market. In fact, even today, even today, if you ever see a Paul Mitchell product in any drug store or supermarket, it is either out the back door, through the black-gray market, or it’s counterfeit, or mixed together. We only sell to salons. And the demand sometimes is so big, that some stores will go to a salon, pay full price for it, take it, up it one or two dollars as a leader, and have it on their shelves. It’s amazing, it’s just amazing.
And many times, counterfeit gets mixed with the gray market product and that’s sold to people also. And of course they figure, “Well, how can some of these big stores, my god, these big chain groups have counterfeit or black market product?” But they do, because they know they could get away with it legally.
Tim Ferriss: That’s wild.
John Paul DeJoria: I know.
Tim Ferriss: You mentioned something earlier that I want to come back to, and that is working with your suppliers and manufacturers, and you said they knew it was going to be big, so they were working with you on net-30 terms, 30-day payment terms. How did you convince them that it was going to be big, so they should bet on you and give you those types of terms?
John Paul DeJoria: Darned good question. I presented to them, here, national manager of Redkens, chain salon division, school division. Fermodyl, responsible for all training and education for their management team and selling team. Institute of Trichology, vice president of sales and marketing. Paul Mitchell, one of the most avant-garde hairdressers of the day. So here’s our credentials.
So it was based on that and I took them out and I showed the letters about the $500,000 coming in that were sent to me, showed them all that. So they said, “Wow, this is cool.” I said, “So guys, will you work with me on this one? I’d like 30-day billing and here’s what I would like.” And that’s how it happened. And of course, I was very presentable at the time, and looked them right in the eyeball, and I was very sincere and very honest. They realized that nobody thought someone would pull out at the very end.
So it’s really funny because I know getting our first distributor in Los Angeles, I went to Paris Ace Beauty Supplies. Jim Henrietta was the general manager and president of that whole operation. Big beauty supply store, huge, salesmen going everywhere. And I went down there to show him our products and I’d said, “God, if you’ll take our product line on, we will give you an exclusive on all of L.A. and Orange County. Big area, right?” And he laughed and he said to me, “Well, why should I take your products on? We’re Paris Ace Beauty Supplies, we have all the big lines. Why do we want to spend time to build your line when you guys have an unknown line? It doesn’t make any sense.”
Well, what I did two weeks prior was I went up Ventura Boulevard knocking door to door on salons. After a week I got 12 orders. I delivered them on the spot and got 12 checks, but they left the top line blank. So when he said that to me I said, “Here’s why you should get us.” In front of him, I put out 12 orders and 12 checks. I said, “See that top line? Paris Ace Beauty Supplies is going in it; I’ve already got your first 12 customers. And if you will let me give you this line, just buy 2,000 from me,” because we were really hard up. “Just buy 2,000 bottles from us and you can have all of L.A. and Orange County.” He laughed his head off and said, “Oh, my God.” He says, “Okay, but you better be here, every single day, working with all my salesmen until they sell it all.” I said, “It’s a deal.”
I said, “There’s one more thing too. We started out with virtually very, very little here, but can you please pay your bill when the orders arrive?” He laughed and said, “No, we’re Paris Ace Beauty Supplies; we don’t pay our bill for 45 days.” So I said, “Well, I’ll give you a five percent discount if you’ll pay your bill when it arrives.” I said, “I can do that much for you.” He laughed and said, “Okay. This is nothing I normally do, but I’ll give you a break. But you better show up.”
Well, he came to our 25th anniversary, 15 years ago, and he told all of our distributors, he says, “So within five minutes of the time JP was in my office, my loading dock man called me and said, ‘Hey, there’s some guy here unloading a bunch of black and white products on our steps here and he wants a check for $2,000.'” Jim said, “I laughed my head off.” He said, ‘He was just in my office!’ And I went back and I gave JP the check.”
Tim Ferriss: So that is what some of my friends would call chutzpah.
John Paul DeJoria: Well, I think it was a lot of that then. He’s just a great guy. Jim turned up, he just gave us a break. He was a good guy. And then Paul Mitchell took a whole bunch with him back to Hawaii where he was living, and would go around to sell it to all of his friends that had salons.
Tim Ferriss: Where did you get the, chutzpah is a good word for it, courage would be another, persuasion, the art of the sell? Did you get that from anyone in your family, growing up? Is it something you developed on your own? How was that forged?
John Paul DeJoria: I would say two-fold. Number one, my mother was always very positive, “Boys, you can do anything.” She was very positive and supportive. Second of all, in the three and half years I’d sold encyclopedias door to door, no leads, I learned more about selling and about people than one could ever imagine. There are no longer, and they haven’t been I don’t think for 20 years anymore, door-to-door encyclopedia salesmen. I don’t think that exists anymore. Maybe no more encyclopedia salesmen exist anymore, but boy, if they sure did, every one of my kids would be doing that for at least three months out of their life to learn what it’s really like, and really learn how to talk to people and convince them to at least listen to you and give you a chance to tell your story.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah, one of the —
John Paul DeJoria: And of course, since that time, you refined it, you learn more and more better things. So I look at it as I’m not really a salesman, though the word salesman describes it, but I really go out there and try and help people make the right decision on something that could be good for them and better than what they have, or something they could probably need.
Tim Ferriss: One of the best salespeople I ever met was not technically a salesperson; he’s actually a systems engineer in technology. This is at a storage area networking company, a long time ago. Jason, if you’re listening, I’m talking about you. And he was also at one point a door-to-door encyclopedia salesman for some period of time, and became, I want to say a regional manager. And he said the same thing: that it taught him more about selling and persuasion and negotiating and so on, than anything else he’s done. What made you better, aside from just sheer persistence in the face of rejection? Were there other insights or techniques that made you better than the competition at selling encyclopedias?
John Paul DeJoria: Yeah, I try to tell people the truth. Here’s what you get, even though the presentation was kind of an unusually unique presentation, where you’re paying everything, but you get the main encyclopedias free, when in reality you’re actually paying for everything, but it’s all in — they call it a combination offer, right? But to be honorable, like here’s what you get and here’s what you’re paying, and here’s why I think it’s good for you, and here’s why I think you might think it’s good for you. And then we would talk about it a little bit. It was, I included the people in the conversation.
