Formerly Homeless Billionaire John Paul DeJoria Gives First, Profits Second

Photo Credit: AFF-USA/Shutterstock
November 30, 2018
Updated 2mo ago

By Chloe Aiello

John Paul DeJoria may be a billionaire now, but the self-made founder of John Paul Mitchell Systems and Patron Spirits will never forget the periods of homelessness from his past.

Even after he's built an empire, DeJoria said he gives first and generates profit second ー a philosophy that is now influencing the launch of his new smartphone, ROKiT.

"As you build a company, start a company, start giving back right away. It makes you feel good and it's part of your culture," DeJoria told Cheddar on Friday.

"I think the future for more companies is to understand that," he added.

DeJoria was living in his car when he launched John Paul Mitchell Systems with hairdresser and friend Paul Mitchell in 1980. The two built the company into a global hair empire, baking the philosophy of giving back into company culture right away.

They started locally, constructing an organization for L.A. youth. As DeJoria grew his Paul Mitchell and Patron Spirits operations, his philanthropy scaled up too ー because "success unshared is failure," he told Forbes in a 2011 interview](https://www.forbes.com/sites/robertreiss/2011/06/03/from-homeless-to-billionaire-2/#345f49af666b) . ROK Brands, which makes affordable, high-tech ROKiT smartphones, is an extension of this view.

“First thing I did with this ROKiT phone with my partners is give back. Two weeks ago I was giving homeless vets free telephones ー with telemedicine on it for a year, internet on it for a year, phone calls. So before we made a dime or sold one, we just started giving them back," DeJoria said.

"It's a continuation of the Paul Mitchell culture. I did it with Patron and now I'm doing it with ROKiT," he added.

ROKIT phones feature a low price point and cutting-edge technology, like telemedicine, roadside assistance, and legal services. Some of that technology comes from NASA, one of ROK's partners on the project. Two high-end models, which go for about $150 and $279, boast three-dimensional video ー no glasses required. Despite the cutting-edge features, DeJoria stopped short of calling them a rival to Apple's ($AAPL) iPhone.

"I'm not going after Apple, I'm not going after Samsung, I'm not going after anybody. I'm introducing something new at a very realistic price," DeJoria said.

ROK manages to keep phones costs down by avoiding advertising altogether and "going underground through word of mouth," DeJoria said. It's also possible because of DeJoria's personal investment in the company, which has totaled about $100 million over the past decade, he said.

Aside from handing out phones to vets, ROK Brands has a few bigger tricks up its sleeve. The company's joint venture with Indian telecom company Veecon secured a contract in October to bring public wifi to India's 27 largest cities.

"I think that I am so grateful for the abundance I've been graced with ... that I look at things differently now. How can I affect the greatest group for the greatest number," DeJoria said.

For full interview click here.