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Although I’m certainly no John Paul DeJoria, I do know what it’s like to have been poor. As a kid, I lived in a run-down neighborhood, where a 1-meter-wide, open sewage gutter ran right outside our door. Today, I am a serial entrepreneur whose companies have helped tens of thousands take their first steps into the world of business.
The co-founder of the Paul Mitchell line of hair products and the Patrón Spirits Company, DeJoria was homeless twice before he became a billionaire. Here are four things entrepreneurs can learn from his incredible rise from poverty.
1. Don’t be too proud to ask for help
When DeJoria was homeless, he was too proud to ask his mom for a place to stay; he wanted to make it on his own. Instead, he asked her for a few hundred bucks to hold him over until he got back on his feet.
At one point, DeJoria’s friend, a motorcyclist, offered him a spare room, where he and his 2-year-old son could stay. Some of the “biker mamas” — DeJoria’s words — even helped take care of his son, allowing him to go out and hustle. DeJoria admits it was a life-changing show of support.
If DeJoria’s friend hadn’t given him a leg up, it’s hard to say for certain if he would have become the massively successful businessman he is today.
As an entrepreneur, sometimes you’re going to need help. No self-respecting entrepreneur wants a handout. But pride to the point of blindness can prevent you from ever reaching your goals.
The first time he was homeless, DeJoria needed money to buy food, so he collected soda pop bottles, cashing in two cents for a small bottle and five cents for a large one at grocery and liquor stores. Bootstrapping ensured that he could feed himself and his son.
When I started my first business, I was penniless. My first act as an entrepreneur was to walk the streets of Southall, London and hand out my business cards. After that, I hit the yellow pages. To go to meetings, I caught the bus. Once, I even arranged to meet a guy at the tube station.
I didn’t have funding or the means of securing funding, so I bootstrapped. I forewent a salary or any dividend payouts for the first few months and just plowed every penny back into the business.
That business now turns over several million a year and boasts over fifty employees. It’s also the driving force behind every new venture I start.
3. Don’t count your chickens
DeJoria needed half a million dollars to start John Paul Mitchell Systems, the hair care product manufacturer that eventually made him a billionaire.
The way he tells the story, DeJoria spent the last of his available funds just moments before he got in his car to collect the $1.5 million from the startup’s backer. Then, the backer pulled out because of rising inflation, and DeJoria was homeless again.
In business parlance, we’ll call this cashflow, a term too many businesses became intimately familiar with during the Covid-19 crisis. DeJoria counted his chickens too soon and came up short.
Entrepreneurship is sometimes spelled R-I-S-K, but pointless risk is folly. As far as cashflow goes, keep your eye on it. And don’t buy that new fleet of Tesla Model S company cars because you’ve got a contract signed with money not yet in the bank. Wait ten minutes and save yourself undue indigestion and stress.
4. Blaming others is pointless
DeJoria said he never looked for whom to blame. He just got busy collecting soda pop bottles and hustling.
I can relate. My stint in Southall, London, handing out my business card to several hundred shops, didn’t bring me a single lead when I started.
But rather than feeling bitter or depressed and trying to pin blame on anyone, I simply changed my methods (Hello, cold calls). After several months of grind, business started coming in.
Entrepreneurs need to get out there and get busy. There’s no time for moping. And blaming others won’t help fill your bank account.
Those who have had to claw their way up from nothing tend to look at money a little differently. Money comes and goes, but their internal belief in their ability to make more of it never fades. And that is the true spirit of entrepreneurship — the willingness to take on the challenges the world throws your way and the conviction that none of them are insurmountable.