In other words, what you want to do is find a need in the marketplace and fill it. If the need doesn’t exist, then create a need that maybe wasn’t there. For example, encyclopedia sales, I would have to go to the library to look up things for homework in an encyclopedia — if I had one at home it would’ve been great. Well, we would could never afford it, so I thought, boy, it’d be great if someone could afford to have a set of encyclopedias in their house, it’d be a wonderful thing, they could look it up right there. We didn’t have computers in those days.
Tim Ferriss: How does this translate to your experience with Patrón? How did that come about?
John Paul DeJoria: Well, Patrón I started in 1989. That came about, I was sitting around with a friend of mine who went bankrupt in the hospitality business, Martin. He went bankrupt, so I went ahead, I was introduced to him, and I was a joint venture partner with him, where I put up the money, he did the work, in a unique architectural product company. He would go to Mexico, buy pavers and furniture, come back to United States and sell it to architects for their model homes or to restaurants. You’d buy it real cheap there, very nice made furniture by the way, and bring it up here. Well, that did okay, but after a year it wasn’t really making a lot of money, but it was existing.
And then Martin was going down there to purchase some things. We were at my house making margaritas out of the tequila of the day and I said, “Martin, when you’re down there, why don’t you find out what the Mexican aristocrats drink? I bet you they drink tequila a lot better than what we’re drinking now, where you’ve got to hold your breath to drink it, or you do a shot, or mixed with a margarita.” He said, “Okay.” So Martin came back with a couple of bottles, these long, thin bottles. It was the smoothest tequila I ever had. He said, “But JP, I met a guy down there named Francisco Alcaraz and he said he can make it smoother.”
So, make a long story short, he found this bottle that was made out of recycled glass, and I said, “Martin, here’s what I’ll do. It is smoother, and if he’s making it even smoother,” by this time I was doing pretty good with Paul Mitchell products, “I’ll go ahead and I’ll buy 1,000 cases,” that’s 12,000 bottles. And even though it was very expensive to make, if everything went wrong, I’d be able to have some of the best tequila in the world to give my friends for the next 10 years for every occasion that came up, no matter what it is, a great bottle of tequila.
So anyways, we did it. When we first brought it to the United States here, nobody wanted to carry it. It was $37 a bottle and the average tequila was around four or $5 dollars a bottle. The most expensive one I think was $14 a bottle at the time. Nobody wanted to carry it. We convinced a wine merchant, who only sold wine, to carry the product and sell it. And we would promise that if they would do that, I personally would go down to hold their sales meeting and we would show them how to sell it. And if they took us on, I would get them one of the top accounts in Beverly Hills and Martin would get them one of the top Mexican restaurants. They said, “Well, if you guys can do that, let’s give it a try,” so we did.
Martin went to his friends in Baja Cantina in Marina del Rey, I went to my friend Wolfgang Puck at Spago’s, the hottest restaurant of the day there in West Hollywood, and he took it on, so we kept our promise. But after a year, they were selling very, very little and so we dropped them. We took on Jim Beam. This is a good story for your listeners. We took on Jim Beam, a very big company by the way, they had distribution everywhere and they had some very good alcohol that they sold themselves that they made. But they decided to take us on.
After about a year and a half, there were only selling, I believe it was about 12,000 cases a year. So Martin and I sat down with them and said, “Guys, we’ve going around opening up little nightclubs or restaurants for you and we contributed something, but you guys are only doing 12,000. You should be doing — ” We thought we could 50–60,000 one day, of this product, cases a year. They said, “Guys, let’s tell you the truth, okay? You do have the best tequila in the world, there’s no doubt, but your price is too high. People don’t want to pay that kind of money. I’m going to tell you guys, you will one day reach 20,000 cases a year, but that’s about it, guys.”
We dropped Jim Beam and took on Seagram’s. Seagram’s took us up to 17,000 cases a year and we thought we could do a heck of a lot better. We went to cart with them, ended up buying them out of their agreement with us, which we did, and we took over the distribution ourselves, and then it started going up, up, up, up, up, up, up.
And then Martin Crowley unfortunately died of a heart attack back in the early 2000s, and Mr. Ed Brown, who’s our president, he’s vice president of sales at the time. Immediately, he should have been president, I made him president of the company and we focused on really doing this properly. Ed Brown gets 90 percent of the credit for all of this, he really does, a sensational man. He brought on a great team and we built, and we built, and we focused on Patrón being the star, not beautiful girls, in the ad, but Patrón was the star.
And then we started bringing it out to other people in other channels, and through Paul Mitchell, my hair care company, we would have a big event every year where two or 3,000 of the top hairdressers throughout the United States and the world would come to it, and we would serve them free Patrón. Well, they would go back home and ask for it because it was so good.
I’m going to make a very long story short, I sold my interest in Patrón a year and a half ago. When I did, we were approaching overall, with everything in the company, we were approaching close to four million cases a year. That’s just under 50 million bottles. I think the Patrón sales alone were, oh God, I don’t know maybe 3,300,000 something like that. But with all the rest of the things, it was approaching four million cases.
So the lesson to be learned here is, if anybody tells you something where there’s limitations, you don’t necessarily have to believe them. When Patrón sold, it sold for the highest amount ever paid a company in the alcohol business. Why? It was the finest product ever. Again, going back to the very, very best that you have. Your service, your product, has got to be the best, you’re in the reorder business.
And we did a lot of good things to make people happy and honorable. We would throw big events for charities, we would take care of orphanages. We’re still in fact rebuilding houses down at the St. Bernard Project in New Orleans, at least we were up until the time we sold it to Bacardi, I don’t know if they’re still doing that or not. So it was all built on some of the principles that I learned along the way and our other people learned too. And of course, Ed Brown really instilled a lot of it in the people.
Tim Ferriss: How was it for you in the beginning, learning to navigate? And maybe there are similar regulations and legal limitations, and so on, with Paul Mitchell. But with Patrón, I would imagine there’s a lot to navigate from a regulatory and legal standpoint.
John Paul DeJoria: Yes, sir. That is correct.
Tim Ferriss: Was that difficult? What was that like for you?
