Q&A: John Paul DeJoria learned how to bottle success

NEW YORK(Reuters) - Most entrepreneurs dream of catching lightning in a bottle once in their lives. Billionaire John Paul DeJoria has managed to make a habit of it.

Entrepreneur John Paul Dejoria from "Follow the Leader", participates in a CNBC Primetime panel during the Television Critics Association (TCA) Cable Winter Press Tour in Pasadena, California, January 14, 2016. REUTERS/Danny Moloshok

The Los Angeles-bred entrepreneur, a son of Greek and Italian immigrants, hit the jackpot with ventures like the Paul Mitchell line of hair products and Patron tequila.

For the latest in Reuters’ Life Lessons series, DeJoria, 72, talked about the sales drive that took him from selling Christmas cards door-to-door as a kid, to becoming one of the most successful entrepreneurs on the planet.

Q: What life lessons about money were instilled in you growing up?

A: My mother always told my brother and I that we can do anything as long as we kept applying ourselves. She also told us to remember to give to those who have less than you. These two things have always inspired my personal philosophy, and everything I do.

Q: What did you learn from your early gigs, selling everything from Christmas cards to encyclopedias?

A: A very important lesson: Persistence and overcoming rejection. Going door-to-door selling is exhausting and often times discouraging. But you have to be just as enthusiastic on door number 50 as you were on door number 1 to make a sale. Successful people do what unsuccessful people don’t want to do.

Q: What were your shoestring early days with the Paul Mitchell line like - even living out of your car at the beginning?

A: I started John Paul Mitchell Systems in 1980, in one of the worst economic environments when inflation was at its highest and people were waiting in lines around the block to get gas. I was, in fact, homeless and living out of my car when our first backer pulled out. But Paul Mitchell and I started JPMS with a borrowed $700 and an answering machine. We even decided on the iconic black-and-white logo and packaging because we couldn’t afford to print in color.

Q: How did you realize there was big potential with ultra-premium tequila when you launched Patron?

A: I received a sample of tequila that was smoother than anything I had ever tasted, and was told that there was a tequila “chef” out there that could make it even smoother. You could actually sip it, instead holding your breath. So right then I knew there was a potential market there. Why? Because people want to treat themselves.

Q: As an investor are you more of a risk-taker, or more conservative in where you put your money?

A: I look at my investments in three ways: Part of my money goes into helping others and making the world a better place to live. The next portion involves risk by building businesses and hiring good people. Finally, there is a portion that goes to more conservative investments, such as stocks and real estate.

Q: When it comes to philanthropy, how do you sort through all the requests and decide where you can make a meaningful impact?

A: I established JP’s Peace, Love & Happiness Foundation as a hub for all charitable investments to help with that. The organizations span the core values of my companies: Sustainability, social responsibility and animal-friendliness.

Q: Even though you have been so successful, do you still try to live below your means like in the early days?

A: Yes. I can have a big yacht now if I wanted one, but it makes no sense to me. It is better to rent it, rather than flaunt it. Plus it is a waste to have something like that to just sit there. I would rather put that money into something that can help others and the planet.

Q: You have a number of children, so what lessons about money and life do you try to pass down to them?

A: I had a tradition where they all received a weekly allowance starting at the age of 10. It was important that they learned the value of money. Of course, this all had to change when my youngest son turned 14 and that $10 disappeared in one trip to the movies. It couldn’t even get him popcorn and a soda. That is when I realized I had to increase it to $20 a week.

Editing by Beth Pinsker and Marguerita Choy