John Paul DeJoria: Well, no. The reason it wasn’t difficult was because I knew certain things attorneys had to do. And as we started growing bigger — and Brown knew everything else that had to be done. But Martin and I, at the very beginning, knew there were certain things to do. I financed the thing, Martin was able to go out there and get it registered the way we were. So Martin gets the credit for that and Ed Brown, for once it took off, by God, he put all the other things into place.
Tim Ferriss: If someone were to, and I’m sure this has been done, but let’s just say Harvard Business School does a case study on Patrón, what do you think some of the best decisions would be, strategic or otherwise, that they would highlight in that case study?
John Paul DeJoria: First of all, if you want to see the raw side of it, a lady named Ilana Edelstein wrote a book called The Patrón Way, and she shows the other side, behind the doors of Patrón, what went on in her life and Martin’s life. That was Martin’s girlfriend. What went on in their lives, which was very unusual to have a successful business, very unusual, but it worked. We went into this business not knowing anything about alcohol, but we learned along the way. But it’s very interesting to read that book of hers. It’s a great book to study off of.
And what I would say is this, you could start a business and as long as you believe what you have, which Martin did and I did, is going to be the very, very best, there’s no limit to what you can do, but there’s certain things you’ve got to do. And once again, it would have never been as successful as it is, if we did not have the best product on the market that people wanted to reorder. And again, we told people the truth about Patrón, we gave them samples of Patrón so they could taste it without even buying it, many times. These are just some of the secrets. And if you also take a look at, again, Good Fortune, the documentary, it lets you know how to build a company from basically scratch. It gives you a lot of advice there too.
Tim Ferriss: So let’s, if you don’t mind, look at the pricing for a second because this is fascinating to me. I’ve always been a proponent of ultra-premium when possible, because there seems to always be a market for the best, whatever the category might be. So you have bottles of tequila in the landscape in the US, when you enter the market, selling for four to $5 and then you come out with a bottle that sells for $37.
So let’s just pretend that we’re talking cups of coffee. So a four to $5 cup of coffee right now at say Starbucks and you want to sell the retailer, Starbucks are independent, on a $37 cup of coffee that is the best in the world. What were some of the things that you taught the retailers in your sales meetings, coming down to help them, to help them —
John Paul DeJoria: Oh that’s such a great question. We told them this: “When you sell it to a bar, or you sell it to a liquor store, tell them this. If somebody wants tequila, you just say, ‘Yes, we can get your favorite one or you can treat yourself and get a bottle of Patrón. Yes, we can give you your margarita, or for a dollar more you could treat yourself and we can make your margarita with Patrón, the best in the world.'” Little things like that of tremendous, tremendous help. Tremendous help.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah. Well, a dollar per mixed drink involving tequila, and that certainly provides a significant revenue stream for that given bar, for instance —
John Paul DeJoria: You’re right. And it turned out to be, later on, for $3 more you could have Patrón.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah, amazing.
Tim Ferriss: Now I’ve read the profile, and this is an older profile from 2013, and this is in Inc. magazine. I’ll just read this and this may have changed, but I’d love to hear certainly in 2013, email was ubiquitous, “The headquarters for Paul Mitchell and Patrón each have a fax machine for one purpose, communicating with me,” that’s referring to you. “I don’t use email or a computer. I would be so inundated that I wouldn’t be able to get any work done. Instead, I do everything in person or by phone. I have a phone book that’s 15 years old, filled with whiteout and rewrites. I carry that everywhere.” That may have changed, but can you speak to how you did business at that time?
John Paul DeJoria: I really like your questions because it’s hard for people to believe. Nothing has changed. Today the majority of what I do is philanthropic, whether it’s representing Paul Mitchell or ROK Mobile, any of those companies, philanthropic is the majority of what I do these days, even with Patrón. And philanthropic, I’ll associate with some of these companies, they get good credit for that too.
But I do not have email; I do not have a computer that I turn on. All my other companies that I’m involved with are very computerized, state of the art, but all my companies have a fax machine, that I’m involved with, and I have a fax machine at whatever house I’m in at the time. I have a lot of fax machines. And here’s the reason why. If I was on the Internet and I had email, I’d be so inundated I couldn’t do all the wonderful things that I do right now. I couldn’t do it. I’d be fully inundated.
And I also, I’m from the old school, I like personal contact. If you call me or you write me, chances are I’ll either take that same letter and answer you back on that same piece of paper, or I’ll pick up the phone and call you and, “Hey, how you doing? Nice to talk to you here.” I like to communicate with people. I think that’s missing a lot in life today, we don’t communicate with people. And also, by not having email, I’m able to pay attention to the vital few, and ignore the trivial many.
Tim Ferriss: I’d love to hear you expand on that because this is something so many people strive to do and so many people fail to do consistently. How do you determine for yourself what the vital few are? And happy to look at philanthropic activities, but it might be also helpful to hear a few business examples.
John Paul DeJoria: I think it’s just for me, example of what’s important. For example, one of our Paul Mitchell schools is concerned about a challenge they have and they write me and ask me about it, well, I’m liable just to pick up the phone and call them and say, “Well, here’s your challenge, here’s how I think you should overcome it,” and we talk about it a little bit together to overcome it.
Or if we have our Peace*Love*Happiness Ride, for example, I do that with my friend Gary every year. Round my birthday we have the Peace*Love*Happiness Motorcycle Ride. Well, we had a big challenge this time, nobody’s going to get together with more than 50 people because of his stupid virus that’s going around right now, which is very bad. So Gary and I said, “Okay.” We talked about it over the phone. And he’s one of my neighbors, so it wasn’t long before he ended up coming down to the house here, but over the phone we talked about it.
“Gary, let’s do this. Let us both have the ride. If it’s only you and me riding, this ride will still continue.” It’s gone on now for 17 years, we’re going to still have the Peace*Love*Happiness Ride because whatever money we raise goes to first responders that are injured or killed in the line of duty, like paramedics, firemen, police officers, things like that. We’re going to still do that. And a lot of it goes too, to the military, we do it for the Navy SEALs also, and first, shall we say, military people that come back injured, we try and take care of them too. “So we’ll have it together. Let’s do it ourselves,” and that’s something we personally could do. Then Gary came down the next day and we planned the whole thing out together to still have our ride.
It’s things of that nature, it’s just nice to pick up a phone and talk to somebody. If you have a big account, let’s say you’re in business, either for yourself or representing somebody else, they’re so used to everything being emailed, it’s kind of nice every now and then, make a call to them and just say, “Hi, I’m just calling to see how you’re doing,” or, “There’s something really good going on here and I just thought I’d let you know about it, that I’m 100 percent behind you, I’m doing something really nice for you.” Instead of asking them for something, just tell them something you’re doing nice for them. People like that. That hasn’t happened in a long time in our business community. I think it should come back more, people-to-people communication.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah, I agree. I agree. I think also with the perceived isolation that a lot of people are going to have in response to this virus, that it makes it all the more important. I also want to take a second just to thank you for supporting first responders. These are really the frontline and the safety net for us all in many respects, whether that’s military or certainly at this point healthcare workers and frontline medicine, in response to COVID and all the ramifications of that, so I really appreciate you supporting such an integral part and support system for our entire society. I think it’s easy to miss these people when you don’t need them, obviously, or you don’t realize that you need them. It’s in times like this when it becomes so obvious how much they have dedicated their lives to helping others.
John Paul DeJoria: These people are heroes. We come onto this world with absolutely nothing. Every one of us came here naked. We have nothing when we come into this world, regardless of what our parents have, we have nothing. But I think it’s a little bit like paying rent for being on the planet Earth and being alive on this planet, regardless of your financial situation, to do something for somebody else asking nothing in return.
So a lot of these first responders, it’s their job, but they go out there and do it. And after they’ve saved lives, or save houses, or people or animals, they don’t go out and say, “Hey, I’m the one that saved it, thank me.” They do it because it’s their job. They picked out that as their job to be of service to others. Those are true heroes doing it, asking nothing in return, but they’re doing their job.
We people that are involved in philanthropy, and anyone just helping somebody out by carrying something for them, is philanthropic. Whenever you do something for somebody else and you ask absolutely nothing in return, it’s the greatest high you will ever get, higher than whatever we smoked in the ’60s.
Tim Ferriss: That’s true. That’s true. I’ve spoken to some of these first responders in the medical systems, ER, ICU, in New York City and Washington and so on, it’s just incredible how grounded many of them are in their sincerity with the oath that they took in beginning their medical careers, it’s really just incredibly admirable. I don’t want to necessarily take the conversation totally in that direction, but I think it’s important to at least mention.
I have a note here on annual retreats and I’d be curious to hear you expand on the importance of annual retreats.
John Paul DeJoria: Certainly.
Tim Ferriss: I don’t know if you still do this, but if you could speak to what you do on these retreats and how you think of them?
John Paul DeJoria: It used to be once a year and now I do it twice a year, or maybe every six months, I try to do it every six months, where you take off by yourself, go someplace by yourself, cook your own food, do everything by yourself, to take care of yourself. And in those days, I usually do it for three days, in that time, you have a piece of paper, like a tablet with you, and you write down on there, or at least I do. I wrote down on there, all the things in my life that I like that I’m doing and the people. I can’t write all the people because there’s a lot of them, okay? But just ones that really stand out.
And then, I write all the people I’m involved with or situations that I’m involved with that don’t make me happy, I really don’t want to be involved with. And then my goal the next year is to get rid of those. Very seldom do people ever stop and think of who do I want in my life, who do I not want in my life and why. It gives me a chance to see who I want in my life, who I don’t want in my life and why. And what I like that I’m doing and what I don’t like. What I have that I don’t need and what I want to get rid of. It was this kind of looking at yourself.
And the first night, I’ll cook dinner, have a nice glass of wine and that next morning I’ll write pages worth. By the time I leave, I’m down to maybe 10 items because I’ve really condensed it to like, “Okay, what’s really important? Here’s what I want to change, here’s who should not be in my life anymore. I’m going to make plans to immediately get them out of my life. Here’s what I don’t want to eat anymore, here’s what I don’t want to do anymore. Here’s what business I don’t want to be in anymore.” Whatever it is that you want to change your life to be happier, you could do in that period of time, at least give you a good start on it and kind of reassess yourself, because life is short.
I plan to live to be 125 years old, but life is short and even that 125 years is going to go by very, very fast. So try and take each year because you never know what’s going to happen. My god, I have a book full of people, probably over 40 people that I’ve known over the last 40 years, that are no longer with us. They left their earthly bodies, they dropped them and they’re elsewhere right now. So you never know when that’s going to happen.
So it gives you a chance to, at least every six months, if you could do it, or at least once a year if you can’t, to take a few days to yourself. Even if it’s only two days to yourself and look at your life, what you like, what you don’t like, what you want to change, what you don’t want to change, and not wait for something to happen to make you change it. Your lousy relationship, we’ll all wait till it gets really bad or she says something, then I’ll leave, or he says something, then I’ll leave. Well, no, that’s not going to happen, you’re going to be a misery until it does happen, if it ever happens or it doesn’t happen.
Or I hate the job I’m in, but I’m sure one day something else will come along and you sit in that job. Well, why not look for something and make a change? You don’t want to be older in your life and you look back and say, “God, if only I would have changed that when I was 10, 20, 30, 40, 50, 60 years old, 70 years old, I wish I would have not done that anymore, changed it, or done something different.”
Well, it’s an old saying that we had in the 1960s, probably before you and all your listeners were even born, or they were little children at that time. It was this: “Today is the first day of the rest of your life.” And it is. Each day is the first day of the rest of your life, make it go more in your direction.
Tim Ferriss: This is something I’d really love to dig into a little bit, the biannual or annual retreat — excuse me for one second. And specifically, you strike me as someone who’s very decisive, very strategic. What language or approach do you use, to cut ties with the people that you no longer want to have in your life? What is your approach, or how would you suggest people approach that?
John Paul DeJoria: I would say in many ways. Number one, if it’s a social contact, don’t get involved anymore in any social things that they’re doing, or that they invite you to, or you don’t invite them to anything you have. Don’t call them on the phone, and just let them go. There could be some good people that you love, but you know they’re just not good for you in your life, so it’s a matter of — I got this from this wonderful lady, this Greek friend of mine that said this: “You can always love people, but if they’re not right for you, or they’re negative people, especially negative people that just gossip about everybody else, love them from afar.” Like I love you, but stay over there, stay away from me. Love them from afar. In other words, start disconnecting physically or telephonically from them. Just stop doing it, just stop, period.
Tim Ferriss: And if they’re contacting you or reaching out to contact you, do you ignore, do you have a particular response to that? How would you react to —
John Paul DeJoria: My normal thing would be, to be kind. I don’t want to be mean to anybody, and if especially they’d done nothing wrong to me, but I’ve seen them do wrong to other people, I just don’t want them around me, I would just say to them, for example, one thing would be, “Thank you very much, but I’m really involved with some other things right now, do you mind if I get back to you in a month or two? Would that be okay.” That’s it.
Tim Ferriss: That’s it, keep it simple.
John Paul DeJoria: I’m not saying I’m going to call you in a month, I might get back to you in a month or two. You just got to keep that distance, and little by little, it goes away. Little by little, it goes away.
Tim Ferriss: When you —
John Paul DeJoria: Or flat out, if in your own personal life they’re there with you say, “Hey, you’re wonderful and I’m wonderful, but together, things just aren’t going right. We’ve got to make a change for your sake and my sake.” This way, nobody’s wrong. The worst thing you could ever do is say, “You’re wrong, you’re bad for me, I don’t want anything to do with you.” Then the person really feels invalidated. Oh, my God, just terrible, right? They feel terrible. But if you approach it where it’s, “Hey, I’m not the best thing for you, it’s obvious because it’s turning out you’re not the best thing for me because I’m not the best thing for you. And we’re both good people, I think we should go our own ways.” And that’s tough to do, that is so tough to do.
Tim Ferriss: It sounds tough to do. I would also be curious to ask you about any patterns you may have seen in these retreats when you have looked at the column of things you want to do more of, or the things you want to do less of, or the people you want to spend more time with, versus less time with? Have any patterns emerged that have helped you make better decisions moving forward where you’re like, “You know what? Consistently, this pops up in the positive column,” or, “Consistently, this pops in the negative column.” Have you seen anything?
John Paul DeJoria: Yeah. And let me fill a negative in there also. The hardest thing that I found to do, but it’s easier now in the last year or two of my life, is to say no. “I got this great thing I want to show you.” “No, thank you.” “Can we do this?” “No.” “Do you want to go here?” “No.” “But I really want to.” “No.” The hardest thing was to say “no,” or “I don’t want to,” but you can. You have nothing to lose other than — and the only person that’s hurt by you not doing that is you.
Tim Ferriss: How did you become better at that? Why did it change two years ago, or so?
John Paul DeJoria: I did have, by the way, let’s call it a divine revelation happened to me. I was fired from those three companies, Redken, Fermodyl, as well as Tri. I was fired from all three companies, but when I started Paul Mitchell a couple years later, I realized something. One, they fired me. Two, I was doing a good job, but more important, this is fate. Had I not worked for all three companies and learned something different from all three, I could have never started Paul Mitchell with $700, let alone $500,000. I could’ve never done it. So a lot of times things are done because it’s fate, it’s fate that dictates you in that direction. And that’s something you’ve got to remember, there’s fate. Many times you can help direct fate by being able to say no, or look at an opportunity and go for it.
Tim Ferriss: No: it is a short and powerful word that I think almost everyone needs to use more of.
John Paul DeJoria: A lot of the things that I told you could also go into one sentence, and it’s this: successful or happy people do all the things unsuccessful or unhappy people don’t want to do. Like say no, or don’t do this because there’s something that’d be better for you if you didn’t.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah. Well, on that theme, in the last handful of years, it doesn’t have to be anything specific, are there any new beliefs or behaviors or habits that have most positively affected your life?
John Paul DeJoria: I think the one that most —
Tim Ferriss: Anything come to mind?
John Paul DeJoria: Sure. I think the one that most positively affected my life these last few years is the ability to say, “No, I’m not interested. No, don’t even present it to me with all do respect because I’m overloaded with things to do.” But I do it in a kind way. I don’t do it sharp and cut anybody off, I do it in a very nice way — is the ability to say, “No, I don’t want this. I don’t want to do this. No, I don’t want to hear this.” To be able to say no, but to say it in a nice way, that was one of the biggest things.
Next thing is to learn how to just be. And then I’ve learned the last few years how to just be. You could enter a room and just have your presence in that room without having to talk to everybody if you don’t want to, in other words how to just be, or by your self. Just be, just be, like you in the room, or you in the middle of a crowd, just be. Not having to talk to someone because you feel, well, I got to talk to someone, I can just stand here. Talk to them because you want to, but be able to be on your own and like yourself and just be.
I was one, I go in a room, I’ll talk to everybody that’s in that room, “Hi, how’re you doing?” Talk to everybody. But sometimes it’s good to — you can still do that, but just know the power of just being. Just be you as the entity that’s within your body. So let’s put it this way, regardless of what your beliefs are, we all know there’s some kind of a life from in us because when go and we die, all that’s left is, let’s just call it meat that’s starting to rot, okay? There was something in us, whatever your beliefs are, what happens when you die, that’s up to the individual.
So there is something in you. Well, if there’s something in you, why can’t you just be and all of a sudden look through your eyes and feel that maybe that entity isn’t inside my brain, maybe that entity is surrounding my body by about a foot or two around me. When you do that all of a sudden your space starts expanding, you say, “Oh wow, I feel like my space is expanding. I was looking through my eyes and my brain I thought, but now I’m kind of looking at the world a little different way.” Just learn how to be and that life form in you, even though you’re looking through the eyes, could be expanding around you. It’s a different outlook you have on things. A big different outlook.
Tim Ferriss: Do you ever practice that being or that expanded consciousness outside of your body at home? Is that something that you have as a regular practice in your personal life?
John Paul DeJoria: No, it’s not a practice. Just as time goes on it’s just with you, whether you’re inside or outside, it’s just with you. If I were to stop right now and say, “Okay, where am I? Well, me the entity is surrounding my body by a few feet. I’m still seeing through the eyes, but I can feel the energy around me.” I could go in a room and do the same thing, I could be in a crowd with a bunch of people and it’s the same things. It’s just been developed over time.
There’s many, many different practices that will get you there, many different practices. It’s not rites and rituals that you pick up out of a — no disrespect to any good books that were written. They’re a lot of really good one’s there — it’s the acknowledgment of realizing it yourself, that you actually realize and see it and feel it. It’s like whatever the mind can conceive and believe, the mind will achieve. It’s pretty strong.
Tim Ferriss: You have a treasure trove of quotes and maxims, is there a particular quote, and it could be the one you just said. But is there any particular quote or maxim that you live your life by or think of very often?
John Paul DeJoria: Yes there is, and it’s probably one of the oldest one around, people talk about it, but very few ever practice it, and it’s one quick, little sentence: “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you.” It’s an oldie but a goodie, but it sure is real.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah, it is a goodie. Are there any books that you have gifted frequently to other people, or any books you’ve reread?
John Paul DeJoria: Yes, there is. The one I’ve given away the most and I suggest to people is 70 or 80 years old, the name of the book is How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie. This book is one of the best books ever written on how to acknowledge and make people feel good when you talk to them. It basically it was how to be respectful, it’s like do unto others as you’d have others do unto you.
But it’s one of the best books and I recommend it so many people. How to Win Friends and Influence People, by Dale Carnegie. Maybe it’s $19 in paperback, maybe it’s less than that. But it is a great book and people should read it twice because it’s that good. It’d really teach you how to talk to your fellow man, and you’ll be confronted by your fellow man, he’ll confront you, and how to communicate with people and make them feel good.
Tim Ferriss: That is an excellent book. I just want to second that recommendation. I read that many, many years ago and I have read it multiple times. It’s an older book, so of course there are aspects of it that have aged, but the principles really stand the test of time. That’s just a fantastic, fantastic book. Are there any others that come to mind?
John Paul DeJoria: Well, I would say for people to understand that you can be fired from jobs and the book hasn’t been written yet, just the documentary was made, and to still make it in life because you help other people out, and that was what I mentioned earlier in your show.
Tim Ferriss: Good Fortune?
John Paul DeJoria: Get the documentary Good Fortune. I think it’s $4 to rent it if you wanted to on Amazon, or YouTube or one of those, but it lets people know. But the important thing is, how to not only succeed and grow, but do it by helping others along the way and asking nothing in return. And I’m starting to write a book on that right now and it’s taking a long time to write this book, but I’ll eventually get it done.
Tim Ferriss: You’ve spoken about it and we’ve spoken about the times that you were fired. Are there any particular failures of yours that you think were extremely important in terms of teaching you lessons or somehow it’s setting you up for later success? Are there any that come to mind?
John Paul DeJoria: Definitely. I’d say quite a few of them, for example, oh many years ago, when telephone reselling was popular, I got into that business where I invested money in it. Where you invest money in a company and then they buy so many telephone minutes real cheap and they turn around and sell it to somebody else for a little bit more. Well, I lost a lot of money in that thing and it didn’t go well, but I learned a little bit about that business, but the business failed, but some of the knowledge stayed with me.
And then later on, I got involved in another business, about 10 years ago, that was going to revolutionize cellular phones, how we communicate with the world, and I stuck with it. Today that business is ROKiT, R-O-K-I-T, ROKiT phones and Wi-Fi systems. ROKiT, R-O-K-I-T. We now have a telephone that’s out that we just started selling here in the last year. It’s a regular smartphone, but it has on it 3D without glasses. Yes, 3D movies without glasses on a cellphone, on a smartphone.
It also has what the world needs right now and that’s telemedicine, seven days a week, 24 hours a day, a doctor’s on the phone with you, looking at you, you’re looking at them, diagnosing you. It also has Wi-Fi for the world, where someone could buy the cheapest SIM card they could have, like just for talk and text for maybe $25, whatever, for just talk and text, so you have the number. But you put it in this phone and with the worldwide Wi-Fi we have, you call anywhere in the world and it doesn’t cost you anything. And it has a lot of other things on it, but you go online to ROKiT, R-O-K-I-T, you got someone who can look it up, ROKiT phones and what it does.
But the revolutionary thing was, I had learned how you have a lot of expensive things, but sometimes having the very best and being too expensive doesn’t work either, and I learned that with telephones from failing. I tried before to come out with telephones years ago, it went nowhere, it never even got off the ground. So I learned if you have the very, very best and you could put it in everyone’s hands realistically, wow. Well, the top phone that ROKiT sells, this is a top smartphone, this is a first-class smartphone all the way, is $299. That’s the most expensive one they have.
And then I learned also by working with people like NASA, the space agency, and others that there’s a lot of good agencies out there that are government-type agencies, or related type agencies, that want to work with you. NASA just became our partner. We now are going to develop phones, and hopefully we’ll have the first ones out in a couple of months, that when you touch the phone, the back of the phone neutralizes all the bad stuff in your hands.
See, when you’re in outer space, there’s a lot of bad stuff up there and you can’t have bacteria floating around or viruses or anything. So they have a coating that goes on the back of a phone, that is going on the back of our phones, they’re our partner, that when you touch it, all of a sudden all that junk and all those diseases on your hand are neutralized by just picking up your cell phone.
So what I learned through failures, trying to be in the technical industry that I knew nothing about was get with some people that are very honest and get with people that are really on top of their game, make them your partners, one way or another. And all of a sudden offer a better product, a better quality, a better thing that others don’t have and don’t have to charge them the $1,500 that our research said we should charge for these phones. Now of course we have phones as you know for less than that, quite a bit less, $99, 50 bucks and so forth, but I learned that through failure.
Today, we’re doing really good. We’re rolling out through stores right now, over the Internet and it’s doing quite well, not just in our country, but several other countries too.
Tim Ferriss: We could take ROKiT as an example, you mentioned you’re not on email because you would be inundated, how do you choose the for-profit and the philanthropic projects that you dedicate your energies to because you have, I would imagine, an embarrassment of riches in the sense that you have more opportunities to choose from than you could possibly ever take advantage of.
John Paul DeJoria: That is correct.
Tim Ferriss: How do you choose?
John Paul DeJoria: The first thing is whatever I’m gonna get involved in, it’s normally as an investor these days, and a little bit of advice and a lot of PR. Whatever I get involved in, is it going to do the greatest good for the greatest number, and does it excite me to think this could happen? Even in your technological fields, I’m not a technocrat, so I’m not technologically well educated, but I know enough to know what the end result of that technical advancement is and I say, “This will be great for everybody. Well, I’m excited about it. Are you kidding, this is super.”
I know the first time I was overseas and I made phone calls to the United States on one of our phones and cost me absolutely nothing through ROK Wi-Fi and I’m used to having, when I’m overseas, very expensive cellular bills, I thought, this is great. I can’t wait till everybody hears about this thing. I can’t wait. My God, think of all the money they’re going to save if they save that money to buy something nice for their family or invest it some place. Those 10s and $20 and the $100 a month adds up. So I got excited.
So what excites me. It’s what it excites me, and right now I’m over inundated. I get more things thrown at me for — also, a lot of them are for no money, “JP, just get involved with us and you help direct us a little bit,” and my answer is, “Guys, I don’t have the time.” Philanthropically I’m more involved than anything else, and what businesses I’m involved in now, my investments are only what they are. I’m kind of tapped out right now. I’m over inundated because I spend less than 20 percent of my time on business, the rest is doing something good to change the world.
Tim Ferriss: Could you describe what that looks like for you, that 80 percent that is non-business? How do you currently spend your time that way?
John Paul DeJoria: Oh, my goodness. Well, I told you about the Peace*Love*Happiness Ride. We can talk about the Sea Shepherd, big supporter of the Sea Shepherd. They had a movie on about them, a TV series called Whale Wars, with Paul Watson. What we do is we go on the open seas and we stop those that are poaching illegally, like the Japanese that were killing whales illegally on the open seas. We exposed it all through that Whale Wars thing. Anyways, we were chasing them down. There’re also poachers that are poaching turtles, things like that and oh my God, it’s terrible, are killing sharks needlessly. It’s crazy stuff.
So my involvement is, I talk with Paul, I talk with Sea Shepherds, I hold events for them, I go to events for them. And when a lot of the poachers were outrunning our ships, I bought them a Coast Guard cutter and we refitted the whole thing, painted it camouflage blue, so we go right after those poachers and stop the destruction of these species going on, on the planet right now.
On Grow Appalachia, I went around the country trying to find out how I could help out our nation in 2009, ’10, and ’11, when unemployment was very high and a lot of people were on food stamps, and I decided the food industry. So I went out and I partnered up, I looked for a good partner. I found Berea College out of the area of Kentucky, and they partnered with me on this and I financed the entire thing, where we went out and my goal was, let’s take — there’s 150,000 people in the Appalachian Mountains, that’s about six or seven states that are on food stamps. I’m going to get at least half of them off food stamps.
So we started Grow Appalachia where we had teams that we paid for and others that were volunteers. We would go out and teach people in the Appalachian Mountains how to garden. I would pay for their irrigation, their supplies, their tools, their seeds, and their know-how, to teach them how to grow their own gardens. Number one was, you grow enough food for you and your family, and here’s how you can, so there’s a lot of food for the winter by putting them in these jars. Here’s how you can food, so that your first year you’re self-sufficient, your second year you grow more.
And this was the goal and a lot of them did it. You grow more than you would normally grow and now you sell the excess to farmers markets or local grocery stores as organically grown, local produce and make yourself some money. Eventually you won’t need the food stamps anymore, but when you send the food stamps back, please have a letter, do not put this back into the pile for food stamps. Take this off the federal deficit. The deficit is too high. Because while I had nothing I got food stamps, now it’s time for me to pay back and lower that US deficit. And I asked them to do that and hopefully they did.
Well a lot of them went and all of a sudden they’re saying let’s expand it. So we bought them a dozen chickens, now they have all the eggs they could possibly want. Some have honey, we have bees there now, and we expand it, expand it, expand it. So I would spend time going back and forth from there talking to people, doing interviews about it.
For the homeless, we have the most incredible things here in Austin, Texas we started, it’s called the Community. Mobile Loaves & Fishes, the Community. We built, and Alan Graham was the genius behind this, I just pitched in the money and some of my time. We built 240 little houses for homeless people, chronic homeless people. People that had been without any kind of a shelter for at least a year. Those are those living under bridges, living in tents, but no place to go into. They’d be the first ones that are a priority to go into Mobile Loaves & Fishes, the Community, here in Austin.
And to go there, you’ve got to pay rent, you’ve got to pay some rent, not a lot, but a little bit of rent, so you feel like you’re part of it. If you give somebody a handout, they feel like this is charity, they don’t feel good. If you give them a hand up, they feel good. So you charge a little bit of rent there and we also have gardens, a woodshop, metal shop, craft shop, and so forth, and a lot of them now have an income because they can make crafts, they go in the garden and they can work, they can sell all the extra stuff.
I just built recently — we’re building right now actually an entrepreneur center, a big one, so that if they have an idea they go to that one center and there’s little things in that center set up to help them make their entrepreneur spirits come true. And then I’m building for them also, or helping them build, an aqua center, so they can grow their own fish there. So now they have vegetables, they have fish, they have a way to start making an income. These are ways that make people that before were on the burden of the community, now, a lot of them are getting jobs and they’re paying taxes and they still have a beautiful place to live in a beautiful community.
I did the same in Los Angeles because that’s where I was homeless and I was a big contributor for many years, and up until this last year. I haven’t got around to this last year, but I’d go down at least once a year and lecture to them on homelessness, “Hey, I was homeless, here’s how I got out of it guys, and if I could do it, you could do it.” And that’s just a couple of examples of some of the things that we do. They’re enormous.
With Bobby Kennedy, Waterkeeper Alliance. My God, saving the waterways of the world. We started with the United States, where we would go in, raise money, and we would bust the polluters, even the big guys, we would bust them in court. One of the biggest cases took us 16 years, but we won. And what do we do? We leave all the money locally, so the local community — we leave it all locally, we raise our own money, so the local water keeper group can be able to have boats or hire people to make sure that they patrol the area and that it’s never redone again. Worked out really well.
Tim Ferriss: You mentioned quite a few things, including the Community. I’m here in Austin as well, and I have not yet been. I have friends who have been to the Community and have said it’s just incredible, that it boggles the mind as to how well many of the elements are working —
John Paul DeJoria: Ooh, ooh, let me tell me you about a new one. Ooh, I’ve got to tell you about a new one. Oh, God, I got to tell you about — I don’t want to forget to tell you this one. This I just got involved with a couple of months ago. There was an article in our review journal here in Austin about it, is a little group started and I gave them six figures to make it a little bigger group, they can have a little more there because they need it that badly. Here’s what they do, and I’m 100 percent behind these guys. They have 170-some-odd volunteers, only one person was on payroll. Now they have a second person because I was able to handle that for them too.
But here’s what they do. They go around to — they have about 50 and I want to expand it now to 300. They go to 50 different restaurants, grocery stores, catering services, and they get all the leftover food. For example, if you make a fresh sandwich to sell and it doesn’t sell in eight hours, well, they get rid of it. Well, this is all picked up by the volunteers and they take it directly to, whether it’s Mobile Loaves & Fishes, or food banks for those that are hungry. They take it directly to the source.
So all this food that is wasted — the United States probably wastes 30, 40 percent of its food — goes directly to the people that need it. And someone’s already picking it up, so they don’t have to destroy it and delivering to the other people. This is going to be an answer by the way, to the United States and other parts of the world on people that need food. All the food that’s thrown away, the companies, the restaurants, the caterers, the people that have the sandwich shops and whatever, still have the same customers, but instead of throwing it away, the good food is going to people that really need it, that aren’t their customers anyways. Everyone benefits and that’s really exciting. This I think is going to be a beautiful, beautiful, example on how the rest of the communities throughout the whole United States and other parts of the world can do it. It’s very exciting.
Tim Ferriss: It is exciting, and I will include notes to everything that you’ve mentioned in the show notes for people, which they’ll be able to find at tim.blog/podcast. I just had a few more questions, you’ve been very generous with your time and I don’t want to chew up your entire afternoon, but just a few final questions.
I’ll start with one that I always like to ask because you are clearly very high energy, you have been massively productive, you’ve been focused to an extraordinary degree in many chapters in your life. Could you speak to a — and you did mention some hard times — but could you speak to what you do in moments of doubt, if you have them? Or when you’ve gone through emotionally difficult times, what are the tools in the toolkit that have helped you to get through those times or out of those lower periods?
John Paul DeJoria: The old way was I would get a piece of paper and on half it, write all the challenges and things not so good about that. On the other half of it I would write, what I could have learn from it and not make happen again. And then I always remember that whatever happens, and this is the hardest part of it all, whatever happen, no matter how bad it seems, one or two years from now, you’re going to look back and say, “Oh God I wish I didn’t get that upset about it.” So I’m going to give you a one liner that I remembered and hopefully your listening audience will remember also because it proves to be true in 99 percent of all cases. Here’s the one liner, in the end everything will be okay and if its not okay, it’s not the end.
Think about all the things that were a hassle in your life, and you look back at it a year or two later, well, in fact, I got through it, it was okay. I got through it, but at the time you don’t think that. But if you just put in your head, no matter what happened in the past, all the bad things that even happened to you or any person out there, in the end everything will be okay, and if it’s not okay, it’s not the end. Because many times when things are really bad, “Oh, this is the end. Oh my god, it’s terrible, I hate this. It’s never going to end,” good thing to remember.
Tim Ferriss: It is a good thing to remember. Is that the type of reminder or mantra that you used early on in your career, or for instance, when you were homeless, the first or second time, was it something like that?
John Paul DeJoria: No, it wasn’t. Nope, that was only recent. My first or second time homeless it was, “Okay, I’ve got to eat, where do I get money to get food?” That was it. That was my first. That was all I thought, are you kidding, I want to eat. “Where do I get money to get food, where do I get money to get food? I got this shelter of a car, where do I get money — ” My thought was, first of all was the next part is food, what am I going to eat, you got to eat, right? You got to eat. Now you got food, I got clothing already, shelter, I didn’t need care, I was okay.
That was the first thing, next thing was, “Okay, how do I get a job? What do I do here? How do I create something there,” like one step at a time. It’s kind of like, it’s a cinch by the inch and it’s hard by the yard.
Tim Ferriss: That’s a great one.
John Paul DeJoria: You think one at a time, you’ve got a win. As soon as you get a win it gives you that energy to go on to the next one. One step at a time.
Tim Ferriss: You have a really, just incredibly broad spectrum of lines. So I’m going to be greedy, I want to ask this question. Feel free to say, “I’ve given you enough!” or you can give me another, but if you had a gigantic billboard, metaphorically speaking I mean, but let’s just call it a billboard to put a quote, a question, an image, a word on, which would be transmitted to billions of people, what would you consider putting? What might you consider putting on that billboard?
John Paul DeJoria: In big letters, “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you.” And, “In the end, everything will be okay, and if it’s not okay, it’s not the end.” That’s what I would put out there.
Tim Ferriss: I love it. Well, John Paul, this has been so much fun.
John Paul DeJoria: It’s a pleasure, sir.
Tim Ferriss: You’re a real pleasure to spend time with, hopefully we’ll have a chance once we get through the storm of coronavirus to spend some time in person. I thank you on behalf of my listeners for all of the incredible stories and lessons learned, and I hope we get a chance to do it again.
John Paul DeJoria: You bet, buddy. Thank you so much and my love, peace, and happiness to all your listeners.
The Tim Ferriss Show is one of the most popular podcasts in the world with more than 900 million downloads. It has been selected for "Best of Apple Podcasts" three times, it is often the #1 interview podcast across all of Apple Podcasts, and it's been ranked #1 out of 400,000+ podcasts on many occasions. To listen to any of the past episodes for free, check out this page.
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